Stunned is just one word that describes the response of the crowd at the 2019 graduation ceremony at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. The commencement speaker announced that he and his family would be donating millions of dollars to erase the student debt of the entire graduating class. One student—with $100,000 in loans—was among the overwhelmed graduates who expressed their joys with tears and shouts.
Most of us have experienced indebtedness in some form—having to pay for homes, vehicles, education, medical expenses, or other things. But we’ve also known the amazing relief of a bill being marked “Paid”!
After declaring Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth,” John worshipfully acknowledged His debt-erasing work: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). This statement is simple but its meaning is profound. Better than the surprise announcement that the Morehouse graduating class heard is the good news that the death of Jesus (the shedding of His blood on the cross) frees us from the penalty that our sinful attitudes, desires, and deeds deserve. Because that debt has been satisfied, those who believe in Jesus are forgiven and become a part of God’s kingdom family (v. 6). This good news is the best news of all!
In the middle of the night, Pastor Samuel Baggaga received a call asking him to come to the home of a church member. When he arrived, he found a house engulfed by fire. The father, though burned himself, had reentered the home to rescue one of his children and emerged with an unconscious daughter. The hospital, in this rural Ugandan setting, was six miles (10 kilometers) away. With no transportation available, the pastor and the father started running to the hospital with the child. When one of them tired from carrying the injured girl, the other one took over. Together they made the journey; the father and his daughter were treated and then fully recovered.
In Exodus 17:8–13 the
The value of interdependence can never be underestimated. God, in His kindness, graciously provides people as His agents for mutual good. Listening ears and helpful hands; wise, comforting, and correcting words—these and other resources come to us and through us to others. Together we win and God gets the glory!
When a friend and I rode into one of the slums in Nairobi, Kenya, our hearts were deeply humbled by the poverty we witnessed. In that same setting, however, different emotions—like fresh waters—were stirred in us as we witnessed young children running and shouting, “Mchungaji, Mchungaji!” (Swahili for “pastor”). Such was their joy-filled response upon seeing their spiritual leader in the vehicle with us. With these tender shouts the little ones welcomed the one known for his care and concern for them.
As Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey, joyful children were among those who celebrated Him. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! . . . Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9, 15). But praises for Jesus were not the only sounds in the air. One can imagine the noisiness of scurrying, money-making merchants who were put to flight by Jesus (vv. 12–13). Furthermore, religious leaders who had witnessed His kindness in action (v. 14) “were indignant” (v. 15). They voiced their displeasure with the children’s praises (v. 16) and thereby exposed the poverty of their own hearts.
We can learn from the faith of children of God of all ages and places who recognize Jesus as the Savior of the world. He’s the One who hears our praises and cries, and He cares for and rescues us when we come to Him with childlike trust.
The film Amistad tells the story of West African slaves in 1839 taking over the boat that was transporting them and killing the captain and some of the crew. Eventually they were recaptured, imprisoned, and taken to trial. An unforgettable courtroom scene features Cinqué, the leader of the slaves, passionately pleading for freedom. Three simple yet powerful words—repeated with increasing force by a shackled man with broken English—eventually silenced the courtroom, “Give us free!” Justice was served and the men were freed.
Most people today aren’t in danger of being physically bound, yet true liberation from the spiritual bondage of sin remains elusive. The words of Jesus in John 8:36 offer sweet relief: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus pointed to Himself as the source of true emancipation because He offers forgiveness to anyone who believes in Him. Though some in Christ’s audience claimed freedom (v. 33), their words, attitudes, and actions regarding Jesus betrayed their claim.
Jesus longs to hear those who would echo Cinqué’s plea and say, “Give me freedom!” With compassion He awaits the cries of those who are shackled by unbelief or fear or failure. Freedom is a matter of the heart. Such liberty is reserved for those who believe that Jesus is God’s Son who was sent into the world to break the power of sin’s hold on us through His death and resurrection.
Joe’s eight-week “break” from his job as a crisis care worker at a New York City church was not a vacation. In his words, it was “to live again among the homeless, to become one of them, to remember what hungry, tired, and forgotten feel like.” Joe’s first stint on the streets had come nine years earlier when he arrived from Pittsburg without a job or a place to stay. For thirteen days he lived on the streets with very little food or sleep. That’s how the Lord had prepared him for decades of ministry to needy people.
When Jesus came to earth, He also chose to share the experiences of those He came to save. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). From birth to death, nothing was missing from our Lord’s human experience—except sin (4:15). Because He conquered sin, He can help us when we’re tempted to sin.
And Jesus doesn’t need to reacquaint Himself with our earthly cares. The One who saves us remains connected to us and is deeply interested in us. Whatever life brings, we can be assured that the One who rescued us from our greatest foe, the devil (2:14–15), stands ready to help us in our times of greatest need.
Though Mary loved Jesus—life was hard, real hard. Two sons preceded her in death as did two grandsons, both victims of shootings. And Mary herself suffered a crippling stroke that left her paralyzed on one side. Yet, as soon as she was able she made her way to church services where it was not uncommon for her—with fractured speech—to express praise to the Lord with words like, “My soul loves Jesus, bless His name!”
Long before Mary expressed her praise to God, David penned the words of Psalm 63. The heading of the psalm notes that David wrote it “when he was in the Desert of Judah.” Though in a less than desirable, even desperate situation, he didn’t despair because he hoped in God. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you . . . in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (v. 1).
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a place of difficulty, without clear direction or adequate resources. Uncomfortable situations can confuse us but they need not derail us when we cling to the One who loves us (v. 3), satisfies us (v. 5), and helps us (v. 7), and whose right hand upholds us (v. 8). Because God’s love is better than life, like Mary and David, we can express our satisfaction with lips that praise and honor God (vv. 3, 5).
“I lived with my mother so long that she moved out!” Those were the words of KC whose life before sobriety and surrender to Jesus was not pretty. He candidly admits supporting his drug habit by stealing—even from loved ones. That life is behind him now and he rehearses this by noting the years, months, and days he’s been clean. When KC and I regularly sit down to study God’s Word together, l’m looking at a changed man.
Mark 5:15 speaks of a former demon possessed individual who had also been changed. Prior to his healing, helpless, hopeless, homeless, and desperate are words that fit the man (v. 9). But all of that changed after Jesus liberated him (v. 13). But, as with KC, his life before Jesus was far from normal. The internal turmoil in his life that was expressed externally is not unlike what people experience today. Some hurting people dwell in abandoned buildings, vehicles, or other places; some live in their own homes but are emotionally alone. Invisible chains shackle hearts and minds to the point that they distance themselves from others.
In Jesus, we have the One who can be trusted with our pain and shame of the past and present. And, as with Legion and KC, He waits with open arms of mercy (v. 19) for all who run to Him today.
During a two month period in 1994, as many as one million Tutsis were slain in Rwanda by Hutu tribe members bent on killing their fellow countrymen. In the wake of this horrific genocide, Bishop Geoffrey Rwubusisi approached his wife about reaching out to women whose loved ones had been slain. Mary’s reply was, “All I want to do is cry.” She too had lost members of her family. The bishop’s response was that of a wise leader and caring husband: “Mary, gather the women together and cry with them.” He knew his wife’s pain had prepared her to uniquely share in the pain of others.
The church, the family of God, is the relational context in which all of life can be shared—the good and not-so-good. The New Testament words “one another” are used to capture our interrelatedness, our interdependence. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. . . . Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:10, 16). The breadth of our connectedness is expressed in verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” While the depth and scope of our pain may pale in comparison with those affected by genocide, it’s nonetheless personal and real. And, as with the pain of Mary, because of what God has done for us it can be embraced and shared for the comfort and good of others.
Artist Doug Merkey’s masterful sculpture Ruthless Trust features a bronze human figure clinging desperately to a cross made of walnut wood. He writes, “It’s a very simple expression of our constant and appropriate posture for life—total, unfettered intimacy with and dependency upon Christ and the gospel.”
That’s the kind of trust we see expressed in the actions and words of the unnamed woman in Mark 5:25–34. For twelve years her life had been in shambles (v. 25). “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (v. 26). But having heard about Jesus, she made her way to Him, touched Him, and was “freed from her suffering” (vv. 27–29).
Have you come to the end of yourself? Have you depleted all your resources? Anxious, hopeless, lost, distressed people need not despair. The Lord Jesus still responds to desperate faith—the kind displayed by this suffering woman and depicted in Merkey’s sculpture. This faith is expressed in the words of hymn writer Charles Wesley: “Father, I stretch my hands to Thee; no other help I know.” Don’t have that kind of faith? Ask God to help you trust Him. Wesley's hymn concludes with this prayer: “Author of faith, to Thee I lift my weary, longing eyes; O may I now receive that gift! My soul, without it, dies.”