We found our visit to Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar, deeply moving, for it sits on the site of what was formerly the largest slave market in East Africa. The designers of this cathedral wanted to show through a physical symbol how the gospel breaks the chains of slavery. No longer would the location be a place of evil deeds and horrible atrocities, but of God’s embodied grace.
Those who built the cathedral wanted to express how Jesus’s death on the cross provides freedom from sin—that which the apostle Paul speaks of in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). Here the word redemption points to the Old Testament’s notion of the marketplace, with someone buying back a person or item. Jesus buys back a person from a life of slavery to sin and wrongdoing.
In Paul’s opening words in this letter (vv. 3–14), he bubbles over with joy at the thought of his freedom in Christ. He points, in layer after layer of praise, to God’s work of grace for us through Jesus’s death, which sets us free from the cords of sin. No longer do we need to be slaves to sin, for we are set free to live for God and His glory.
Susannah Cibber gained fame in the eighteenth-century for her talent as a singer. However, she was equally well known for her scandalous marital problems. That’s why when Handel’s Messiah was first performed in Dublin in April 1742, many in the audience did not approve of her role as a featured soloist.
During that inaugural performance, Cibber sang of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Those words so moved Rev. Patrick Delany that he jumped to his feet and said, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!”
The connection between Susannah Cibber and the theme of Handel’s Messiah is evident. The “man of sorrows”—Jesus the Messiah—was “despised and rejected” because of sin. The prophet Isaiah said, “My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (v. 11).
The connection between Messiah and us is no less apparent. Whether we stand with the judgmental audience members, with Susannah Cibber, or somewhere in between, we all need to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus, by His life, death, and resurrection, restored our relationship with God our Father.
For this—for all Jesus did—be all our sins forgiven.
We sat around the table, each person adding a toothpick to the foam disc before us. At our evening meal in the weeks leading up to Easter we created a crown of thorns—with each toothpick signifying something we had done that day for which we were sorry and for which Christ had paid the penalty. The exercise brought home to us, night after night, how through our wrongdoing we were guilty and how we needed a Savior. And how Jesus freed us through His death on the cross.
The crown of thorns that Jesus was made to wear was part of a cruel game the Roman soldiers played before He was crucified. They also dressed Him in a royal robe and gave Him a staff as a king’s scepter, which they then used to beat Him. They mocked Him, calling Him “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:29), not realizing that their actions would be remembered thousands of years later. This was no ordinary king. He was the King of Kings whose death, followed by His resurrection, gives us eternal life.
On Easter morning, we celebrated the gift of forgiveness and new life by replacing the toothpicks with flowers. What joy we felt, knowing that God had erased our sins and given us freedom and life forever in Him!
During Holy Week, we remember the final days before Jesus’s crucifixion. The road Jesus traveled to the cross through the streets of Jerusalem is known today as the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows.
But the writer of Hebrews viewed the path Jesus took as more than just a path of sorrows. The way of suffering that Jesus willingly walked to Golgotha made a “new and living way” into the presence of God for us (Hebrews 10:20).
For centuries the Jewish people had sought to come into God’s presence through animal sacrifices and by seeking to keep the law. But the law was “only a shadow of the good things that are coming,” for “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (vv. 1, 4).
Jesus’s journey down the Via Dolorosa led to His death and resurrection. Because of His sacrifice, we can be made holy when we trust in Him for the forgiveness of our sins. Even though we aren’t able to keep the law perfectly, we can draw near to God without fear, fully confident that we are welcomed and loved (vv. 10, 22).
Christ’s way of sorrow opened for us a new and living way to God.
In the song “Look at Him,” Mexican composer Rubén Sotelo describes Jesus at the cross. He invites us to look at Jesus and be quiet, because there is really nothing to say before the type of love Jesus demonstrated at the cross. By faith we can imagine the scene described in the Gospels. We can imagine the cross and the blood, the nails, and the pain.
When Jesus breathed His last, those who “had gathered to witness this sight . . . beat their breasts and went away” (Luke 23:48). Others “stood at a distance, watching these things” (v. 49). They looked and were quiet. Only one spoke, a centurion, who said, “Surely this was a righteous man” (v. 47).
Songs and poems have been written to describe this great love. Many years before, Jeremiah wrote about Jerusalem’s pain after its devastation. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12). He was asking people to look and see; he thought there was no greater suffering than Jerusalem’s. However, has there been any suffering like Jesus’s suffering?
All of us are passing by the road of the cross. Will we look and see His love? This Easter, when words and poems are not enough to express our gratitude and describe God’s love, let us take a moment to ponder Jesus’s death; and in the quietness of our hearts, may we whisper to Him our deepest devotion.
For many years, people in our city built and bought homes in areas subject to landslides. Some knew about the risk of the unstable land, while others were not told. “Forty years of warnings from geologists and city regulations created to ensure safe homebuilding” were unexplained or ignored (The Gazette, Colorado Springs, April 27, 2016). The view from many of those homes was magnificent, but the ground beneath them was a disaster in the making.
Many people in ancient Israel ignored the Lord’s warnings to turn from idols and seek Him, the true and living God. The Old Testament records the tragic results of their disobedience. Yet, with the world crumbling around them, the Lord continued reaching out to His people with a message of forgiveness and hope if they would turn to Him and follow His way.
The prophet Isaiah said, “He [the Lord] will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure” (Isa. 33:6).
Today, as in the Old Testament era, God has given us a choice about the foundation on which we will build our lives. We can follow our own desires, or we can embrace His eternal principles revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand—all other ground is sinking sand (Mote).
A friend recently prepared to relocate to a city more than 1,000 miles from her current hometown. She and her husband divided the labor of moving to accommodate a short timeline. He secured new living arrangements, while she packed their belongings. I was astounded by her ability to move without previewing the area or participating in the house hunt, and asked how she could do so. She acknowledged the challenge but said she knew she could trust him because of his attention to her preferences and needs over their years together.
In the upper room, Jesus spoke with His disciples of His coming betrayal and death. The darkest hours of Jesus’ earthly life, and that of the disciples’ as well, lay ahead. He comforted them with the assurance that He would prepare a place for them in heaven, just as my friend’s husband prepared a new home for their family. When they questioned Jesus, He pointed them to their mutual history and the miracles they’d witnessed Him perform. Though they would grieve Jesus’s death and absence, He reminded them He could be counted on to do as He’d said.
Even in the midst of our own dark hours, we can trust Him to lead us forward to a place of goodness. As we walk with Him, we too will learn to trust increasingly in His faithfulness.
Cleopatra, Galileo, Shakespeare, Elvis, Pelé. They are all so well known that they need only one name to be recognized. They have remained prominent in history because of who they were and what they did. But there is another name that stands far above these or any other name!
Before the Son of God was born into this world, the angel told Mary and Joseph to name Him Jesus because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), and “He . . . will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Jesus didn’t come as a celebrity but as a servant who humbled Himself and died on the cross so that anyone who receives Him can be forgiven and freed from the power of sin.
The apostle Paul wrote, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
In our times of greatest joy and our hours of deepest need, the name we cling to is Jesus. He will never leave us, and His love will not fail.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes of the “uncanny ability of experts to get things hopelessly, cataclysmically wrong.” A quick glance at recent history shows he's right. The great inventor Thomas Edison, for instance, once declared that talking movies would never replace silent films. And in 1928, Henry Ford declared, “People are becoming too intelligent ever to have another war.” Countless other predictions by “experts” have missed the mark badly. Genius obviously has its limits.
Only one Person is completely reliable, and He had strong words for some so-called experts. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day claimed to have the Truth. These scholars and theologians thought they knew what the promised Messiah would be like when He arrived.
Jesus cautioned them, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.” Then He pointed out how they were missing the heart of the matter. “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40).
As another new year gets underway, we’ll hear predictions ranging from the terrifying to the wildly optimistic. Many of them will be stated with a great deal of confidence and authority. Don’t be alarmed. Our confidence remains in the One at the very heart of the Scriptures. He has a firm grip on us and on our future.