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.
When Walt Disney’s Bambi was re-released, moms and dads relived childhood memories with their sons and daughters. A young mother, whose husband was an avid outdoorsman with an impressive trophy room, was one of those parents. With her little ones at her side, she experienced with them the gasp and groan of the moment when Bambi lost his mother to a hunter. To this day she’s reminded at family gatherings of her embarrassment when, in all innocence, her little boy shouted out in the theater, “Nice shot!”
In time, we laugh at the embarrassing things our children say. But what are we to say when the people of Psalm 136 do something similar? Israel, God’s chosen and rescued people, celebrate a love that endures for all creation and for themselves—but not for their enemies. The psalm sings the praises of “him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt” (v. 10; see also Exodus 12:29–30).
Doesn’t that sound a bit like a shout of “nice shot” at the expense of someone else’s mother, sister, father, brother?
That’s why we need the rest of the story. Only when the lights come up in the resurrection of Jesus can the whole world be invited into the joy of one family’s stories, tears, and laughter. Only when we receive Jesus as our Savior and are made alive in Him, can we share the wonder of a God who loves everyone—at His own expense.
The Book of Odds says that one in a million people are struck by lightning. One in 25,000 experience a medical condition called “broken heart syndrome” in the face of overwhelming shock or loss. In page after page the odds of experiencing specific problems pile up without answering: What if we’re the one?
Job defied all odds. God said of him, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Yet Job was chosen to suffer a series of losses that defied all odds. Of all people on earth, Job had reason to beg for an answer. It’s all there for us to read in chapter after chapter of his desperate struggle to understand, “Why me?”
Job’s story gives us a way of responding to the mystery of unexplained pain and evil. By describing the suffering and confusion of one of God’s best examples of goodness and mercy (29:1–25), we gain an alternative to the inflexible rule of sowing and reaping (4:7–8). By providing a backstory of satanic mayhem (Job 1) and an afterword (42:7–17) from the God who would one day allow His Son to bear our sins, the story of Job gives us reason to live by faith rather than sight.
In a BBC video series on The Life of Mammals, host David Attenborough climbs a tree to take a humorous look at a three-toed sloth. Getting face-to-face with the world’s slowest moving mammal, he greets it with a “boo!” Failing to get a reaction, he explains that going slow is what you do if you are a three-toed sloth living primarily on leaves that are not easily digested and not very nutritious.
In a rehearsal of Israel’s history, Nehemiah reminds us of another example and explanation for going slow (9:9–21), but this one isn’t comical. According to Nehemiah, our God is the ultimate example of going slow—when it comes to anger. Nehemiah recounted how God cared for His people, instructing them with life-giving laws, sustaining them on their journey out of Egypt and providing them with the Promised Land (vv.9–16). Although Israel constantly rebelled (v. 16), God never stopped loving them. Nehemiah’s explanation? Our Creator is by nature “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 17). Why else would He have borne so patiently His people’s complaints, disbelief, and distrust for forty years? (v. 21). It was because of God’s “great compassion” (v. 19).
What about us? A hot temper signals a cold heart. But the greatness of God’s heart gives us room to patiently live and love with Him.
Author Henri Nouwen recalls his visit to a museum in St Petersburg, Russia, where he spent hours reflecting on Rembrandt’s portrayal of the prodigal son. As the day wore on, changes in the natural lighting from a nearby window left Nouwen with the impression that he was seeing as many different paintings as there were changes of light. Each seemed to reveal something else about a father’s love for his broken son.
Nouwen describes how, at about four o’clock, three figures in the painting appeared to “step forward.” One was the older son who resented his father’s willingness to roll out the red carpet for the homecoming of his younger brother the prodigal. After all, hadn’t he squandered so much of the family fortune, causing them pain and embarrassment in the process (Luke 15:28–30).
The other two figures reminded Nouwen of the religious leaders who were present as Jesus told His parable. They were the ones who muttered in the background about the sinners Jesus was attracting (vv. 1–2).
Nouwen saw himself in all of them—in a wasted son, in the condemning older brother and religious leaders, and in a Father’s heart that is big enough for anyone and everyone.
What about us? Can we see ourselves anywhere in Rembrandt’s painting? In some way, every story Jesus told is about us.
The ad brought a smile to my face: “The most comfortable socks in the history of feet.” Then, extending its claim of good news for feet even further, the advertiser said that because socks remain the most requested clothing item at homeless shelters, for every pair of socks purchased the company would donate a pair to someone in need.
Imagine the smile when Jesus healed the feet of a man who hadn’t been able to walk for thirty-eight years (John 5:2–8). Try to figure the opposing look on the faces of the Temple officials who weren’t impressed by Jesus’s care for the feet or heart of someone who had gone without help for so long. They accused the man and Jesus of breaking a religious law that allows no work to be done on the Sabbath (vv. 9–10, 16–17). They saw rules where Jesus saw the need for mercy.
At this point the man didn’t even know who had given him new feet. Only later would he be able to say that it was Jesus who had made him well (vv. 13–15)—the same Jesus who would allow His own feet to be nailed to a tree to offer that man—and us—the best news in the history of broken bodies, minds, and hearts.
The name of Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) is legendary in the world of music. His violins, cellos, and violas are so treasured for their craftsmanship and clarity of sound that many have been given their own names. One of them, for instance, is known as the Messiah-Salabue Stradivarius. After violinist Joseph Joachim (1831–1907) played it, he wrote, “The sound of the Strad, that unique ‘Messie,’ turns up again and again in my memory, with its combined sweetness and grandeur.”
Even the name and sound of a Stradivarius, however, doesn’t deserve to be compared to the work of a far greater Source. From Moses to Jesus, the God of gods introduces himself with a Name above all names. For our sake, He wants the wisdom and work of His own hand to be recognized, valued, and celebrated with the sound of music (Exodus 6:1; 15:1–2).
Yet this deliverance of strength in response to the groans of a troubled people was only prelude. Who could have foreseen that, by the weakness of crucified hands, He would one day leave a legacy of eternal and infinite value? Could anyone have predicted the resulting wonder and grandeur of music sung in praise of the Name of One who died—bearing the insult of our sin and rejection—to show how much He loves us?
On the streets of Los Angeles, a homeless man struggling with addictions stepped into The Midnight Mission and asked for help. Thus began Brian’s long road to recovery.
In the process Brian rediscovered his love for music. Eventually he joined Street Symphony—a group of music professionals with a heart for the homeless. They asked Brian to perform a solo from Handel’s Messiah known as “The People That Walked in Darkness.” In words written by the prophet Isaiah during a dark period of Israel’s history he sang, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2
The gospel writer Matthew quoted that same passage. Called by Jesus from a life of cheating his fellow Israelites, Matthew describes how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by taking His salvation “beyond the Jordan” to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:13–16).
Who would have believed one of Caesar’s tax collector thugs (see Matthew 9:9), a street addict like Brian, or people like us, would get a chance to show the difference between light and darkness in our own lives?