Crucifixion – April 3, 33 AD at Noon

Crucifixion-original

There are so many important days and dates in our personal lives. The day we graduate, the day we marry, the day our children are born, and of course, the day we accept Christ. And arguably, the most significant date in history was April 3, 33 AD – the day Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross. Because of our faith in what happened on that date, our “forever” has been determined.

Just before noon on April 3, 33 AD, a fascinating conversation took place at the cross between Jesus and two thieves who were crucified with Him. Perched upon their crosses, two thieves made two very different choices that day. Both faced death, but oh how differently they died. Both looked at the man in the middle, but oh how differently they viewed Jesus. And because of how each viewed Him, that day their eternal destinies were decided. Their “forever” was determined.

There are so many thrilling moments in history I wish I could have witnessed. But when it comes to the cross, I’m not really sure I wish I could have been there. Yet one of the things that makes the cross so captivating is the dialogue that we hear.

Jesus was crucified with two other men. This detail was prophesied by Isaiah 700 years earlier, that the Messiah would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

We do not know their names or their crimes. We simply know they were criminals, robbers.[i] They must have been among the worst, because no one was crucified for petty theft. They were brutal men who used violence to take whatever they wanted. They were guilty and they knew it. One even admitted, “We are receiving what we deserve” (Luke 23:41). Their crime was so heinous it called for capital execution. They were not just condemned to die, they were dying! And in spite of that, they insulted Jesus too. They chimed in and hurled insults just like everyone else.[ii] And yet, God’s grace was offered to two men who absolutely did not deserve it.

The first thief finished life as he lived it – calloused and scoffing. “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Being nailed to a cross must not tame the tongue. His speech was just as abusive and slanderous as those on the ground. To the bitter end, he was hard and tough, and died a skeptic and a cynic. Sadly, he was so close to the cross, but so far from Christ.[iii] He missed it. He failed to see what was right there in front of him.

The second thief saw it. He began to look at Jesus. He studied Him. Something in Jesus’ eyes touched something in his heart. One author writes, “Slowly the thief’s curiosity offsets the pain in his body. He momentarily forgets the nails rubbing against the raw bones of his wrists and the cramps in his calves. He begins to feel a peculiar warmth in his heart.”[iv] His heart was softening. He was humbled, even repentant.

He was so moved that he could not stand the ridicule of the first thief. He couldn’t take it anymore. Pinned to a cross, this second thief defended Jesus. Crucifying this man in the middle just didn’t make sense. Perhaps He was the Christ.

He managed to argue through his pain, “Do you not even fear God?” (Luke 23:40). Oh he hadn’t most of his life. His entire life was a waste. But as the minutes ticked away, facing his Maker was about to become a reality. So he had to admit, “We are receiving what we deserve” (Luke 23:41). This was his first step of faith. He admitted his sin. That’s always the first step of faith. This thief took responsibility for his pathetic life. He knew whose fault it was – his! He knew he was getting what he deserved.

But as for Jesus, “This man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:41). You would have expected Peter or James or John to come to Jesus’ defense, but this thief? What a statement of faith from a convicted criminal! With his dying breath, he acknowledged his faith. He could see the purity and holiness of Jesus. It became so very clear. Jesus was sinless. He witnessed what Paul would later explain. Jesus “knew no sin” but became sin “on our behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Then this thief dared to wonder, “Oh should I ask Him?” “Would He if I asked?” The thief whispered the name. “Jesus.” “Jesus, remember me.” Perhaps he begged between painful gasps for breath. Perhaps tears rolled down his grimy face. But surely he asked with total trust in those eyes of Jesus. He dared to ask, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). “In spite of what I’ve done, in spite of what you see, is there any way you could remember me?”[v]

Then the most amazing words come from the cross. With one sentence, eternal destiny was altered. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you” – or in other words, “I promise you with all My heart” –  “today, you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

When? “Today!” Where? “Paradise!” With You? “That’s right, with Me.” Can you believe it? Jesus promised this man, with his last-minute faith, Paradise. He promised heaven. What a moment! The greatest moment in that poor thief’s life came at the last moment.

With simple faith, that thief’s eternity was settled. And through simple faith, yours can be too.

Some people try to delay it. Others try to ignore it altogether. But eventually a decision has to be made. At the cross, each of us faces a personal choice. You have a choice. You have a decision to make. Perhaps you’re still thinking about it. That’s great. Keep grappling with your faith issues. As you do, know that God loves you more than you can imagine and He can’t wait for you to decide. As you think about it, is there any reason why you wouldn’t accept Christ today?

One thief was so close to the cross, but so far from Christ. He missed what was right there in front of him. Don’t let that be you! You are so close. Salvation is right here in front of you. Don’t miss it. This could be your moment. This could be the day when your eternal destiny is decided.


[i].       See Matthew 27:38.

[ii].      “The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him” (Matthew 27:44).

[iii].     Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1986), page 125.

[iv].     Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1989) pages 124-125.

[v].      Ibid., page 196.

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His Love – April 3, 33 AD at 9:00 AM

Cross-Celtic Silver

Why did He do it? Why did Jesus volunteer to suffer such an agonizing and painful death? Because of His love.

On April 3, 33 AD, at 9:00 in the morning, as the hammer was raised to strike that nail, He could have stopped everything. But He didn’t. He didn’t because of what He felt for us. The love of God is no more apparent than at the cross.

  • “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son …” (John 3:16)
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
  • “For God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  • “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.” (1 John 3:16)

As Jesus’ body was stretched on that crossbeam, anticipating the first blow to that nail, perhaps He rolled His head to the side and looked. What do you think Jesus saw? The hammer? The nail? A spiteful soldier? Or, perhaps He simply saw a man. A person just like you and me who desperately needed Him to go through with it. Perhaps Jesus looked at the man who hammered that first nail and decided not to flinch.

Does that thought ever stop you in your tracks? At any moment along the way, Jesus could have stopped everything. But at that moment, He did not resist. He did not abort. I believe He decided to go through with it for me and I believe He decided to go through with it for you.[i]

Max Lucado beautifully writes, “Since He couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, He chose the nails.”[ii]

Why should we go back to the cross? We are people of the resurrection. His cross is vacant and His tomb is empty. Jesus overcame the cross and defeated death, and through faith so shall we. But we can never fully appreciate resurrection unless we fully appreciate crucifixion. It is right for us to go back to the cross and worship there. Because where there is loss of reality there is also loss of reverence.

What would it be like if somehow we could go back to the cross and engage our five senses? We would be able to hear the taunts, the cursing, the groaning. We would be able to taste the dust blowing through air. We would be able to smell the stench of human blood. We would be able to touch that rugged cross and touch His human flesh. It would be that real. We would see Jesus and we would be overwhelmed with a sense of reverence for “what God did to win (our) heart.”[iii]

The Apostle John had the privilege of previewing heaven’s worship. He heard millions and millions of angels singing around the throne, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain … To Him who sits on the throne … be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:11-13). There will come a day, and as believers we will see that day, when Jesus Christ will take center stage. All the eyes of heaven and earth will be on Him. All honor will be directed toward Him. All else will fade, pale, and wither in light of Him. And He will have His rightful worship.

All because of what happened … on a certain date on the calendar and at a certain time on the clock.


 

[i].       As Jesus was hoisted in the air, erected for all to see, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Nothing reveals the heart of Jesus more than this moment. In spite of the pain, in spite of the shame, in spite of the agony, Jesus had us on His mind. He prayed for us. He actually prayed for us. “Father, forgive them.”

[ii].      Lucado, He Choose the Nails (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), page 34.

[iii].     Ibid., back cover.

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His Suffering – April 3, 33 AD at 9:00 AM

Cross-Celtic Silver

To understand it all, we must look at the physical agony of the cross. At the cross, we see His suffering, and wonder, “What did Jesus feel physically?”

According to crucifixion history, the mode varied at the whim of the executioner. It was never the same, but it was always barbaric.[i] It was so horrible that Roman citizens were exempt from it. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst offenders of society, for those committing acts of treason or brutality.

The cross was a visual deterrent to crime. Crosses lined the busiest roads coming into Jerusalem as a visual threat of what would happen to those who broke the law.[ii] In Rome, Nero enjoyed strolling around his garden patio in the evening lit by torching crucified bodies planted around the garden.[iii] One popular Greek play included a mock crucifixion scene. Performed over and over, the play became boring. So Domitian ordered that a real crucifixion be included to make the play more exciting.[iv] When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, those who fled were captured and crucified. Jewish historian Josephus tells us that the Roman general Titus ordered so many crucifixions that there were “not enough crosses for the bodies.”[v]

Are you starting to see why the call to take up one’s cross was considered insanity by some? Nothing could have been more repulsive or more frightening than the cross. The call to Christianity was not very attractive in the first century. It was asking a person to embrace the unthinkable, to embrace what a person feared most.

For Jesus, it happened at 9:00 on a Friday morning. Before Pilate sent Jesus away to be crucified, he had Him “scourged” (Matthew 27:26). Jesus was tied to a whipping post and the torture commenced by men called lictors. These lictors alternated strokes by flogging Jesus with a short whip called a flagrum. It was a cat-o’-nine-tails with braided leather strips that were tipped with pieces of metal or bone. Each stroke lacerated Jesus’ flesh – His back, His buttocks, His legs. The wounds were deep. The pain was searing. The blood was flying.

And the Scripture says, “By His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Jesus was also mocked. “The soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him” (Matthew 27:27). An intimidating ruthless mob of up to 600 soldiers gathered around Jesus for entertainment. Their sport was sadistic. “They stripped Him” (Matthew 27:28). Jesus was naked. God was naked, exposed, humiliated.

They “put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:28-29). The robe, the crown, and the reed were all meant to mock His claim to royalty. These soldiers took their cues from Pilate who sarcastically declared, “Behold your king!” (John 19:14). So they chimed in. “You, a king? What a joke! Where is your power? Where is your army?”

“They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head” (Matthew 27:30). After beating a man, why would you want to spit on him? It doesn’t hurt, but it does degrade. As Max Lucado writes, “They felt big by making Christ look small.”[vi] Oh how the soldiers mocked Him. But there were others too. Verse 39 says, “Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads” (Matthew 27:39). It just kept coming. There was no end to this verbal stoning. They were relentless in their contempt. They hated Jesus. “After they had mocked Him, they … led Him away to crucify Him” (Matthew 27:31).

It was around 9:00 in the morning when the first nail was struck. Archaeological evidence of a first century crucifixion indicates that the nails were tapered spikes five to seven inches long.[vii] These spikes were driven through the wrist, and not through the hand, to better support the weight of a human body.

Historian Frederick Farrar imagines what Jesus must have felt. “Death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have (that is) horrible and ghastly – dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever … publicity of shame, long continuance of torment.”[viii] All that pain Farrar writes, “intensified just up to the point at which (it) can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point … (of the) relief of unconsciousness.”[ix] “Every movement painful … lacerated veins … crushed tendons … incessant anguish.”[x] “Each variety of misery went on gradually increasing.”[xi]

According to Seneca, crucifixion was a “long-drawn-out agony.”[xii] Victims could live for several days. And once they were dead, the crucified corpse was left for the birds and the dogs to devour.

All this, Jesus suffered. For six hours, He ached and throbbed and groaned. For six hours, He struggled to hold Himself up with pierced hands. For six hours, He labored for every breath. And after six hours, when He could no longer do it, He breathed His last.[xiii]

And the Bible says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).[xiv]

All this took place on a certain date on the calendar, at a certain time on the clock, and at a certain place called “Golgotha,” the “Place of a Skull” (Matthew 27:33).


 

[i].       Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1977), page 25.

[ii].      Ibid., page 50.

[iii].     Ibid., page 26.

[iv].     Ibid., page 35.

[v].      Ibid., pages 25-26. See also Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 24. [The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whitson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989) The Wars of the Jews, Chapter 11, paragraph 1, page 720.]

[vi].     Max Lucado, He Choose the Nails: What God Did to Win Your Heart (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), page 17.

[vii].    William D. Edwards, MD; Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv; and Floyd E. Hosmer, MS, AMI; “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 255, page 1459.

[viii].   Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1972, 1979), quoting Frederick W. Farrar, page 197.

[ix].     Ibid.

[x].      Ibid.

[xi].     Ibid.

[xii].    Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), page 572.

[xiii].   See Mark 15:37.

[xiv].   The Greek word refers to a bruise, a wound from a beating, a striping. Literally, “stripes” (KJV).

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Crucifixion – April 3, 33 AD at 9:00 AM

Cross-Celtic Silver

The cross of Jesus Christ has been the subject of Renaissance masterpieces and urban graffiti. The cross hangs in art galleries and hangs around our necks as jewelry. It adorns our architecture and dots our cemeteries. Countless are those who have written about it, who have preached about it, and who have sung about it. Countless are those who have tried to capture it and to interpret it, to convey its horror and its wonder. The cross is an unmistakable image and a sacred symbol for all who follow Jesus Christ. The cross is the comprehensive symbol of our faith. It not only tells the story of what happened to Jesus, it tells the story of what happened to each of us.

It is odd, and yet it is right, that this tool for execution has become the symbol of our faith, a symbol of pride for generations upon generations of believers. We gladly identify ourselves with this symbol of death. We gladly display it, wear it, and decorate with it. For in the cross is our salvation, our victory, our life. So we, like Paul, do well to boast in the cross. Repeatedly he said: “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14) … “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) … “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Yet Paul realized, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). To the earliest critics, Christianity was considered foolishness, madness, and insanity.  It was declared a “crazy superstition” believed only by those filled with “sick delusions.”[i] Christians were lampooned for worshiping a crucified criminal, a dead deity.[ii] On the wall of a Roman school for children of privilege, a crucified figure was painted with a donkey’s head.[iii] Children were taught to despise and taunt the cross.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved,” Paul said, “it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul did not conceal it or dilute it. More than 20 years after the event, Paul was still boasting in the cross. For Paul, the cross was not just some theological abstraction.[iv] It was a real event. A real man died a real death.

But ours is a post-resurrection faith, so why go back to the cross? German theologian Martin Hengel answers that question in his definitive work on the crucifixion. Hengel insists that we must reflect on “the harsh reality of crucifixion” in order to “overcome the acute loss of reality.”[v] Where there is loss of reality there is also loss of reverence!

What happened on the cross was real and it happened on April 3, 33 AD. Why this date? Without going into massive detail, based upon biblical history, secular history, astronomy, prophecy, and the Bible itself, the best calculated date for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is April 3, 33 AD.[vi] Of course some scholars disagree and other dates are offered. And of course, it’s not necessary to be dogmatic about a specific date. Knowing the date is not that important, but knowing there was a date is. The crucifixion was not a myth, fable, or fairy tale. It really happened.

Matthew 27 records what happened at the cross for six hours one Friday.[vii] As you reflect on those six hours, hopefully, your sense of reverence for your Lord Jesus Christ will be aroused. The historian Octavius was correct. “We do not reverence the cross, nor do we worship it.”[viii] We do, however, worship the Christ who endured it.

According to the gospel of Mark, “It was the third hour when they crucified Him” (Mark 15:25).[ix] The Jewish day began at 6:00 am, so the third hour was 9:00 in the morning. On April 3, 33 AD, around 9:00 in the morning, the first nail was struck and Jesus was crucified.

On a certain date on the calendar and at a certain time on the clock, something happened that changed everything. On a certain date on the calendar and at a certain time on the clock, God showed us just how much He loves us.


[i].     John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), page 20.

[ii].      Ibid.

[iii].     Ibid., page 21.

[iv].     Philip Yancey quotes C. S. Lewis who once mused, “The crucifixion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real one died off!” [Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), page 203.]

[v].     Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1977), page 3.

[vi].    Ibid., page 5.

[vii].   Ibid., page 19; also see Stott, page 25.

[viii].     Ibid., page 20.

[ix].      Ibid., page 90.

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What Mary Did Right

Woman reading Bible

So, what did Mary right? What did she do better than Martha? “All she did was sit,” Ken Gire writes, and “it is where she sat that made the difference.”

Mary was “seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word” (Luke 10:39). Every time Mary of Bethany is mentioned in the Bible she is always at Jesus’ feet. Just before Jesus miraculously raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, the Bible says Mary “fell at His feet” (John 11:32). On another occasion Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and even “wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3). We often read of Mary being at Jesus’ feet. Why? Because she adored Him.

Do you adore Jesus? Do you passionately love Him? I hope you do. But do you love Him like Mary or like Martha? I believe Martha loved Jesus just as much as Mary did. But Martha was too distracted. Mary, on the other hand, made the better choice because she chose to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Call it spiritual devotions or spiritual disciplines or a quiet time. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The point is that to experience a personal, intimate, day by day, moment by moment relationship with Jesus you have to spend time with Him. You’ve got to spend time sitting at His feet. And it’s not about doing something; it’s about being with someone. When I talk about having a quiet time, I’m talking about spending time with God, listening to Him speak to you from His Word, and pouring out your heart to Him. You’ve got to understand that or what I’m about to show you will come across as mechanical. It’s not about doing something; it’s about being with someone.

The classic list of spiritual practices includes reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing the Word of God. The list of spiritual practices also includes prayer, fasting, and solitude. It includes adoration and worship, confession and repentance, serving and giving, thanksgiving and community. These are the classic personal and corporate practices that realign our lives with God.

I want to show you how I have a quiet time, and hopefully this will be helpful to you. I know this simple, but it has worked for me for over 30 years. And the reason it works is because I do it. And it will work for you too, if you just do it.

First is the Bible part. The Bible is God speaking to us. So, reading and meditating on the Bible is our way of listening to the voice of God. There are three simple questions you can ask as you read and meditate on any verse in the Bible.

  • Observation – What do I see? What stands out? What is emphasized? What are the details?
  • Interpretation – What does it mean? What is the principle? What is the lesson God wants you to learn?
  • Application – What am I to do? “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22, NIV). I also ask, what do I need to know, what do I need to become, and what do I need to do?

Time in the Word should be a time of personal discovery. To discover who God is. To discover how He is molding you. To discover His purpose for your life. And it should be a time of meditation. Don’t let it be just a Bible study. Don’t let it be about acquiring knowledge. Meditation is like savoring a meal. It’s enjoying time with God. It’s contemplating what God is saying to you.

Why is this so important and essential to your faith? Well, how often to do face temptation or have problems? Every day? Then you need to read your Bible every day. David said, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word … Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9-11, NAS).

Second is the prayer part. Again, for over thirty years, I’ve used the ACTS approach to daily prayer because it’s simple and it works.

  • Adoration – Humble yourself in the presence of God and praise Him for who He is. That’s how Jesus taught His disciples to pray. “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).
  • Confession – And in the presence of a holy God, admit your sins. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • Thanksgiving – And before you ask anything from Him, thank God for what He has already done. “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  • Supplication – And then tell Him what you need. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

One of my favorite verses on prayer is Psalm 62:8. “Pour out your heart to God.” I love that verse because it gives us permission to be honest and real with God.

In my quiet time, I remember His attributes to stimulate adoration and humility in me. It’s the step of bowing myself before Him. I ask God questions and listen for His answers. I tell God my problems and ask Him for help. I let Him comfort me and I let Him confront me. I discuss His Word with Him and talk through the Bible – “Lord, what does this mean?” or “Father, what do You want me to do with this?” And as honestly as I can, I surrender myself to Him as Lord of my life and vow to follow His lead.

But let me say it again. It’s not about doing something; it’s about being with someone. That’s why Mary made the better choice.

Most of us live crazy, busy lives. And that’s why we’re stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. And living that way leaves us spiritually depleted. “How busy we have become,” Chuck Swindoll says, “and as a result, how empty!” If you want to avoid that emptiness, if you want your life to look differently from everyone else, if you want to experience a personal, intimate, day by day, moment by moment relationship with Jesus, then you’ve got to spend time sitting at His feet.

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What Martha Did Wrong

 Martha - cartoon

Martha had the same problem many of us have. She “was distracted with all her preparations” (Luke 10:40). Just like Martha, so many things compete for our attention. That’s what keeps us from spending time with Jesus. We’re distracted. That’s why we don’t spend time sitting at His feet and listening to what He has to say.

The Greek word for “distracted” means to pull something apart, or to draw one’s attention away. Do you ever feel like you’re being “pulled in every direction”? Of course you do. Life feels like a tug of war. We feel obligated to spend more time at work, and then feel guilty for not spending enough time with our families. Richard Foster describes us as being “fractured and fragmented … trapped in a maze of competing attachments.”

So many things compete for our attention. Technology and media, homework and piano lessons, taking care of elderly parents and taking care of a leaky faucet, paying the bills and carpooling the soccer team. We are pulled in so many directions and live in a constant state of distraction.

And just like Martha, so many things challenge our priorities. Martha was “distracted with all her preparations” (Luke 10:40).

Martha was in the kitchen; Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha was doing things for Jesus; Mary was listening to Jesus. Martha was a doer, a get-it-done type person. Mary was laid back and more go-with-the-flow. Their personalities could not have been more different. Raise your hand if your personality is like Martha. Raise your hand if you’re more like Mary. Now you understand why the person sitting next to you is so weird.

But the problem with Martha was not a personality problem, it was a priority problem. That’s what Charles Hummel was saying in his classic little book Tyranny of the Urgent. Hummel writes, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” All of us live with this tension between the urgent and the important. And more often than not, we “become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.” A boss’s phone call is urgent. A flat tire is urgent. A baby’s cry is urgent. These things can’t wait. They scream for our immediate attention. Yet on the other hand, important things don’t scream, they just wait for us. Charles Hummel went on to write, “It is not God who loads us until we bend or crack with an ulcer, nervous breakdown, heart attack, or stroke.” If your life is stressed and overloaded, then you’re probably doing more than God wants you to do.

Jesus lived a balanced life, and Mark 1:35 tells us how He did it. “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” Jesus lived a balanced life because He made it His habit and His priority to spend time with His Father. If Jesus made it a priority, then how much more should we? It’s about having a time and a place to be alone with the Father. That’s the simple, yet critical habit must be developed if we have a chance at living a spiritually balanced life. If we’re not intentional, someone else or something else will determine our priorities for us. And time with Jesus, time to take care of our souls, may not make it on the list.

So many things distract us and compete for our attention, so many things challenge our priorities, and just like Martha, so many things stir up our emotions.

Imagine Martha. Sweating in the kitchen. Flour smeared on her face. Dishes to be washed. Clanging pots and pans to get attention. And when she had had enough, she marched out of the kitchen and said to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40). Notice Martha said, “My sister.” She was so mad she couldn’t even call Mary by her name.

The same thing happens to us. We get frustrated, irritated, impatient and resentful and it impacts others around us. So many thing stir up our emotions.

But Jesus said, “Martha, Martha.” Whenever Jesus repeated someone’s name it was like your mom calling you by your full name. Remember that? You knew you were in trouble. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things” (Luke 10:41). And so are we. We’re worried about money. We’re stressed and tired. We’ve got relationship tension. We know what it feels like to be “worried and bothered about so many things.”

The Greek word for “worried” means to crumble, to go to pieces, or to fly off the handle. Martha went from welcoming Jesus to snapping at Him. She went from practicing hospitality to exploding in resentment. And because she did, as one person wrote, Martha “ neither served well nor listened well.”

And you might say, “But you don’t understand my life. The pressure of my job is incredible. It’s hyper-competitive. If I don’t put in the hours I’ll fall behind. If I don’t make a sale I don’t get paid. I can’t afford to slow down.” Or mom might say, “But you don’t understand my life. My life is diapers, laundry, and peanut and butter sandwiches. I wish I had time to sit down and pray. I just wish I had time to sit down! Taking care of my family takes everything I have. I can’t afford to slow down.”

To anyone who says “I can’t afford to slow down,” I have to say, “You can’t afford not to.” Because if you don’t you’re going to end up spiritually depleted. And when we become spiritually depleted we suffer self-inflicted wounds. Relational tension, stress and frustration, foolish financial decisions. Being spiritually depleted, we run the risk of becoming spiritually shipwrecked. The way many of us are living our lives is keeping us from experiencing that personal, intimate, day by day, and moment by moment relationship with Jesus that He longs for us to enjoy.

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“Watch Over Your Heart with All Diligence”

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Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” Or, as another version reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”

Your heart determines the health of your life. That’s true physically and spiritually. A healthy heart – a heart that loves and pursues God – feeds off the Word of God. The Bible is food for the soul. It is like oxygen to our lungs. It is like blood pumping life through our veins. And yet, a lot of Christians neglect to read it and have a lot of excuses why. I’ve heard people say …

  • “It’s confusing and too hard to understand.”
  • “It doesn’t seem relevant to my life.”
  • “I used to read the Bible and it made me feel good. But after a while, it just didn’t do much for me anymore.”
  • “I don’t have time. I’m just too busy.”
  • “I just don’t get anything out of it. It’s boring.”

To all those excuses I say, to hunger for the Word of God is to hunger for God Himself. It is by reading the Bible, and the Holy Spirit giving us understanding of the Bible, that we experience God. Time in the Word of God and time in prayer are the means through which we experience a personal, intimate, day by day, moment by moment relationship with God. And no matter how much Bible study we offer as a church, you have read it for yourself to experience God for yourself.

But the way many of us are living our lives is hindering us from experiencing God. Many of us are living spiritually depleted lives. Eugene Peterson says the way we live our lives “sabotages” our faith.[i] Chuck Swindoll said, “How busy we have become, and as a result, how empty!”[ii] Busyness leads to emptiness. The pace of life and the noise of life make us deaf to God’s voice. But we don’t need a time management seminar; we need to spend time with Jesus. And if you’re too busy for Jesus, then you’re too busy!

Luke 10 records the classic story of Mary and Martha. Jesus was a regular guest in their home, along with their brother Lazarus. Jesus loved this family. Their home was a sanctuary to which He often retreated. What happens during this visit is often what happens to us.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42, NAS).

To experience a personal, intimate, day by day, moment by moment relationship with Jesus you have to spend time with Jesus. You’ve got to spend time sitting at His feet.


[i] Peterson writes, “We have more leisure hours per person per year as a country than anyone could have imagined a hundred years ago. But we are not leisurely. We are not relaxed. We are anxious. We are in a hurry. The anxiety and hurry ruin intimacy and sabotage our best intentions in faith.” [Eugene Peterson, “Confessions of a Former Sabbath Breaker,” Christianity Today, September 2, 1988, page 26.]

[ii] Charles Swindoll, Intimacy with the Almighty (Nashville, TN: J. Countryman, 1999), page 58.

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