During a season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it's important to recognize that Bethlehem was only the beginning. The innocent baby who slept in the manger would one day hang on a cross. Imagine. Well, today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll invites us to assume the role of a first century shopkeeper who witnessed the arrival of Jesus and his journey to the cross firsthand.
In the Eventumist Friday's program, we've allotted extra time to summarize the highlights. So let's picture the dramatic scene with our storyteller, Chuck Swindoll. We're in Palestine. It's the first century. The year is about 30 AD and the city is Jerusalem.
You're a shopkeeper on the main drag in Jerusalem. Right outside, the crowd is beginning to gather. It's an unusual kind of gathering. They're not moving along or milling around like a normal crowd would on a holiday week, but this crowd is sort of staying. It's almost like the beginning of a parade. In fact, it is a parade. There are children as well as adults, parents taking children by hand, and children are dragging these fronds, they call them, from the branches of a palm tree. And they're sort of waving them.
In fact, they're tossing them out in the street, of all things. You open the door and step out there. Hosanna, Hosanna, son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. There's a donkey, sort of an awkward creature with a man sitting on his back, stepping gingerly over those branches in the street. It's sort of staggering along.
That's funny. You're sort of captured by his face. You watch for a little while longer as the crowd dissipates, and you notice that this little group that's been following him goes all the way to the steps of the downtown temple. And you wonder what he's about. In fact, a few days pass, and they're not that uneventful because the crowd that keeps coming into your shop, not only new faces, but some of the older patrons of yours are talking more and more about this Nazarene, who seems to have taken the city by storm.
Another day passes. About mid-morning, you come in the store and your help is there working hard, and you look up and you sort of groan when you see Diatrophes, the Greek who owns the tent shop next door. He's so proud. He's so proud that he has this apprentice back in Tarsus, such a bright man he keeps talking about that he's training in the trade. But this is his main shop here in Jerusalem, and he walks in with a swagger, and he said, Well, they got him. They got to Galilean. One of his own turned him in.
The carpenter? Yep, they got him. I knew it would happen. You know who turned him in? A Judean.
I knew it. Galileans are pretty thick. The rest of them are Galilean. But that Judean saw right through him. He's one of Simon's sons. His name is Judas.
You can't put it together. You ask, What are they doing with him? Where is he? Where are they holding him? Well, my source says he's on trial. In fact, he's been on trial through the night. That's not supposed to be kosher, but they did it because they're in a hurry to get him crucified.
Crucified. It was about lunchtime, so you reached in the counter, and you pulled out your closed for lunch sign. You hang it on your door, and you lock up.
You tell the help to take the afternoon off. You start making your way with a crowd that's now moving along like a rapidly moving river just outside the city wall. You remember where it is.
There are sort of profane names for it that are thrown around by the rabble of the city, and you go there. You keep your distance because it's an eerie place to be. You hear one man on the side on a cross screaming out cursings against your God, and that's offensive. You see another man on the other side, and he says very little.
It's almost as though he's resigned to die, but in the middle, that's him. He screamed that. The man next to you thought he was calling for Elijah, but you've been in this cosmopolitan trade long enough to pick up most of the languages. You know Aramaic. You say it isn't Elijah.
He's not calling for Elijah. Those are the words of a prayer, something like, my God, why have you abandoned me? Something like that. Could he be the Messiah? Somebody on the other side whispers, did you hear about the suicide last night?
No. Judas hung himself. What is this? What's happening?
The time was when life in the city was so simple. You sold your goods. You ran an honest shop, and aside from putting up with diatrophes next door, things were pretty simple, and now you've got a simple man in the back of a donkey, and the very people who said, the real son of David now are crying crucify him, and the one who turned him in has hung himself.
I am thirsty. One of the soldiers down below gambling for the garment sticks his spear in a sponge and in a bucket of vinegar and wine and pushes it up to his face, cuts him right there on the cheek. Jesus turns his face. Your heart goes out to him, and then he turns to spit out some of the blood that has begun to hemorrhage from his mouth, and he said, it is finished.
What is finished? You look to your left, and about four people over is his mother with her hands on her cheeks. Standing next to her is a friend.
Somebody told you it was John, one of the disciples. And you thought, how cruel, hard enough for a mother to give birth to a child but to watch him die at such a young age. He's not 35, 40 years old, but she's standing in grief. It's gotten dark, strangely dark. It's not supposed to be dark.
It's hardly three o'clock in the afternoon. Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit. It's like he screamed it as blood came out and drained down his neck and he slumped. You can't stand that sound. It's awful. And then John, standing next to the mother, prays a prayer like you've never heard before. It's nothing like the rabbinical prayers you were taught as a little boy or little girl.
It was something like this. Yes, take him home, my father. Take the prince to his king. Take this son to his father. Take the pilgrim back home.
He deserves a rest. Come, 10,000 angels. Come and take this wounded troubadour to the cradle of his father's arms. Farewell, manger's infant. Bless you, holy ambassador. Go home, death slayer. Rest well, sweet soldier. The battle is over. Amen.
You've never heard anything like that. He knew God like you've never known him. He talked to him like a friend. Does that come from knowing and following this man on the cross? I believe, you say.
How will I ever explain it to my rabbi, to my friends? He is the son of David. He is the king. He is the messiah. I believe it.
Oh, I wish I could have talked to him and known him. He's dead. To your amazement, while lost in your thoughts, the ground begins to shake. Earthquakes aren't that usual around here. You thought at first perhaps it was a large entourage of Romans going by and their chariots and implements of war, but it wasn't. It was an earthquake in the darkness.
And you look back behind you and you see under the shimmering light of the eclipse sun some of the rocks splitting on their own. They're breaking. And somebody said from the back, those tubes over there, stones are rolling away. They're rolling uphill.
They're falling flat. It's like their corpses are going to come out of the grave. You heard later that at the temple, downtown temple, that big thick tapestry veil between the holy and holiest of all where you never would be able to go, ripped from top to bottom.
They'll never be able to repair it. And all of that happened when he died. But what really got your attention was the words of a hardened soldier who had been on so many crucifixion details he couldn't even remember what number this one was. But he stopped, looked at the stones, saw the tomb, and said as he looked into the face of the swollen carpenter, bruised and battered, this was the son of God. We've killed an innocent man that did it.
You can never erase those words from your mind. You go home that night, you slump onto the cot where you spend your evenings, and you stare at the ceiling of your little home. As that is happening, you don't know it, but there is a group of officials who have gathered at Pilate's office. Pilate opens the door. In come Pharisees, a couple of chief priests, and a local rabbi.
Not yours, but one nearby. Their faces are grim. Sir, we remember that when this deceiver was on this earth, he said after three days I am going to rise again. Therefore, Governor, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him away and say to the people, he has risen from the dead.
And then things would be worse than they were at first. Pilate said with a sneer, I never wanted to have anything to do with him anyway. My wife warned me about him. I let him go hoping that people would say, let him go and crucify Barabbas, but they chose him. He's your worry. You have your own guard.
Make the grave secure. They left, and they did. Hours passed, dragged on to the Sabbath.
You still remember the words, it is finished. Late on the Sabbath hour, just before dawn of the first day, you're awakened. The dirt floor of your little place cracks open.
The furniture begins to creak. Another, it's got to be an afterquake, aftershake. You get one, you get several.
And in this earthquake, you sort of have your life pass in review. And you remember three, three and a half years ago, for some reason it comes to your mind, there was a baptizer, strange fellow, wore weird clothes. Preached out in the wilderness, and he made a statement like, behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and it dawned on you what this was all about. Lambs, you've seen a thousand of them offered at an altar. Blood from the lamb when the throat is slit is held in a saucer, and it becomes the sacrificial atonement, that which gives forgiveness. It's the substitute for the sin of the penitent. And you thought, that's it, that's what it was. Jesus, God's human lamb, sacrificed for the sins of the world, mine, yours.
It dawns on you. He paid the penalty for sin, and it's paid in full. It's as if he wrote the check and signed it and endorsed it. And God held it until, as you heard, he was raised. And when he was raised, God cashed it and made the money available to the world. It all begins to make sense.
It clicks. This earthquake is like God's answering, amen, to Jesus' words, it is finished. The penalty has been paid. The sacrifice has been taken care of. No one will ever have to die again for his or her sins. The lamb has been slain. And now he has been raised, and God is saying, amen. To your amazement, as old age comes upon you, before that first century has passed, you come across words from your friends who are new in the faith as well, who speak of a New Testament.
In fact, one of the writers was one of the followers of Jesus, a tax gatherer named Matthew. And when you see the work of Matthew in your later years, you nod in understanding because you were there. Late on the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave, and behold, a severe earthquake had occurred. You were there.
You'll never forget it. It shook you out of bed. But you didn't know that that was what was happening. And the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it, and his appearance was like lightning, and his garments were like white as snow. And the guards at the tomb shook for fear of him and became paralyzed like dead men.
They couldn't move. And the angel said to the women, he is not here. Do not be afraid. I know you're looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here. He is alive.
As abruptly as we began the trip, we ended. And unless I miss my guess, there will be a few shopkeepers who will return to your work with a business-as-usual mentality. There's still insurance to sell. There's still cars to trade. There's still music to write. There are still sermons to prepare. There are still little ones to raise.
There are still activities to carry on. After all, next week begins my vacation. And I'll just put it all in neutral and just kind of see where it settles down. After all, religion and business don't mix. You were taught that in school.
But I must warn you. To remain neutral is to deny the truth. Which rests firmly on the inspired word of God. Max Lucado, in a superb little work, no wonder they call him the savior, puts it in these words.
The immensity of the Nazarenes execution makes it impossible to ignore. Everybody has an opinion. Everyone is choosing a side. You cannot be neutral on this issue.
Apathy? Not this time. It's one side or the other. And all have to choose.
And choose they did. For every cunning Caiaphas, there was a daring Nicodemus. For every cynical Herod, there was a questioning Pilate. For every pot-mouthed thief, there was a truth-seeking one. For every turncoat Judas, there was a faithful John.
And today, almost 2,000 years later, the same is true. It's the watershed issue. It's the continental divide. It's Normandy all over again. You are either on one side or the other. A choice is demanded. We can do what we want with the cross and the tomb.
We can examine its history and study its theology and reflect upon its prophecies. Yet the one thing we cannot do is walk away in neutral. No fence-sitting is permitted. The cross, the tomb, in their absurd splendor, don't allow that. That is one luxury God in his awful mercy doesn't permit.
On which side are you? May we bow our heads. Close your eyes. Another imaginary journey.
Not to the past, but to the future. Imagine your death. Imagine eternity. Imagine facing that without a savior who has gone beyond to prepare a way for you. What excuse will you have to gain God's favor and attention as you stand a dead sinner before his holy throne?
Through the centuries, millions of seekers, interested, believing sinners, have found that their only hope beyond the grave is Jesus of Nazareth, who has paid the penalty and God has cashed the check and made it available. Take it today. Don't just go back to business as usual. Take time. Trust Jesus.
Let us help you get started. We serve a risen savior, and you, our God, deserve all the glory. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Thank you. What simple yet sincere words we speak today. Thank you for the message of hope. Thank you that it gets us beyond the grave and into the Father's waiting arms. Thank you that all can understand it, young and old alike, and we this day acknowledge Jesus is Lord in his precious name.
And everybody said, Amen. You're listening to Insight for Living with Chuck Swindoll. We hope you've enjoyed this imaginary journey as a shopkeeper in Jerusalem to witness the ministry of Jesus in real time. Chuck's message is the fourth one in a 12-part series called His Name is Wonderful. This one is titled The Day God Answered Amen. If you're thinking of someone who would truly enjoy this first-person story that helps us envision the birth and ministry of Jesus, we invite you to share today's message with them.
You can do that when you go online to insightworld.org. And then Chuck has prepared a comment for our listening family that you'll hear in just a moment. But first, just a reminder, you can view the Sunday morning worship service at Stonebriar Community Church live online, or you can catch the service at a time when it's convenient for you. Many people around the world enjoy supplementing their local church attendance with this unique opportunity, and the livestream includes not only Chuck's full sermon but the sacred music from the worship service as well. All the details can be found online at insight.org slash Sundays.
And now, here's Chuck. As we finish another year of ministry together, I can assure you that my personal passion for preaching and teaching has only intensified with the passing of time. In fact, I'll be honest here, I don't believe I've ever felt stronger about seizing the day every day because I truly believe that current events signal the soon return of our Savior. Over the lifespan of Insight for Living Ministries, we have witnessed a litany of catastrophes. Some were national disasters. Others were violent acts of wickedness.
Think about it. Tsunamis wiping complete islands off the map and swallowing families into the sea. Then there were earthquakes smothering innocent people with debris.
There were two commercial jets flying into the Twin Towers, creating apocalyptic chaos, horrible destruction. There have been senseless shootings, too many to count. Plus, racial tension that has escalated, political parties are polarized, and our citizens are feeling confused.
Some are downright angry. Times like these cause us to conclude, yes, we are really living in the end times. Well, through all these disasters and through all the cultural turmoil, Insight for Living has remained constant, delivering a constant reminder that God is sovereign and in full control. By teaching God's Word, we serve as a calming voice of stability, pointing people to the Savior for more than 37 years.
And now, let me urge you to invest generously. Do that so that we may turn up the volume on the gospel, guiding more and more people directly into the truth. In these last days, your donations, large or small, will truly make a difference. Let's do this together, and let's do this now, while there's still time. Remember Jesus' words?
We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the One who sent us, for the night is coming, and then no one can work. Thanks for hearing my heart today. I so look forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks, Chuck. If you'd like to respond to Chuck Swindoll, you can call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888, or you can give your gift online at insight.org slash donate.
We also have a mobile app which includes an easy-to-use donate function. I'm Bill Meyer. Join us when Chuck Swindoll examines another name for God. He's the Alpha and the Omega, Tuesday on Insight for Living. The preceding message, The Day God Answered, Amen, was copyrighted in 1991, 1992, 1998, 2002, and 2022, and the sound recording was copyrighted in 2022 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
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