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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

In one of his picture books, Barney Saltzberg asks all young artists: What can be done when your paper tears, a corner gets bent, or paint drips on your project? Throw it away and start over?

No, Saltzberg has better ideas, and through the pages of his book demonstrates his creative mastery of the mishap. A tear in paper, for example, can become the snaggly smile of an alligator. A bent corner can be turned into the head of a penguin, and paint drips into wheels on vehicles.

Saltzberg titled his masterpiece, Beautiful Oops!

 

 

What perfect imagery his book presents for the beautiful life Jesus creates out of each of us!

Without Jesus we make ourselves victims of mishaps and mistakes, motivated by the desires for self-gratification, power, and notoriety (to name a few). The results can include: gluttony, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, physical and emotional abuse, cheating, and slander (to name a few again).

But with Jesus, even those mishaps and mistakes can be transformed into something beautiful:

 

 

“Anyone united with the Messiah

gets a fresh start, is created new.

The old life is gone; a new life burgeons!”

–2 Corinthians 5:17, MSG

 

And what a life it is!

Those of us who ask Jesus into our lives get to enjoy incredible benefits such as:

  • A new perspective. No longer are we scrabbling for the next gratification, promotion, or thrill. Our eyes are opened to the delight of blessing others.

 

 

  • A new source of power. Dependence on ourselves is exhausting and worrisome. What a relief to rely on Someone all-wise and strong, Someone who even knows what will happen in the future.

 

 

  • A new certainty. No more lying awake at night with unanswerable questions pounding in our heads—questions like, “Is there life after death? How can a person know whether there’s a heaven and hell? If there is, how can I be sure to experience the former and not the latter?”  One step toward Jesus settles those questions. The believer knows his eternal destiny in heaven is secure.*

 

 

  • A new plan of action. No more striving after things that don’t satisfy. Life takes on new meaning, purpose, and fulfillment when God is integral to our lives.

 

 

(“The meaning of earthly existence lies not,

as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering

but in the development of the soul.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

 

  • New delights, such as: 1) anticipation and hope for the future, 2) awareness of God’s presence, 3) augmented relationships, and 4) understanding of and pleasure in Bible reading.

 

 

The person who doesn’t know Jesus may read this list and doubt its validity. Perhaps they don’t sense the need (yet) for these things or they question Jesus’ ability to provide them.

But like all the Oops in Barney Saltzberg’s book, we don’t really know the difference the Master can make until we turn the page.

 

______________________________

 

Have you turned the page to new life with the Master? If so, what aspect of your new life would you add to the list above? Share your experience in the comment section below!

 

*  Why would we believe what Jesus claimed in the Bible, that he’s the One to trust for the gift of eternal life in heaven? Whole books have been written to answer that question, to prove that the historical record of Jesus is accurate and his claims are absolutely true. One I highly recommend is The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998) by former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel.

Mr. Strobel was an atheist when he embarked on a thorough investigation of the evidence for a historic Jesus and his claims. When he had finished, Mr. Strobel had this to say: “The great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth (p. 265)!” Mr. Strobel was convinced by the overwhelming evidence and chose to become a Christian.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?

“Joy.”

Do you find that surprising, too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unusual topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know that catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete”

(John 15:11).

The word, “this,” refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy, compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender and self-sacrifice of himself to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of his impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

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We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

(Photo credit:  www.rejesus.co.uk.)

 

 

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Visit a theme park and you soon learn that part of the adventure is waiting in line–even if you pay extra for fast passes.

Such was our experience at Disney World two years ago. The castle of Beauty and the Beast required wait time—well over an hour. But friends of our daughter had told her, “Don’t miss it,” so we joined the long, looping line.

You may also know that, while you wait, the folks around you can become like friends. Topics such as home state, kids’ ages, and other experiences in the park, get the conversation going. Commiserating over the long line adds to the camaraderie.

Finally we approached the entrance to the castle. Only fifty or so guests were allowed past the gilded rope. This was our first surprise, since most theater-attractions seat hundreds of people. (No doubt there are at least several theaters within the castle, to accommodate the crowds. But each group enters separately, totally unaware that there must be identical venues down alternate hallways.)

First, we were ushered into an outer room, hosted by a footman, I believe. He assigned roles to many of the guests. Among them, the father from Michigan with the four kids became a butler, the little ballerina (who had performed intermittently as we waited in line) became a teacup, our son-in-law, a knight, and our granddaughter, a salt shaker. Each participant was given a colorful placard to identify his or her part. The footman explained what they would need to do, once we entered the library to meet Belle.

 

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One particular role seemed completely inappropriate. For the Beast, the footman chose a little girl with an obvious limp.  It seemed cruel to choose such a child for the Beast, of all characters.  As he draped a red cape over her shoulders, I thought, He probably didn’t notice her difficulty walking. But those of us who had become acquainted outside the castle knew full well: this was going to be awkward.

Soon we were ready to enter the library and meet Belle. Our small gathering of almost-friends filed into the dimly lit, cozy room.  Most of us sat close together on benches.

Beautiful Belle, in her yellow satin gown, directed the teacups, salt shakers, and other dancers in a delightful little polka, while the knights stood guard. Such an elegant and charming princess, that Belle.

Then she said it was time for her dance with the Beast.

Our new little friend slowly and carefully approached Belle without any sign of self-consciousness. Her eyes locked with Belle’s, glistening with pleasure and adoration. Gently, they nearly waltzed, Belle being mindful to accommodate Beast’s handicap. And for a few precious moments, that little girl’s physical challenges were forgotten in the inexpressible delight of dancing with Belle.

Suddenly, my eyes filled with tears. That little girl had been the perfect choice for Beast. Her ecstatic joy was obvious in the non-stop smile and luminous eyes. She was the center of attention of a princess—someone whom she dearly loved and greatly admired. Even more poignant, the sweet look of love returned by Belle, her gracious intentness focused entirely upon the child.

Love soon encompassed the entire room. Surely every guest felt it, not just me. We loved the child for her precious innocence. We loved Belle for her warmth and kindness. We even loved each other, as almost-friends, sharing in this  miracle—a once-in-a-lifetime experience, never to be repeated.

But wait.  In actuality such euphoria and reverence is available to us–every day.

We can keep company with Jesus, our Prince of Peace —not just for a few miraculous moments, but  All.  The.  Time.  In fact, like the father of the prodigal son, he waits in eager anticipation for us to come “home” to him and linger there.

We can be transformed, just like that little girl.   For the length of that magical dance, she was blissfully unaware of her handicap. Why? Her attention was riveted on Belle.  Paul challenges us to do the same in the spiritual realm:   “Fix your attention on God,” he said.  “You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Romans 12:2, The Message).

We can experience love beyond imagination. Belle portrayed perfect love for one shining moment; God is perfect love (1 John 4:8). And the love of his Son, Jesus, is wider than any experience we encounter, longer than our lives last here on earth, and higher, purer, and deeper than any other love (Ephesians 3:18).

And then, one glorious gift that even the lovely Belle could not bestow.  We can be healed of our handicap, the handicap of sin.  Jesus paid the price for our sin when he died on the cross.  He sacrificed himself so that we could be healed of the ravages of sin and enjoy a God-enhanced life (1 Peter 2:24; John 10:10).

With ecstatic joy we can revel in all the privileges of one-on-one relationship with our Prince, who loves each of us as if there was only one of us (St. Augustine).

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Oh, Prince of Peace, what an astounding privilege you grant us, to bask in your perfect love each day.  Thank you for the assurance of your love throughout scripture, reminding us that we are precious and beloved to you.  May our status as your precious ones free us to live unencumbered by self-consciousness, fear, and worry.  And may we never fail to express your gracious love to those around us.

 

(Photo credits:  www.wdwmagic.com; http://www.galleryhip.com)

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One of the delights of grand-parenting is recapturing the joys of childhood. In the name of entertaining the little ones, we get to return to such fun activities as drawing with crayons, molding Play-Doh, and building with blocks.

Little eyes watch in wonder as we sketch a flower, create a clay nest of eggs, or fashion a tall tower. It doesn’t take much to wow the little tykes.

Just the other day I demonstrated for our toddler granddaughter the first rule of constructing block skyscrapers: A solid, level foundation is a must. Without that strong base, the tower will lean and fall.

For centuries, the success of constructing real buildings depended on one foundation stone in particular: the chief cornerstone. Without the sophisticated tools of today, stone masons had to be certain that first stone was level and its corners squared accurately. The rest of construction conformed to that one stone. If the cornerstone was faulty in any way, the building would lean and fall.

The chief cornerstone also carried the weight of the structure. If laid properly, the weight of the building was evenly distributed and the structure remained sound.

Scripture tells us that Jesus is our cornerstone. God said,

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed” (Isaiah 28:16).

Oh, my. So much good news in one short verse!

The “stone in Zion” is Jesus, our Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4), who has been tested for two thousand years. Billions of believers over the centuries have found him to be a trustworthy Savior, Shepherd, Friend, Prince of Peace, Teacher, and more.

Jesus is our precious cornerstone—highly valuable to us who believe in him. Think of the excellency of his character and his perfect, holy life. Think of his position. God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every other name in the universe (Philippians 2:9). Think of the myriad ways he blesses, guides, comforts, and strengthens us, his followers.

He is also our sure foundation—strong and reliable. In his divine power he gives us everything we need for life. We can depend on his great and precious promises (1 Peter 1:5).

Those who trust in him will never be dismayed; their lives will not topple and fall into ruin. However, commitment to obedience is crucial. If I’m not following his blueprint for life, as provided in the Bible, I’m not demonstrating trust.  (Still working on that!)

Also important to understand: God’s architectural plan does not end with the placement of the chief cornerstone, his Son, in our individual lives. Each of us who believe in Jesus are like a stone or brick in the building of the Church universal.

The truth is, individual bricks by themselves are practically useless. They must be mortared together to realize their full potential. As Christians, we, too, must come together as the Church to realize our full destiny.

We become more significant, not less, as we gather to pray, encourage one another to lead godly lives, work together, and share with others the good news about Jesus.

We also become stronger, able to withstand storms and hardships because the stress from such forces is distributed over numerous bricks. We carry one another’s burdens.

Even better, we have a strong, sure foundation in Jesus. He is more than sufficient to carry the weight of our cares. On him rests the Spirit of power, which he dispenses on our behalf (Isaiah 11:2; Philippians 4:13).

*     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *

Thank you, Father, for the wonderful, rock-solid saints you have brought into my life over the years, shining examples of living stones, spiritually well-hewn, and set apart for your service. I’m thinking of family members, pastors, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, Bible study teachers, mentors, authors, friends. Countless saints have helped, encouraged, and challenged me to become a living stone for you also.

And oh, Lord Jesus, how I praise you for the sure foundation you provide in my life. When a storm of worry begins to stir, you offer reassurance of your power and strength. When I’m ready to topple from a multitude of cares, you uphold me. When fear wants to consume me, you soothe me with your Word. Over and over, with calm stability, you have steadied me. You are my foundational Rock.

(1 Peter 1:5; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 6:25-26; 1 Peter 5:7; Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 18:31)

Photo credit:  www.amberdusik.com.

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Martin wrapped his muffler tightly against his neck, then pulled his hat firmly down over his ears. The night was bitter cold. As his feet trudged through the snow, his thoughts warmed him. Soon he’d be sitting by the fire surrounded by his loving family, and together they would celebrate Christmas Eve.

Thank You, dear Lord, for this blessed night, he prayed. Thank you for the precious gift of your Son, the King of Glory become Savior of those who believe.

Martin’s eyes lifted heavenward in worship. It was then he noticed the ethereal display above him: evergreen branches lit by hundreds of tiny lights. Of course, it was the stars. But on that night, for Martin, they appeared to be sprinkled among the treetops.

Oh, I wish the family were with me to witness this, he thought. And then he had an idea.

When Martin finally crossed the threshold of his home, his wife and children were surprised to see him carrying a small evergreen tree.

“Children!” he cried. “I just enjoyed a most amazing sight as I walked home this evening. And we’re going to recreate it, at least partially so, right here in the living room!”

Whatever could this be, they thought, as Papa sent them to gather a small pot and candles.

Together, Martin and his six children set up the tree and fastened candles to the branches. Then the room was darkened as the tree-candles were lit. And while the little tree glowed brightly in the corner, Martin told his family about the exquisite beauty he had witnessed—sparkling stars shining through the evergreens on a crisp and clear Christmas Eve.

“It looked something like this!” he proclaimed and gestured toward the tree.  The children stared in wonder at the glorious sight.

 

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This, according to legend, is how Martin Luther introduced the tradition of the Christmas tree, nearly five hundred years ago. (I did add a bit of imaginative embellishment!)

Of course, no one can verify the truth of the legend. But I like to think that one of our most devout fathers of the faith brought to us this most delightful custom.

Not only is the custom embraced by nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas, it embodies much symbolism.

The tree of choice in most homes is the evergreen. Green represents life—the eternal life Jesus offers.

The lights also remind us of Jesus, the Light of the world (John 8:12).

  1. He brings the light of sweet peace and effervescent joy that contrasts sharply to the darkness of fear. His Light transforms our quality of life.
  2. Jesus’ light reveals our sin, and then he offers to extinguish that darkness in our souls with his life-giving salvation.
  3. His Light also guides us along the path of life.

Finally, the decorations offer reminders of God’s blessing:

  • Ornaments gifted to us over the years bring to mind precious family and friends.
  • Miniature crèches, angels, shepherds, and wise men invoke fresh wonder in the glorious story of Christmas and God’s indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).
  • Toys and teddy bears bring to mind the children for whom Christmas is the source of delirious joy. Almost as great is the vicarious pleasure we adults enjoy, while watching the young ones revel in all that is Christmas.

 

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And when the tree is fully decorated, we can exult:

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!

Thou hast a wondrous message.

Thou dost proclaim the Savior’s birth,

Good will to men and peace on earth.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I praise you, O God, for your goodness. Your blessing does indeed bring me much wealth (Proverbs 10:22), including: life eternal in your presence, Light to guide my way, precious family and friends with whom to enjoy the journey and with whom to celebrate this rapturous season of Advent.

And then, would it be too trivial to thank you for Christmas trees? Their splendor graces our homes like no other adornment. May I enjoy the decorated tree, not as something bright and pretty in itself, but as a reminder of the Branch of the Lord. HE is the beautiful and glorious One (Isaiah 4:2).

(Photo credits:   http://www.i.istocking.com;  www.jpeg.pinterest.com; http://www.madiganmade.com

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“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, KJV).

Many of us memorized those words as children. And many of us may have thought, “Wow! That means, God will give us whatever we want!”

So we prayed for new bicycles, the latest gadgets, and swimming pools in our backyards—absolutely certain that if God gave us these heart desires, we’d be completely satisfied.

Some of our prayers were answered affirmatively. A new bicycle with sparkling spokes actually materialized under the Christmas tree. Or Aunt Louise heard the pleas for Mattell’s Magical Music Thing, and sent it as a birthday gift.

But the wise and introspective among us may have realized early on that:

1. When one desire is fulfilled, another quickly takes its place.

Years ago I heard that a famous actress had accumulated seven houses, each one decorated differently from the others. Why? Because changing locations eased her boredom.  ( I wonder how long after each home was completed she decided to purchase another?)

2. God isn’t in the business of making wishes come true.

Some desires become reality; some do not. If he did provide our every whim, we’d become spoiled and self-centered.

So how are we to make sense of David’s introductory statement? It sounds like a whopping exaggeration.   “I’m one of God’s flock! I’m gonna live on Easy Street!”

Hardly. David is saying, “God is my loving Care-Giver. What I enjoy in my relationship with him far outweighs anything else this world has to offer. I really don’t want.  Another.  Single.  Solitary. Thing.”

Now there’s an attitude of devotion to cultivate!  How can we become that contented?

One place to begin is with gratitude and praise.

Think of all we enjoy as a result of our relationship with God.  Peace, joy,  and provision, quickly come to mind.

Here are a few more:

  • Companionship with a perfect Friend—every moment of every day–into eternity.  He is always listening, always watchful, always diligent.
  • Hope. No situation is beyond the abilities of our Almighty God.
  • Settledness, because he is in control, and “makes good things even out of hard times” (Erica Hale).
  • Truth. We don’t have to muddle through life like a do-it-yourselfer with no instruction manual. “The unfolding of [God’s] words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

The truth of the matter comes down to this:

No possession or position, no person, and no place will fill our hearts with satisfaction.

Peaceful, joyful contentment is the outcome of one determination: affirming that in God we have all we need.

Perhaps Jesus was teaching us the way to contentment when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Are you weary of the dissatisfaction that results from striving for the next desire?  Are you burdened by unfulfilled wishes and dreams?

Come to Jesus.  Count the scores of blessings he has already provided in the past, is currently providing this very moment, and has already prepared in the glory of heaven yet to come!

Rest in contented gratitude and praise–free from want.

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What helps you rest in contented gratitude?  Please share in the Comments section below!

 

(Photo credit:  www.kingjamesbible.org.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Every time…

…I drive down a street canopied by interlaced trees, I think of the elms standing sentry over the town of my childhood.

Every time…

…I hear Trumpet Voluntary by Henry Purcell, I’m transported back to my wedding day.

Every time…

…I stroke soft velvet, I remember the turquoise velvet dress my mother wore—over fifty years ago.

Every time…

…I eat raspberries, my grandmother comes to mind. She made the best jam with fresh berries from her own bushes in the backyard.

Every time…

…I smell a wood fire, visions of family-reunion picnics float in my memory.

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Our senses are powerful catalysts for memories and emotional response.  But out of the five, researchers say the most powerful is the sense of smell.

So when the ancients read this scripture verse, what images came to their minds?

“All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad” (Psalm 45:8).

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First, a bit of background might be helpful:

Psalm 45 was composed for a royal wedding. Verse eight, about the groom’s robes, might refer to a long-held custom in the Middle East of perfuming one’s clothing, especially for special occasions.

But the imagery of the psalm also speaks prophetically of another “wedding”–between Christ and his bride, the church.

Many of the descriptors for the Groom fit Jesus perfectly:

 “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever…In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds” (vs. 2-4).

But if the psalm is a word-picture for the relationship of Christ to his church, what is the significance of verse 8? Why the description of his robes, fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia?

Perhaps the pleasing, aromatic scents represent all the pleasing virtues Jesus embodied: his love, wisdom, and grace.

Perhaps they are also an allusion to his burial.  In ancient times, spices were also used in the embalming process.

After the crucifixion, you’ll remember that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, who brought seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes to wrap within the linen burial strips (John 19:38-40).

Why would the same spices be used at Jesus’ death and at the great Wedding Supper yet to come?

 

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Bible teacher, Ray Stedman, explains: The resplendent wedding described in Psalm 45 is made possible by a death—the death of the Groom himself.  Only out of his death could come this glorious celebration. And now, the fragrance of his beauty is everywhere!

Have you ever hugged someone and then carried away with you the scent of that person’s cologne?

The aroma of Christ should cling to us just like that.

“Everywhere we go people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, The Message).

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Lord Jesus, I delight in the sweet fragrance of all your glorious attributes.  May my words and actions diffuse your exquisite fragrance of life, love and grace to everyone around me.

 

(Photo and art credits: http://www.saveourelms.com; http://www.footage.shuttershock.com; http://www.dwellingintheowrd.wordpress.com; http://www.divinerevelations.info.)

 

 

 

 

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