A New Man

It’s still hard to speak about.

Even though it has been so many years. I am frequently asked to tell my story, which I do with some reluctance. I do so only to give others hope. Maybe even you. If Jesus Christ can change my life, He can change yours too.

I grew up in the region of the Gerasenes. We were on the wrong side of lake, so to speak. The Gerasenes is located on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. We are a mixture of Jews and Greeks, farmers and fishermen. We are perhaps best known in Galilean region for our massive cemetary on the rolling hillside, the only one in our community.

People came here to get away from the city. We are loners, fiercely private and very protective. Outsiders are not given a warm reception, often treated with open contempt.

This is my home.

I have fond memories as a child. Working the fields with my father, enjoying the Sea with my siblings. But my life took a different turn in my teenage years. I became a hellion. Lawless. I was a thief, a drunkard and a bully. I brought shame to my family, forcing my father to remove me from our home.

I have no memory of the next five years of my life. None whatsoever.

The only knowledge I have of those years comes from little sister. She apparently never stopped hoping and praying for me. She says that I lost my mind, wandering aimlessly through our city and yes, even our graveyard. I began to terrorize our entire community. When the authorities attempted to subdue me, their chains could not contain me.

I was a man possessed.

One day that all changed. Jesus of Nazareth had relocated to the town of Capernaum, just a little north of us. Rather than pursuing a large haul of tilapia that morning, He made the unexpected decision to enter our town. I can’t imagine what would make Him think that was a good idea. Looking back now, I’m eternally glad He did!

My sister says that as soon as Jesus climbed out of the boat onto the rocky shoreline of the Gerasenes, I confronted Him. With full force, completely naked and screaming profane words I came at Him. It was a merciless and file display of evil. So I am told.

This is where I begin to remember again. Inexplicably I found myself sitting at the feet of Jesus. Dressed and in my right mind, my heart was racing with joy! What had happened! I felt like was a different person! Here I was, in the posture of a student waiting to be asked by the Rabbi to become a disciple. To follow Him.

I was ready to leave the Gerasenes. I had no life here. I was hated, and rightfully so. I wanted a new life. A second chance. So I asked Jesus if I could join His group and begin a new life. To my surprise, He denied me. Rather, He said, “Stay here and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

That’s exactly what I did. Looking back, I think I may have been the first missionary to be sent by the Lord Jesus. I didn’t want to stay here, but now I see the beauty and wisdom of my Savior. Who better to be a living proof of the goodness and power of God to our community than me, sadly? I was an object of scorn, ridicule and fear for years, and who had been transformed in a moment into an object of grace, love and hope.

If He can do that for me, what can He do for you?

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Overlapping

I’m a big fan of breakfast. Particularly a hearty one at a good restaurant with family or friends. I love everything on the menu, generally speaking, and am hereby launching my campaign for the breakfast bowl…where all my favorites are tossed and mixed. Don’t think they have one of those in Tel Aviv.

Now there are those who don’t share my sentiments. I know who you are. You don’t like your bacon near your eggs, and you certainly can’t stomach your eggs touching your pancakes. You’re the folks that ask for extra plates. You drive servers up the wall! Liberate your syrup, and let your taste buds experience something new, I say!

Israelis like their holidays the way I like a great meal in the morning. All together. Our tour guide made a startling observation yesterday. “Everything is attached in Israel.” Unpacking this statement further, we learned that Israelis celebrate their Memorial Day and their Independence Day…on the same day.

That’s like letting the syrup touch the eggs. That doesn’t quite calibrate, even for a masher like me. One day is a time for somber reflection, the other a cause for wild celebration. Not so in Israel. Everything is attached. They can mix their emotions, preferring to commingle rather than to segregate days of sacred observation.

And it dawned on me. Isn’t that how we should approach the Passion Week? Mourning the betrayal, abandonment and suffering of our Messiah. Feeling the 40 lashes, recalling the searing pain of physical and emotional injustice. We are called to remember. More than an opportunity to slide into a holiday weekend, we are given an annual chance to reflect and feel deeply the pain that purchased our freedom.

Our independence from the lingering effects of sin.

Then we can enter into Sunday morning with all the joy, praise and celebration that the day deserves. We have been set free! We have been liberated from our bondage to decay, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and reconciled to our Creator and Father, who has loved us with an everlasting love! Hallelujah! Our God reigns, and we will live with Him forever!

So may God allow you to experience all He has for you today. Pain may come in the night, but joy comes in the morning. Feel all that the world may bring you today, knowing that you aren’t the first one to do so. Let your food touch, allow joy and sorrow to cross paths.

 We know how the story ends. He is risen.

 He is risen indeed.

Who is he?

It’s about time.

I have to confess that there is some relief in being caught. Living with one eye open at night has taken it’s toll. I trust no one, including friends and family. In a odd way, being in prison has given me my first decent night’s sleep for years. The irony.

Who am I? My name is Barabbas, which means “son of the father.” More irony. I don’t even have a name. But I do. I am known not for I am, but what I do. I am a murderer. No question about it. I am leveraged by hate. My blood boils. I am a robber. I am not bound by the laws of God or man. I am an insurrectionist. I take pleasure in creating chaos and division.

That’s who I am. It’s what I do. Got it.

So here I am, rotting in this hellhole of a home. And I begin to hear the noise of the crowds. There is stirring, yelling. Suddenly I hear my name called, followed by a long pause. Then it starts. The haunting refrain. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pause. “CRUCIFY HIM!” I am tormented! The time has come for me to suffer the consequences for my lawlessness.

I am handled roughly by the Roman soldiers. How they have longed for this day. They begin to lead out toward the angry masses, but stop without warning. I am pushed to the rocky dirt path, given a swift kick to the ribs and told to go. You’re free, they tell me. My expression forms a question. How? The crowds chose the Nazarene, the one known as Jesus, I am informed. As I turn to run, overcome with raw emotion, one of the soldiers mockingly calls out, “Your guilt has been Passed Over.” More irony.

How can this, that I, the guilty one, go free?

As I regain my composure, I can’t help but circle back. I need to see this man who is going to die in my place. I know who I am, but who is he?

The soldiers do unspeakable things to him. Torture and cruelty that defies comprehension. He is humiliated, spat upon, and mocked. His skin is being pulled from his back. As he suffers, he is strangely quiet. There is an uncomfortable peace that seems to rule him, as he dies in my place. Who is he?

He is now moving down the road. Carrying his cross. I gain a vantage point close to the hill. I need to make eye contact. To somehow say something. Then it happens. He glances my way. Does he see me? Does he know that I am the guilty one? He pauses, so very briefly. Was it just me, or did a faint smile cross his face? He knows! It’s as if he knew all along. As if this was the plan. Who is He?

Amazing love, oh the sacrifice
The Son of God given for me;
My debt He paid, my death He died
That I might live