From a Florida prison cell in June 1962, Clarence Earl Gideon wrote a note asking the United States Supreme Court to review his conviction for a crime he said he didn’t commit. He added that he didn’t have the means to hire a lawyer.
One year later, in the historic case of Gideon v. Wainright, the Supreme Court ruled that people who cannot afford the cost of their own defense must be given a public defender—an advocate—provided by the state. With this decision, and with the help of a court-appointed lawyer, Clarence Gideon was retried and acquitted.
But what if we are not innocent? According to the apostle Paul, we are all guilty. But the court of heaven provides an Advocate who, at God’s expense, offers to defend and care for our soul (1 John 2:2). On behalf of his Father, Jesus comes to us offering a freedom that even prison inmates have described as better than anything they’ve experienced on the outside. It is a freedom of heart and mind.
Whether suffering for wrongs done by us or to us, we all can be represented by Jesus. By the highest of authority He responds to every request for mercy, forgiveness, and comfort.
Jesus, our Advocate, can turn a prison of lost hope, fear, or regret into the place of his presence.
Much of my career as a writer has revolved around the problem of pain. I return again and again to the same questions, as if fingering an old wound that never quite heals. I hear from readers of my books, and their anguished stories give human faces to my doubts. I remember a youth pastor calling me after he had learned that his wife and baby daughter were dying of AIDS because of a tainted blood transfusion. “How can I talk to my youth group about a loving God?” he asked.
I have learned to not even attempt an answer to these “why” questions. Why did the youth pastor’s wife happen to get the one tainted bottle of blood? Why does a tornado hit one town and skip over another? Why do prayers for physical healing go unanswered?
One question, however, no longer gnaws at me as it once did: “Does God care?” I know of only one way to answer that question, and the answer is Jesus. In Jesus, God gave us a face. If you wonder how God feels about the suffering on this groaning planet, look at that face.
“Does God care?” His Son’s death on our behalf, which will ultimately destroy all pain, sorrow, suffering, and death for eternity, answers that question. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Many manger scenes depict the wise men, or magi, visiting Jesus in Bethlehem at the same time as the shepherds. But according to the gospel of Matthew, the only place in Scripture where their story is found, the magi showed up later. Jesus was no longer in the manger in a stable at the inn, but in a house. Matthew 2:11 tells us, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Realizing that the magi’s visit happened later than we may think provides a helpful reminder as we begin a new year. Jesus is always worthy of worship. When the holidays are past and we head back to life’s everyday routines, we still have Someone to celebrate.
Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23), in every season. He has promised to be with us “always” (28:20). Because He is always with us, we can worship Him in our hearts every day and trust that He will show Himself faithful in the years to come. Just as the magi sought Him, may we seek Him too and worship Him wherever we are.
In a 1929 Saturday Evening Post interview, Albert Einstein said, “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
The New Testament Scriptures give us other examples of Jesus’s countrymen who sensed there was something special about Him. When Jesus asked His followers, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” they replied that some said He was John the Baptist, others said He was Elijah, and others thought He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matt. 16:14). To be named with the great prophets of Israel was certainly a compliment, but Jesus wasn’t seeking compliments. He was searching their understanding and looking for faith. So He asked a second question: “But what about you? . . . Who do you say I am?” (16:15).
Peter’s declaration fully expressed the truth of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
Jesus longs for us to know Him and His rescuing love. This is why each of us must eventually answer the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”
My wife walked into the room and found me poking my head inside the cabinet of our grandfather clock. “What are you doing?” she asked. “This clock smells just like my parents’ house,” I answered sheepishly, closing the door. “I guess you could say I was going home for a moment.”
The sense of smell can evoke powerful memories. We had moved the clock across the country from my parents’ house nearly 20 years ago, but the aroma of the wood inside it still takes me back to my childhood.
The writer of Hebrews tells of others who were longing for home in a different way. Instead of looking backward, they were looking ahead with faith to their home in heaven. Even though what they hoped for seemed a long way off, they trusted that God was faithful to keep His promise to bring them to a place where they would be with Him forever (Heb. 11:13-16).
Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven,” and we are to “eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Looking forward to seeing Jesus and receiving everything God has promised us through Him help us keep our focus. The past or the present can never compare with what’s ahead of us!
During the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, missionaries trapped in a home in T’ai Yüan Fu decided their only hope for survival rested on running through the crowd that was calling for their deaths. Aided by weapons they held, they escaped the immediate threat. However, Edith Coombs, noticing that two of her injured Chinese students had not escaped, raced back into danger. She rescued one, but stumbled on her return trip for the second student and was killed.
Meanwhile, missionaries in Hsin Chou district had escaped and were hiding in the countryside, accompanied by their Chinese friend Ho Tsuen Kwei. But he was captured while scouting an escape route for his friends in hiding and was martyred for refusing to reveal their location.
In the lives of Edth Coombs and Tsuen Kwei we see a love that rises above cultural or national character. Their sacrifice reminds us of the greater grace and love of our Savior.
As Jesus awaited His arrest and subsequent execution, He prayed earnestly, “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me.” But He concluded that request with this resolute example of courage, love, and sacrifice: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). His death and resurrection made our eternal lives possible.
I stand in the cashier line of the local supermarket and look around me. I see teenagers with shaved heads and nose rings looking through the snack foods; a young professional buying one steak, a few twigs of asparagus, and a sweet potato; an elderly woman pondering the peaches and strawberries. Does God know all these people by name? I ask myself? Do they really matter to Him?
The Maker of all things is the Maker of all human beings, and each of us is deemed worthy of His individual attention and love. God demonstrated that love in person on the gnarly hills of Israel and ultimately on the cross.
When Jesus visited earth in the form of a servant, He showed that the hand of God is not too big for the smallest person in the world. It is a hand engraved with our individual names and engraved also with wounds, the cost to God of loving us so much.
Now, when I find myself wallowing in self-pity, overwhelmed by the ache of loneliness that is articulated so well in books like Job and Ecclesiastes, I turn to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s stories and deeds. If I conclude that my existence “under the sun” (Eccl. 1:3) makes no difference to God, I contradict one of the main reasons God came to earth. To the question Do I matter? Jesus is indeed the answer.
In 1856, Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher, founded the Pastors’ College to train men for the Christian ministry. It was renamed Spurgeon’s College in 1923. Today’s college crest shows a hand grasping a cross and the Latin words, Et Teneo, Et Teneor, which means, “I hold and am held.” In his autobiography, Spurgeon wrote, “This is our College motto. We . . . hold forth the Cross of Christ with a bold hand . . . because that Cross holds us fast by its attractive power. Our desire is that every man may both hold the Truth, and be held by it; especially the truth of Christ crucified.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he expressed this truth as the bedrock of his life. “Not that I have . . . already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). As followers of Jesus, we extend the message of the cross to others as Jesus holds us fast in His grace and power. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Our Lord holds us in His grip of love each day—and we hold out His message of love to others.
As we viewed my father-in-law’s body in his casket at the funeral home, one of his sons took his dad’s hammer and tucked it alongside his folded hands. Years later, when my mother-in-law died, one of the children slipped a set of knitting needles under her fingers. Those sweet gestures brought comfort to us as we remembered how often they had used those tools during their lives.
Of course, we knew that they wouldn’t actually need those items in eternity. We had no illusions, as the ancient Egyptians did, that tools or money or weapons buried with someone would better prepare them for the next life. You can’t take it with you! (Ps. 49:16-17; 1 Tim. 6:7).
But some preparation for eternity had been necessary for my in-laws. That preparation had come years before when they trusted Jesus as their Savior.
Planning for the life to come can’t begin at the time of our death. Each of us must prepare our heart by accepting the gift of salvation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
At the same time, God has made preparations as well: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). He has promised to prepare a place for us to spend eternity with Him.