James Oglethorpe (1696–1785) was a British general and member of Parliament who had a vision for a great city. Charged with settling the state of Georgia in North America, he planned the city of Savannah according to that vision. He designed a series of squares, each having a green space and designated areas for churches and shops, with the rest reserved for housing. The visionary thinking of Oglethorpe is seen today in a beautiful, well-organized city that is considered a jewel of the American South.
In Revelation 21, John received a vision of a different city—the New Jerusalem. What he said of this city was less about its design and more about the character of who was there. When John described our eternal home, he wrote, “I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them’” (v.3). And because of who was there—God Himself—this dwelling place would be notable for what was not there. Quoting from Isaiah 25:8, John wrote, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” (v. 4).
No more death! Nor will there be any more “mourning or crying or pain.” All our sorrow will be replaced by the wonderful, healing presence of the God of the universe. This is the home Jesus is preparing for all who turn to Him for forgiveness.
W. T. Stead, an innovative English journalist at the turn of the 20th century, was known for writing about controversial social issues. Two of the articles he published addressed the danger of ships operating with an insufficient ratio of lifeboats to passengers. Ironically, Stead was aboard the Titanic when it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. According to one report, after helping women and children into lifeboats, Stead sacrificed his own life by giving up his life vest and a place in the lifeboats so others could be rescued.
There is something very stirring about self-sacrifice. No greater example of that can be found than in Christ Himself. The writer of Hebrews says, “This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12,14 nkjv). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul opened with words describing this great sacrifice: “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3-4).
Jesus’ offering of Himself on our behalf is the measure of His love for us. That willing sacrifice continues to rescue men and women and offer assurance of eternity with Him.
On April 4, 1968, American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated, leaving millions angry and disillusioned. In Indianapolis, a largely African-American crowd had gathered to hear Robert F. Kennedy speak. Many had not yet heard of Dr. King’s death, so Kennedy had to share the tragic news. He appealed for calm by acknowledging not only their pain but his own abiding grief over the murder of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy then quoted a variation of an ancient poem by Aeschylus (526–456 bc):
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
“Wisdom through the awful grace of God” is a remarkable statement. It means that God’s grace fills us with awe and gives us the opportunity to grow in wisdom during life’s most difficult moments.
James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). James says that this wisdom is grown in the soil of hardship (vv. 2-4), for there we not only learn from the wisdom of God, we rest in the grace of God (2 Cor. 12:9). In life’s darkest times, we find what we need in Him.
Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” With that in mind, I read an online article describing “The Top 8 Deadliest Prisons in the World.” In one of these prisons every prisoner is held in solitary confinement.
We are intended to live and relate in relationships and community, not in isolation. This is what makes solitary confinement such a harsh punishment.
Isolation is the agony Christ suffered when His eternal relationship with the Father was broken on the cross. We hear this in His cry captured in Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” As He suffered and died under the burden of our sins, Christ was suddenly alone, forsaken, isolated, cut off from His relationship with the Father. Yet His suffering in isolation secured for us the promise of the Father: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Christ endured the agony and abandonment of the cross for us so that we would never be alone or abandoned by our God. Ever.
If you visit the village of Capernaum beside the Sea of Galilee, you will find an exhibit of ancient olive presses. Formed from basalt rock, the olive press consists of two parts: a base and a grinding wheel. The base is large, round, and has a trough carved out of it. The olives were placed in this trough, and then the wheel, also made from heavy stone, was rolled over the olives to extract the oil.
On the night before His death, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. There, in the garden called Gethsemane, He prayed to the Father, knowing what lay ahead of Him.
The word Gethsemane means “place of the olive press”—and that perfectly describes those first crushing hours of Christ’s suffering on our behalf. There, “in anguish, he prayed . . . and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Jesus the Son suffered and died to take away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and restore our broken relationship with God the Father. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering . . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4-5).
Our hearts cry out in worship and gratitude.
Charlie Sifford is an important name in American sports. He became the first African-American playing member of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour, joining a sport that, until 1961, had a “whites only” clause in its by-laws. Enduring racial injustice and harassment, Sifford earned his place at the game’s highest level, won two tournaments, and in 2004 was the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Charlie Sifford opened the doors of professional golf for players of all ethnicities.
Opening doors is also a theme at the heart of the gospel mission. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
The word nations (v. 19) is from the Greek word ethnos, which is also the source of the word ethnic. In other words, “Go and make disciples of all ethnicities.” Jesus’ work on the cross opened the way to the Father for everyone.
Now we have the privilege of caring for others as God has cared for us. We can open the door for someone who never dreamed they’d be welcomed personally into the house and family of God.
As a lifelong Cleveland Browns football fan, I grew up knowing my share of disappointment. Despite being one of only four teams to have never appeared in a Super Bowl championship game, the Browns have a loyal fan base that sticks with the team year in and year out. But because the fans usually end up disappointed, many of them now refer to the home stadium as the “Factory of Sadness.”
The broken world we live in can be a “factory of sadness” too. There seems to be an endless supply of heartache and disappointment, whether from our own choices or things beyond our control.
Yet the follower of Christ has hope—not only in the life to come but for this very day. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Notice that without minimizing the struggles or sadness we may experience, Christ counters them with His promises of peace, joy, and ultimate victory.
Great peace is available in Christ, and it’s more than enough to help us navigate whatever life throws at us.
In his novels The Trial and The Castle, Franz Kafka (1883–1924) portrays life as a dehumanizing existence that turns people into a sea of empty faces without identity or worth. Kafka said, “The conveyer belt of life carries you on, no one knows where. One is more of an object, a thing, than a living creature.”
Early in His ministry, Jesus went to a synagogue in Nazareth, stood up in front of the crowd, and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Then Christ sat down and declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed these words (Isa. 61:1-2). Now Jesus announced that He was the fulfillment of that promise.
Notice who Jesus came to rescue—the poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed. He came for people dehumanized by sin and suffering, by brokenness and sorrow. He came for us!