The Soaring Eagle

Only your body is limited. Your spirit can 'mount up on wings like eagles'


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This they did

“Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him.
Then they led him away to crucify him”
(Matthew 27:26-31)

Reflection:
Pilate now called for water and washed his hands in front of the crowd whilst saying that he was ‘innocent of this man’s blood.’ In this way he finally gave in to their requests. However, much as he might want it to, the water could not cleanse him of his responsibility for what was to take place. Like Lady Macbeth he would carry his acts into the final judgement still to come.

“Here’s the smell of the blood still.
All the perfumes of Arabia
will not sweeten this little hand.
Oh, Oh, Oh!”

‘He had Jesus flogged.’ Four little words quickly read that cover over what was in fact a ‘terrible torture.’ According to William Barclay the lash was ‘a long leather thong, studded at intervals with sharpened pieces of bone and pellets of lead. Such scourging always preceded a crucifixion and it “reduced the naked body to strips of raw flesh, and inflamed and bleeding weals.” Men died under it, and men lost their reason under it, and few remained conscious to the end of it.”

After this the soldiers amused themselves with the Lord whilst His cross was prepared. There was more pain to come as the long thorns of His crown were driven into His head when they ‘struck Him on the head again and again.”

I well recall saying to myself whilst watching The Passion of the Christ, “That’s enough now Lord, that’s enough blood!” But it was whilst Jesus was still struggling along the road towards Calvary where He had hours more terrible agony in front of Him. He had to live through every long and soul-screaming second – and He did it for me – and for you – and for all of us – because He loves and wants us with Him – so much.

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(Picture: The Flagellation of Christ by Rubens)


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Your choice

“Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him”
(Matthew 27:15-18)

Reflection:
Pilate made one last effort to have the crowd agree to his releasing Jesus. Seemingly coincidentally it was the time for him to release a prisoner chosen by the people. He gave them the choice between Jesus and ‘a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.’ Maybe even he was sickened when they chose the guilty Barabbas over the innocent Christ. But he was now committed – and he released Barabbas.

How must Barabbas have felt when he was brought before the governor and the crowd – and then told that he was free to go? Perhaps he turned and looked at the man who was to take his place – and could their eyes have met? What would have gone through his mind as he walked away into the crowd – and even later when he stood on the fringes and watched as his redeemer was crucified and died?

Maybe he felt the unfairness of it all, particularly as he learned more about the man they called Jesus. But it would have been expecting too much for him to have objected to his freedom at the cost of the life of another. For after all he might have faced crucifixion himself and only an idiot would choose to die that way so that another could go free.

Yes, only an idiot – certainly not a Messiah or the Son of God for they would be far too important.

And three days later when the stories of a resurrection began to circulate what then did he think? Perhaps he wished he had not grinned quite so triumphantly at his condemned liberator as he passed on to the freedom of the world.

Yes, He did warn us about valuing our life in this world over our life in the next.

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(Picture from The Passion of the Christ)


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Speak to me

“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said.
“Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
(John 19:10)

Reflection:
Again with Pilate Jesus answered some of his direct questions but did not respond to the accusations brought against Him. He was not going to fight the process ordained by God nor to squabble with the religious leaders.

Pilate was afraid of the anger of the chief priests, officials and the crowd. He was alarmed by reports that Jesus was said to be the King of the Jews and startled by the accusations that He ‘claimed to be the Son of God.’

However when he said that he ‘found no basis for a charge against him’ he was shouted down and even threatened by the crowd.

“Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar”  (John 19:12)

In some frustration he confronted Jesus with the above questions, amazed that He did nothing to try and secure His release. Jesus knew that in fact Pilate was not strong enough to exercise this authority in His favour. Nevertheless He responded,

“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”  (John 19:11)

Pilate was like a mouse caught in a glass cage. Twisting and turning he sought a way out as the serpentine coils of the crowd curled tighter and tighter around his space. Eventually he would give up to save himself – just as many still do.

In each of us there may be something of Pilate, something of the crowd, something of the religious leaders – until the love and grace and Spirit of the Lord transforms us. But how would they have felt on that day and afterwards?  Is the Poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lee correct when he says,

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible”?

There was certainly an avalanche of inflamed hostility against Jesus that day.

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Are You?

“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death”
 (Matthew 26:59)

Reflection:
Surely this is one of the most damming sentences in Scripture. The religious leaders, responsible for the spiritual welfare of God’s chosen people, were seeking lies – or ‘alternative facts’ – which they could then use as a reason for having Jesus executed. It is small wonder that He had exclaimed earlier,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”  (Matthew 23:27-28)

And surely that is one of the most terrible judgements that could be handed down from God to the shepherds of His flock.

Jesus did not have much to say to them because He knew what they were after. It was not the truth but an excuse to have Him crucified. So even when He was asked to comment on some of the allegations made against Him He remained silent. It was only when the high priest called on Him to respond to his direct question that He answered.

“But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64)

This was what the high priest was looking for – not because it was the truth or something definite that they could debate with Him. It was a blasphemy deserving of death – unless of course it was true. That however did not cross their minds – notwithstanding His teaching and His miracles.

They were unanimous in their judgement.

“”He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”  (Matthew 26:66-68)

And when they had finished with the Son of God they bound him and led Him to the governor, Pontius Pilate. How do I treat Him?

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(Picture: Gerrit van Honthorst – National Gallery)


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Facing Truth

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly”
(Luke 22:60-62)

Reflection:
Here is Peter again in all his stricken humanity. Finding out that he is not who he thought he was or who he wanted to be. We need to remember though that it was his great heart that had brought him, alone of all the disciples, into that dangerous courtyard where he could sit and watch his Lord.

Just a few hours before he had spoken impulsively, only to be told by Jesus that it was not the truth,

“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  (Luke 22:33-34)

Now Jesus words were proved to be true. And in that heart-breaking moment when Jesus turned and looked at him Peter broke down.

How many of us have had grand dreams about ourselves – only to find that they did not come true. How many of us could also lament with Paul,

  • “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15)
  • “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19)

How any of us have dreamed a dream, only to lament in the words of the song,

“Now life has killed the dream I dreamed”

But thank God that the story does not end here.  Peter did not go the way of Lazerus. He did not go away into the black hell of lonely isolation. He waited. And then, just over the hill of Calvary, a new light appeared in his life. The risen Christ sought him and found him, loved him, forgave him and restored him.  Jesus put a new spirit into him, His own Spirit. And Peter went on to live a new life, a fruitful live and a fulfilling life beyond anything that he would ever have imagined as he sat counting fish.

With Jesus new life is always just over the hill. He will meet us there and lead us onwards in His love. For He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life – and there is no other.

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(Picture: Robert Leinweber)


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Silent Trust

“Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people”
(John 18:12-14)

Reflection:
Having won the battle and overcome temptation Jesus now walked calmly into His future. Matthew makes this clear as He records Jesus words to the disciple with a sword.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  (Matthew 26:52-54)

With that He was led away. His disciples deserted Him there and fled. They fled into the darkness of their own fear.

Twelve legions of angels armed and ready. But He did not call for them. Later on the cross He was taunted by the chief priests, but He did not respond to them.

“The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:41-42)

Jesus let God’s will play itself out around and through Him. He needed no defence for being on the right path. He would do nothing to avoid it.

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7)

And so He sat quietly in the courtyard of the high priest’s house – and waited. Before another day had passed the pain and the trauma would be over. These were moments of stillness before the guards began to mock and beat Him – relieving their boredom by playing with the Son of God. And still He said nothing.

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You- not me

“He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;
yet not my will, but yours be done.”
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly,
and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”
(Luke 22:41-44)

Reflection:
Here was the last and greatest temptation of them all.

Everything within Jesus drew back at the contemplation of the horror that lay before Him. It was not just the trial and the false and angry accusations that would be levelled at Him. Nor was it the unspeakable brutality of the flogging and the crucifixion with its naked viciousness and searing agony – with no relief and nowhere to hide. There was more. He would be crushed beneath and drown in the accumulated sin of the world – past, present and future. As it was poured into Him He would suffocate as the Breath of Life left Him and, for the very first time in His existence, He would be separated from the knowledge and intimacy of His relationship with the Father. Everything within Him would die as He hung wretched and alone under the burning blackness, the hideous humiliation and the scathing abuse of Calvary.

There was only one resource that was still open to Jesus – and He took it. He began to pray Himself out of the situation and to pray His Father God into it. He opened Himself with His anguish to the Father – praying so earnestly and intently that His ‘sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.’ This was not Jacob wrestling with God but the Son of God wrestling with His humanity.

He prayed and He prayed and change began to take place. The human Jesus gave way to God the Almighty as He prayed ‘not my will, but Yours be done.’ And, by the time that He returned to the others, He was at peace and in command of Himself. God’s will had taken precedence and He would walk into it in faith and submission.

Here was the fulfilment of His refusal to accept any of the easy options offered to Him by Satan in the desert. For God to be honoured the process would have to be as faultless as the end result. There are no short cuts. God does not build eternal salvation on faulty foundations. All this Jesus knew and accepted so that God could be truly glorified.

Could I say it too?  “Not my will, but Yours be done”

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