hard places

From the very beginning of our study of JOHN, we have been invited to “Come and See!” – to see JESUS!  John recorded his account so others could know God’s Son.  Through John’s gospel, Jesus made it clear that He longs for us to know Him, and in doing so, to know the Father.

So, who is this One we have come to know through John’s words of testimony?  Well… even John says that books could not contain all there is to say about our Lord Jesus.  There are so many amazing discoveries about Him that impact us deeply and eternally.  But I find myself coming back to one particular thought.

Jesus, our Savior, was not afraid of hard places.

He was not afraid.  The picture of calm, majestic poise, He was never anxious, hurried or panicked.  He was simply steady, even under fire, confident that His Father’s plans and purposes would be carried out.

Jesus came along side of individual people in their hard places.

The Samaritan woman at the well, the official from Galilee whose son was sick, the woman caught in adultery, the blind man, the lame man, even Nicodemus who felt he had to bring his hard questions to Jesus in the dark of night because of fear – Jesus met them all, personally.  He wanted them to know Him – to know that He is the One who could rescue them, break the bondage of all that entangled them, offer them unchangeable truth and eternal life.

Jesus didn’t shy away from hard places created by His opponents.

As the religious leaders peppered Him with questions, trying to trap Him with tricky interpretations of the law they followed so ceremoniously, Jesus didn’t side-step the tension.  Jesus wanted them to know Him.  He loved them enough to challenge their concept of God and His eternal plan.  He hoped their escalating questions would lead them to real answers – to the understanding that He is the Messiah prophesied to come and that through Him they could truly know the Father.

Jesus knowingly allowed His followers to walk through their own hard places.

His disciples alone in a boat on a stormy sea, His dear friends grieving the loss of Lazarus, or Peter facing strangers’ questions about His loyalty to Jesus – Jesus wanted them to know Him in fresh, new ways.  He prayed for them, that their faith would not fail.  He knew they would reach for Him and find Him real and present and faithful and more powerful than they could ever imagine!

Jesus stepped willingly forward into His own hard places.

Even in agony, anticipating the brutality of the cross, the unspeakable wrath of God against sin, and separation from His Father, our Savior really never considered any other choice.  Out of obedience to the Father’s will and extravagant love for us, He offered His own life’s blood to redeem us because He was the only One who could.

Jesus reached out of His own hard places to meet others in theirs – to care for His mother, to promise paradise to a repentant thief, even to pray that the Father would forgive those who were torturing Him for what they were doing in ignorance.

The joy that was set before Him carried Jesus through the cross.  The joy of pleasing the Father, the joy of breaking the bondage of sin, the joy of conquering death and rising triumphantly from the grave – but also the JOY of reconciling us to God!  He wanted us to know Him and to know true and lasting peace with the Father!

So how have these lessons impacted me, personally?

I don’t need to fear my own hard places.

The confidence Jesus had in the Father’s plans can be my confidence as well.  His Father is my Father.  His God is my God – the same yesterday, today and forever!  Just as the Father steadied His Son, He can steady me.  I can trust Him to meet me in my hard places, to save me from what entangles me, and to fulfill His purposes.

I can trust Him with the hard places my loved ones face.  I don’t need to fret or worry or wish I could step in to rescue them from those moments.  I can replace anxious thoughts with bold prayers that my loved ones will discover something new and truly life-altering about the Savior in their hard places.

I can cling to the joy set before each one of us – the joy of knowing Jesus our Savior, in fresh new ways, of reaching for Him when we need Him most and finding Him real, present, faithful, and more powerful than we could ever imagine!

Just as Jesus spoke Mary’s name at the tomb, He calls me by name, for I am His!  He invites me to come and see – to see only Him.  As I seek to know Jesus, He will lead me to the Father.  As I follow Him, He will lead me Home to the Father – forever. 

He speaks to the storms that threaten to overwhelm me, and says “Peace, be still.”

And He comes along side of me, His child, takes me by the hand and whispers to my heart, “It is I.  The eternally unchangeable, great I AM.”  – “It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

 Read more here! – the gospel of JOHN

hard places

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nearer, still nearer

The night stretched long after a painfully quiet Sabbath.  The stillness made the events of the previous day pound in repeat through her heart.  It is very likely she didn’t sleep all night.  By early morning, still before any light of day, she just couldn’t bear it any longer.  She got up, got dressed and went to the only place she really wanted to be – the last place she had seen her Savior – laid in a new tomb.

When she got there, the stone had been rolled away and even in the darkness, she could see that the tomb was empty!  A surge of panic and fear shot through her.  She ran to Peter and John to tell them that His body had been moved, and she anxiously looked to them for help to find Him.  They ran back to the tomb ahead of her and found just what she had discovered – an empty tomb.  Just as perplexed, but beginning to believe what Jesus had told them about His death and resurrection, Peter and John returned home.  She was alone again, but couldn’t leave.

She stooped to look in the tomb again and this time it was filled with light!  Two angels sat where Jesus’ body had been!  They asked why she was weeping.  “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

She hadn’t missed a single step of her Lord’s journey.  She had traveled with Him, cared for His needs.  She had been close enough to hear His final words from the cross, to see Him take His last breath, and to watch as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared His body and laid Him in that new tomb.  She just wanted to be near Him.  She always took notice of where He was and did everything she could to be close to Him.  Now she couldn’t find Him – and she was heartbroken.

For some reason, before hearing the angels’ response, she turned and noticed a man standing behind her.  In the early morning light and through her tears, she couldn’t make out his features and assumed he was the gardener.  “Please, if you have taken away my Lord, please tell me where He is and I will go and get Him.”

“Mary”

She heard Him say her name and immediately she knew it was her Savior!  Only His voice could sound like that.  Only His heart could communicate so much by just speaking her name.  Grief had clouded her vision, but she recognized His voice speaking to her!  She was too overjoyed to worry about the how or the why, she simply fell at His feet, her beloved Teacher.

We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene, only that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her and from that time, she rarely left His side.  She was eternally delivered and impacted by Jesus and she overflowed with love and devotion to Him.  She just wanted to be near Him – she sought Him out.  Even when He died, she took careful notice of where His body was and went to the tomb to be as close to Him as she could be.  When she saw Him again, she fell at His feet and clung to Him as if she would never let go.  Jesus gently but firmly redirected her, “I have not yet ascended to My Father – Go, tell My brothers that I am alive!”

It just seems that every choice Mary made may have been through a few key filters…

Does it get me closer to Jesus?

Does it keep me near Him?

Does it help me know Him better, recognize His voice more clearly?

How else can I serve Him?

There is *nothing* and *no one* like Jesus!  I can’t get enough of Him … ever!

Passion for her Savior led Mary to the tomb that morning.  He was her first and maybe only priority!  And He met her there.  He gave her a precious gift – she was the first person to see the Risen Savior!  He spoke her name!  He touched her heart.  As her Teacher, He was slowly helping her understand that although He would be ascending to the Father, His Spirit would still be with her.  She would no longer need to cling to His physical body.  As her Lord, He gave her what might have been her very first assignment, to “go and tell.”  He was gently leading her away from paralyzing grief to new joy that would fuel her service for Him!

Mary’s encounter with Jesus on Resurrection Sunday touches me deeply.  I am reminded again that our Savior is so incredibly personal.  His interactions with us communicate volumes in a word.  He knows us individually and meets us exactly where we are to reassure our hearts and lead us to the next step in loving and serving Him well.

Mary’s devotion to the Lord challenges my heart.  How often do I put my own decisions through her filters?  Really it comes down to this – how much can I say “no” to so I can spend more time with Him, so I can seek Him out?   To hear His voice more clearly, to get to know Him better?  What a tender and precious train of thought – not to brow beat me away from less desirable choices, but simply to draw me to the better choice every time…. closer to my Savior… nearer, still nearer to JESUS!

Read more here! – Luke 8:1-3 – Mark 15:37-47 – John 20:1-18 

Psalm 73:28 “It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the LORD GOD, that I may declare all His works.”

Psalm 34:18 “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those whose spirits are crushed”

closer to Him

Nearer still nearer, close to Thy heart

Draw me, my Savior – so precious Thou art!

Fold me, oh, fold me close to Thy breast

Shelter me safe in that “haven of rest”

 Nearer still, nearer, while life shall last,

‘Til safe in glory my anchor is cast;

Through endless ages ever to be

Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee.

 – Lelia N. Morris (1898) –