Face to Face with the Truth

By Hiram Vega

During his ministry on earth, Jesus impacted many lives.  One of them was the most powerful man present before his death: Pontius Pilate, representative of the Roman empire and governor of that region. Jesus was brought before Pilate by the religious authorities, to be judged by him, even though they had already determined the outcome of the trial. Pilate was a hardened ruler, accustomed to crushing rebellions in order to preserve his position and to maintain Roman rule. 

What, then, could be expected from Pilate agreeing to see Jesus? Most likely he would have considered his time too valuable to be spent judging a prisoner offering him little political capital, and he would quickly order him to be executed anyway. However, something remarkable took place: 

Pilate became so convinced of the innocence of Jesus that he declared him not guilty on three different occasions.

On the first occasion, “Pilate said to the chief priests, and to the people: I find no offense in this man” (Lk. 23:4).

On the second occasion, he said to them, “You brought me this man accused of inciting rebellion among the people, but it turns out that I have questioned him before you without finding him guilty of what you accuse him of” (Lk. 23:14-15).

And the third time, just before he was handed over to be crucified, he asked for water and washed his hands in front of the people. “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. It is your responsibility!’” (Mt. 27:24).

He also tried to avoid condemning Jesus in different ways.

  • First, he sent him to Herod for him to be questioned (Lk. 23:5-12).
  • Second, he proposed to flog him instead of crucifying him (Lk. 23:16).
  • Then, in a third attempt to free Jesus, he appealed to the custom that during the Passover a prisoner would be released. It was to no avail since the crowd asked for Barabbas (Lk. 23:17-25).

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It is clear that Pilate knew that Jesus was not a normal prisoner, not even an ordinary person.

Pilate’s final words to Jesus come to us in the form of a question: “What is the truth?” Having asked that, he went out again to see the Jews. But he did not wait to hear the answer! 

Is it not incredible to be face to face with the truth and still not see it? The man who had the last chance to dialogue with the Truth, did not take time to hear Him. 

Today the same thing happens. Many people look forward to Holy Week with eagerness, not so much in order to experience the miracle celebrated during these days, but more so to escape the daily grind and take vacation. However, for each Pilate who chooses not to listen, there is another one who says yes. That is the Victory of the cross! 

Aware of this reality, let us not allow the disbelief or distraction of a few to deviate us from the mission.  Let us carry the message of truth to the multitudes who are longing to hear it and respond.

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Hiram Vega is a member of the Spanish Teaching and Preaching Team of Chase Oaks Church, Plano, TX.

Barabbas, the Son of the Father

By Hiram Vega

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name Barabbas? You most likely remember a murderer who was released instead of crucified.  And you certainly remember that Jesus died in his place. This is very true.

After being arrested, Jesus faced several trials: one of them before King Herod, another one before the religious authorities, and also before the Roman authorities.

It is precisely in the trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, that the name of Barabbas appears. His name is mentioned in all four Gospels: Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:18-24; and John 18:40. And it is interesting to discover how the life of this dark character intersects with that of Jesus.

Jesus was standing before Pontius Pilate, who had already declared him innocent of anything worthy of death (Luke 23:15). Pilate knew that Jesus was being accused by the religious leaders because he was a threat to their power and privileges.  They felt that the crowds were siding with this new prophet. Pilate, strangely, sought a way to liberate Jesus and at the same time maintain the peace. Thus, he gave the crowd a choice: the release of Jesus or the release of Barabbas, a well-known rebel who had been imprisoned for insurrection and murder (Luke 23:19).

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The release of a Jewish prisoner was customary before the Feast of the Passover (Mark 15:6). The Roman governor would grant pardon to a criminal as an act of goodwill towards the Jews whom he ruled. The choice of Pilate before them could not have been clearer: a high-profile killer and inciter of violence who was unquestionably guilty, or a teacher and a miracle worker who was clearly innocent. The present crowd, spurred on by the religious leaders, chose Barabbas to be liberated.

Pilate did not expect this answer. He was looking to free the innocent. Even Pilate’s wife, intruding in a surprising way in an area that did not correspond to her, sent him a message: Do not have anything to do with this innocent man (Matthew 27:19). However, they did not know that the death of Jesus on the cross had already ben prophesied.

The appearance of Barabbas, which in Aramaic means the son of the Father, was to remind humanity that Jesus, the Son of God (the other son of the Father), had come to seek and save what had been lost – in this case you and me! – and He came to die on a cross to pay the price for our salvation and to reconcile us with the Father. What great news! However, today there are still millions of “Barabbases” who have not heard of the Son of the Father who came to die in their place. Today is the day to share this message with those who are far from the Father’s house.  Now is the moment we must show them that the price has already been paid and that it is time to go home.

Will you go? Will you tell them?

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Hiram Vega is a Member of the Spanish Teaching and Preaching Team of Chase Oaks Church, Plano, TX.

Adjusting the Sails

By Raphael Rosado

On one occasion, we were coming back from a youth retreat in the mountainous area of my country. When we entered one of the towns that was on our way we noticed a lot of traffic, none of it moving. Of all the days that we could pass by that little place, we had happened to choose the exact day when they were running a marathon.  The road would be closed for several hours!

We started to freak out when we saw people getting out of their vehicles and sitting down in chairs and eating snacks (how we got out of there: that’s a story I’ll tell some other day). There were four of us on that trip. The first one complained sarcastically, “How lucky we are!” The second, more optimistic, one said, “Maybe they will open the road soon.” My third friend wondered, “Maybe there’s another way to get out of here.” Maybe the question you are asking is: what was I doing? Well, I was laughing remembering a famous quote that illustrated our situation well: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

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In the face of our difficult situation, not complaining, nor sitting down to wait, nor my philosophical reflection about our situation was helpful. Only the person that tried to adapt to the situation and look for an alternative finally helped us get home.

God is a specialist in adjusting the sails, particularly when dealing with humanity. When man sinned at Eden, God’s plan was disrupted, but He didn’t complain. Neither did he sit down and wait. God found an alternative route to our hearts. God spoke to us through the patriarchs, the law, the prophets and finally, when we still failed to listen, God spoke through His own son, Jesus.

Every adjustment seems little to God when compared with the love He has for you. There’s nothing He wouldn’t do to get to your heart.

Remember during Holy Week that there’s no bigger “adjustment of sails” than the one that happened at Calvary. What’s more, if God himself loved us so extravagantly that he was willing to go to such lengths, how much more should we adjust our plans in order to show love for others! Loving our neighbor means we stop complaining about them, and we stop waiting for them to somehow be transformed. Maybe loving our neighbor means that I’m the one who has to adjust the sails in order to see change.

After all, that was what Jesus did for me at Calvary.

Returning to Calvary

By Raphael Rosado

I really admire people who have a true vocation for what they do! As the saying goes: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” However, it’s important to understand that passion is not an accident, neither is it innate or the result of success.

For example, Picasso wasn’t born as a great painter. On the contrary, his genius was the product of several elements: his environment, the time that he was living in, and his will. The masterpieces he painted are much more than the result of the artist’s talent. Put Picasso in another time and Guernica would have never been painted. Even more, Picasso could only paint Guernica once and, no matter how much he tried, he could never perfectly duplicate such a painting again. The passion that was required to paint such a modern art masterpiece is the daughter of a moment and a story. It is hard to understand the passion which a picture is painted with if you don’t understand its underlying historic meaning.

If another artist were given the task of painting Guernica again, even with the same talent and tools that Picasso had, it would be impossible. Without the passion that emanates from a personal connection with the context and situation he lived in, no one would ever be able to produce the exact same result.

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Something similar happens in our Christian life. God has given us tools to paint the picture of our relationship with him: prayer, reading of the Bible, fasting and the other spiritual disciplines. However, the routine uses of these tools in themselves cannot produce a masterpiece.

In order for our practice of spiritual disciplines to produce a painting worthy of a museum, we must start to grasp that our relationship with God is the product of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Only when we allow the story of Calvary to affect our actions, will we begin to see passion born in us.  Then, God will take that passionate obedience and create a beautiful masterpiece from our life.

It saddens my heart to see us as children of God struggling every day to fulfill “obligations” of praying, reading the Bible, or going to church services.  When we see these as obligations, we become weary and discouraged. How different our relationship with God would be if our service to Him came from passion for Him and his call instead of a mere sense of obligation!

I invite you during Holy Week to return to Calvary.  Let the story of the cross fill you with passion and awe so that God can paint a masterpiece in you.

Looking to the Cross

By Raphael Rosado

As human beings we spend most of our lives preparing ourselves for the future. For example, something as simple as traveling from one place to another requires us to plan certain things beforehand.  We need to give maintenance to the vehicle, fill it with gas, program the GPS, pack suitcases and make reservations in a hotel.

Planning is important, and the end result is what gives value and meaning to our achievements. A person that wins the lottery may be lucky, but he doesn’t exactly deserve what he won. He can’t say that his prize is a result of planning or effort. Luck and merit are incompatible concepts.

What’s more, preparation is evidence that we care about something, or even that we really love it. It’s a cultural cliché that in relationships women complain that men do not remember key dates of anniversaries or special occasions. More than once, I’ve heard heroines of famous TV programs say, “It’s not the gift that makes me happy, but the thought and planning that it signifies.” The joy that the gift produces comes from the preparation and the effort invested.

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God is a planner par excellence and He is always ready. God doesn’t leave anything to chance. Everything that He does is the result of His eternal purpose. To illustrate this, we need to look no further than the cross.

God started preparing the ultimate solution for sin on the same day that man sinned. When God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He was looking to the cross. When He gave the law to the people of Israel, He was thinking of the cross. When He showed His glory to Isaiah, God already had in mind the suffering servant. Each detail of the Old Testament looks towards Jesus and the cross. Every temptation, every question, every problem that Jesus had to face during His life on earth prepared Him for the cross. Calvary was not an accident. The merit of Jesus’ sacrifice demonstrates God’s meticulous planning to save us and show us His love.

That’s what Lent is all about: preparing ourselves to remember what Jesus did for us. Everything we give up and every fast that we undergo in this season should be part of a greater plan: preparing ourselves to meet Jesus at the cross. Without this purpose, no matter how good our works are, they are meaningless.

I invite you to use these last few days of Lent as a preparation to meet Jesus at Calvary.

Training Workshop Leads to Salvation for Unintentional Participant

Project Paul leaders in Mexico recently organized a training seminar for volunteer missionaries interested in serving at the event. As the workshop started, the organizers assumed that the attendees were all there to participate in the project, but one man arrived for the first time without knowing what the activity was about.

At the end of the session, the teacher invited the attendees to the altar to pray, committing themselves to the Lord and the project. While the people walked to the front, the visitor raised his hand and said to the teacher “Pray for me; I want to give myself to God.” Before praying for the missionaries, the leader guided the visitor in prayer and he gave his life to Jesus Christ.

The next day, the workshop continued and the man was there again. The church members congratulated him for his decision to follow Christ and for returning to join the missionaries.

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After the workshop, the man told organizers he came from another city where he had lived a life of violence, vices, and bad business that led him to endanger his life and abandon his wife and children. The day he found the church, he felt a great need for God but thought he did not deserve forgiveness because he had done many bad things. He said that during the workshop, he heard many times that “God is looking for the sinner,” which convicted him and led him to surrender to Christ.

The pastor invited the man to a discipleship class and the missionaries invited him to share the gospel in the streets. He has not stopped testifying of his new faith to his colleagues, neighbors, and friends. He has also shared his testimony by telephone with his wife, asked her for forgiveness, and hopes to recover his marriage. He continues to be discipled and has recently been baptized. The pastor and the missionaries are very surprised since everything happened in a period of three weeks.

This testimony was originally published at: nazarene.org

A Swift and Radical Change

In one of the neighborhoods in the city, two missionaries were doing door to door evangelism, knocking on doors to present the gospel using the “Wordless Book.” They knocked on the door insistently, but no one would open. When they were about to leave, a woman about 40 years old leaned out of a small window.  They told her why they were there. Even though the weather was not cold, the woman was wearing a coat; she seemed nervous and concerned, and she was walking from one place to another. She told the missionaries she couldn’t receive them because she was waiting for her therapy session with her psychologist. The missionaries asked for ten minutes to share a Bible story, and so she let them.  At the end, they guided her to accept Christ as her Savior.

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During the prayer, the woman broke down weeping. She told the missionaries that when they prayed she started sweating, feeling really hot and restless at the same time. After giving her some advice, they left, promising her that they would return the next day to give her a discipleship lesson. When they came back, she shared with the missionaries how she had wanted to cancel the appointment with them.  Unable to contact them, though, she began to think that it might be important – even exciting – to receive them again.

At the end of the discipleship lesson, once again the missionaries prayed for her.  But this time the Holy Spirit started to minister to her in a beautiful way, performing a miracle of change in her life. When the missionaries returned for the third time, they were astonished: the woman’s appearance had changed, she looked healthy, and her house was cleaned and organized. She shared that for ten years she had dealt with depression and anxiety; in fact, for the past eight years she hadn’t been able to leave her house. She told them that she kept a lot of resentment in her heart against people that had hurt her, and she had even thought about ending her life to stop the suffering. But on that day, when the missionaries talked to her about Jesus and then prayed for her, she felt a strange heat that invaded her body, and it felt like someone had removed a weight from above. She started to feel joy and shared the news with her parents and brothers whom were disconcerted when listening to her.

After reading the Bible, the missionaries prayed for her once again. This time the woman started crying, asking for God’s healing for her life. By the fourth visit the woman was beaming, and she told them that for the first time in eight years she was able to leave the house and go with her husband to the main square of the city. She told them she was amazed by the joy she felt without medication, any therapy sessions, or even consulting with her psychiatrist at all (who, by the way, had never showed up for the appointment).

The missionaries were joyful to see this swift and radical change. When they were about to pray for her, she asked them to wait.  She ran to the house next door to call her parents, husband and brothers so they could also be a part of the prayer. Her family came and told the missionaries that they couldn’t explain what they were seeing in her life. They said they were religious people, members of the main church in town, but they were amazed by the change in her. They asked the missionaries to pray for them, too, and for other family members. The missionaries prayed for everyone and promised them to continue sharing with them about Jesus. The missionaries are members of a local Nazarene Church, and before this encounter, they had never shared their faith with anyone who did not know Jesus.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

This information has been provided by Rev. Manuel Molina, and comes from one of many “Project Paul” church planting trips in the north of Mexico.