To prepare for Easter, I have been reading through the gospels.
If you’re still with me and don’t feel judged by that statement, let me tell you that this was to be a daily commitment, and I’ve missed at least every other day. I’m “behind” my original goal, but still ticking along, because THIS TIME I won’t let my failures make me a failure. (I’ve talked about spiritual temper tantrums before, one of the enemy’s ways to get us to abstain from Jesus’ goodness incited by our own feelings of fear or inadequacy.) Even the bits and pieces are worthwhile.
I originally took on this challenge wanting to hear directly from Jesus, to know better his truth and understand his purposes. That has indeed happened. Unexpectedly, I’ve also been encouraged by the words and actions of others besides Jesus.
Granted, there are many in scripture who were written up for speaking with malice or doubt. Jesus sighs a lot in the gospel of Mark at this unbelieving generation. I feel for him as he tries to show love and reveal truth but is accused at every turn. How hard it must have been!
But when a few people “get it,” even when I catch a glimpse of someone trying to understand, I feel joyful on their behalf. I can relate. Doubt and skepticism come so easily. There is a world of confusion around me if I take my eyes off Jesus even for a moment. I struggle with my own unbelief, my own flaws, my own faithlessness. So when I see others who can draw me to the Saviour amidst the confusion, I feel a camaraderie. We’re on this journey together, even if they are 2,000 years older than me.
I have a heart cry like the man whose son was suffering from seizures. As any parent would, he wants Jesus to heal his son, but perhaps worries that his own doubts might get in the way. I see others who need healing and I want them to know freedom from their pain. I too say, “I believe, help thou my unbelief!” (Mar 9:24)
Or what about Blind Bartimaeus, sitting on the side of the road. People who previously rebuked him tell him to, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” (Mark 10:49) If you challenge me in order to point me to Jesus, in order to remove the scales from my eyes, you are the best friend a girl could have.
Peter is the disciple I relate to the most. He goofs up all the time: speaking when he shouldn’t, going ahead of Jesus, over-zealous and mouthy. I’ve made pronouncements and promises based on emotion, “Even if all fall away, I will not… I will never disown you!” When fear invades, when reality stares me in the face, when I break my promises… I relate all too well to Peter’s pain. “And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72) While not everyone might find that encouraging, I have come to know brokenness as the first step in restoration. It’s a dissolution of the lies we’ve been telling ourselves. I also know that God used Peter despite (or because of?) his failings to build his church. There is hope for everyone!
In Luke, Jesus talks to his disciples about forgiveness. They get an inkling of how difficult – how supernatural! – it is to live a life of forgiveness. Also, faith is a gift from God. “Increase our faith!” they say to the Lord. (Luke 17: 5)
There is the criminal on the cross beside Jesus who says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) This criminal’s prayer is answered immediately and directly. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus replies.
And when all looks lost, when Jesus finally breathes his last, the centurion who stood watch says in THAT moment, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) He was given faith that defied the circumstances. Without knowing how it would end, without anticipating Jesus’ resurrection, how is it that the centurion recognized Jesus’ power through his death?
There are many other examples in the gospels of people wrestling with the truth of Jesus. They have the beginnings of the church. Like the teacher of the law who agreed with Jesus, “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33) We receive Jesus’ most encouraging reply, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
It is one week till Easter. I’ve still got a lot of gospel to go. As I continue the journey, I’ll take the words of my fellow wayfarers as prayers of my own heart.
Lord, increase my faith, let me hear your call, help me recognize your power and follow you.