Jesus 2

From The Second Half of the Cross

Another lesson that we can learn from the life of Jesus is that the quiet years from age twelve to thirty seem, according to conventional wisdom, as counter-intuitive.  We would think that God would pack as much ministry as possible into every minute of the life of Jesus on earth.

We would think that during this period of time all of the people living in the town of Nazareth and its environs would be saved, delivered, and healed of all maladies.  Jesus might even have prevented some destructive natural storms, or blessed the local crops and industries to miraculously prosper, or provided wise council regarding some local town issue.  We would think the legend and renown of Jesus would have spread throughout the region long before the start of His official ministry.

The Son of God on earth, according to horizontally conventional wisdom, would be an invaluable asset to mankind that should be put into full use.  Yet the will of God the Father is just the opposite.  With incredible self-restraint the Son of God waits on the Father before beginning His earthly public ministry, to the point that the local populace in Nazareth is surprised and offended when He does step forward to assume His role as the Messiah.  They thought according to conventional wisdom that any true Messiah would have revealed Himself much earlier, by means of a grander and more spectacular entrance upon the world stage.  The silent years of the life of Jesus are an elegant display of the second half of the cross lived perfectly.

If Jesus had jumped the race starter’s gun and began His ministry a few years ahead of the appointed time according to some humanly expected timetable, Jesus would have been out in front of John the Baptist and would have ruined the prophetic sequence.  Yet all this time Jesus is holding back the ministering care that He could provide to loved ones and acquaintances in Nazareth, as the Son of God.  Jesus stayed within the parameters and boundaries of His calling, from beginning to end.  His will was subordinate to the will of God His Father in heaven.  This is another reason why Jesus is the moderating and balanced way, truth, and life for impatient humans inclined to operate through self-energized action.

In the first century, Jesus is restoring sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, healing cripples, casting out demons, multiplying a few fish and loaves of bread to feed thousands, and raising the dead.  He is teaching like no other man has ever taught in history.  Multitudes of people are coming to see and hear Him from all over Israel and Jerusalem.

Yet Jesus has the enormous breadth of character to be able to have the worldly valued “pride of life” (1 Jn 2:15-17) crucified on the cross of Calvary, unselfishly for our salvation.  Jesus is able to span the very heights and the lowest depths of human experience.  Jesus can have thousands come to hear Him preach from a hilltop, yet the next moment humbly pick up His cross and head toward Golgotha for our sakes (Mt. 27:39-44).  Jesus suffers the worst possible outcome in life in the first century through Roman crucifixion.  Nothing outwardly epitomizes failure and defeat more than to end life on a cross in agony and shame.

Being a world-class heart surgeon will never exceed raising Lazarus from the dead.  Being a renowned lawyer arguing important issues before the United States Supreme Court will never surpass the instantly brilliant answers that Jesus gave to His critics in their numerous verbal challenges, which have intrigued skeptics and admirers down through the centuries (Matthew 22:46).  World-famous university professors and intellectuals cannot begin to reach the depth of insights in the teachings of Jesus (Mk. 1:22; Jn. 7:46).

Yet one of the most profound things about the character of God as revealed through the earthly ministry of Jesus the Son of God, is that the famous saying: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34), was put into practice and is in full operation at the beginning and throughout the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus knows the men of religious and political power who will eventually reject Him and bring about His death (Mt. 12:14-15; Jn 6:64; 7:19; 8:28).  Yet Jesus accepts invitations to eat in their homes (Lk. 7:36), teaches in synagogues throughout Israel and in the temple in Jerusalem, and has Pharisees and scribes around Him most of the time He is in public (Mt. 9:11; 12:2; 12:38).  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” was not just a moment of inspiration expressed from the cross, but was a part of the consistent character of loving outreach of Jesus Christ to every person alike during His entire ministry on earth.

The point here is that no one could invent Jesus Christ.  The huge character span capacity we see in Jesus is beyond the conception and creative imagination of human literary invention.  Jesus in the midst of His many challenges recorded in the gospels never falters or makes a mistake.  With Jesus there are no lessons learned the hard-way from past mistakes.

No one could invent such a perfect person.  What frame of reference could the gospel writers draw upon for inspiration to create the perfect person of Jesus Christ?  Not only could not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John invent the person of Jesus Christ, but no one in any century in all of history could make His story up.

The life of Jesus recorded in the gospels has a unique and singular context as demonstrated only through a perfect, sinless, divine Son of God at the pinnacle of character expressed in a human body, yet with the unfathomable capacity of unselfish love to become the physical sacrifice on the cross as atonement for the righteous judgment of God for our sin.  Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Tolkien, or Follett could not invent the person of Jesus, or the broad encompassing adventure of faith that Jesus modeled perfectly for us.

Jesus 1

From The Second Half of the Cross

“But made of himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men;  And, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”                                             (Phil. 2:7-8)

The life of Jesus does not fit the pattern of any other person in the Old or New Testaments, because Jesus is in the will of God from the very beginning of His life on earth.  There is no second half of the cross, no transformational journey of character growth for Jesus.  Jesus is the One who invented and personifies perfectly this concept of the second half of the cross.

Jesus as the Son of God does not need a change of heart to turn from a sinful life to a godly life, because He is thoroughly without sin.  Although Jesus was spotless as the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world, however, Jesus was still a human being that we can relate to.  The character of God shines forth from Jesus Christ through a human context.  All of the choices that Jesus made during His ministry, and all of His experiences recorded in the gospels, we can consider and emulate, because He was divinely perfect as a human being.

One of the blessings that God gave to mankind is the fact that the Son of God had a humble birth and upbringing.  If Jesus was born in a palace surrounded by wealth and privilege, then common men would always feel that poverty was an impediment to a godly and holy life.  Not only did Jesus have a humble birth, but an unusually difficult entrance into life.  The gospels tell us that Mary is pregnant with the child Jesus before she has started marital relations with her future husband Joseph.  This opening crisis is solved only after an angel informs Joseph in a dream of the situation.

Next is the difficult journey to Bethlehem to be registered by the Roman government, at the very time that Jesus is to be born.  Joseph is not wealthy or influential enough to be able to secure a place to stay ahead of time in Bethlehem, and the inn is full when they arrive, so Jesus is born in a stable and placed in a manger where new born lambs are placed.

There is no special welcome from town officials, or a delegation of rulers from Jerusalem, or a parade down the main street of Bethlehem.  If it were not for the angels notifying the humble shepherds at night to go into town and see the baby Jesus, no one would have known that the Creator of the universe had just entered the world as a newborn baby boy.

That Jesus entered the world at a low social level tells us that God’s idea of a human life for His Son is based upon the barest realities of human existence.  In the life of Jesus, God is telling us that He is prepared to enter into the deepest and most profound areas of human challenge, suffering, and sorrow, without any shortcuts or special favoritism.  He lets us know this from the very outset by placing Jesus in the home of a humble carpenter in a small, outlying town called Nazareth in Israel in the first century.

Imagine for a moment the incredible fact that Jesus Christ the Creator of the universe, as a small infant was completely dependent upon His two human parents Joseph and Mary.  The humbleness of the manger scene is made infinitely sublime by virtue of the realization that the Almighty Son of God elected to enter life just like any other human being.  By doing this Jesus became the bridge between God and man.  Shakespeare or Dickens could not do full justice to this remarkable aspect of the depth of God’s divine love.  Handel’s Messiah comes close to capturing the magnificence of the Incarnation through music and lyrics.  The melodies and lyrics of some of our most famous, inspired Christmas carols and hymns also come close.

When Jesus was twelve years old, on the annual family visit to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem unbeknownst to His parents, to converse with the teachers of the law.  Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the temple sitting amongst these teachers, asking them questions and listening to their answers.  The gospel of Luke says that all that heard the young Jesus were amazed and astonished at His understanding and answers.

If true religion was just about great teaching, then Jesus at this point could have been universally acclaimed as a prodigy and then educated and nurtured along by these teachers in Jerusalem and elsewhere to become a great world philosopher.  But the Bible tells us that Jesus simply returned with His parents to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.

One reason that Jesus does not go on the international speaking circuit in his late teens or early twenties is that the plan of God for Jesus involves much more than teaching, although that is a vitally important part.

Jesus is not only the greatest teacher in all of history, but He is also the Passover Lamb of God that suffers death on the cross to take upon Himself the sins of the world.  Jesus can give us all of the parables and examples recorded for us in the gospels, but God knows we need forgiveness and cleansing from sin first, and then the power of the Holy Spirit to put into practice the teachings and commandments of Jesus.

God the Father knows that we need the cross and the resurrection of Jesus to put us back into proper spiritual balance before He can effectively work with us.  Jesus went back to Nazareth with his earthly parents, after this brief interlude with the priests and scribes in the temple, because His role as the Messiah and the Passover Lamb were equally important to His role as a teacher.

Paul

From The Second Half of the Cross

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”                                                                                             (Jn. 3:16)

The apostle Paul is one of the great examples of the contrast between our own life-plan and God’s plan.  Paul is the chosen apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) precisely because his original idea of how to serve God was so far off the mark that after his conversion Paul could not possibly look down his nose at the Gentiles for worshipping dumb idols.

Any other highly educated Pharisee would have great difficulty accepting and carrying out the mission to convert the Gentiles to the Christian faith, but Paul after Damascus had no allusions as to the utter failure of his own well-intentioned but misguided plan to rightly serve God by persecuting the early church.

A well-educated Pharisee filled with self-righteous contempt for the pagan Gentiles could never have successfully carried out God’s mission of loving outreach contained within the new gospel message of reconciliation and forgiveness through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But a Christ-transformed Saul of Tarsus fits the job description for a first-century missionary evangelist perfectly.

The life of Paul confirms the incredible wisdom and foresight of God in being able to manipulate events to turn apparent defeat into victory.  Paul as Saul the Pharisee is the deadliest enemy of the new Christian church in Jerusalem.  Saul is arresting Christians, throwing them in jail, and having them beaten or in some cases killed (Acts 26:10).  Saul is the last person on the planet that anyone would think could become a convert to Christianity, let alone become one of its greatest champions.

Yet it is precisely this extremely misguided effort by Saul that allows God to flip Saul into Paul on the road to Damascus, thus creating in a moment an exceptionally qualified spokesman with unparalleled credentials to present the case to the world that Jesus is indeed the Christ.  Paul’s education at the “feet of Gamaliel” at Jerusalem, places Paul’s knowledge of the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament above reproach.  Combined with the super-humility that resulted from experiencing God’s forgiving love, and the sensational nature of his conversion, this makes Paul a uniquely powerful advocate for the new Christian faith.

The forgiving grace of Jesus Christ that produces this quick turnaround in Paul’s life, allows Paul to look at the Gentiles and know that God can do the same thing with them as well, no matter how misguided, deceived, and outwardly lost they appear to be.

Paul’s past also uniquely prepares Paul to attack his new mission with the expectation that persecution would come to whoever the first evangelists to the Gentile world would be.  Paul had an insider’s understanding of the perils that lay ahead.  In one of his letters to the churches (Gal. 1:13), Paul says that he wasted the church in Jerusalem, hailing men and women into prison, causing some to blaspheme and putting others to death.

When Paul ventured out to spread the Christian gospel, he entered upon the mission field knowing fully in advance what could and probably would happen to him.  Paul was aware of the evil that the Jews could do to him for preaching about Jesus the Christ, because he had already done these same things himself to other believers before his conversion.  Paul knew intimately about the depth of animosity that some Jews would have against the new Christian faith.  Paul knew that he was not above being beaten by the authorities on several occasions, or being nearly stoned to death in Lystra.

While most people would wash their hands of this evangelical mission to the Gentile world after such a stoning by the Jews, and tell God to find someone else, Paul is not offended at God for his rough treatment at Lystra and gets up un-phased and undeterred to continue his missionary journey.

The second half of the cross is clearly seen in the life of Paul.  When Paul meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, after that Paul gives up all ties to the conventional Jewish life in Jerusalem.  Paul sacrifices family, friends, social status, political connections, moderate wealth, and a reasonably secure and comfortable life, to the cross of Christ.  On his final visit to Jerusalem many years after his conversion, Paul is nearly pulled to pieces by the Jerusalem populace who are offended by his statement that God sent him to preach salvation to the despised and loathsome Gentiles.

Even as Paul is writing some of his New Testament letters to the churches, which have been cherished by millions of people for nearly two thousand years, Paul is writing these letters from a prison.  From all outward appearances Paul is a failure, or he would not be in a prison after so many years of faithful missionary service.  Conventional worldly wisdom would say that Paul should have been by that time a successful and respected religious philosopher in a world class university in Rome, Athens, or Alexandria.

But the second half of the cross does not operate according to the standards of the world.  If God wants to provide quiet time for a few years for a chosen apostle like Paul to reflect and compose a portion of the New Testament, then it is not a shame to be performing this task within the cell of a prison or in a guarded, hired house in Rome.  Like Joseph in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, outward appearances are often of secondary importance in our walk with God.

The low road of humble obedience and service to God excludes all pretenders.  There is no end to the number of people who will line up to become Pharisees, teachers of the law, and Sadducees, as long as this comes with the appearance and seal of success, the respect of the world, the comforts of wealth, and the excitement of having real power and influence.  Paul as Saul the Pharisee had all of these things, but he let them all go after his conversion on the road to Damascus.  Paul the apostle suffered the loss of worldly reputation and respect to the cross of Christ, in response to the love and forgiveness shown by Jesus Christ to him on that road to Damascus.

The life of Paul is another example in the Bible of how the cross of Christ inspires unselfish love.  Paul responds to God’s love, in his own words suffering the loss of all things worldly, and through the course of his ministry to the Jews and the Gentiles is transformed day-by-day into a person who can not only write, but also live the verses in I Corinthians 13: 1-7.

Instead of arresting and killing Christian believers, Paul allows his self-in-charge nature to be crucified along with Christ in order to bring the good news of the gospel of God’s love to others.  We have a glimpse in the salutations recorded in Romans sixteen, of a small sample of the large number of converts, friends, and acquaintances Paul made in his missionary journeys, of a man who has not only learned to genuinely love people, but who is deeply loved by them.  Paul’s conversion to Christianity and his growth as a person has to be one of the great marvels of human history.

Peter 2

From The Second Half of the Cross

Another important lesson can be learned from this inspired biblical episode in the life of Peter.  When we are operating according to our own plans and thinking, the glory of God is nowhere in sight.  Peter completely falls on his face in the courtyard of Caiaphas, because his plan to protect Jesus from physical harm is clearly off-track from God’s eternal plan of salvation for mankind.  But when we are operating within the will of God, God glorifies Himself in and through us.

When questioned by the Sanhedrin council about the miraculous healing of the crippled man, Peter immediately assigns the credit toward Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit glory of God on Peter and John boldly uplifts Jesus as the promised Messiah before these worldly powerful men.  God glorifies Himself in and through these two disciples, to the potential benefit of everyone present.

The unselfish love and pure righteousness of the glory of God transforms the miraculously healed man, emboldens Peter and John, further unfolds the truth about the identity of Jesus the Son of God hopefully to some open-minded members of the Sanhedrin, and blesses and instructs countless millions of people down through the ensuing centuries, reading this inspired account of the defense of the Christian faith at the dawning of the first century church.  The contrast between this God-composed and orchestrated event, and the earlier failed testimony of Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas, is staggering.

In our fallen condition of thinking, we cannot imagine that God would actually be way ahead of us regarding the ultimate outcomes we think are important in life.  After all, we think, how could “God” understand us?  Venturing out into a walk of faith, it is difficult for us to believe that at the end of the road, and at critical milestone junctures along the way, that an eternally ancient God could have an insider’s up-to-date viewpoint and actually come through with the unexpectedly brilliant, imaginative right answers.

For example, do we really believe that in a life lived with God, that the “good guy does not actually finish last?”  Do we really believe that God-inspired faith, compassion, mercy, and kindness win-out in the end over self-assertive competitiveness and aggressive self-seeking to “get ahead” in this world?  We must be honest with ourselves.  God is not fooled.  He knows our thoughts.

It would come as a surprise and a shock to most of us to discover that the God of the Bible is infinitely more savvy and “with-it” than we think, regarding the innermost desires and longings of our hearts.  It simply does not register with most of us that someone other than ourselves, especially a holy and perfect God, would actually know more about life, love, and true character, as they relate to our individual lives specifically, and on a higher level that is way above what we can imagine.

But this is exactly what Peter discovered when he first saw and spoke with the risen Jesus on Resurrection Day.  By all outward appearances, the Pharisees and scribes had their way with Jesus.  The Roman authorities crucified Him.  Peter was right about the bad consequences of Jesus falling into the wrong hands.  But when Peter saw the gloriously restored body of Jesus, he grasped the concept of the blood atonement for sin engrained in the Jewish religion given by God to the Israelites going back to the beginning of the Old Testament.

Peter realized in a bright flash of spiritual understanding that God all along knew better than Peter could possibly have imagined.  It came as an enormous, life-altering relief for Peter to discover that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit had it all figured out, from eternity past, regarding the cross and the resurrection, and that Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard had no bearing whatsoever on the ultimate outcome.  In the new world of reality where Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, Peter no longer had to be afraid of anything or anyone, even the heretofore intimidating members of the Sanhedrin.   

The end of the spiritual road for Jesus Christ, while living as a human being on this earth, was a smashing victory over evil, in all of the contested areas of character and truth, yet in the most admirably understated and self-effacing way imaginable in keeping within God’s nature.

The surprising pay-off at the end of being crucified and buried for dead, seemingly in humiliating defeat, was a massively positive outcome orchestrated by God the Father, which Peter could not and did not foresee when he announced beforehand that he would not allow Jesus to be captured by His enemies, nor forsake Jesus under any circumstances (Mt. 26:33).  The cross and the resurrection revealed the right way to live, from a humanly unexpected direction.

This is the supernatural aspect of the transformation that Peter experienced in his fall in the courtyard of Caiaphas, and his subsequent glorious recovery upon seeing Jesus during his individual and very personal interview with Jesus on Resurrection Day (Lk. 24:34).  The passing glance that Jesus gave to Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas (Lk. 22:61), pierced the very soul of Peter, and the gospel account records that Peter then went out and wept bitterly.  But when Jesus looked into the eyes of Peter on Resurrection Day, not only did this look contain loving forgiveness, but also the confident look of someone who knew all along the ultimate outcome of events.

When Jesus said to Peter “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Lk. 22:32), Jesus was not referring to Peter’s upcoming utter failure in the courtyard of Caiaphas, but in the hope that Peter would not completely lose faith in the ability of Jesus to overturn His crucifixion and burial into the resurrection He spoke about a few days earlier, despite the overwhelming negative outward appearances.

When Jesus shows the disciples His nail pierced hands and feet, and His spear pierced side, it is as much to say: “Look and see…I am God and one with the Father…We always knew what We were doing and that victory was at the end of my road leading to Calvary.”  This incredible turnaround discovery for Peter transformed him into a fearless and powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus for the rest of his life.

At critical points along the journey of faith in a Christian life, and at the final end of the road, lies the discovery that God is and was way out in front of us as to what is eternally important and fulfilling for our lives here on earth.  God really does know better than we do.  One of the scriptural lessons of the resurrection of Christ that is so beautifully illustrated in the transformation of Peter, from his precipitous fall in the courtyard of Caiaphas to his full recovery on the Day of Pentecost, is that in the adventure of a walk of faith with Jesus Christ, God sees to it that in the end the good guy does not finish last.

Peter 1

From The Second Half of the Cross

“Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”     (Phil. 1:6)

One of the lessons we can learn from the life of Peter is that while Jesus is hanging on the cross, Peter’s self-reliance in his own abilities to serve Jesus were nailed to the cross as well.  Peter has the courage to face the mob in the Garden of Gethsemane, and is willing to fight using physical force to protect Jesus, because an unruly mob of common folk is on his own social peer level.  Peter is comfortable and self-confident in a good brawl with fists, clubs, and swords (Jn 18:10).  Peter is not afraid of this motley group accompanying Judas to arrest Jesus.

But later Peter painfully discovers in the courtyard of Caiaphas the high priest, that he is overawed and intimidated by the surroundings of these powerful and important men.  Peter bitterly discovers that he cannot even muster the courage to acknowledge Jesus to people standing around a fire in the courtyard, even though only hours before he was willing to fight to the death to save Jesus.

With all of the previous trust and responsibility that Jesus had placed in Peter, at the critical moment Peter’s own strength failed him.  In this first real test on his own, in the stress of the situation, Peter momentarily forgot all about resting and relying upon the Holy Spirit for spiritual wisdom, direction, and strength.

Yet this bitter defeat of Peter’s came as no surprise to Jesus.  Jesus knows about the power of the cross to transform human nature from self-led to Spirit-led, because Jesus Christ created people.  Jesus knew that Peter’s self-confidence had to be put to death on the cross in order for the power of God to work through Peter.  Jesus knew that Peter had to experience the bitter defeat of relying upon his own abilities, in Peter’s first introduction into individual spiritual combat.  Peter had to learn this lesson in the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, where it really did not matter, so that he would not similarly fail later when it did matter in front of the entire assembled body of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-22).

In Matthew 26:33 Peter says: “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.”  Here Peter is separating himself from the other disciples, as if he is above them in terms of fidelity and commitment.  These words coming out of Peter’s mouth reveal an elevated opinion of himself, exclusive and special above everyone else.  Peter has unwittingly set himself up for his personal fall.

To be of any use in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, Peter has to be a vessel empty of self so that he can be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  As Peter (probably) looks from afar at Jesus hanging on the cross, Peter experiences the crushing defeat of human self-effort to live for God.  But the part that died within Peter is the part that is supposed to die when we look at Jesus on the cross.

The part of our spiritual make-up that has to be crucified when we look at the cross is our self-in-control nature.  The whole of Peter did not die on account of the crucifixion of Jesus.  The better part of Peter, humbled and stripped of pride, survived to go on to faithfully and correctly serve God for the remainder of his life.

After the utter failure in the courtyard of Caiaphas, Peter went out and wept bitterly, because his way did not work.  Peter believed he had failed Jesus, because he was not aware of another option.  Peter could not clearly see the upcoming resurrection three days later.  Peter was partially unaware of God’s alternate, higher way.  Like the other apostles, Peter did not fully understand the words of Jesus regarding His crucifixion and resurrection, as they traveled toward Jerusalem for the last time (Mk. 10:32-34; Lk. 18:31-33).

Peter wept bitterly over the failure of his own way to commendably protect Jesus, according to the natural realm of thinking, because at that point in his Christian career Peter was ignorant of God’s ways regarding the cross applied to Peter’s life.  How could Peter know this fully ahead of time?  The events of the cross and the resurrection were occurring in real time in-the-moment.  After the resurrection it all made sense in hindsight.  Peter’s well-intentioned, self-generated plan to physically protect Jesus from harm, otherwise commendable in every way, had to give place to the higher ways of God in Peter’s life from this critical time forward.

Even though Jesus told the disciples upfront what was about to happen in the coming few weeks ahead, Peter could not see beyond his own ideas and plan.  The exceedingly good news here is that the faithfulness and loving kindness of God toward Peter and all of the disciples transcended far above whatever they were thinking as they viewed, from afar, Jesus hanging on the cross on Calvary Hill.  God’s ways, in this matter of the cross, were not only higher but infinitely better beyond reckoning.

We see the new, transformed Peter on the day of Pentecost, when Peter is among the other disciples in the upper room, as they are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking with other tongues.  Peter stands up physically and spiritually, and steps into the destiny of his life, as he boldly addresses the people and proclaims the gospel message that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Weeks later, before the Sanhedrin, after the crippled man is miraculously healed at the gate of the temple, Peter speaks with such clarity, power, and conviction to the rich and powerful men assembled there, the very people he used to be in terror of, that even these members of the Sanhedrin were impressed with the courage and boldness of Peter and John.

In the beautiful and instructive example of this life-changing transformation in Peter, we see the contrast between our ways and God’s ways.  In his own strength, Peter cannot marshal enough courage during the intimidating circumstances of Jesus’ midnight trial, to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus to even an informal group of common people gathered around a small fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas.  Peter is experiencing what Christians today popularly call an “Ishmael”…the ill-fated doom of all self-generated plans that proceed without the advance council or participation of God.  This is better articulated in another common saying: “Whatever man does without God will fail miserably, or succeed even more miserably.”

But then watch what God does next in this divinely salvaged story of Peter’s fall and recovery.  After the events of the resurrection of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost, Peter is now fully restored and correctly following the leading of the Holy Spirit as he was trained.  As Peter and John are walking into the temple early in the morning to pray for the strength and inspiration to fulfill their new responsibilities as leaders of the new Christian church, they perceive through the Spirit that God intends to heal the crippled man asking for alms.

Through a cascade of quickly unfolding events, this time engineered by Jesus Christ, Peter shortly finds himself not being challenged by a small group of common people standing around a fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas, but instead ably defending himself before the entire assembled body of the all-powerful, ruling Sanhedrin council.  In this second challenge arranged and empowered exclusively by the Holy Spirit, and not by his earlier inadequate self-effort in the courtyard, Peter successfully comes through this time with incredible Holy Spirit boldness in acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah.

Joseph and Mary

From The Second Half of the Cross

“Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way;  Because narrow is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”                                    (Mt. 7:13-14)

Joseph in the New Testament, the step-father of Jesus, is a person who does not get a lot of mention in Protestant sermons or books except around Christmas time.  The second half of the cross, however, sheds light on the life of Joseph that can further instruct us about our godly calling and the Christian life.  Joseph, the step-father of the Son of God, deserves more credit than he generally gets.

Joseph and Mary are obviously the first people recorded in the New Testament to believe in Jesus as the Christ.  Joseph intends to wed Mary in the city of Nazareth, only to discover before they are married that Mary is pregnant.  In a dream an angel explains to Joseph that the child in Mary’s womb is conceived by the Holy Spirit, and to not be afraid to take her for a wife.

After the angel informs Joseph of the situation, we can reasonably assume that Mary discussed all that she knew with Joseph.  We can assume that the couple discussed the visit Mary had from the angel Gabriel and all that the angel told her, and the subsequent visit Mary had with Elisabeth and Zacharias, and what they had said to her about the baby she was carrying.

Joseph was present and assisted at the birth of the baby Jesus.  Joseph heard what the shepherds said about an angel telling them to go and see the baby that was born who is the Savior, Christ the Lord, and about the multitude of angels praising God over the birth of Jesus.  Joseph was present when the three wise men from the east came bearing gifts, and heard what they said about the baby Jesus.  Joseph was in the temple when Simeon spoke about Jesus, and the scripture in Luke says that “Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken by him.”  Joseph was there in the temple when Anna, a prophetess, spoke about Jesus regarding redemption in Israel.

An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and warns Joseph to take his wife Mary and the young child Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempt to destroy the future “King of the Jews.”  After Herod’s death, an angel again appears to Joseph in a dream telling him it is now safe to return to Israel.  Joseph returns with Mary and Jesus to live in Nazareth.

We see in Joseph an excellent choice to be the step-father of Jesus.  He accepts this huge responsibility given to him by God the Father, and manages all of the challenges with quiet resolve and leadership.  Joseph is apparently a man of character, as we see no signs of him bragging to the town of Nazareth about any remarkable talents of his oldest son, or trying to exploit or benefit in any way from the natural abilities of Jesus.

Joseph and Mary show such self-restraint in keeping the divine conception of Jesus a secret that even the half brothers and sisters of Jesus appear to be totally unaware of the full story.  It is only after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that two of His brothers, James and Jude, come to believe that He is the Christ.  It was probably only after the resurrection that Mary told her other children the full story about her first son and their remarkable half-brother.

One of the interesting and instructive elements in the ministry of Jesus is that His step-father Joseph is not on hand for support.  It is not the will of God that Joseph still be alive when Jesus starts His public ministry sometime in His early thirties.  Joseph is therefore not present in the synagogue in Nazareth to defend Jesus when He stood up to read the messianic Isaiah 61:1-2 scriptures about Himself, and the townspeople were violently offended that they had not previously been given the inside information about Jesus that would support such astounding claims.  Joseph could then have given them the reasons why he and Mary had kept this information from family and friends, and this might have defused this volatile situation.

Joseph is not present during the many visits that Jesus made to Jerusalem, where he could have cleared up the pivotal question by the Pharisees and scribes regarding the birthplace of Jesus and their complaint about Jesus that: “we know this man, from where he is”, meaning Nazareth and not Bethlehem, the scriptural birthplace of the Messiah.

As head of the family, Joseph could have been there to pull aside each of his children and privately tell them the real story about the conception and birth of their half-brother Jesus, to prevent the painful situation described during the ministry of Jesus: “For neither did his brethren believe in him.”  Joseph might have comforted Mary regarding the cold reception that the ministry of Jesus had received at the hands of the established religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Joseph might have helped Mary reconcile in her mind what she knows to be true about Jesus her son with the rejection His ministry is receiving from the Pharisees, scribes, and rulers.  Joseph might even have been present at the trial of Jesus, and spoken up about the true origin of his step-son and His flawless character before these powerful men.

We clearly see in the life of Joseph the second half of the cross—the death of the self-in-charge nature, in favor of the plan of God for Joseph’s life.  All Joseph started out to do was marry a lovely young woman in his hometown of Nazareth.  None of us can truly grasp the magnitude and magnificence of the actual life that Joseph experienced.  If Joseph could do it all over again, would he choose for himself a different, more normal life?

The plan of God for the life of Joseph was narrow and well-defined in the duties that God gave him to do, as briefly described above.  Joseph does not live long enough to become a leader in the early Christian church.  Joseph did not have the opportunity to leave us inspired writings like Peter, Paul, John, or his own son James.  Joseph was not called by God to be a great evangelist after the death and resurrection of Jesus, with a unique perspective that only he could give.

But does anyone think that the degree of honor and gratitude that will be given to Joseph in heaven will be small?  Like a lifelong faithful servant who performed his assigned duties well in the service of a great king, Joseph served the eternal Son of God in the role of a step-father from the birth of Jesus through sometime into the teens or possibly middle twenties of Jesus.  Joseph after all taught Jesus, the Creator of the universe, simple carpentry.  Joseph knows Jesus like few people can claim to know Him.

I believe that Joseph will cherish for all eternity the opportunity and responsibility that God the Father placed with him to protect and watch over the Son of God during His childhood, and that God’s unique plan for his life was and will be a source of immeasurable value to him.  I believe that Joseph will be one of the most sought-after guest speakers in heaven, if there is such a thing, with his social calendar booked for eons, because of the special relationship he had with Jesus during the “silent years.”

One of the lessons that we can learn from the life of Joseph is that it was the will and plan of God that Jesus the Son of God stand alone to accomplish the great work of salvation on the cross.  For reasons that will probably only be fully understood on the Day of Judgment and the final demise of evil, God knew that the task of presenting love to the universe by the example of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, could only rightly be done by Him alone.

No human agents can appear to be aiding Jesus during the trial and crucifixion—not apostles, disciples, a mother, family members, or possibly even a faithful and courageous step-father.  At basic issue was right and wrong, love and hate, goodness and evil.  As Jesus hung in agony on the cross hour after hour, no one present there at the time knew that the most beautiful example of character in the history of mankind, or indeed for all eternity, was taking place.

Mary, on the other hand, is quite human in that she appears to have problems understanding the second half of the cross in the ministry of Jesus her son.  No one can be any closer to this issue than Mary.  Like all mothers, Mary wants to see her son Jesus succeed in life.  Mary has good reason to be confident in the abilities of her son, because both she and Joseph know the true parentage of Jesus the Son of God.  Mary is therefore deeply shocked and staggered by the opposition shown from the powerful Pharisees, scribes, and rulers in Jerusalem toward her son’s ministry and message, people she would otherwise respect and admire.

Mary probably had profound confusion over the disconnect between what she knew to be the true nature of the person and the abilities of her son Jesus, and the failure of the Jewish authorities to likewise recognize this and accept Jesus as the Messiah.  The official rejection of Jesus during His trial and crucifixion must have been heart wrenching.  Mary was the only person alive at that time other than Jesus Himself, who knew about His conception, birth, and the extraordinary prophesies that were pronounced about Him by angels, shepherds, wise men, prophets, and the Old Testament scriptures.  Being a woman in the first century Jewish patriarchal culture, if Mary had come forward and told all that she knew, few people would have believed her.

Like the rest of the apostles, Mary had to painfully wait for the unexpected Resurrection Day to be able to fully understand through hindsight that Jesus her son died on the cross as the sacrificial Passover Lamb of God.  The long-awaited Messiah of Israel took away the sins of the world, in order to become the resurrection life that lifts us up out of death into a new spiritual life with God.

David 2

From The Second Half of the Cross

If we mistakenly think we have everything perfectly arranged financially and socially, we will also mistakenly think we have no need for God.  An autonomous journey-of-self automatically pushes aside a journey of faith in fellowship with God, because we cannot live two opposing lives at the same time.

Is entirely self-controlling our destiny the underlying purpose of life?  How is it that we would even independently know the real purpose of this short-in-length life for us?  Is it written in stone somewhere?  Is the purpose of life capably passed down to us from our parents and grandparents?  Are we born into a world where the life-examples of the experienced adults around us clearly demonstrate the best approach to life (1 Pet. 1:18)?  Judging by the chaotic, universally repetitive trial-and-error world around us, mankind in general has no idea what is the true purpose of our being here.

One of the basic questions, which people pause to think about during some period in their busy lives, even people with economic and social stability, is: “why am I here?”

Absent specific knowledge of our purpose in life, people in our modern culture who do not personally know God through an intimate walk of faith, vote with their self-will and their pocketbooks to choose the default, conventional, pleasure-driven, self-centered, spiritually risk-averse, and worldly predictable road.

How many people do we personally know, or read about in fiction novels, or watch in movies, who listen to God in the Spirit, subordinate their self-wills, and follow the life-plan that God could and would reveal to them as the optimum course of action?  This approach does not exist in our popular culture because it involves surrendering all to Jesus Christ, because it involves the second half of the cross.

The worldly conventional life-approach has no faith or trust in God, but instead has faith and trust in ourselves.  The type of risk, danger, and adventure that comes from faith and trust in the living God, who can compose and orchestrate a brilliantly creative life like David’s divinely planned and executed ascent to the kingship of Israel, does not exist in a God-less cultural environment.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes of Jesus day were no longer the spiritual children of Abraham, because they held on to their self-will instead of submitting it to God.  Like people of our own culture, they were afraid of the uncertainty of relinquishing their hold over the destiny of their lives into the trust of God’s care.  Instead these Jerusalem leaders created their own form of religion based upon rules, regulations, and the performance of self-works rituals that replaced the living but more risky faith of submitting their lives to God.

We see this pattern throughout history in all man-invented, perfunctory religious experience.  People will do almost anything to avoid having to give up their self-will to God, because deep down inside they are afraid.  People are afraid to take the risk that God’s way might actually be better, because of the element of uncertainty of what God might do with their lives.

There is security in staying with what we know, rather than venturing out into a perilous journey of faith with Jesus Christ into the unknown.  There is a sense of security in not letting go of the power we have over our own lives.  This is the case, even when the recipient of this letting go of the power of self-sovereignty…Jesus Christ our Creator God…will lovingly re-direct this self-same power back down towards us in a more intelligently designed and beneficially purposed adventure-of-faith life-plan.

This is why many people have to reach the bottom depths of failure and suffering, to have nothing left to lose and nowhere else to go, before they will turn to God for His help.  Sadly, Jesus Christ is often the last resort when He should be the first and most sensible beginning option in discovering our true purpose in life.  That many people stubbornly hang on to their own self-in-control natures, to the ruin of themselves and often those around them, is one of the central, core problems with the human race.

David has to face Goliath in a life-and-death struggle at the beginning of David’s career, not because God sets up these types of contests for His own enjoyment, but because we must learn real faith and trust in God to see us through challenges when failure and falsification of God’s character are live possibilities.

In a biblical quality journey of faith we sometimes barely make it through the tightest of choreographed and integrated circumstances because this is one way amongst several ways that God uses to authenticate His direct participation in our lives.

Miraculous or near-miraculous deliverance through supernaturally choreographed events is one tool in God’s tool-kit to separate His ways above worldly conventional normalcy.  We see this repeated throughout the narrative stories of the Bible for an eternally valid reason.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) because without a context of circumstances requiring committed faith in the face of discouraging appearances, God cannot reveal to us His very real presence in our lives in stark contrast to the subjective, humanistically generated false experience of self-works “religion.”

The story of David’s anointing by Samuel, and his calling, exploits, and tribulations in route to the kingship of Israel is not a man-invented myth because the component of the active participation of God in David’s story in beyond the reach of the creative imagination and invention of human writers.  An adventure of faith like David’s is unique to the Bible.

David can write the 23rd Psalm because he actually followed God through the valley of the shadow of death.  David learned first-hand that he did not have to fear evil, when God was with him.  Five of the most important words ever recorded in all of literature are: “for thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4).  The contrast between the God-composed life of David, living on the knife’s edge of danger in faith and trust in God, and the self-led life in pursuit of security and self-preservation that will not venture out into the risky territory of faith in God, could not be greater.

The reward for David’s faith and trust is that he became Israel’s greatest king and fulfilled the purpose of his life (Ps. 139:14-18), and in doing so he came to personally know his Creator God.