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.

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.

All for Joy

By Ken Childress

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:1-2 (BSB).

Many Christians have the perception that God’s rescue mission for the human race was a reluctant venture. We blew it, so He resorted to plan B, at enormous expense, and did what He had to do to save us. His Son suffered excruciating agony to bring us into His Kingdom. He died for lowly, undeserving sinners like us because He had to.

But He didn’t have to, and it wasn’t a chore. It was a sacrifice, to be sure, but it wasn’t a reluctant one. Though the night in Gethsemane was tearful and painful – no one wants to suffer unspeakable pain, after all – the Cross was a willing choice. Jesus didn’t save unworthy sinners because He was obligated to do so. He did it for the joy set before Him.

Think of the great lengths a man deeply in love would go in order to win his beloved’s heart. Whatever price he had to pay, however long he had to wait, whatever obstacles he had to overcome would not seem like a sacrifice. Why? Because of the inestimable worth of the prize. Love goes to any length to be fulfilled. The cost is irrelevant. Only the fulfillment matters.

That’s how Scripture describes the rescue mission Jesus went on to redeem humanity. It was and still is like a bridegroom seeking a bride. No cost is too high, no sacrifice too great, no wait too long. The joy in the end will be worth it.

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This is the role model we are told to fix our eyes on. Because of His great love, Jesus became the author and perfecter of our faith. Just as He endured every obstacle and hindrance because of the joy set before Him, so can we. When we realize our ultimate destination, no cost seems too great. Whatever we face in life today, we can keep going because the goal is worth more than anything we will ever have to endure.

Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross.”

God called us to run a race, to soar like eagles on the wind of His Spirit, to overcome the entanglements and weights that would conspire to hold us back. Our burdens are no match for our God my friends. Faith sees the reality of that truth and allows us to keep running our race to the end.

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.

Struggling with God’s Will

By Scott Armstrong

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done. Matthew 26:39-42 (NIV).

How many of us have complained that we do not know God’s will for our lives? Many times we are aware of what he wants, but we just struggle with actually doing it.  I know I should reach out to my friends at school, but opening my mouth and starting a conversation about God or church is hard.  I know God wants me to spend time with him every day, so why is my devotional time so inconsistent?

Good news: even Jesus struggled with doing God’s will.  We have recorded in Matthew 26 the very real struggle of Jesus Christ before he went to the cross.  He already knows the will of his Father, but he is wrestling with what that means for him.  It means suffering.  It means torture and scorn and embarrassment.  It means death.  And instead of standing firm and calmly accepting his fate like some fake superhero would, he falls on his face in anguish as he begs the Father to find another way.

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But this struggle is heroic.  Jesus is not cowardly looking for an escape hatch.  He is not debating whether or not he should do God’s will.  He is rather struggling with WHY God’s will has to be accomplished in such a brutal way.  And in the middle of this agony, he resolutely prays, “Not what I want!  What you want!  Even though it does not make sense to me.  Even though it means horrible suffering!  Get me out of this if there is any other way!  But know that I am fully committed to doing your will if this is it.”

Can you say the same thing? Comparing some of our decisions with Jesus’ decision to go to the cross seems odd.  But what if we sought God’s will in every decision with the same strong attitude as Jesus? “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

What are you struggling with today? What if God’s will does not match your liking? May we always proclaim with everything in us (through tears and struggle, perhaps), “Not as I will, Father, but your will be done.”