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.

A Look at Lent

Just recently we have finished our 40 days of focused prayer for the cities of the Mesoamerica Region. Every January we begin the calendar year by asking the Lord to begin a genesis in us and in the urban populations around the world.  Let us continue to intercede for these cities, and may we give and serve sacrificially in order to witness their transformation!

In 2018, those 40 days ended just a few days before another 40-day experience begins.  In the Christian calendar, this upcoming Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  This is a significant season where we as Christ-followers do just that: we follow Christ, and we follow him specifically to the cross.

Our friends at A Plain Account have shared a description of Lent (below) that I hope will prove helpful to you and your congregation during this time.

Lent is a period of fasting and sorrow for our sin in preparation for the celebration of Easter. The purple colors that decorate many sanctuaries in this season represent sorrow, mourning, and suffering. However, purple is also a royal color, reminding us of the sacrifice of our King, Jesus.

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Lent is an exceedingly ancient custom. There is tradition that suggests the original Apostles instituted the practice.

Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Lent lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays. Ash represents our repentance, our sorrow for our sins, and our mortality. The period of 40 is common in the Bible, associated with Moses, Elijah, Noah, Jonah, Jesus, and others. Ash represents the death and destruction caused by sin. To receive an anointing of ash is a sign of repentance.

During this time people often fast from something such as chocolate, TV, or eating meat.  The purpose of a fast is to heighten your awareness of the presence of God. You also might consider adding something to your life during Lent like a spiritual discipline or being more generous. It can be a great way to begin a good habit.

Lent concludes with Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday (the Triumphal Entry) and includes Maundy Thursday (when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (a day of deep sadness at Christ’s death).

During Lent we recognize our need, and we repent of our sinfulness. The essence of sin is broken relationship. It is when we say “no” to God’s call to love at each moment. Even in this somber time of the year the Resurrection is in the background. There is hope. There is forgiveness. Easter is coming.

Joseph of Arimathea

By Scott Armstrong

There are always those within any institution that, after the institution has become outdated and ineffective, choose a different path. They work within the establishment and respect all of its levels of hierarchy and protocol. However, they steadily clash with the great monolith in order to jumpstart a movement. They are often criticized for their positions.

And so we find Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, offering to bury Jesus Christ, the very threat to the Jewish government.

On one occasion this Jesus had stood in the synagogue and read from the prophet: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” A lot of nodding heads that day, until the Proclaimer issued an audacious proclamation: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Joseph’s contemporaries went ballistic at that, and he was offended, too. But there was an almost-forgotten hope in Joseph that leapt up and took his breath away as well.

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There was something about how he gave dignity to women who had been forgotten, looking at them lovingly, with no agenda. There was something about the way he laughed with children that caused Joseph to think, “What if Yahweh is different from what I was always taught?”

Even when Jesus was lambasting Joseph’s own leadership council, there was something about his words that rang true to Joseph. Could he be the Messiah?

Thus, in the chaos of all that was happening in Jerusalem, this same Joseph obeyed the stirring in his heart after the crucifixion of Jesus and went boldly to Pilate to ask for the body. It takes courage to go to a corrupt ruler like Pilate and make any request, but especially for the corpse of the man who had caused the whole city to riot. And yet, Joseph’s boldness was even greater due to the barrage of hatred he was to receive from his own religious Council. His reputation in tatters, his influence called into question, tradition tells us he was later imprisoned and beaten for his actions.

Even as he perhaps foresaw the sacrifice his own decision would entail, the sacrifice of the man he started to lower from the tree began to weigh heavily on him. Jesus’ bloody feet and hands blotched Joseph’s comfortable clothing. Tearfully he cleaned the wounds and honored the deceased by wrapping him carefully in new, linen cloth. As hard as he tried, the fabric still stuck to the wounds, and the crimson stains soaked through the pure linen.

The emotions of the moment overwhelmed Joseph.

He had wanted to honor Jesus, and yet, for the first time in his illustrious life, he truly felt honored.

He had come to help, and yet, he had been helped.

He had longed in his sorrow to know the Christ, but he also ended up being known by the man of sorrows.

And as he mournfully hurried to prepare the body for burial before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea met Jesus of Nazareth for the first time.

There was no need for secrecy anymore. He who had removed Jesus from the cross decided to take up his own.