Tag Archives: Jesus

Review: The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz

The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David KitzThe Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz (Kregel Publications, 2017)

Remember in the account of the Crucifixion of Christ, the soldier at the foot of the Cross who declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God”? (Mark 15:39, NIV)

The Soldier Who Killed a King is this soldier’s story, told first-person, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Resurrection Sunday. One week in the life of an ordinary Roman centurion who was caught in the tumultuous events of Holy Week.

Well-written and with as little brutality as possible, this is a thought-provoking novel worthy to be part of a Christian’s reading each year before Easter. It’s powerful any time of the year.

Sometimes seeing a familiar story through a fresh lens helps us find new insights. This time, I was struck by an aspect of Barabbas’ release that I’d never considered before. (I’ve read the previous version of this book, The Soldier, the Terrorist, and the Donkey King, but somehow this snippet didn’t stick with me.)

The language is fresh and approachable, with just a hint of formality to remind us this is a man from an earlier time. The centurion, Marcus Longinus, is an impartial observer of both Jesus and Herod as each arrives in Jerusalem through the Messiah Gate and proclaims kingship in his own way. Marcus’ language in describing them matches the opinions he forms.

My favourite lines:

The news of Herod’s arrival spread like flies on a rotting corpse. [page 64]

He [Jesus] was the donkey king. A horse would have put him above the crowd. A horse would have meant elevating himself like all the other egotistical men who led in this upside-down world. [page 119]

As a Bible dramatist, David Kitz presents the one-man, four-act play, The Centurion’s Report. He’s also the author of the devotional book, Psalms Alive! and the children’s book Little Froggy Explores the BIG World. And he posts regular reflections on the Psalms on his blog, complete with photos. See davidkitz.wordpress.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Good Friday

Crucifixion was shameful, degrading, and cruel beyond measure. It made a spectacle of the victim’s suffering and death.

The Lord Jesus endured this for us – by choice, a willing victim in our place, bearing what we could not in order to win the ultimate victory.

The New International Version* describes “…Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

At the Last Supper, John says that “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3. NIV*).

Jesus knew Who He was. And Whose He was. He could do what He did because He knew that none of the pain, none of the shame – none of it changed His identity.

As sons and daughters of our Father, our identity in Christ is equally secure and unaffected by shame, pain, fear, etc. Those things are very real, and they may distract us from remembering our true identity, but they don’t change the truth of who we are. Whose we are.

This takes the teeth out of fear for the future, and it changes how we look at yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No matter how much it hurts, no matter what happens… even if we lose our lives in this world (and everybody dies)… as the Apostle Paul wrote, “… I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV*)

Nothing can separate us from the strong love of Jesus. Nothing can take away all we are in Him.

We’re more than the temporal bodies we inhabit. If we’re alive in Christ, we’re spiritual beings who’ve been given eternal life. Treasured and beloved by the Creator of all.

God the Father invites us into His Word to discover who He says we are. The New Testament tells us who we are “in Christ.” Typing those words as a search at Biblegateway.com or another Bible site provides plenty to think about.

Then we have the choice: will we believe our Maker’s opinion of us, or stick with our own? Knowing how often I’m wrong about things, I choose to believe God. May we grow and keep grounded in the truth of who we are in God our heavenly Father.

Let Third Day’s song, “Carry My Cross,” help us remember.

 

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Reconciliation, not Rejection

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.
Acts 3:19, NLT*

Peter’s not being judgmental here, not waving a big stick or speaking condemnation. If we could hear his tone, we’d hear urgency. Longing.

In the Temple, he’s speaking to a crowd about Jesus. He has just put it to them plainly: Jesus is the Messiah from God, whom they and their leaders have rejected and killed.

He’s also declared that they didn’t know the full story, and their choices were part of God working out His plan (Acts 3:17-18).

Now that he has laid out the truth, he’s calling for a response. He’s inviting them into forgiveness. Into the Kingdom, where they belong.

This is Peter, who denied his Lord three times. He can’t even claim ignorance for that. Only fear. But Peter knows from personal experience about the forgiveness and grace of God, about the love that longs to restore and reinstate and repurpose.

We know that love, too, so as we encounter people who don’t know Jesus, if the Spirit leads us to address some form of sin that’s holding them back, let’s remember that the goal is reconciliation, not rejection.

Addressing sin isn’t about “look what you did.” It’s about “this is serious, but don’t let it keep you from God’s love.” And instead of pointing fingers, we can speak from a place of experience: “God does forgive, because He’s forgiven me.”

Oh Holy God, You alone are Judge, and You are also Saviour. Give us compassion for those still trapped in sin, and speak through us to offer reconciliation. We know this is a hard topic, and many will take offense at the truth, but help us to speak it in love and to entrust the results to You.

Here’s Michael Card’s haunting question: “What Will it Take to Keep You From Jesus?” Let’s remember the heart behind the call.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Guest Post: Cracks of Light in the Darkness

Cracks of Light in the Darkness

by Steph Beth Nickel

Today Christians around the globe will gather to solemnly commemorate Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Whenever it is overcast and rainy, we think, “How appropriate.” It is truly “the darkest day” of the year—no matter what the weather.

The sinless Saviour was humiliated, beaten, and then nailed to a Roman cross. While we won’t go into detail, suffice it to say it was one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised.

As believers, we may rarely stop to consider the implications in any more than a fleeting manner. How often do we take the time to contemplate what the Lord did and allow ourselves to be overcome with reverence and gratitude? This day—or any day—is a good one to do just that.

But as we consider the darkness, we must also focus on those cracks of light.

Jesus the Light

The Light Shines Through

Jesus prayed for those who would put Him to death. In Luke 23:34 we read, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (ESV).

That should truly amaze us. Though He was fully God, He was also fully man and would suffer as any other individual who had been put to death in this way.

As He was dying, the Son of God was thinking of His mother, Mary. He knew she would need someone to care for her after He was gone and He assigned this task to His trusted disciple John. What an expression of selflessness and love!

And many a sermon has been preached on the Lord’s words as recorded in John 19:30: “It is finished!” We know it wasn’t only the fact that His suffering would soon be over. Jesus knew all along that to make the way for us to be right with the Father He had to take our sin upon Himself and suffer the punishment we deserved.

Invited into the Light

And one of my favourite verses in all of Scripture is Matthew 27:51. In the ESV, the first part of the verse reads like this: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

The fact that this curtain (or veil) was torn in this way is miraculous. It was 60 feet long, 30 feet high, and as thick as the palm of one’s hand. This was no act of man.

And most awesome was what this act of God represented. No longer are believers in the Lord denied access to the Holy of Holies. We are invited into the Throne Room of Heaven because of Jesus’ death. Now that’s something to marvel at!

While we will celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, we can see that even on this, the darkest day, the Light shines through.

Our meditation on these truths should not be restricted to one weekend a year. Will you consider setting aside time to do so on a regular basis?

And when your life seems shrouded in darkness and you can’t see the way out, will you turn your eyes toward the One who is the Light of the World (John 8:12)?

Tweetable: Jesus Christ is the Light who shines in the darkness.

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Too High a Price

God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world.
1 Corinthians 7:23, NLT*

How is it possible to forget the Cross… and the full cost of Jesus’ sacrifice?

Yet over time as believers, we get caught up in life and responsibilities, and it’s not foremost in our minds.

If God had simply found us at the side of the road while He was out for a stroll, just handed us spare change for a coffee or enough cash for bus fare home, it wouldn’t matter so much if we didn’t reach our potential.

Instead, His investment was huge. He came looking for us, in the person of His Son. He gave up His life to pay our ransom and to erase our sins.

That’s much too high a price to squander.

But if we’re not vigilant about our choices and attitudes, our focus can slip. We can find our lives diluted – even dominated – by things that don’t have eternal value. Sometimes that’s from buying into society’s mindset, but sometimes it’s from listening to our own selfish natures.

God may have given us many blessings to enjoy, and if so, let’s enjoy them. But let’s be careful to keep Him first in our hearts and to put His priorities above our own.

God our Rescuer and Redeemer, You know how often we need to be rescued again. Forgive our blindness, selfishness and inattention. Draw us closer to You, and teach us to delight in Your presence. Change and grow us, so we’ll forget our wandering ways and thrive in Your kingdom.

I didn’t realise how many artists had recorded “Lead Me to the Cross.” Here it is from the Newsboys:

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Light Inextinguishable

The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:4-5, NLT*

A footnote in my Bible says the last line can also be translated as “and the darkness has not understood it.”

This darkness is a spiritual, or perhaps moral, darkness. Not a physical lack of light. If it has the capacity to understand, it’s a malevolent darkness (because it tries to extinguish the light).

We know this kind of darkness is in our world. We see it in global and local events. In the motivations of groups and individuals. We see it blinding friends and loved ones.

But I love this verse about the light that Jesus’ life brought.

The light He gave can’t be extinguished or overcome. Can’t be smothered or snuffed out. Can’t be swallowed or contained. And no, it can’t be completely understood even by those who have eyes to see.

Who among us can know the unknowable, understand those things beyond our mental scope?

But we who recognize – and love – the light’s Source can live “in the light, as God is in the light” (1 John 1:7, NLT).

We can live to please Him, and we can live in confidence that no matter how dark the world gets, His light will endure. His light will have the victory.

God our Rescuer and Sustainer, we praise You that Your promises are true and Your purposes are good. Grant us the faith to hold onto Your light in the darkness. Help us to live faithful to You so Your light can shine through us to those whose eyes You are opening. Have mercy on this darkened world, Lord, and draw the lost to Yourself. May we never be barriers to their search.

This week’s song is a prayer from Bebo Norman: “Great Light of the World.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Came to Us

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philippians 2:7-8, NLT*

When disaster strikes a nation or community, the leaders make a point of visiting the area. To assess the situation first-hand, but also to encourage the survivors, who need every bit of hope they can possibly receive.

What did God do with our sin-damaged world? He promised from the beginning that He would provide disaster relief. His timing is longer-term than ours, but that’s exactly what He did – and is doing.

He came. Into our disaster. Never mind we made the mess ourselves and then it multiplied out of control. Never mind it wouldn’t have happened if Eve and Adam had followed His instructions in the first place.

He came. Jesus experienced birth, life and death as a human being. He understands our circumstances. He showed us how to live for God in the midst of them. He paid the ultimate price to ransom us back to Himself. And He’s coming back to take His rightful place as King.

This Christmas, in the midst of all the giving and receiving, let’s remember how much was given for us. How can we not love a God who would give everything for us? How could we not give ourselves back to Him in trust and gratitude?

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit… You came into our need, You are with us now in our need, and You will come again to reign. Thank You. You’ve proven Your faithfulness, Your love and Your care. Help us to trust and obey You, to honour You, and to receive the full life You offer to Your children.

This isn’t a Christmas song, but I love how it sums up the Divine rescue mission: Matt Redman‘s “Where Would We Be“?

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Stepped In

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
Romans 8:38, NLT*

Paul says not even “our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow.” Fear wants to tell us we’re cut off from God, but fear lies.

Circumstances can be painful, overwhelming. But God is with us, and that is our hope. His love holds us, His grace sustains us, and He refuses to leave us to suffer alone.

We can get angry at Him for allowing our pain, but that doesn’t help. All it does is reduce our capacity to experience His presence.

Or we can press into Him and pray to see Him at work in our trouble – and when we see evidence of His care, we can praise and thank Him. Our faith will grow, and others will see that He makes a difference.

“The love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39b, NLT*) At Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of that revelation. God incarnate stepped into our pain.

Creator and Redeemer God, thank You for Your strong love that can never be broken. Teach us to rely on Your character and Your promises, and to anchor on the truth that You will never leave us.

Michael Card‘s song, “Immanuel,” reminds us of the wonderful truth that God is with us.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Reason for the Season

Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 7:24b-25a, NLT*

This is why we celebrate Christmas, and Easter, and every other day of the year. We had an impossible need, and God, in His love, mercy and grace, sent His own Son to meet it.

To walk among humans and reveal what the Father’s heart and will looked like. To lay down His life to ransom and redeem us and to break sin’s hold on us.

For this, we have Jesus, and a lifetime of thanks is not enough. Let’s walk with Him each day, hearts surrendered to His, in worship, obedience and adoration.

God our Maker, Redeemer and Sustainer, without You we’d be lost and hopeless, marking time and deceiving ourselves. Thank You for setting us free – at such extreme cost. Help us receive Your gift of salvation and live it fully, so that others will see the difference You make.

Casting Crowns‘ version of “Glorious Day” sums it up so well:

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Love Triangles, by Bobbie Ann Cole

Love Triangles: Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today's Israel, by Bobbie Ann ColeLove Triangles, by Bobbie Ann Cole (Scrollchest, 2015)

Part travelogue, part memoir, and part biblical exposition, Love Triangles is a an insightful read for Christians. The book’s subtitle is Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today’s Israel.

Bobbie Ann Cole and her husband went to Israel as short-term volunteers, and stayed for a few years as immigrants. Love Triangles paints a picture of a land of beauty as well as danger, rich in heritage and full of meaning for a Christian wanting to know Jesus better.

Bobbie Ann is a Messianic Jew, and her husband, Butch, is a Christian. She talks about Jesus’ birth and death and certain instances of His life, and shows the extra layer of meaning which His Jewish culture would have given them. In some cases she expands the stories with some prayerful “what if” imaginings, for example Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. The book is clear that these are wonderings, not facts, but it does make a person stop and, well… wonder.

I’d like to re-read those sections of the book again, to deepen my understanding of Jesus’ earthly life. That’s definitely my favourite thread in the narrative.

The couple’s experiences living in Israel are interesting, as well. I had no idea about the difficulty faced by Messianic Jews, who believe Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah. Bobbie And explains why this is so offensive to other Jews, and reveals that, although it may be changing, the immigration process is designed to accept Jew, Christian, atheist or believer in anything else, but to reject Jews who believe in Jesus.

Love Triangles will entertain and educate… and it will inspire Christians to pray for Jewish believers and for the chosen Land of Israel itself. The book actually ends with some suggested prayers.

Bobbie Ann Cole presently divides her time between Canada and the UK. She’s also the author of the spiritual autobiography, She Does Not Fear the Snow. You can learn more about the author at her website, Testimony Train.

[Review copy from my personal library.]