Blessed… Does it Work?

“Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’  Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46, Common English Bible).

If you would have asked me when I was a kid I would have told you today’s lesson was my favorite passage in all Scripture. Today that is a portion of Romans 8 but Matthew 25 is still a good chapter to have around. If nothing else, it should serve us as a reminder to be ready and, in the words of James, “Faith without works is dead.”

Today’s lesson is another parable. Matthew wanted his readers to know what was important, often by not saying clearly what was important because such is the nature of parables.

That is not the case with today’s parables. Jesus is making it abundantly clear what is expected of us. And, while we are justified by faith, faith must come together with deeds that show our faith is alive. Faith that is not real is faith that is misguided. There is nothing here to indicate the one and only thing we all must do is believe. If you believe in the Christ, you believe in the people of Christ. And, if you believe in the people of Christ, both those who have faith and those who don’t, you have got to be ready to go out and serve. It is not possible to say with meaning or real conviction, I love Jesus without loving Jesus’ body the Church. It isn’t possible to say I love God, with meaning or real conviction if we fail to love those who are created in God’s image, and that is everyone.

Jesus drives this service of others idea home by saying what we do, or do not do, we do or do not do to Him. If we serve our neighbor, we serve Christ. If we neglect neighbor, we neglect Christ.

Of that, there is no middle ground.

Do you serve or do you neglect Christ?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… You Can’t Always Do Safe

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them.  To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey. “After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more.But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. “Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’ “The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’ “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t shown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’ “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed?  In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest.  Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins.  Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them.  Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’ “People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth (Matthew 25:14-30, Common English Bible).

The CEO was to go on a sabbatical leave. Before going on leave, he one managers in charge of the outside sales. Another he left in charge of the telemarketing department. The third he left the sales counter in his headquarters.

The first manager set new sales goals for all outside sales reps. As a result, he saw the department sales revenue double in his first quarter running the department.

The second manager brought new innovation to the telemarketing department. In the same quarter,  he saw the telemarketing departments sales revenues double.

The third man’s changes were to reduce the number of employees who were in the department. He also eliminated the department’s overtime budget. As a result, in the same quarter, while salary expense in the department went down and the overtime budget was completely eliminated, the sales revenues failed to remain even stagnant. The quarter showed much lower revenues for the inside sales counter.

With the arrival of the end of the quarter, the CEO returned to work and called in his three managers for accounting. He inquired of the first manager about his actions during the CEO’s leave. “Sir, I changed the sales goals for all outside sales representatives. As a result revenues for my department doubled.”

“Well done. And, how about the telemarketing department?” The CEO asked as he turned to the second manager.

“I brought in new innovations to telemarketing. As a result, the revenues in the telemarketing department doubled.”

“Well done to you as well. How about the inside sales counter?”

“Sir, I knew you were a hard boss. I knew you fired employees for little reason and then had the personnel department work to deny their unemployment benefits. So I eliminated salary expense at the sales counter and eliminated over time in my department. It did save some money but we also had a marked reduction in sales revenues for the quarter.”

“So you say you knew I was a difficult boss, did you? You knew I fired employees for little reason and then tried to deny their unemployment benefits? As a result, you reduced expenses but didn’t bother to notice the reduction in revenue. At the very least you should have left the current policies in place. At least revenue would have remained stagnant. Good luck with your unemployment benefits. Take the inside sales counter and give it to the outside sales department and take this worthless manager and have him pack his stuff and show him the door.”

Friends, we are called to be people who step out, who move forward. We are called to be people who step up and move past the simple, easy way out. We are called to step out and step up for God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… But You’re Supposed to Share

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish.  The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them.  But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil. “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep.  But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’ “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’  “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13, Common English Bible).

I was once leading a children’s lesson. No one else besides me and the child’s parents may remember the lesson but I do and I feel certain they do too. My point in the lesson that day was to always be ready. I talked about how the five foolish bridesmaids didn’t have oil for their lamps and the five wise bridesmaids did. I was about to say how great it was that the wise bridesmaids were prepared for the coming bridegroom and how sad it was that the five foolish bridesmaids were not.

I looked at one of the children. This boy had huge tears coming down his face and he looked up at me and said, “But you’re supposed to share!”

I never got to my real point that day, at least not during the children’s lesson. The more I tried to talk the more he cried. I finally had to pray that the five foolish bridesmaids would find someone with whom they could share oil. Then we moved on with the rest of the service.

As I thought back on that event the thought came to me that there are some things we either cannot or at least should not share with others. If I have a cold or the flu, it isn’t a good idea to share my germs. It is probably not a good idea to share a can of Coke (even though I don’t drink Coke) unless we have at least one glass we can use to share.

I can share the stories of how God has made a difference in my life. I can share my thoughts and understandings about God (my theology). I cannot actually share my faith with someone else. I can’t share my belief.

Of course, the little boy that day couldn’t understand that there are things you just can’t share. His mother had taught him lessons about sharing with others very well. And, truly, that is a good thing and it will have an impact on the way he sees things in the world. At least most of the time, he and the world will be better for it. As much as I may want to do so, I can share with a non-believer how God works in my life. I cannot say, I have more than enough faith, take some of mine as if we were “loaning” someone a cup of sugar.

What we are really doing is planting seeds as we prepare for the bridegroom. The rest we leave in the hands of God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

 

Blessed… Give Yourself Away

 “Who then are the faithful and wise servants whom their master puts in charge of giving food at the right time to those who live in his house? Happy are those servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes.  I assure you that he will put them in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose those bad servants should say to themselves, My master won’t come until later.  And suppose they began to beat their fellow servants and to eat and drink with the drunks?  The master of those servants will come on a day when they are not expecting him, at a time they couldn’t predict.  He will cut them in pieces and put them in a place with the hypocrites. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth (Matthew 24:45-51, Common English Bible).

Yesterday we talked about the day and the hour which Jesus says nobody knows except the Father. I told you when I am asked about when I think the end will come, my standard answer leads to what I consider the most important question, “If you knew the end would come tomorrow would you live your life any differently today?”

It boils down to being ready for whenever the end may come. Things happen in this life. Bad things. And the end could come at any time. I have talked to people who say, “Matters of faith are important but I will worry about that tomorrow or next week or next year. I’m young, there will be time later.” For most people, there is time later, unfortunately, that time later always has something else getting in the way that is more important at the time. For others, those bad things happen and the end comes before they are ready.

“But suppose those bad servants should say to themselves, My master won’t come until later.  And suppose they began to beat their fellow servants and to eat and drink with the drunks…He will cut them in pieces and put them in a place with the hypocrites. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth”

Life in the business world can be hard and cruel. We might find ourselves thinking we must make decisions that are opposed to our faith and values. To sum it up, we live outside the law of love. We are outside what Jesus called the most important commandment, to love God and to love neighbor. What Jesus is saying in today’s lesson about beating fellow servants and eating and drinking with the drunks, we are living in a way that is in conflict with how God calls us to live.

“Happy are those servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes.” Not only will we be found fulfilling our responsibilities, we will feel fulfilled because we are living out God’s call on our lives. We are taking our call seriously and having a faithful life to show for it.

We are, as Paul said, “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1-2). We also must remember that “Faith without works is dead” James 2:17. In other words, the words we say we believe must be aligned with the living faith we demonstrate to the world. We also need to remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We may be justified by faith but that faith must be alive and real. Additionally, love is always greater than faith. Without love, there is no faith.

We will be fulfilled and God will find us fulfilling our call when the end of our days come and we have served in love.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Nobody Knows

“But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know (Matthew 24:36-44, Common English Bible).

“Preacher, when do you think the end will come?”

It’s a question people have asked me many times over the years. In talking with other pastors I also know I am not alone. Why I am not too sure, but it is a question for which many people seek to have the answers.

Here is my answer and it is rooted in today’s reading. “I don’t know. Just as important, neither do you and you never will this side of eternity. In the scriptures, Jesus says, ‘…nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.’ That says a couple of things to me. First, if Jesus doesn’t know, what makes you think it would EVER be possible for you to know. Second, if one of us did somehow trip up and discover the day and the hour that would mean God would have to change it because someone besides the Father knew the day and the hour.

“The real question is, ‘If you knew the end was coming tomorrow would you live your life any differently today? If the answer to the question is ‘yes’ then you need to change the way you are living because for you, truly for any of us, the end could come tomorrow, or even today.”

The lesson instructs us to stay alert and to be prepared. That should mean for us to live our lives in a way saying we are prepared for today, tomorrow, next week next year or anytime because we are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. To live alert, to live prepared is to live as a faithful disciple.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… My Words Will Not Pass Away

“Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you know that the Human One is near, at the door. I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away (Matthew 24:32-35, Common English Bible).

For some time now I have tried to remind people that words matter. The things we say and the things we right down matter. They are not said and then just disappear. Our words are remembered.

Scholarly consensus is, the stories of Moses occurred in the mid-thirteenth century BC. That would be about 3300 years ago. We still read the things Moses said and did. We still quote the man more than three millennia later. He may have passed away, God may have taken him up to heaven, but his words live on.

In recent years computer experts have reminded us we should be careful with what we say online. They tell us once something is posted online, you can delete it but it never really goes away. That would mean the words I have posted on this blog over the past year will not pass away even once I do so.

My father may have passed away last October but I still remember things he said. While he passed away, his words have not. His words live on in my memory and in the memories of my mother, my sister and me. His words continue to have life in my sons and my nephew and niece. The things he said and did will continue to have influence on each of us and on the children that will come for each of us in the future.

If my words, the words of a relatively insignificant, mortal finite creature will outlive me, how much more is this true for words spoken by God whether in the person of the Father or the Son?

I love the closing words of today’s lesson. I love it because it reminds us, or at least it should, that the things Jesus says are things of great importance. Jesus’ words are so important they will never fall to the ground wasted. Jesus’ words will have significance to humans until “heaven and earth pass away.” Truly, even beyond that point in time, Jesus’ words will continue to have power and meaning because his words will never pass away.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Average Joes… The Night Owl

The Night Owl

This sermon is part six of a summer sermon series titled “Average Joe with an Extraordinary Sermon preached at First United Methodist Church in Sweeny Texas on July 23, 2017.


There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew,[a] it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”

“Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

“This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God” (John 3:1-21, Common English Bible.


I am not a lot different from you. Sure, we live in different times in history. But, I spent much of my life, just like you, trying to figure out the meaning of life. I wanted to know why I am here. Yes, I am a lot like you.

I was part of the religious establishment. I came from a well known and honored family. People knew who I was. My family was a respected and so was I. I also was a Pharisee. The word Pharisee means “separated one.” My life consisted mostly of separating myself from the general population. I also worked hard to obey the law to the letter. Well, I worked at obeying the letter of the law as much as humanly possible anyway.

I was well educated for my day. I had resources. I knew people. And, people looked up to me.

You are also like me in that we are all also drawn mysteriously toward Jesus. Something in Jesus makes us want to understand him. I had a curiosity when it came to Jesus. I was somehow drawn to Jesus. We are all mysteriously drawn to this man who is called the Messiah. We all are here at this place to worship because of this man called Jesus, son of Joseph, Son of God.

This mysterious figure of Jesus has an attraction, a draw on our hearts that none of us can fully explain. I was drawn to Jesus, but I was also confused by Jesus.

My friend John, son of Zebedee wrote in his account of Jesus’ life, “There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night…” John was trying to be cute there. Actually, I wish I had been the one to say it. When I went to Jesus, it was dark, it was nighttime. But, that really isn’t what John was talking about. It was the nighttime of my life. It was before I saw the light of day in Jesus Christ. And, for me, it was truly a dark time. I had much. I had most everything I could have wanted but my life was not whole. It was not fulfilled. I was not satisfied. That is why I came to Jesus. I knew there had to be more.

John was right about it being during the nighttime of my life but there were also a lot of reasons to go see Jesus at night. I knew what my fellow Pharisees thought about Jesus. Though I knew I had to go, I was afraid to go during the day. I knew there would be consequences for my actions if I was discovered. Additionally, the Rabbis of my day taught that it was better to study the Law at night when a person has fewer distractions. During the day there were always a lot of people around Jesus. I wanted to have this conversation with him and the best hope I had for us to not be interrupted was for us to talk at night, in the dark.

As Jesus and I talked I really started to wonder why I was having this talk with him at all. I really didn’t understand anything Jesus was saying. We never quite connected. I used my intellect, education, values, morals, and culture to try to understand. I tried, really I tried, but I still missed Jesus’ point. I was starting to see, and I would learn it even better over the years to come that Jesus embodied the ways of God that were, by definition unconventional ways for my time. They are unconventional ways for your time too.

Jesus’ ways have always been unconventional. It’s difficult for establishment people like us to connect. It is not impossible but it is difficult to connect with Jesus. Jesus used ways of teaching that were both direct, lay it all on the line, but at the same time cryptic.

Remember Jesus words, “If someone hits you on the right cheek, turn and offer the left?” That is not a conventional way to approach a disagreement. Jesus had unusual ways of seeing many things in the world, responses to aggression included. It’s pretty obvious most of us don’t respond in the same way. It’s hard to connect with Jesus because he teaches differently than the way our minds think. We want to follow our natural inclinations.

Jesus was also the one who said, “You’ve heard the saying, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, ‘love your enemy.’” That is not how we humans think. It defies our culture. It defies our logic. Treat your enemy just like your friend? That’s crazy talk. And, if we are faithful, it is also really hard. That is a difficult teaching and we have a tough time living it out in the real world. But, make no mistake, Jesus was serious in what he said. If you think Jesus’ teachings are simple and easy and that anyone could follow them, I might not be the first, but I would say, you need to sit down and do some serious study of what Jesus says in your Bible.

As Jesus and I talked in the dark that night he started talking about the need to be born again. Over the centuries a lot of people thought I was trying to take Jesus literally when I asked, “So am I to come from my mother’s womb a second time?” I wasn’t. I was well aware you can’t have a physical second birth. I was more asking the question like, “So this birth can’t be a second physical birth, what then?”

I feel certain most all of you have been asked at some point, “Are you born again?” The question carries the implication that being born again is something we choose to do, something we decide. Our physical birth had nothing to do with something of our own decision. To be reborn means to be born again, the parallel is birth. The image is about how we came to life. Life is not a decision, it’s a gift. It isn’t our decision to be born, nor do we accept birth. Life is a gift, a wonderful gift of God, of God’s grace and love that is beyond our human ability to understand.

Now, to be reborn? Being reborn is a choice. It is a choice to accept something else, something more God gives to us through Jesus. Yes, that is a gift too, but the choice to accept is up to us.

Standing there in the dark that night, that was something I learned. I also learned that God loves us enough to send his Son and that if we believe, we will have eternal life.

I can’t say to you I accepted the gift that night. I did not. When I left my clandestine meeting with Jesus, I just like the word clandestine, I had all kinds of things rattling around in my head. I was also saying to myself, “Nicodemus, you have got to give some serious thought to what this man has to say.”

And I did give it thought. Something kept pulling me back to what this man Jesus had to say. I now know that something to be what your founder, John Wesley would come to call prevenient grace. Before I was able to understand all these things, God was calling me. God calls you in the same way.

When I left Jesus that night it was by no means the end of my story. The other Pharisees, particularly those who served on the Sanhedrin with me grew to fear Jesus and the power he was gaining with the people more every day. They were afraid of losing their position and they were afraid he would stir up more trouble with the Romans. If the Romans cracked down on religion because of what Jesus was doing it would threaten the way of life for Pharisees in general and the Sanhedrin in particular. They couldn’t let that happen.

When the Sanhedrin felt something had to happen, something had to change in what Jesus was saying and doing, they started to plot against him.

I still wasn’t exactly sure where I stood with Jesus or what I thought of him but I also knew I didn’t want to see the council do him wrong. The law promised him a fair hearing. I wanted to make sure he got that fair hearing. After all, we are the Pharisees. We are the ones who lived by the letter of the law and this was the letter of the law.

When I brought this concern to the other members of the council they responded by saying, “You are not from Galilee too, are you? Look it up and you will see that the prophet doesn’t come from Galilee.” I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now. What does me, or Jesus being from Galilee has to do with seeing that we follow the law and that Jesus gets a fair hearing?

The response to this was, instead of a hearing they went out to question Jesus. Their intent was to trap him by asking him questions. They brought a woman to him caught in adultery. They said Moses gave permission to stone the woman. Then they asked what he thought.

It really wasn’t much of a hearing and I was very disappointed with the council. I thought it was pretty funny when Jesus bent down and started to write in the sand with his finger. Then he tells them “Whoever hasn’t committed a sin, let him cast the first stone.” He continued is writing in the sand and all the Pharisees and keepers of the law walked away. No, it wasn’t much of a hearing but Jesus’ response was more than effective. I was impressed.

Though Jesus won the day that day, it wouldn’t always be the case. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and keepers of the law were a determined bunch. Once they got something like discrediting or worse with Jesus, they were like an old dog with a bone. They were not going to let it go. They were determined to get Jesus or to die trying.

Well, someone did die in the trying. But this time, it wouldn’t be the Pharisees that died. This time it would be Jesus. To their credit, after Jesus was arrested, they did give him a hearing. How fair it was is open to debate. In the end, they handed Jesus over to the Romans who, at the insistence of our leaders, executed the man. Though I didn’t leave the Pharisees or the Sanhedrin, by this point I was totally disillusioned.

I also wasn’t alone. My friend Joseph, a Pharisee from Arimathea was also troubled by what he was seeing from our fellow Pharisees.

Seeing Jesus on that cross bothered Joseph and me deeply. We both knew he hadn’t done anything wrong. We wanted to do something to help but at this point, there really wasn’t much we could do. We waited.

After Jesus died, Joseph approached Pilate, asking for and receiving permission to remove Jesus’ body from his cross. I went along to help. We removed the body and put it in a new tomb workers had recently finished carving out for Joseph. It was the place where Joseph himself would be buried one day. For now, it was the tomb for Jesus alone. As for me, I bought seventy-five pounds of aloe and myrrh as well as the leaves and other items we Jews traditionally use in burial.

Under normal circumstances, we would use a much smaller amount, perhaps a tenth that much. Jesus was not your normal burial. I wanted to make sure he was treated as we would bury a king.

Though we had to rush, we were able to complete, at least to the extent necessary for the day, Jesus’ burial. Others would come back after the Sabbath to finish the needed work. At least that was the plan. When the women went back to the tomb on the first day of the week, they found the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body was no longer there. They and the disciples learned Jesus had risen.

Joseph and I had our doubts at first. We went and found the disciples and questioned them extensively, not as Pharisees but as Jews seeking the truth. When we left, as hard as it might be to believe, I was convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Being a secret disciple, Joseph already believed but he wanted to hear the story of how it happened.

Over the next few days and weeks, I started distancing myself more and more from the other Pharisees. I spent more time with Joseph and the other disciples. Eventually, I came to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Peter and John baptized me.

Following my baptism, both Joseph and I were brought before the council. We were forcibly removed from its membership and stripped of the title Pharisee. We were ridiculed and then beaten. The remaining council members called what we did apostasy. They said we had abandoned the faith.

We were chased from the temple and then from Jerusalem itself. We ended up at the home of Joseph’s friend Gamaliel. I would enjoy Gamaliel’s hospitality for the rest of my earthly life. Here I spent my days telling anyone who would listen that I was born again and that they must be born again too.

I also became a writer. I wrote my own account of Jesus’ life. Though it is not in your Bible, I have always been rather proud of writing my own account of the one true Messiah, a man who made a difference in me.

I had always been a sculptor. I particularly enjoyed carving. It was a way I had always diverted my mind and removed myself from the rigors of the day. After arriving at Gamaliel’s home, I continued to carve. I was attempting to carve the figure of Jesus on the cross. I had carved it many times and each time I threw the work away. I was unable to capture the beauty I what Jesus did on the cross, the image I had in my mind. One day, after yet another failed effort, I threw my tools aside and fell upon my bed and went to sleep, leaving the half finished work undone. When I awoke the piece was finished and it was beautiful. Angels had come during the night and finished the work. I awoke just in time to see them as they departed. The crucifix was perfect. It is still preserved in Lucca, a city in the Tuscany region of Italy, though unfortunately, all you can see is a copy.

I know I was privileged to live in a time where I could have first-hand knowledge of the Messiah. I will never forget the first time we met. Jesus was so patient as I tried to learn what he had to offer. I don’t remember everything from that night we met. What I do remember is Jesus saying I must be born again. I was born again. Are you?

The other thing I remember is some very special and treasured words. They were words that for the rest of my days gave me comfort and hope in a life to come. Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

 

Nicodemus was right. You must be born again. We all must have that spiritual rebirth. That rebirth makes those words of Jesus, John 3:16-17 real. That rebirth makes them come alive. God loves you so much he gave Jesus and if you believe in him you will not perish but you will have eternal life. Those words are a hope that can save the world.