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.
As I boarded the airplane to study in a city a thousand miles from home, I felt nervous and alone. But during the flight, I remembered how Jesus promised His disciples the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’s friends must have felt bewildered when He told them, “It is for your good that I am going away” (John 16:7). How could they who witnessed His miracles and learned from His teaching be better off without Him? But Jesus told them that if He left, then the Advocate—the Holy Spirit—would come.
After Jesus and His friends ate their last supper together, they walked to the garden where Judas would betray Him. Along the way, Jesus shared about the life of the kingdom of God. Four times in the larger discussion (in John 14–17) Jesus promised the coming Holy Spirit. He reiterated this promise so that His friends could understand.
We who have accepted God’s offer of new life have been given this gift of His Spirit living within us. From Him we receive so much: He convicts us of our sins and helps us to repent. He brings us comfort when we ache, strength to bear hardships, wisdom to understand God’s teaching, hope and faith to believe, love to share.
We can rejoice that Jesus sent us the Advocate
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.
Does having a friend nearby make pain more bearable? Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a fascinating study to answer that question. They wanted to see how the brain reacted to the prospect of pain, and whether it behaved differently if a person faced the threat of pain alone, holding a stranger’s hand, or holding the hand of a close friend.
Researchers ran the test on dozens of pairs, and found consistent results. When a person was alone or holding a stranger's hand while anticipating a shock, the regions of the brain that process danger lit up. But when holding the hand of a trusted person, the brain relaxed. The comfort of a friend’s presence made the pain seem more bearable.
Jesus needed comfort as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what He was about to face: betrayal, arrest, and death. He asked His closest friends to stay and pray with Him, telling them that His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow” (Matt. 26:38). But Peter, James, and John kept falling asleep.
Jesus faced the agony of the garden without the comfort of a hand to hold. But because He bore that pain, we can be confident that God will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Jesus suffered so that we will never have to experience separation from the love of God (Rom. 8:39). His companionship makes anything we endure more bearable.
Since its first publication in 1880, Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has never been out of print. It has been called the most influential Christian book of the 19th century, and it continues to draw readers today as it weaves the true story of Jesus with that of a fictional young Jewish nobleman named Judah Ben-Hur.
Amy Lifson, writing in Humanities magazine, said that the writing of the book transformed the life of the author. “As Ben-Hur guided readers through the scenes of the Passion, so did he lead the way for Lew Wallace to believe in Jesus Christ.” Wallace said, “I have seen the Nazarene . . . . I saw him perform works which no mere man could perform.”
The Gospels’ record of the life of Jesus allows us to walk alongside Him, to witness His miracles, and to hear His words. At the conclusion of John’s gospel, he wrote, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
Just as Lew Wallace’s research, reading of the Bible, and writing led him to believe in Jesus, so God’s Word draws us to a transformation of mind and heart by which we have eternal life in and through Him.
When my son changed grades in school he lamented, “I want my teacher for life!” We had to help him realize that changing teachers is a part of life. We may wonder: Is there any relationship that can last a lifetime?
Jacob, the patriarch, found out there is one. After living through many dramatic changes and losing loved ones along the way, he realized there had been a constant presence in his life. He prayed, “May the God . . . who has been my shepherd all my life to this day . . . bless these boys” (Genesis 48:15–16).
Jacob had been a shepherd, so he compared his relationship to God as that of a shepherd and his sheep. From the time a sheep is born, through its growth to old age, the shepherd cares for it day and night. He guides it during the day and protects it during the night. David, also a shepherd, had the same conviction, but he highlighted the eternal dimension to it when he said, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Changing teachers is a part of life. But how good it is to know that we can have a relationship for life. The Shepherd of our lives has promised to be with us every day of our earthly lives (Matt. 28:20). And when life here ends, we will be closer to Him than ever.
Jesus’s teaching about absolute ideals and absolute grace seem contradictory.
Jesus never lowered God’s perfect ideal. In His response to the rich young ruler, He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). He told an expert in the law who inquired as to the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (22:37). No one has completely fulfilled those commands.
Yet the same Jesus tenderly offered absolute grace. He forgave an adulteress, a thief on the cross, a disciple who had denied ever knowing Him, and a man named Saul, who had made his mark persecuting Christians. Grace is absolute and all-encompassing, extending even to those who nailed Jesus to the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” were among the last words He spoke on earth (Luke 23:34).
For years I felt so unworthy when considering Jesus’s absolute ideals that I missed any notion of His grace. Once I understood this dual message, however, I went back and found that the message of grace gusts through Jesus’s life and teachings.
Grace is for the desperate, the needy, the broken, those who cannot make it on their own. Grace is for all of us.
Sometimes when I put my head on my pillow at night and pray, I imagine I’m leaning on Jesus. Whenever I do this, I remember something God’s Word tells us about the apostle John. John himself writes about how he was sitting beside Jesus at the Last Supper: “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him” (John 13:23).
John used the term “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as a way of referring to himself without mentioning his own name. He is also depicting a typical banquet setting in first-century Israel, where the table was much lower than those we use today, about knee height. Reclining without chairs on a mat or cushions was the natural position for those around the table. John was sitting so close to the Lord that when he turned to ask him a question, he was “leaning back against Jesus” (John 13:25), with his head on his chest.
John’s closeness to Jesus in that moment provides a helpful illustration for our lives with Him today. We may not be able to touch Jesus physically, but we can entrust the weightiest circumstances of our lives to Him. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). How blessed we are to have a Savior whom we can trust to be faithful through every circumstance of our lives! Are you “leaning” on Him today?
The words of Ravi’s father cut deep. “You’re a complete failure. You’re an embarrassment to the family.” Compared to his talented siblings, Ravi was viewed as a disgrace. He tried excelling in sports, and he did, but he still felt like a loser. He wondered, What is going to become of me? Am I a complete failure? Can I get out of life some way, painlessly? These thoughts haunted him, but he talked to no one. That simply wasn’t done in his culture. He had been taught to “keep your private heartache private; keep your collapsing world propped up.”
So Ravi struggled alone. Then while he was recovering in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, a visitor brought him a Bible opened to John 14. His mother read these words of Jesus to Ravi: “Because I live, you also will live” (v. 19). This may be my only hope, he thought. A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of life. So he prayed, “Jesus, if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it.”
Life can present despairing moments. But like Ravi, we can find hope in Jesus who is “the way and the truth and the life” (v. 6). God longs to give us a rich and satisfying life.