For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all these things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Satan is well aware of those windows of opportunity by which we are most vulnerable to the reaching of his grip.
A few months ago, in what appeared to be a stable season of my life, I found myself in battle. For one day, I felt a force threatening to keep my mind, body, and soul from grasping onto hope. It was the peak of a descent into a darkness of which I had never before experienced. I literally felt a heaviness that kept pressing down on me; making the transition from laying in my bed to standing up nearly impossible. Yet, in the midst, I pulled out my armor and fought.
The point of evil’s intrusion occurred as I was struggling with an unexpected mood change. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a several years. Not surprisingly, the seasons of stability have given way here and there to brief phases of losing my footing. Those moments challenged me but I always found the ability to arise and keep walking forward.
I refused to let Satan draw me back from finding the place where God was leading me. I recognized the tactics of discouragement, unrestrained anger and hopelessness. (Read about another battle here: http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/08/31/if-god-can-raise-a-man-from-the-dead-why-cant-he-keep-my-crockpot-from-falling-2/)
When I found my spirit listening to voices which beckoned to surrender hope, I cried out to Jesus to help me claim victory over them.
Struggles of the mind and body are not indications of a weak faith or losing “favor” with God. They are consequences of the broken realities of the world in which we reside. This place points to the complete restoration which is possible in our Heavenly home but may not be experienced in it’s complete form here.
However, we are offered wholeness in our spirit through the grace of Jesus. He not only triumphed over the power but wrestled with it himself. Until the end of his life.
“…yet without sin.”
What is the significance of these three small words in reference to the act of being a high priest?
Being a high priest brought with it a significant amount of responsibility. He acted as God’s representative to proclaim that the offering for sin had been redeemed. Reconciliation to God had been achieved.
These individuals were specifically chosen based on character and knowledge of the Jewish law. But, their humanity still existed. Very possibly, they had committed the same sins as those who came to them seeking forgiveness.
Only Jesus could wear the title of “high priest” and yet also become the offering at the same time. By doing so, he removed the “curtain” that separated the humanly appointed righteous from the humanly designated unrighteous.
In addition, his humanity left him vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh.
But did he really experience the same temptations as we do? We could spend hours analyzing his life; searching for specific examples of weaknesses of the flesh.
Does it matter?
Jesus experienced the suffering that accompanies our spirit and possibly our minds and bodies when evil powers try to lure us away from where God has placed us.
For each of us, those temptations make look different. The consequences of refusing to follow those voices may result in remaining in a place of discomfort. Or they may not.
Regardless, we look to Jesus’ strategy in keeping his feet planted: calling out to his Father.
We share the same one.
He relied on God’s word to root him when his feet were tempted to move. And it’s no different for us.
Fortunately, our high priest will always be advocating for us. He liberated us from evil and knows of its force firsthand. Furthermore, he has assumed his position as king.
“Therefore, LET US draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.”
Charles Spurgeon writes, “It is a throne of grace where no ordinary monarch presides, but where one is sitting who is infinite and
all sufficient, one who can bestow upon us more than we ask, or ever think of asking, and yet not
impoverish Himself in the slightest degree! Always remember, beloved, in coming to the mercy seat,
that you are coming to a King and to one who gives like a King! Always open your mouth wide and ask
great things of the King who is so ready to bestow them upon you!”
“I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Words uttered by a dying Jesus to a man who is actually guilty of his crime.
Who does he think he is? This man; the recipient of Jesus’ promise of joining him in His Kingdom. He is , after all, a self professed criminal. A thief; indicating a desperate desire to seek security in things of this earth. This man is one of two criminals who hung alongside Jesus. All three facing the same sentence. We know nothing else of this man’s life except this glimpse into his last moments.
The attitudes, behavior, and goods upon which these men built their lives may have given them security in life but are unable to save them in death. Both men are left to endure their own slow torturous deaths while observing the display of horror aimed at the man, who hung between them. A drama that they not only observed but one in which they actively participated. According to Matthew and Mark’s accounts, both joined the crowd in hurling insults at Jesus. For these men, there would seem to be no peace on earth and no peace in death.
An outburst comes from one of the criminals; a challenge rooted in curiosity and desperation. He wants off the cross; “If you are the Christ…”. It’s an attitude of what’s in this for me? His plea is for Jesus to do whatever it takes to end his earthly suffering. A vision focused on this world and this moment.
Instead of receiving his request, he is rebuked. But not by Jesus. By the other criminal. “Don’t you fear God? We all are receiving the same sentence. “ This man; who had previously participated in the mockery of Jesus now seems to have a change in heart. A profession that Jesus did nothing to deserve his death sentence. …In these last hours of unimaginable pain, of emotional intensity, of deafening noise, he has noticed a presence in Jesus that is not of anything he witnessed on this earth. A presence of hope in something bigger than this moment. A presence of divinity to forgive those orchestrating this earthly horror against him.
Who on Earth could do that?
No one. Except the One who originates outside of this world. The Son of God.
This man waited until the last minute to cry out his trust in Jesus. Why should Jesus welcome him into paradise? Why should he get to follow Jesus to an eternal home of delight when he lived an earthly life following sin?
He believed that Jesus was where security is found. His vision was beyond this world and this moment. In his simple understanding, he claimed it . “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answers, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The original text tells us that his cry to Jesus was not a one time plea but one that had been repeated. The same for the other criminal. He witnessed the same events and yet out of his lips poured repeated expressions of unbelief . Both at an hour of desperation; both at an hour of realization that nothing of this earth will bring hope or peace.
He who dies with the most toys, still dies.
Who does he think he is?
Who do you think you are?
The answer to both is this: We are all sinful beings in need of a Savior.
I see myself in the face of this man. How about you?
At whatever place in life we receive that grace extended to us through Christ, whether it be years shortly after birth or minutes before death, Jesus’ promise stands: life eternal in His Kingdom.
In the words of an old spiritual, “You may have the world, give me Jesus.”
(This piece was originally presented as a spoken meditation on one of the Seven Last Words of Christ )
” Do you want to be made well?”
The question posed to the man in John 5:5-9 appears rhetorical.
We do not know if he was born with a disability or his physical limitations are the result of an injury. Regardless, he is accustomed to his place near the pool of Bethesda. He’s resided in that spot for 38 years! He knows the perceptions of how he got there. Surely his parents must have sinned greatly in order for God’s blessing to be withheld. The whispers and stares are not lost on him. He watches those whom wear the badge of “blessed” murmur as they pass his way daily. It’s not an abundant life. But it is what he has accepted.
And then he encounters Jesus. He wasn’t even seeking Him. Yet, Jesus approaches the man.
Who, would not embrace the offer to be healed? After all, multitudes clamored to be healed through Jesus’ mysterious yet miraculous touch.
What appears to be a simple question actually carries with it a complex web of implications.
Three years ago, my son became sick. Originally struggling with a chronic upset stomach, epilepsy presented suddenly. Our lives became caught up in a whirlwind of questioning, troubleshooting and despair. Thankfully, God’s mercies held us tight during that year. However, reeling out of that trauma, my son struggled with being made well. As I walked with him in that journey, I reflected on moments in my own life when I too feared “being well,” The voices spoken both audibly and echoing in our heads, appear to hold power and keep us from breaking free.
Restoration changes our perceived identity
Is it no wonder that the man in John 5 became accustomed to his socially appointed lot in life? We are creatures of habit-even if the routine subtly and deceptively keeps us from being restored-fully whole in communion with God..
My son’s visit to Mayo Clinic included a visit with a psychologist who only sees adolescents with chronic illnesses. Why? Because narrowing one’s identity to fit around the illness becomes tempting. My son was exhorted to not let his epilepsy define him.
Our own identities may be informed by life changing parts of our narratives, illness, injury,sinful actions committed against us or sinful areas with which we struggle. Regardless, Jesus has promised us abundant life Healing may or may not happen here on Earth but restoration is always possible.
How will he recognize his purpose now? What will it take for him to break through the perception that he is no longer dependent on others for basic needs? How will he establish autonomy?
Restoration places us out of our comfort zone; even if the previous zone of habitation limited us. As my son returned to High School for his Junior year, following the previous year of illness, I anticipated that he would welcome the fresh start. However, anxiety filled him as he began. I felt completely blindsided. Why would apprehension fill his heart?
He had become accustomed to his lot. Sympathetic teachers. A force of people supporting him. Extra time at home.
As my writer friend Emily Conrad wrote in response to one of my posts, “I finally got something I’ve been longing for for years and now I find myself on the other side of a situation I had grown comfortable with. I had accepted it. And now that Jesus spoke and I’m moving on, I feel a little wobbly on these legs.” Transitioning to a posture of empowerment demands walking forward. Even if the ground feels shaky at first.
Restoration expands our view of God’s character. Believe it or not, grasping who God is can cause one to feel a bit unsettled. Humanity has always yearned for the predictable. Comfort is found in explanation. Uncertainty sends our hearts and minds stirring. We simply find difficulty in grasping God’s words through Isaiah”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8-9
Doesn’t it seem easier in a chronic situation to adapt and accept that God is not capable of Forgiveness? Mercy? Delivery? Healing?
“Do you want to be made well?”
Jesus heals the man in a way that the man never expected. Not in the pool but simply out of Jesus’ authoritative word: “Rise. take up your pallet and walk.”
Later, Jesus finds the man to complete the process of restoration. “Go and sin no more.”
daily rhythm of life is altered.
Walking forward demands trusting our sovereign God in our new steps. Acknowledging that we can balance on one leg as we move the other in front in order to stride toward the longed for but unfamiliar horizon.
It’s possible. because of Jesus
Jesus, who desires my wholeness so much to encounter me when I wasn’t looking for restoration.
Jesus, who believes that I am so much more than what I think of myself.
What must you surrender to Jesus so that you might be “made well?”