18. Day of darkness…marked in heaven.

We count life in days. Whether we like it or not. It is a fact. One day comes with light and ends in darkness. Good days feel short, bad days feel longer, but it is only an illusion. They are all exactly the same length – every minute to the last second. We rest in the certainty of this rhythm. Since the beginning of time darkness and light marked our days in the rigid routine that rules our lives.

We plan en look forward to special days. Days are marked on the calendar as festive days, holidays, wedding days and birthdays. Dark days come unplanned. We look back and remember sad days, tearful days, days of longing, painful days and depression days – days that seem to plod along in the dark night of the soul and leave us deeply wounded. Those days were not marked ahead on our calendar.

God’s darkest day was planned long before time was counted.

In a garden on Thursday night long ago, a Man struggled with His following day. He knew the pain day was coming. The day was marked in heaven. In his human body he shied away from what He knew was coming. An angel came to strengthen him. The new day came – the day marked by darkness on the calendar of God the Father.

Dawn brought the soldiers and the Roman’s words: John 19:5:

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

Pilate was unprepared for this day and thought he had authority to pardon this bloodied, tortured, simple Jew who seemed to anger the Jewish leaders and the people so much. He found that even though he wanted to show mercy, he could not. He said the words as if he willed the crowd to feel sorry for Him and let Him go, but the day was marked and pre-ordained and Pilate was a mere pawn in the Plan.

History credits the Persians with crucifixion as a method of execution. They did not want the flesh of an evil man to penetrate the earth and hoped that the vultures and crows would let the evil disappear. The Carthaginians took it over from them and the Romans learnt it from Carthage. It was a shameful death. No Roman citizen would have ever been subjected to it and it was reserved for slaves and serious criminals. The soldiers that had to execute it, was given much alcohol to be able to watch the cruel, slow death. Experts say that the crucified man dies of asphyxiation, since the lungs cannot function in such a position.

A crucifixion was usually preceded by a scourging with a leather thong-whip into which little pieces of sharp bone was tied to inflict the most damage to the naked back of a man. He was whipped until he passed out or lost consciousness. When he came round, the cross was put on his back and the longest possible road was chosen for the prisoner to walk with the cross. The reason for the conviction was written down and carried before him, so that anybody who knew of any fact that could mitigate the sentence, the procession was stopped and the trial continued right there.

Pilate wrote for Jesus – the King of the Jews. The Jewish leaders were unhappy with this, but Pilate refused to change it. Nobody from the crowd came forward to say anything on His behalf. The very people whom He taught and healed jeered him on to the cross. They did not see. They thought they were doing the right thing by their religion.

Oh, how dangerous is that – that we could lose sight of Jesus Himself in our zeal to be religious.

When Jesus stood next to Pilate that day He was already scourged. The mere fact that He could stand on His feet was a miracle. The words of Pilate are very significant. Pilate spoke Latin, but the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek words that he used were ho anthropos, which meant: see, the man. That was normal Greek for a human being, but not long afterwards the Greek thinkers were using that name for the heavenly man, the ideal person, the hero of mankind. Jesus was indeed worthy of that name even in His darkest hour.

Pilate was powerless in the face of the church and the crowds and gave in. Even he, in his position of authority could not mitigate the sentence and reluctantly handed Jesus over to be crucified.

The day was marked and planned ahead of time. Nobody could have altered the outcome.

Darkness marked the day.

For most people in this desert-like outpost of the Roman Empire, that Friday was an ordinary day, marked by the Passover that was about to begin. Tradition prescribed the preparations to remember the dramatic deliverance from slavery. The routine was set in stone, just as the law given to Moses. They had to remember the blood on the doorposts as the blood of the lambs was thrown against the Temple foundations.

A few years after the crucifixion, a census was taken over Passover in Jerusalem and an estimated 256 000 lambs were slaughtered. According to the law, a lamb was shared by 10 people, that brings us to 2,5 million Jews in the city over Passover. No wonder the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council) needed Judas to betray the whereabouts of Jesus that night, especially to get through the secret, nightly trial. Can you imagine the bloody mess around the Temple when the blood of the lambs was sprinkled around the foundation of the Temple?

Jesus died on the hour the lambs were slaughtered. The symbolism should have been clear. The sun was darkened and the earth shook. Maybe the priests looked up and wondered about the darkness that interrupted their very important rituals, so focused that they had already forgotten the drama of that morning that sent the Galilean preacher to the cross. They also did not realize that their rituals would soon be ending. Fourty years later the Roman Emperor destroyed Jerusalem and only the one wall of the Temple were left.

No more lambs are slaughtered, no blood flows. The perfect Lamb has died. The sacrifices ceased because the perfect Lamb of God was crucified.

On the hill outside the city His death was etched into the minds of the onlookers. He cried with a great voice, not the faint whisper of a dying man: Finished! Just one word in Aramaic and Greek.

He died with the prayer of Psalm 31:5 on his lips:

Into your hands I commit my spirit;

    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

This was a very well known lullaby of any Jewish mother putting her child to bed. Jesus died in the arms of His Father.

Luke 23:44-45:

Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.

The darkness is not something to fear. It was in darkness that the veil was torn and the Most Holy was accessible. In the darkness the Presence is real. In your darkness you will experience God’s Presence, His loving arms, His still soft voice that will sooth and calm you with the lullaby of heaven.

Exodus 20:21:

So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

God is in the darkness. He will turn your dark day into victory. The dark day of heaven is still the greatest victory over death and pain in the entire history of mankind.

Isaiah 60:2:

For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.

1 Peter 1:18-21:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Dear Pebble pals, let us be still and think upon the cross of Jesus before this Easter weekend so that the holiday and activities of a long weekend not blur the exceeding salvation that we are so privileged to have. It is, after all, the most important time on the Christian calendar.

Day of darkness, day of blood, day of redemption, day of victory, day of power.

Revelation 12:11:

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…

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17. Gold in your hand.

“Unbelief will destroy the best of us: faith will save the worst of us.”  Charles Spurgeon.

No matter how much we learn, there will always be some mystery surrounding God’s character and ways. It is always a reminder that He is so much bigger and more than we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams. Just when you think you know Him better, He will reveal something more that brings you to your knees in worship and wonder.

One of the things that are a constant reminder of God’s infinite greatness is time. The concept of being outside of time is hard to grasp. We live as “prisoners” of time if I may say so. God is all knowing and therefore sees all of history in a moment. Nothing ever surprises Him. This single realization is such a comfort to me. No matter what happens in my life; if my life is submitted to God, He is in control and nothing robs Him of His ability to work it out for my good, even if the worst may happen to me. Life happens and that could be an unpleasant surprise and a big shock to me, but God is never surprised nor shocked.

He knows when things go wrong, He knows when I am going to mess up, He knows all my failures even before they happen and He knows my pain of regret or pain of grief for things beyond my control. In everything He supports me, carries me through and forgives my sin.

Many years ago I saw failure and tragedy as a “side road” that happened when I left the planned “highway” that is set out for me by the will of God. I thought my life journey is planned in a concrete ditch-like road from which I should not step out. Failure to stay within this rigid, specific plan will cause ultimate spiritual failure.

I slowly came to realize, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that my journey is a combination of the decisions I make with my sound mind in submission to God’s direction through prayer. I might decide to take a job in another city and move or I might decide to stay where I am, it will not alter the will of God for my life. The only important factor is submission in prayer. God helps me to make the right decisions when I make prayerful choices. In either one of the choices, His presence makes the difference. He will work it out to my advantage and will bring me through all crises that might come my way. There is no path that guarantees smooth living. The broken world we live in brings tragedy and heartache in which we are comforted from the Source of love and compassion. Even the heartache works to my advantage when my life is submitted to His hand and direction.

Jude 24

Now to Him Who is able to keep you without stumbling or slipping or falling, and to present you unblemished (blameless and faultless) before the presence of His glory in triumphant joy and exultation, with unspeakable, ecstatic delight—

When God says He presents you, then it is His working in your life that will bring you blameless and faultless, into His presence and before the Father. He will make you the joy of heaven. It will not be your own efforts of good living, only your decision to prayerfully submit.

Romans 11:36

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. [For all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.] To Him be glory forever! Amen (so be it).

This is our faith in God. He is much bigger that you think and He directs all things in your life. Although the world is broken and in the hands of the evil one, God steps in on behalf of His children.

2 Chronicles 16:9:

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are blameless toward Him.

A blameless heart is only possible through the cross. God Himself cleanses our hearts.

Psalm 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right, persevering, and steadfast spirit within me.

Acts 15:9:

And He made no difference between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith (by a strong and welcome conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, through Whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God).

This is such a relief. My own efforts always end up in disappointment, but Jesus works in me to be cleansed and worthy to enter into the presence of God.

Romans 8:28

We are assured and know that God being a partner in their labour, all things work together and are fitting into a plan for good to and for those who love God and are called according to His design and purpose.

The Greek word for purpose is prothesis meaning: pro = previously and thesis = a place. It indicates a conscious plan of preparing a place, called to the place where you belong. The magnificent design for salvation was already in place in the Garden of Eden when sin entered.

How do we know that we are included in this plan?

1 Timothy 2:3,4:

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

We bring ourselves into this wonderful plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. Further in 1 Timothy 2: 5,6 :

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as ransom for ALL ……..

If the Word of God says ALL then it means ALL. God already knows who will accept Him and who will reject His invitation. It is always an invitation, free to be rejected, otherwise it is not love. True love is always a choice.

Greek has two words for time – chronos and kairos.

Chronos reminds us of the word chronology and indicates calendar time, measured time, counted time, the relentless and constant passing of time in minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia.

Kairos is the liberating concept of God’s time and is defined by Strong’s concordance as: opportune time, set time, appointed time, due time, definitive time, seasonable time, proper time for action.

God’s time is always the right time. If we submit our lives we will be assured of the fullness of time when things happen at the right moment.

Colossians 4:5:

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the TIME – kairos. The Amplified puts it this way: making the most of the time, and seizing the opportunity.

Can we relax in God’s timing and rest in the Holy Spirit to trust Him fully for the defining moment when the timing is the best it could ever be. He knows best. Do you believe that? When we yearn for things or solutions, it is complicated and our faith in His timing falters. We need wisdom to discern the timing and God promises that in James 1 without reproach.

Amongst all the genealogies and chronological documentation of the book of Chronicles, this remark stands out:

1 Chronicles 12:32

…of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…

Being mindful of time gives us a new perspective. In the end all we have is today. Everything we do this moment, which is all we have at our disposal, determines our future as well as our concepts and perspectives of our past. God enables us to “work” with our time.

The past is under the blood. Isaiah 1:18 is the key:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

This is the only way to get rid of wounds and hurt, failures and disappointments. Forgive other people and accept God’s forgiveness in your life. Even if circumstances do not change (which it will) you will change. A free heart and a new way of thinking are priceless. Again – it is not your own efforts, but His purpose and grace. Praise God for this!

2 Timothy 1: 9:

…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began..

The future is in God’s hands. The content of our future is the promises of God in His word. Just as certain as the daybreak each day and the changing of the seasons, you can rely fully and wholly on every word He says in the Bible. He will do what He says He will do – period.

Genesis 8:22:

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.

Can you accept the challenge to trust the Holy Spirit today with everything in your life and submit to God’s season for your life?

1 Peter 1:6,7:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

The gold is in your hand…

I am reading: Experience the Impossible by Bill Johnsons – highly recommended.