The Soaring Eagle

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


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I will make you

“The LORD had said to Abram,
 “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household
and go to the land I will show you”
(Genesis 12:1)

 

Reflection:
There are two incidents in the life of Abraham that are of significance to each one of us today.

The first is God’s call. Essentially God was calling him to leave his past behind him and to travel with God to a place that God would reveal. It is very similar to Jesus call of His first disciples.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

We all have a past that we carry with us. It will contain successes and failures, pain and joy, hopes and fears. Jesus calls us into a life which is focussed on Him. It is a new life and not to be crippled by the things of the past. It is a life in which He forgives and heals us of the burdens of the past and opens to us the potential of the present and the future.

The second is God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. This was the more startling because Isaac was the child of promise. It was to be through Isaac that God’s promises to Abraham were to be fulfilled and the future nations blessed for all eternity.

In both cases God’s challenge to Abraham and to us is to let go of the shadow of the past (which we cannot change) and the vision of the future (which we cannot bring about) and to live only for God each day. Jesus put it like this,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”  (Matthew 6:25-34)

He is not suggesting that we be lazy or careless but that we get our focus right and then live accordingly with God instead of for ourselves.

Response:
Who is really my priority?

Prayer:

Lord I know the truth and the Truth – please help me to surrender my past into Your forgiveness and my future into Your provision and live with You today. Amen.

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O God – for me

“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46)

Reflection:
It had happened. For the first time ever Jesus knew what it was to be separated from God. He had taken onto Himself and into Himself the sins of the whole world – past, present and future.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us”
 (2 Corinthians 5:21)

God was not just on the other side of a barrier – He had disappeared. Jesus great cry of abandonment –prefigured in Psalm 22 – would have echoed throughout the whole of creation. And unsaid but inferred the next verse would hang in the air,

“O my God, I cry out …
but You do not answer”

We have to let our imaginations discern the truth that the heart of God Himself was in agony at this time – sustained only by His great love for His Son and for you and for me and for us.

As we look in horror and awe at the figure on the cross – straining against the nails, the pain and the suffocation – we begin to see more of the truth. The darkness upon Him and within Him is our darkness. The fingers of death reaching out and grasping Him is our death. The sin that has invaded Him and which burdens Him is our sin. In the flickering light His body seems almost to disappear and to be replaced by a list of our sin and sins. There they are – the sins of yesterday, the sins of today and – O no! – the sins of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

He is forsaken and I am set free.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

(Isaac Watts)

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Listen to the voices

“In the same way 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.
He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him,
 for he said, `I am the Son of God.'”
(Matthew 27:41-43)

Reflection:
Nobody likes being mocked. It is even worse when one is at ones weakest and most vulnerable. And these were terrible taunts.

“He saved others but He can’t save Himself.” Here was an acknowledgement of Jesus great power and authority in healing the sick, casting out demons and even raising the dead. Some of them may have both seen and heard of his raising Lazarus who had already been dead for four days. And they still would not accept the implications of these great acts. And of course Jesus could have saved Himself – but in obedience He chose not to.

“He is the King of Israel.” They knew who He was said to be but they would not look at the possibility of it being true. They just did not want Him or a King like Him. And of course they saw that they had so much to lose in terms of status and privilege and power.

“Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him.” ‘If He wants Him”- This may have been the cruellest barb of them all. It was directed at a pain-wracked man hanging naked and bleeding on the cross – a man who was soon to cry out as He felt Himself forsaken by the very God whom He trusted and served. And of course the religious leaders were trying to justify themselves to each other even then.

Did the religious leaders recognise that they were quoting the prophetic words of Scripture? They should have – which would have made their mockery even more biting and tragic.

“He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
(Psalm 22:8)

How easy it is to mock others and in particular the weak and the helpless – and to twist the knives of our sarcasm and scorn with the intention to cause the most pain and rejection. We imagine that somehow it makes us more important and secure.

May God forgive us too.

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Jesus Insulted

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him,
shaking their heads and saying,
“You who are going to destroy the temple
and build it in three days,
save yourself! Come down from the cross,
if you are the Son of God!”
(Matthew 27:39-40)

Reflection:
How quickly praise has changed to insults. A few days before the crowds had shouted “Hosanna”. Then it was “Crucify!” Now they threw His words back at Him and ridiculed Him.

Notice how similar this challenge is to the one issued by the devil as he began the temptations in the desert.

  • “The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)
  • “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

Both challenged Him to prove His identity as the Son of God by performing a miracle. Both challenges were also focussed on His physical need. Both were rejected by the Lord whose vision and purpose where far greater.

We all face challenges and temptations in our lives – including those that will establish us as significant in the eyes of others. We would be mortified if we were to lose our reputation and be discarded as worthless – particularly if it happened in such a public and humiliating way.

Jesus suffered this as a part of His sacrifice of Himself on our behalf. There was no glory involved at the time.

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No Thank You

“They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall;
but after tasting it, he refused to drink it”
(Matthew 27:34)

Reflection:
One of the greatest blessings of medical research is the advancement made in the area of pain-killers. Having had a number of surgical procedures in the last two years I have been made very aware of the benefits of being unconscious during the operations and relieved of pain after them.

Jesus did not have that blessing. In fact He refused the best that was on offer – the wine mixed with gall. William Barclay tells us that this drug was made-up by a group of wealthy women in Jerusalem as an act of mercy. It was a way of deadening the senses.

However, Jesus was not going to pass through His hours on the cross in a drugged state of semi-consciousness. In dying there for our sins ‘He was determined to accept the suffering and death at its bitterest and at its grimmest and to avoid no particle of pain.’ His calling was to be a living sacrifice and not a senseless offering. So He suffered in our place the punishment and death that we deserved.

We cannot begin to imagine the searing pain in every part of His body over those long hours, and the spiritual torment that He suffered in the process. But He hung there and accepted and absorbed it for every moment of my life and living – the past, the present and the future – and for the eternity that was His to offer.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed”
(Isaiah 53:4-5)

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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)