The sequoia tree, one of three species of redwoods, is among the world’s largest and most enduring organisms. It can grow to 300 feet in height, weigh over 2.5 million pounds (1.1 million kg), and live for 3,000 years. But the majestic sequoia owes much of its size and longevity to what lies below the surface. A twelve- to fourteen-foot deep matting of roots, spreading over as much as an acre of earth, firmly grounds its towering height and astonishing weight.
A redwood’s expansive root system, however, is small compared to the national history, religion, and anticipation that undergird the life of Jesus. On one occasion He told a group of religious leaders that the Scriptures they loved and trusted told His story (John 5:39). In the synagogue of Nazareth He opened the scroll of Isaiah, read a description of Israel’s Messiah, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Later, after His resurrection, Jesus helped His disciples understand how the words of Moses, the prophets, and even the songs of Israel showed why it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise from the dead (Luke 24:46).
What grace and grandeur—to see Jesus rooted in the history and Scriptures of a nation, and to see how extensively our own lives are rooted in our need of Him.
Although the world is connected electronically like never before, nothing beats time together in person. As we share and laugh together, we can often sense—almost unconsciously—the other person’s emotions by watching their facial movements. Those who love each other, whether family or friends, like to share with each other face to face.
We see this face-to-face relationship between the Lord and Moses, the man God chose to lead His people. Moses grew in confidence over the years of following God, and he continued to follow Him despite the people’s rebelliousness and idolatry. After the people worshiped a golden calf instead of the Lord (see Exod. 32), Moses set up a tent outside of the camp in which to meet God, while they had to watch from a distance (33:7–11). As the pillar of cloud signifying God’s presence descended to the tent, Moses spoke on their behalf. The Lord promised that His Presence would go with them (v. 14).
Because of Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection, we no longer need someone like Moses to speak with God for us. Instead, just as Jesus offered His disciples, we can have friendship with God through Christ (John 15:15). We too can meet with Him, with the Lord speaking to us as one speaks to a friend.
As I was growing up in Jamaica, my parents raised my sister and me to be “good people.” In our home, good meant obeying our parents, telling the truth, being successful in school and work, and going to church . . . at least Easter and Christmas. I imagine this definition of being a good person is familiar to many people, regardless of culture. In fact, the apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, used his culture’s definition of being good to make a greater point.
Paul, being a devout first-century Jew, followed the letter of the moral law in his culture. He was born into the “right” family, had the “right” education, and practiced the “right” religion. He was the real deal in terms of being a good person according to Jewish custom. In Philippians 3:4, Paul writes that he could boast in all of his goodness if he wanted. But, as good as he was, Paul told his readers (and us) that there is something more than being good. He knew that being good, while good, was not the same as pleasing God.
Pleasing God, Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-8, involves knowing Jesus. Paul considered his own goodness as “garbage” when compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” We are good—and we please God—when our hope and faith are in Christ alone, not in our goodness.
When asked if he thought that ignorance and apathy were problems in modern society, a man joked, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
I suppose many discouraged people feel that way about the world today and the people in it. But when it comes to the perplexities and concerns of our lives, Jesus fully understands, and He deeply cares. Isaiah 53, an Old Testament prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus, gives us a glimpse of what He went through for us. “He was oppressed and afflicted . . . led like a lamb to the slaughter” (v. 7). “For the transgression of my people he was punished” (v. 8). “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (v. 10).
On the cross Jesus willingly bore our sin and guilt. No one ever suffered more than our Lord did for us. He knew what it would cost to save us from our sins and, in love, He willingly paid it (vv. 4–6).
Because of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, He is alive and present with us today. Whatever situation we face, Jesus understands and cares. And He will carry us through.
In the church I attend, a large cross stands at the front of the sanctuary. It represents the original cross where Jesus died—the place where our sin intersected with His holiness. There God allowed His perfect Son to die for the sake of every wrong thing we have ever done, said, or thought. On the cross, Jesus finished the work that was required to save us from the death we deserve (Rom. 6:23).
The sight of a cross causes me to consider what Jesus endured for us. Before being crucified, He was flogged and spit on. The soldiers hit Him in the head with sticks and got down on their knees in mock worship. They tried to make Him carry His own cross to the place where He would die, but He was too weak from the brutal flogging. At Golgotha, they hammered nails through His flesh to keep Him on the cross when they turned it upright. Those wounds bore the weight of His body as He hung there. Six hours later, Jesus took His final breath (v. 37). A centurion who witnessed Jesus’ death declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (v. 39).
The next time you see the symbol of the cross, consider what it means to you. God’s Son suffered and died there and then rose again to make eternal life possible.
When I was twelve years old our family moved to a town in the desert. After gym classes in the hot air at my new school, we rushed for the drinking fountain. Being skinny and young for my grade, I sometimes got pushed out of the way while waiting in line. One day my friend Jose, who was big and strong for his age, saw this happening. He stepped in and stuck out a strong arm to clear my way. “Hey!” he exclaimed, “You let Banks get a drink first!” I never had trouble at the drinking fountain again.
Jesus understood what it was like to face the ultimate unkindness of others. The Bible tells us, “He was despised and rejected by mankind” (Isa. 53:3). But Jesus was not just a victim, He also became our advocate. By giving His life, Jesus opened a “new and living way” for us to enter into a relationship with God (Heb. 10:20). He did for us what we could never do for ourselves, offering us the free gift of salvation when we repent of our sins and trust in Him.
Jesus is the best friend we could ever have. He said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Others may hold us at arm’s length or even push us away, but God has opened His arms to us through the cross. How strong is our Savior!
Clutching two framed photographs, the proud grandmother showed them to friends in the church foyer. The first picture was of her daughter back in her homeland of Burundi. The second was of her grandson, born recently to that daughter. But the daughter wasn’t holding her newborn. She had died giving birth to him.
A friend approached and looked at the pictures. Reflexively, she reached up and held that dear grandmother’s face in her hands. All she could say through her own tears was, “I know. I know.”
And she did know. Two months earlier she had buried a son.
There’s something special about the comfort of others who have experienced our pain. They know. Just before Jesus’s arrest, He warned His disciples, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.” But in the next breath He comforted them: “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20). In mere hours, the disciples would be devastated by Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion. But their crushing grief soon turned to a joy they could not have imagined when they saw Him alive again.
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isa. 53:4). We have a Savior who doesn’t merely know about our pain; He lived it. He knows. He cares. One day our grief will be turned into joy.
At the memorial service for Charles Schulz (1922–2000), creator of the beloved Peanuts comic strip, friend and fellow cartoonist Cathy Guisewite spoke of his humanity and compassion. “He gave everyone in the world characters who knew exactly how all of us felt, who made us feel we were never alone. And then he gave the cartoonist himself, and he made us feel that we were never alone. . . . He encouraged us. He commiserated with us. He made us feel he was exactly like us.”
When we feel that no one understands or can help us, we are reminded that Jesus gave us Himself, and He knows exactly who we are and what we are facing today.
Hebrews 2:9–18 presents the remarkable truth that Jesus fully shared our humanity during His life on earth (v. 14). He “taste[d] death for everyone” (v. 9), broke the power of Satan (v. 14), and freed “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). Jesus was made like us, “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God” (v. 17).
A few years ago, a friend invited me to join him as a spectator at a pro golf tournament. Being a first-timer, I had no idea what to expect. When we arrived, I was surprised to receive gifts, information, and maps of the golf course. But what topped it all was that we gained access to a VIP tent behind the 18th green, where we had free food and a place to sit. I couldn’t have gained entry to the hospitality tent on my own though. The key was my friend; it was only through him that I had complete access.
Left to ourselves, we would all be hopelessly separated from God. But Jesus, who took our penalty, offers us His life and access to God. The apostle Paul wrote, “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known” (Eph. 3:10). This wisdom has brought Jew and Gentile together in Christ, who has made a way for us to come to God the Father. “Through faith in [Christ] we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (v. 12).
When we put our trust in Jesus, we receive the greatest access of all—access to the God who loves us and desires relationship with us.