God Almighty, Lord of Heaven & Earth, God-Who-Sees, God-Who-Provides, Judge & Counselor, our sinful lays before You revealed, nothing is hidden, everything is known to You. The darkest corners of our hearts & the false impressions we put on to impress others are exposed for what they are in Your sight. There are no secrets we can keep from You, nowhere we can run or hide from Your gaze. You know our going in & our coming out, our lying down & our rising up again. Grant us this mercy today, remind us of Your best, the good You have provided because of our worst. Let us see You & be reminded of our own condition in the light of Your glory. Let us remember today, pace ourselves with the footsteps of Jesus along the Way of Suffering & the Hill of the Skull. May we be present there today & turn our hearts heavenward. Remind us, sweet Jesus, of Your love, mercy & grace over us. Forgive us our deep failings, every one & restore our hearts with Your blood & Spirit. We pray this in the power of Your precious Name, Jesus, amen.
Close Your eyes & imagine at the paragraph breaks.
Be present, an observer in the crowd today.
Walk through today aware of what He did for you as your day progresses.
(Friday, Early Morning)
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”
But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
(Friday, About 9am)
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
“51 You stiff- necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”
54 When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, 56 “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 Then they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. 58 They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They were stoning Stephen as he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin!” And saying this, he fell asleep.”
This is the end of Stephen’s sermon, but not the end of his witness. A Christian life, well lived, leaves a legacy in the faith…and Stephen did just that. His boldness was not for his own glory, but sparked by the Holy Spirit in Him for the glory of God. His passion for the truth of the Gospel drove him to speak truths that were difficult for people to hear. He obviously didn’t sugar-coat anything, but laid out the raw facts of what had happened between the people and God over the years and their treatment of His one and only annointed, Jesus Christ.
Their reaction to his message mirrors exactly what he claimed of their fathers & ancestors. Nobody likes being called ‘betrayers & murderers’ but Stephen was speaking firmly and directly to a group of very hard hearts. Soft pedaling around with pretty words and overly kind analogies wouldn’t have made any headway either. This type of direct speech was necessary, even if it was unlikely to garner any results. But there was at least one heart present that would be changed by Christ. Saul’s presence at the martyrdom of Stephen must have replayed in his heart and mind later in life as the Apostle Paul. All the murderous threats, all the beatings and imprisonments that he committed, supposedly in the Name and will of God, culmintaed in acts like this.
As we GoLove people for the sake of Christ, we must know and realize that we will definitely encounter hearts like hard-pack soil. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still try to scatter some seed. It’s not easy work to share with resistant hearts, but we are better off taking the time to share the truth at least once with people while we have the opportunity to do so. We have the knowledge, and the faith, and so we also harbor the responsibility and have accountability to God Himself to do so. No Christian is exempt from evangelism. No Christian is given a free-pass out of sharing the truth of the Gospel message, and we cannot pretend that silence is a viable option. in 1 Peter, we are reminded that suffering for the sake of the Gospel is to be counted as an honor. Paul & Silas sang hymns as they were jailed for their faith. Peter and John rejoiced after being flogged because they had been counted worthy of suffering for the Name.
Stephen’s example is a reminder to us that we are not to hold our lives so dear as to ignore the calling put on them. We are Christians first and foremost. We do not seek comfort, but the salvation of souls. Time is of the essence, opportunites should not be allowed to slip by. As we GoLove, we find that that love does things, it moves and speaks through us & we must absolutely own it as a first priority. A passionless Christian is probably just someone wearing a mask crying, “Lord, Lord.” It’s not a fun thing to say, but the salvation working in us changes us, and someone who claims Christ, but remains unchanged has likely developed a loose allegiance to an idea, desiring a savior, but not submitting to His Lordship.
Stephen submitted to the uttermost. He wasn’t extraordinary, just first in a long line of devoted hearts. If our discipleship doesn’t bring us to uncomfortable places and times, then we need to seriously reevaluate what we say we believe and come humbly to Christ, ready to submit our whole selves to Him.
i can’t help but think of the song “heart of stone” by taylor dayne when i read about people in scripture with hard hearts. i guess that’s part of growing up when i did…cheesy videos, over done synth, big hair, and did i mention cheesy videos? if you want to watch it…go for it. apparently, to her the problem of emotional reclusivity could be solved by sexual methods. i happen to think there’s some deeper seated issues going on.
people with emotional and spiritual roadblocks are common. we all can get hung up on things from time to time. they may take a little while, but we can get past them. sometimes even on our own. but then you have people who have an emotional or spiritual alcatraz they must combat. that cannot be faced alone, or solved quickly. something happened to either build that around them [trauma usually] or they over time build it on their own thinking they are protecting themselves.
however you slice it, it’s going to be a rough journey for them, and they are going to do some damage both getting there, and leaving it behind. after all, rome wasn’t burned in a day.
so Jesus had healed this man with the withered hand, partly for the man’s benefit. but also to give those hard hearted people a chisel and hammer. Jesus always does a marvelous job of countering hard hearts [bound with distrust & legalism] with acts of mercy, love & compassion. His heart was reaching out to both the man with the external handicap and to those whose disabilities were hidden inside.
the verse in mark says that Jesus was ‘distressed at their stubborn hearts.’ and i’m sure most of us can relate to those feelings of Jesus. how many times have we encountered someone who just would not bend, they were all about business or rules, and they seemed to have a think callous built up over their hearts? those type of attitudes are never healthy [while the opposite extreme is equally as bad.]
so, the question here is, do we have the heart of Jesus for the downtrodden and those people with rigid hearts? the downtrodden are easier to love. they have a need to be met that we can probabaly handle. there may or may not be a lot of emotional investment in what’s going on with them, and they may actually want the help you’re willing to give. and once you’ve helped as much as you can, you’re still going to like them and have that relationship. it’s going to be worthwhile in so many ways…
hard hearted people on the other hand don’t often think they need help, let alone from someone else. any acts of mercy or compassion you show them will probably be written off. there is definitely going to be an investment of time needed with these guys, because there are so many walls to break down. most people wouldn’t put up with their attitude. [think scrooge & his nephew]
but Jesus does make an effort here to counter the attitudes that had been prevailing, not just in this synagogue, but in the Jewish religion as a whole at the time. there was so much rigidity, that people couldn’t bend to accommodate those that needed God’s mercy the most. and that is very obviously a sad place to be. i don’t have the answer to this one. i don’t know how long i could keep working with someone who didn’t want to understand love, mercy & compassion, and i am a very patient person. but here’s the thing…as long as they draw breath in this life, there is hope.
no one is ever so far gone that the grace of God cannot be applied to their lives like a healing salve. there is no one who cannot be changed by Him, or experience His loving-kindness first hand. so, even if it is difficult, even if it’s seemingly going nowhere , we cannot give up on anyone.
Jesus didn’t give up on us, did He?
thank-You, Father for your compassion on me. help me to show everyone the same mercy and love that You have shown me in my life.