July 26, 2007

From Gabbatha to Golgotha: The Awful Sentence at The Pavement

John 19:13

I became interested in the passage in John 19:13 after watching the movie, The Gospel of John (Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Disney, 2005). In the movie scene, Pontius Pilate is in the courtyard sitting in the judgment seat as Jesus is brought out to him and the angry crowd. It is here that Christ was sentenced as Pilate had already made his politically expeditious judgment in the inner chambers of his palace.

Gabbatha is an Aramaic word that means elevated, or platform. In the Hebrew, it was also called "Pavement," where the judgment-seat (or bema) was placed, from which Pilate delivered our Lord to death. It was a place paved with a mosaic of colored stones and stood on an eminence, so that the judge sitting on his throne might be seen and heard by a considerable number of people. The modern-day bema is the judge’s bench, which is typically elevated and located at the head of the courtroom.

Interestingly, for hundreds of years, scholars used the “myth” of Gabbatha to reject John’s record of Jesus and the trial by Pilate, because there was no historical record of a court called Gabbatha or “The Pavement” in Jerusalem. However, famous archaeologist William Albright revealed that this place was in fact the court of the Tower of Antonia, which was destroyed by the Romans in 66-70 AD. It was left buried when Jerusalem was rebuilt in the time of Hadrian, but it was uncovered during excavations there [William Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, Penguin Books, 1960].

So, when Pilate had sat down in the judgment seat, in the place that is called the pavement, the decision had been made. All that was necessary was to make it official. It may have been the seat of judgment, but it was not the seat of justice. It may have seemed expedient to hand down the sentence but it was certainly not the seat of equity. There is often no justice and equity in the judgments of men.

And bearing His cross, Jesus went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew, Golgotha. The skull has been a symbol of death. This spot was outside of the gates of the city on the side of a hill, which has the appearance of a skull. It was a sad but needful reality: Had not Christ been rejected of men, we would have been forever rejected of God. So, Jesus was delivered into the hands of wicked and unreasonable men and nailed to the cross as the necessary Sacrifice to reconcile men to God.

Consider the cross from five viewpoints:

1. From the viewpoint of God, the cross was the propitiation for sin. There the full holiness and justice of God was satisfied. Now God can forgive man’s sin without violating His justice.

2. From the viewpoint of Jesus, it was an act of obedience unto the will of the Father. Becoming a sin offering and giving Himself as a sacrifice for man's sin.

3. From the standpoint of the believer, it was substitution. He was there in my place, dying the death that I deserved.

4. From the standpoint of Satan, it was a "victory" as he bruised the seed of the woman, but it also became his ultimate defeat as through Christ's death, He destroyed him that had power over death.

5. As far as the world is concerned, it was an unjust, brutal murder.

Christ’s death means life, eternal life for you (John 3:16)! Gabbatha, the Stone Pavement, is a Place of Decision. It is a place mentioned in the Bible where Pontius Pilate judged Jesus. Gabbatha is where the question was first asked and it is the the one Question we must all ask ourselves, "What will I do with this Jesus, called the Christ?"

March 24, 2007

Just One Commandment

Genesis 2:16-17

The Garden of Eden is described as created the Garden specifically for Adam, the first man, whom God had formed (Genesis 2 and 3). The Garden of Eden was perfect. It offered both beauty and sustenance, being home to every tree "that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, "and a source of freshwater from the river to drink. As for man, God "put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. " (Genesis 2:15)

Genesis 2:16-17 states that the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

Now comes along the wily serpent and logically trips up Eve by twisting words around and asking, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" From that point forward, it is all downhill for humanity.

And with a single act, both are tossed into darkness. It was just one Commandment: Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve had their pick of trees: grapefruit, apple, peach, mango, lemon, coconut, you name it. Instead, they chose to go to the tree of forbidden fruit. Isn’t that just like human nature: self-willed and prideful.

By obeying just one Commandment, man could have had eternal life in the garden of earthly delights. Think about it: Just one Commandment!

Just to get an idea of what Adam and Eve were going to be missing out on, Ezekiel 28:13 gives further detail of the garden: “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.” Talk about the model of ideal loveliness. Talk about the marvelous light arrayed through these precious gems and jewels, bedazzling and brilliant!

As a race, humans have not fared any better because of our sinful nature. We have remained in darkness. Indeed, our heart is dark. Consider the state of world affairs to get a taste of how low and ugly our nature really is.

So, by the time the Lord summoned Moses in Exodus 19:3, God wanted to take the Israelites into a close and peculiar relation to Himself. This blessed Sinai Covenant was granted out of God's own free grace. The conditions God made on the people were that they must obey His voice and keep His covenant, which are the Ten Commandments. They are the Divine Standard:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or likeness of heavenly or earthly things to bow down to them.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

The purpose of the Law was not so that the Israelites could use it as an instrument to make them righteous, but to show what righteousness is. Once the Law is violated, it can only condemn us. And that’s the problem. If we couldn’t keep just one Commandment, how then can we hope to keep ten?

Enter Jesus Christ.

His advent brought forth a new covenant, which was sealed with His holy blood when Christ was crucified on the cross for our sins. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (i.e., Adam), how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! (Rom 5:15)

So, the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:24-25).

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:17). It is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam (i.e., Christ), a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).

The only Mediator is Jesus Christ; (1 Tim. 2:5); For there is one God and one mediator between God and men. That man is Christ Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life! No one approaches the Father except by Him! Won’t you come to Him and accept Him as Lord and Savior? He is ready to receive you!

February 06, 2007

Table In the Presence

Psalm 23:5

On April 10th, 2003, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, faced with the task of seizing the presidential palace in downtown Baghdad, ran headlong into "the worst day of fighting for U.S. Marines." Hiding in buildings and mosques, wearing civilian clothes, and spread out for over a mile, Saddam Hussein's militants rained down bullets and rocket propelled grenades on the 1st Battalion. But when the smoke of the eight-hour battle cleared, only one Marine had lost his life. Some said the 1st Battalion was incredibly lucky. But in the hearts and minds of the Marines who were there, there was no question. God had brought them miraculously through that battle. This account is told by the 1st Battalion's chaplain, Lieutenant Carey Cash, who had the unique privilege of seeing first-hand how God miraculously delivered, and even transformed, the lives of the men of the 1st Battalion.

Lt. Carey talks about King David, a man who he says knew danger, and the title of the chaplain’s book refers directly to Psalm 23:5 – “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup over-flows.” Lt. Cash took every opportunity to encourage men who were facing battle, to assure them of God's love, God's presence and the prayers of Americans. Talk about full armor of God and encourage believers in their daily battles.There was a telling moment for Chaplain Cash. The order arrived to enter Iraq to protect the oil fields, so he was able to call his wife hours before their departure, to let her know that he would be out of touch for a while but that she should not worry. God was taking care of him. He also asked her to tell their five kids Daddy was safe and right where God wanted him to be. Knowing that the life of a Christian is the same: Being in the center of God’s will despite the knowledge that a battle is about to ensue.

As they headed toward Baghdad, they passed by many people who were happy or frightened. Near Saddam City Iraqi civilians approached vehicles, frantically waving their arms back and forth in the air, so Lt. Col. Padilla ordered his driver to slow down and see what they wanted. The civilians kept making hand signals that the Marines couldn't understand until finally someone heard, "pree-zun, pree-zun", then holding their hands at knee level until the Colonel began to think, "Not a prison of children?" But that's exactly what it turned out to be. A prison full of malnourished, filthy boys between seven and fourteen years of age. During a battle to take one of Saddam's presidential palaces, situated on the banks of the Tigris River, Marines were fired on from windows of previously darkened buildings and from mosques. After an hour of fighting the casualty list had grown to about 40 wounded. One Marine reported that his helmet had a bullet entry and exit, but he had sustained no injury. The chaplain stated that the perfect will of God may be the best place to be but it isn’t necessarily the safest. Following Him sometimes means that we are led into the shadow of death.

Interestingly, Cash strikes a sharp contrast between Islam and Christianity by pointing out:

“…[E]xtreme manifestations, such as the actions of suicide bombers and crazed gunmen, don’t arise out of thin air. They are part of a religious tradition that from its very birth has used the edge of the sword as a means to convert or conquer those with different religious convictions.”


“In Christianity, it is not the grandeur of our sacrifice that earns us heaven. It is not our ability to strictly follow a rigorous religious code. Jesus Christ has already accomplished the single greatest act of obedience and self-sacrifice that this world will ever know...His death, not our own, assures us of eternal life.”

I’m not going to ruin how God delivered the men of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Read the book! You’ll read for yourself that God’s righteous right hand is in everything that He deems His! Until we’re called home, the battle is ours to take the enemy. Day by day. Step by step. Breath by breath. All in faith, prayer and love. Come to Christ today!

January 11, 2007

A Token of Innocence

Matthew 27:24

This morning my little girl came down the stairs to use the bathroom. I could tell it was my four year old because my two other daughters – the seven year old and nine year old – come galloping down the steps like runaway horses. In contrast, my four year old shuffles softly down the stairs. It’s amazing how in the stillness of the morning every sound is magnified: the creaking of the house, the muffled voices and laughter in the children’s rooms, the hum of the heater and the calibrated ticking of the clock. So, it was as I worked on the computer that I heard my little girl go potty, flush the toilet and click the bathroom light off. But, I didn’t hear the distinctive sound of water splashing that comes from hand washing. I called her into the study and asked her if she had washed her hands. She said no. I explained to her that it was the germs that got us sick and that the way to get rid of the germs was to wash our hands with soap because the soap made the germs slide off the hands. She nodded and went back to the bathroom to wash her hands. After she was done, my daughter padded up the stairs and resumed her play.

That’s when I began thinking of Pontius Pilate’s infamous line, “I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your responsibility!" as he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd (Matthew 27:24).

What a true politician! Talk about a logic that’s twisted as a pretzel! Pilate’s futile attempt to exonerate himself was to wash his hands and deliver up the guiltless One to the will of His enemies. At the same time, Pilate declared that he found no fault in Jesus. The final insult by Pilate was to release to the Jews a man guilty of sedition and murder: Barabbas. After all, Barabbas was the expression of the spirit of Satan who was a murderer from the beginning, and of rebellion against the authority, which ironically, Pilate was there to maintain.

The multitudes and the throngs chose the world, rather than the Son of God. In their blindness, they claimed to see. In their ignorance, they professed to know. In their flesh, they chose flesh over Spirit.

Pilate had decided to compromise by giving the crowd the choice. When that didn’t work, he then tried to elude the responsibility by ordering a basin of water to be brought to him and, before the crowd, washed his hands declaring his innocence of this man's blood. Unlike washing off something unpleasant, this one thing, i.e. the consequence of Pilate’s choice, could not be washed away.

Not only did Pilate know that Jesus was innocent and that justice demand-ed that the innocent man go free, but he also knew that the charges being made against Jesus were false. Yet, Pilate acquiesced. Isn’t that some-thing? Many times the pressure of the crowd is more than we can bare, and we find ourselves doing things we really do not want to do. Even when our hearts are telling us what is right.

And so, we arrive at the question "What shall I do with this Man Jesus who is called the Messiah?" This is the question of the ages. It is one that cannot be evaded. Neither can you wash your hands from the res-ponsibility of the consequences for the decision that you make about Jesus Christ. Though the question was asked by a Roman procurator almost 2000 years ago, it is a question that you must deal with and answer for yourself today. You can receive Him as your Lord. Or you can reject His lordship over your life.

Consider this Scriptural passage –

“They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good (Titus 1:16).”

I say again: What you can't do is ignore Him. You cannot wash your hands of this man, Jesus. Not to receive Him is to reject Him. Not to believe in Him is to disbelieve in Him. Not to confess Him is to deny Him. Have you already taken your position? Are you satisfied with it? Here’s a final sobering thought:

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whore mongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)”

What say you?