Something so cordial can happen in first introductions when two persons discover that they have a friend in common. In what may be its most memorable form, a big-hearted host welcomes a guest with something like, “So nice to meet you. Any friend of Sam’s, or Samantha’s, is a friend of mine.”
Jesus said something similar. He’d been attracting crowds by healing many. But He’d also been making enemies of local religious leaders by disagreeing with the way they were commercializing the temple and misusing their influence. In the middle of a growing conflict, He made a move to multiply the joy, cost, and wonder of His presence. He gave His disciples the ability to heal others and sent them out to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He assured the disciples, “who welcomes you welcomes me” and in turn His Father who sent Him as well (10:40).
It’s hard to imagine a more life-changing offer of friendship. For anyone who would open their house, or even give a cup of cold water to one of His disciples, Jesus assured a place in the heart of God. While that moment happened a long time ago, His words remind us that in big and little acts of kindness and hospitality there are still ways of welcoming, and being welcomed, as a friend of the friends of God.
Caesar Augustus (63 BC–AD 14), the first emperor of Rome, wanted to be known as a law-and-order ruler. Even though he built his empire on the back of slave labor, military conquest, and financial bribery, he restored a measure of legal due process and gave his citizens Iustitia, a goddess our justice system today refers to as Lady Justice. He also called for a census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of a long-awaited ruler whose greatness would reach to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:2–4).
What neither Augustus nor the rest of the world could have anticipated is how a far greater King would live and die to show what real justice looks like. Centuries earlier, in the prophet Micah’s day, the people of God had once again lapsed into a culture of lies, violence, and “ill-gotten treasures” (6:10–12). God’s dearly loved nation had lost sight of Him. He longed for them to show their world what it meant to do right by each other and walk humbly with Him (v. 8).
It took a Servant King to personify the kind of justice that hurting, forgotten, and helpless people long for. It took the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy in Jesus to see right relationships established between God and people, and person-to-person. This would come not in the outward enforcement of Caesar-like law-and-order, but in the freedom of the mercy, goodness, and spirit of our servant King Jesus.
Beethoven was angry. He’d intended to name his Third Symphony “The Bonaparte.” In an age of religious and political tyranny, he saw Napoleon as a hero of the people and champion of freedom. But when the French general declared himself emperor, the celebrated composer changed his mind. Denouncing his former hero as a rascal and tyrant, he rubbed so hard to erase Bonaparte’s name that he left a hole in the original score.
Early believers in Jesus must have been disappointed when their hopes of political reform were dashed. He had stirred such hopes of life without the tyranny of Caesar’s heavy-handed taxes and military presence. Yet, decades later, Rome still ruled the world. Jesus’ messengers were left with fears and weakness. His disciples were marked by immaturity and infighting (1:11–12; 3:1–3.)
But there was a difference. Paul saw beyond what remained unchanged. His letters began, ended, and overflowed with the name of Christ. Christ resurrected. Christ with a promise to return in power. Christ in judgment of everything and everyone. First and foremost, however, Paul wanted believers in Jesus to be grounded in the meaning and implications of Him crucified (2:2; 13:1–13).
The love expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice made Him a different kind of leader. As Lord and Savior of the world, His cross changes everything. The Name of Jesus will forever be known and praised above every name.
During the Golden Age of radio, Fred Allen (1894–1956) used comedic pessimism to bring smiles to a generation living in the shadows of economic depression and a world at war. His sense of humor was born out of personal pain. Having lost his mother before he was three, he was later estranged from his father who struggled with addictions. He once rescued a young boy from the traffic of a busy New York City street with a memorable, “What’s the matter with you, kid? Don’t you want to grow up and have troubles?”
The life of Job unfolds in such troubled realism. When his early expressions of faith eventually gave way to despair, his friends multiplied his pain by adding insult to injury. With good sounding arguments they insisted that if he could admit his wrongs (4:7–8) and learn from the God’s correction, he would find strength to laugh in the face of his problems (5:22).
Job’s “comforters” meant well while being so wrong (1:6–12). Never could they have imagined that they would one day be invoked as examples of “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Never could they have imagined the relief of Job praying for them, or why they would need prayer at all (42:10–11). Never could they have imagined how they foreshadowed the accusers of the One who suffered so much misunderstanding to become the source of our greatest joys.
Ancient Rome had its own version of “the gospel”—the good news. According to the poet Virgil, Zeus, king of the gods, had decreed for the Romans a kingdom without end or boundaries. The gods had chosen Augustus as divine son and savior of the world by ushering in a golden age of peace and prosperity.
This, however, wasn’t everyone’s idea of good news. For many it was an unwelcome reality enforced by the heavy hand of the emperor’s army and executioners. The glory of the empire was built on the backs of enslaved people who served without legal personhood or property at the pleasure of masters who ruled over them.
This was the world in which Paul introduced himself as a servant of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). Jesus—oh, how Paul had once hated that name. And how Jesus Himself had suffered for admitting to being the king of the Jews and Savior of the world.
This was the good news Paul would explain in the rest of his letter to the Romans. This gospel was “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). Oh, how it was needed by those who suffered under Caesar! Here was the news of a crucified and resurrected Savior—the liberator who conquered His enemies by showing how much He loved them.
As you read Paul’s opening words to the Romans, what phrases describe the good news to you? (1:1–7). Why would someone (Paul) who had once hated Jesus so much now want everyone to believe in Him? (see Acts 26).
When BBC Music Magazine asked one hundred fifty-one of the world’s leading conductors to list twenty of what they believed to be the greatest symphonies ever written, Beethoven’s Third, Eroica, came out on top. The work, whose title means “heroic,” was written during the turmoil of the French revolution. But it also came out of Beethoven’s own struggle as he slowly lost his hearing. The music evokes extreme swings of emotion that express what it means to be human and alive while facing challenges. Through wild swings of happiness, sadness, and eventual triumph Beethoven’s Third Symphony is regarded as a timeless tribute to the human spirit.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians deserves our attention for similar reasons. Through inspired words rather than musical scores it rises in blessing (1:4–9), falls in the sadness of soul-crushing conflict (11:17–22), and rises again in the unison of gifted people working together for one another and for the glory of God (12:6–7).
The difference is that here we see the triumph of our human spirit as a tribute to the Spirit of God. As he urges us to experience together the inexpressible love of Christ, Paul helps us see ourselves as called together by our Father, led by his Son, and inspired by his Spirit—not for noise, but for our contribution to the greatest symphony of all.
In the twilight of her years, Mrs. Goodrich’s thoughts came in and out of focus along with memories of a challenging and grace-filled life. Sitting by a window overlooking the waters of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, she reached for her notepad. In words she soon wouldn’t recognize as her own she wrote: “Here I am in my favorite chair; With my feet on the sill, and my heart in the air. The sun-struck waves on the water below; In constant motion—to where I don’t know. But thank You—dear Father above; For Your innumerable gifts—and Your undying love! It always amazes me—How can it be? That I’m so in love with One I can’t see.”
The apostle Peter acknowledged such wonder. He had seen Jesus with his own eyes, but those who would read his letter had not. His words reflect their unseen reality, and ours: “Though you have not seen him . . . you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). We love Jesus not because we’re commanded to, but because with the help of the Spirit (v. 11) we begin to see how much He loves us.
It’s more than hearing that He cares for people like us. It’s experiencing for ourselves the promise of Christ to make the wonder of His unseen presence and Spirit real to us, at every stage of life.
“Mr. Singerman, why are you crying?” asked twelve-year-old Albert as he watched the master craftsman construct a wooden box.
“I cry,” said Isaac, “because my father cried, and because my grandfather cried.” The woodworker’s answer to his young apprentice provides a tender moment in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. “Tears,” explained Mr. Singerman, “come with the making of a coffin.”
“Some men don’t cry because they fear it is a sign of weakness,” he said. “I was taught that a man is a man because he can cry.”
Emotion must have welled up in the eyes of Jesus as he compared His concern for Jerusalem to the care of a mother hen for her chicks (Matthew 23:37). His disciples were often confused by what they saw in His eyes or heard in his stories. His idea of what it meant to be strong was different. It happened again as they walked with Him from the temple. Calling His attention to the massive stone walls and magnificent décor of their place of worship (24:1), the disciples noted the strength of human accomplishment. Jesus saw a temple that would be leveled in 70
Jesus shows us that healthy people know when to cry and why. He cried because His Father cares and His Spirit groans for children who couldn’t yet see what breaks His heart.
In Pontiac, Michigan, a demolition company bulldozed the wrong building. Investigators believe that the owner of a house scheduled to be demolished nailed the numbers of his own address to a neighbor’s house to avoid demolition.
Jesus did the opposite. He was on a mission to let his own “house” be torn down for the sake of others. Imagine the scene and how confused everyone must have been, including Jesus’ own disciples. Picture them eyeing one another as Jesus challenged the religious leaders. “Destroy this temple,” Christ said, “and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). The leaders retorted indignantly, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (v. 20). He knew He was referring to the temple of His own body (v. 21). They didn’t.
They didn’t understand He had come to show that the harm we do to ourselves and to one another would ultimately fall on Him. He would atone for it.
God has always known our hearts far better than we do. So He didn’t entrust the fullness of his plans even to those who saw His miracles and believed in Him (vv. 23–25). Then as now He was slowly revealing the love and goodness in Jesus’ words that we couldn’t understand even if He told us.