The Merchant’s Story

Somehow I found myself pulled in by the lure of the crowd.  Sheer curiosity as to the number of people watching; nothing more.  I had already seen a man crucified.  It was horrid.  A man stretched out on a cross of rough timbers, his agonizing scream as spikes were driven through his wrists and ankles.  The thud of the cross as it was dropped in a hole to stand firm in the ground.  I had told myself I would never witness another execution, so why was I now at another one?

Perhaps the scandal of it all, the rumor about the man who now hung between two others; that had to be the reason.  I watched and listened to the murmurs of those around me.  Some saw him as a good man who did no wrong.  Others saw him as a magician who performed tricks.  Still others seemed to hate him just because it was popular to do so.  Me? I had no feelings about the man at all.  It would be nothing more than a good story to tell to my customers as I traveled to sell my wares.

My business was good.  Fifty head of camel had I to pack with lavish gifts to take from one city to another.  Once I had even traveled to Egypt selling my goods both there and again upon my return.  I prided myself upon being clever and shrewd.  Some would accuse me of deceit, but I never took advantage of a poor man.  No, only the rich would I dare to make a shekel or two more.  Why not?  It was every man for himself, right?  I did nothing any other man wouldn’t do if given the chance to advance his wealth.

It was then, upon these very thoughts, that I was brought back to the present moment.  I glanced at the man on the cross and he was looking straight at me; yet not really at me, but through me.  I heard myself gasp and felt my legs tremble.  For a moment I thought I might drop to the ground.  I tore my gaze away but something, I don’t know what, drew my sight back to his face.  His eyes held mine and suddenly, unexpectedly I knew I was naked before him.  He could see me as I am, the good and the bad, and all that was hidden.  I was afraid and wanted to run, yet so drawn to him I dare not move.  His eyes changed then; no longer just seeing through me, but now pleading, yearning, not for his own life —  but for mine.

There were no words to explain the moment.  I was exposed.  Frantically I tried to calm my nerves by reminding myself of my own goodness.  I gave to the poor who sat begging by the temple gates.  I took care of my family.  I was faithful to my wife even when other businessmen in their travels were not.  I played with my children.  Yes, I began to feel better because I was a good man overall.  Relieved I looked back at the man.  “Today you will be with me in paradise,” he spoke to another criminal hanging on a cross next to him.  How ridiculous!  My thoughts raged in not a little inner anger.  What does he mean by such nonsense!  They’re not going anywhere but to a tomb!

Amidst my thoughts the man looked at me again.  Blood streamed down his face from the thorns pressed into his scalp and forehead.  A cruel, mocking crown of thorns.  Even so, there was no hatred upon his face.  My eyes locked with his once more and an overwhelming understanding washed over me.  I had never before experienced — what?  What was I feeling?  What was coming over me?

Today you will be with me in paradise.  Those were his words.  Why couldn’t I shake them?  Today.  Where would I be today?  More to the point, where would I be tomorrow?  What was my destiny?  Again I raised my face to look at the man.  I stared.  I desired something more than I had in my life.  What was that I saw in his eyes as he shifted his head ever so slightly to continue looking in my direction?  He could read my thoughts!  I knew it!  Was his heart calling to mine?  Yes!  He was calling!  He wanted to give me more!  Suddenly I wanted more, too!  I nodded my head and smiled in both shame and incredible joy. I know he knew and he was happy.  Among such cruelty shown him, I knew he was thinking about me on that cross.  I knew he was thinking about everyone ever born and who was yet to be.  It was true!  Son of God!  On a cross for me!

Paradise.  That’s what he promised.  That’s what I received. I finally understood that life in paradise had nothing to do with my own goodness, but everything to do with His.  My life has never been the same since that awful but wonderful day.  I heard amazing news of Him just two days later — He had risen from the dead!  I didn’t need to see him with my own eyes.  I already knew in my heart.  I had already received his forgiveness and his promise.  It should have been me on that cross.  He wasn’t the guilty one.   It was me.  It was you.  What sweet relief.  One day — undeserved paradise.

“I’ll Be Back, Jack.”

Like every dog, Jack watches with anticipation for me to return whenever he sees me go.  “I’ll be back, Jack,” I assure him as he looks at me with somewhat mournful eyes.  If he had his way I would stay with him every moment of the day.

It was the same with the disciples of Jesus.  After the crucifixion, when they finally began to understand exactly who Jesus was and why He had come, there came the moment when He told them goodbye.  We read in Acts 1:9-11, “He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him.  As they strained to see Him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing here staring into heaven?  Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday, He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go!'”

As we enter the Easter season, we are reminded of this wonderful fact: Jesus is coming again.  We wait and watch.  We don’t know when He will come, but we know it will happen.   He will return and take us with Him.

When I leave Jack, he looks longingly, but he doesn’t stand gazing after me every moment I’m away.  He’s very busy.  He has hole digging to do, hard work keeping the birds from landing in his yard, and of course, there’s play time with his ball and frisbee.  He keeps busy, but every so often, he takes time to stand and watch for my return.  He looks for the signs: the sound of my car, the sight of me walking toward the house.  Oh, delight, when he sees the signs of my return.

It is the same with us.  We are busy with the things of life, both the mundane necessities as well as the ministry aspects we are involved in: but every now and again, we take time to stop and reflect.  We look for the signs of His return.  The signs are there, of course.  He is coming again.

As the song reminds us, “Oh what a day of rejoicing that will be.”

The Plot

So there was Jesus doing what He always did — healing the sick, offering hope to the downtrodden, feeding the hungry, revealing truth that would change lives forever.  Yet, there were those who hated Him for everything He did.  Some tried to discredit Him.  Others actually wanted to kill Him.  So strong was their hatred that they began plotting a scheme to rid the world of Jesus.

Their strategy involved one of Jesus’ ardent followers.  They needed inside information.  Was there anyone among His disciples that could be purchased?  Yes.  His name was Judas.  For thirty pieces of silver Judas told them where they could find Jesus.  In fact, he would lead the way to Him.  The first part of the plan was completed.

Next, Jesus had to be arrested.  After all, there were many witnesses who had heard the claims of Jesus to be on an equal standing with God.  Blasphemous!  This had to end!  Forget the miracles Jesus had performed.  Forget the good works and His compassion.  Forget the fullfilment of Sripture.  Just get rid of Him!  That was their foolproof plan.

The scheme was unfolding perfectly.  Now, a trial without a jury.  There was no one to speak for Him.  Why, Jesus did not even speak for Himself.  How could He stand there, mute, like a lamb being led to slaughter?  If only they knew.

Oh, happy day for those haters of everything about Jesus!  He had been legally found guilty and sentenced to death!  Aha!  They had won!  This will be a most sobering lessen to His followers.  Ha!  Look at them standing beneath the cross.  See how they shed their tears, but see how others hide in the shadows, afraid now to show their faces.  This will show the world the truth about Jesus.  Yes, indeed, the truth will win.  

It was the third day.  Those who hated Jesus, the false religious leaders, still reveled in the victory that was theirs.  Jesus was dead!  No more of His do-gooder ways to gain attention.  No more of His doctrine to fool the people into false belief.  Now the people would once again follow their teachings and adhere to their religious requirements.   They were in for a huge surprise!

What’s this?  Who is that woman running through the streets?  Where is she going? What’s that she’s saying?  What!  Jesus is alive?  She has seen Him?  Good grief!  What nonsense!  The killers of Jesus  had seen Him take His last breath.  They had witnessed the deed to the end!  Oh, they knew of the false claims that Jesus would rise from the dead.  That’s why they had placed Roman Guards to thwart any attempt of Jesus’ followers to steal the body and make these outrageous claims!

On that same morning, the guards came trembling.  They gave their account in abject fear of what would happen to them for allowing the body of Jesus to be taken.  Instead of reporting to their own authorities, they went to the religious leaders.  They explained the earthquake and the angel that had descended, moving the rock that sealed the tomb.  The religious leaders were livid!  They could not allow this report to be given.  They agreed among themselves to offer the soldiers a large bribe to keep quiet about what they had seen.  They were instructed to say that somehow the disciples had come in the night, overthrown them, and managed to steal the body.  The guards accepted the bribe and told the story as they were commanded.  They had no idea that their lies could not hide the truth, and the truth would set men free for generations to come.

Jesus endured great shame and He experienced agonizing pain to pay the penalty for our sins.  His death on the cross was brutal but Jesus’ love for us outweighed His pain.  You see, He knew what the end held for Him and for us.  He chose to suffer because He knew the ultimate result —  total forgiveness of our sins,  an inheritance of eternal life in heaven, strength, peace, and joy for each day on earth.   Then, Jesus actually conquered  death that put Him in the grave.  Yes, He rose again!  Today, He sits at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf!  Those who hated Him didn’t see that coming!  

He’s alive and lives in the hearts of all who invite Him in!  He is still changing lives forever!  When Jesus is invited to sit on the throne of our lives, we are never quite the same again!

“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”  II Corinthians 5:21