In His Steps

John 18:28-38 (also in Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:1-5)

“Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Next he was taken to the palace of the Roman governor. His accusers wouldn’t go in themselves for that would “defile” them, they said, and they wouldn’t be allowed to eat the Passover lamb. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man? What are you accusing him of doing?”

“We wouldn’t have arrested him if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.

“Then take him away and judge him yourselves by your own laws,” Pilate told them.

“But we want him crucified,” they demanded, “and your approval is required.” This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction concerning the method of his execution.

Then Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asked him.

“‘King’ as you use the word or as the Jews use it?” Jesus asked.

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their chief priests brought you here. Why? What have you done?”

Then Jesus answered, “I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of the world.”

Pilate replied, “But you are a king then?”

“Yes,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth are my followers.”

“What is truth?” Pilate exclaimed. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.”

Pilate knew what was going on; he knew that the religious leaders hated Jesus, and he did not want to act as their executioner. They could not sentence Jesus to death themselves—permission had to come from a Roman leader. But Pilate initially refused to sentence Jesus without sufficient evidence.

The Truth

Some people today try to say that if only they could talk to Jesus, question him, and spend time with him personally, they would believe. Pilate had that chance. Pilate asked Jesus a straightforward question, and Jesus answered clearly. Jesus is a king, but one whose Kingdom is not of this world. There seems to have been no question in Pilate’s mind that Jesus spoke the truth and was innocent of any crime. It also seems apparent that while recognizing the truth, Pilate chose to reject it.

It is a tragedy when we fail to recognize the truth. It is a greater tragedy when we recognize the truth but fail to heed it.

When the Fires Burn Hot

We aren’t certain whether gold is pure or alloyed until it is tested in the fire. We don’t know whether steel is rigid or brittle until it is tested by stress. We can’t have confidence that water is pure until it passes through a filter. And in much the same way, we don’t know what our faith is made of until we face trials. It is the testing of our faith that displays its genuineness, says Peter, and it is passing through the trial that generates praise and glory and honor. Though we do not wish to endure trials and do not deliberately bring them upon ourselves, we know that in the providence of God they are purposeful and meaningful, that they are divine means to make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

There are many who face trials and do not pass the test. Some face physical pain and through it grow angry with God and determine they cannot love a God who lets them endure such difficulties. Some face the possibility of persecution and find they prefer to run from the faith than to suffer for it. Some have children who turn to aberrant sexual practices and who prefer to renounce God than fail to affirm their kids. Some watch loved ones suffer and die and determine that a God who permits such things is not worthy of their love, their trust, their admiration. In these ways and so many more, some are tested and, through the test, shown to have a faith that is fraudulent.

Yet there are many others who face such trials and emerge with their faith not only intact, but strengthened. They face physical pain and through it grow in submission to God and confidence in his purposes. They face the possibility of persecution and find they would prefer to suffer than to deny the God who has saved them. They have children who turn to aberrant sexual practices and, though they still love their kids, refuse to affirm them. They watch loved ones suffer and die and say, in meekness, that the God with the right to give is the God with the right to take away.

What fascinates me is how bad we are at predicting who will pass the test and who will not. We sometimes look at people who have accumulated great stores of Bible trivia and great knowledge of Christian doctrine and assume they are the ones who will necessarily pass through the fire unharmed. Yet these are sometimes the ones who turn away at the first heat. We sometimes look at people who have only a rudimentary store of Bible trivia and little knowledge of Christian doctrine and assume they are the ones who will be first to waver, stumble, and fall. Yet these are often the ones who cling most tenaciously. We are not nearly as wise, not nearly as discerning, as we may have thought.

All of this goes to prove that what matters is not the size of a person’s faith, but its object. What secures us in our trials is not the magnitude of our faith, but the power of the one in whom we have placed it. The smallest bit of faith in God is worth infinitely more than the greatest bit of faith in ourselves, or the strongest measure of faith in faith itself. Faith counts for nothing unless its object is Jesus Christ.

Thus, when the fire burns hot, we learn to our surprise that some may have had tremendous faith in themselves, but no faith in Jesus. When the floods rise high, we learn to our shock that some may have had faith in faith, but no faith in the Lord of all the universe. Yet when others pass through the flames, we learn to our joy that though their faith may have been little greater than a mustard seed, its object was the eternal, immortal God. When the waters swell around them and it seems as if they may go under, we learn to the satisfaction of our souls that though their faith may have been very small, it was faith in the one who is the Rock. We learn, with praise in our hearts, that they have been held fast by the one who is the glorious object of their unwavering faith.

T. Challies

Spiritual Practice

Mark 1:17-18 Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him.

When you watch children play with toys, you’ll often see one treasured toy abandoned without a second thought in favor of something new. A child does this without even an awareness that anything is being left behind. Perhaps we can learn from the play of children.

When we hear this passage, we tend to look at what a huge leap it was for the first disciples to abandon their nets. Perhaps it would help to look at the disciples’ response to Jesus’ call as a child called to a new, exciting game. We find in the disciples an example of how to joyfully embrace the invitation to show God’s love to others.

What have you “left behind” in order to follow him? What have you discovered or gained?

I will follow you, Jesus. When I am fearful, I will follow. When I am excited, I will follow. When I am tired, I will follow. All the days of my life, I will follow you, Jesus.

In His Words

No one is more pleasurable to be around than a person who has had her cup filled by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, as a member of the body of Christ, help me consider how I may spur others on toward love and good deeds. I will not give up meeting with others in Christ, as some are in the habit of doing, but I choose to encourage others—and all the more as I see the Day approaching (Heb. 10:24-25).

I pray that I may also be active in sharing my faith, so that I will have a full understanding of every good thing I have in Christ (Philem. 6). Please help me to see that I cannot share something I don’t have. I must possess faith to share it!

I have gained access by faith into this grace in which I now stand, and I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2).

In His Steps

Matthew 27:3-10

About that time Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus had been condemned to die, changed his mind and deeply regretted what he had done, and brought back the money to the chief priests and other Jewish leaders.

“I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

“That’s your problem,” they retorted.

Then he threw the money onto the floor of the Temple and went out and hanged himself. The chief priests picked the money up. “We can’t put it in the collection,” they said, “since it’s against our laws to accept money paid for murder.”

They talked it over and finally decided to buy a certain field where the clay was used by potters, and to make it into a cemetery for foreigners who died in Jerusalem. That is why the cemetery is still called “The Field of Blood.”

This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah which says, “They took the thirty pieces of silver—the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel—and purchased a field from the potters as the Lord directed me.”

These chief priests felt no guilt in giving Judas money to betray an innocent man, but when Judas returned the money, the priests couldn’t accept it because it was wrong to accept money paid for murder! Their hatred for Jesus had caused them to lose all sense of justice.

Too Late

Jesus’ formal accuser wanted to drop his charges, but the religious leaders refused to halt the trial. When he betrayed Jesus, perhaps Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand to get him to lead a revolt against Rome. This did not work, of course. Whatever his reason, Judas changed his mind, but it was too late.

Many of the plans we set into motion cannot be reversed. It is best to think of the potential consequences before we launch into an action we may later regret.

Not My Normal Curation

(I try to curate articles that strengthen our spiritual health but occasionally find one that speaks to the Christian and their life within the web. The Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is a clear example of the new form of persecution for beliefs.)

When civic spaces are closed and groups deleted, individuals with few or no connections outside of social media have backlogs of resources and connections taken away. In the case of WeChat specifically—which users in China utilize for chats, payments, blog publishing, travel, and other digital record keeping—a suspension or ban cuts a user off from many everyday communication and life tools.

This is not about topics. This censorship is fundamentally about the dismantling of social resources. Content takedowns not only address the shorter-term problem of text or images that government actors want to remove, they also weaken activists’ ability to rebuild by isolating them and dampening their ability to create new resources. Censors can ensure that these groups stay silent. Conceptualizing censorship in a solely piecemeal way neglects the damage that destroying the foundations of organizing and civic society components can do.

Chinese censors have not operated using content- or keyword-only censorship for nearly a decade, finding early on that the social nature of social media was key to modernizing and maintaining China’s Great Firewall. Xi Jinping himself characterized cyberspace in a 2016 speech as a “spiritual garden” for information innovation and cybersecurity. He claimed that this conceptual garden has “a clear sky, and crisp air with a good ecology in cyberspace conforms to the people’s interests. A pestilent atmosphere with a deteriorating ecology in cyberspace, in turn, does not conform to the people’s interests.” Unsaid but key to his analogy was what, and who, would have to be pruned and removed.

Communist Party internal literature also acknowledges the power of digital social networks beyond banning specific keywords. In preliminary studies of community environments on Weibo that led to increased control over social influencers, researchers identified the environment as a new frontier in civic spaces. Party scholars wrote: “Because cyberspace has no systemic barriers or binding ideological constraints … different classes, areas, and types of media can exchange, integrate, or confront ideas, making the public opinion environment increasingly complex.”

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Topic-based bans do remain an integral part of censorship, barring mention of historically taboo events like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and content published by banned media outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post, and BBC. However, after the rise of bloggers and social media influencers in the  late ’00s, the public opinion environment was also precisely targeted by campaigns meant to curtail influencer impact and the capacity of nongovernment thought leaders to build community. 

In theory, social media users with large followings were private citizens. However, the mid-2010s handed them a choice: They could serve and support the politics of Chinese authorities, or they could face discipline by law enforcement and the dismantling of their communities. In 2013, amidst a flurry of blogger crackdowns, novelist Hao Qun summarized the trend aptly: “They want to sever those relationships and make the relationship on Weibo atomized, just like relations in Chinese society, where everyone is just a solitary atom.”

By the time Peng appeared in a November 2021 video call with IOC chair Thomas Bach, the Weibo and WeChat environments had virtually purged discussions with offending keywords or references to an earlier, clumsier cover-up email sent to the Women’s Tennis Association.

The Invisible Hand

The Virginian, tall and stately and ramrod straight, stepped onto the crowded second-floor balcony of the old Federal Building in lower Manhattan and took his place beside a large decorative Bible. A thunderous roar erupted from the sea of people on Wall Street, followed by tense silence as everyone strained to hear the man’s voice. He would not say much—only two words—but both syllables would shape the ages to come. This man was about to change history. He was about to take the oath of office as the first president of the United States of America.

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. . . . The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.

On that spring day in 1789, hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Washington lay his hands on God’s Word and kiss its pages. And those who heard his remarks took notice of his reverence toward the God of heaven who has revealed His “eternal rules of order and right,” an unmistakable reference to Scripture.

The founders of the United States of America revered the Bible because it reflected their awareness of God’s authority over the nations. Washington did not place his hand on the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States, as hallowed as those documents are. Nor did he kiss the pages of any other religious or secular tome. It was the Bible that sanctified the moment. The Bible, he knew, had ushered American history to this point. It is the Bible that made America.

Not every Founding Father was a Christian, a Bible-believer, or a paragon of virtue. Not every president has honored the Bible. Not every leader has appreciated its influence. Some of the Founding Fathers—Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine—were disciples of Enlightenment rationalism. But even they were intimately acquainted with the contents of the Bible. They vigorously studied Scripture and respected its ethical teachings.

I am not commending all those whose stories I tell in these pages, but I am commending the book they held in their hands. Trying to explain American history without its Bible is like trying to understand the human body without its bloodstream. Had there been no Bible, there would be no America as we know it. The nation would not have been born as it was.

Perhaps it would not have been born at all.

John Adams wrote, “The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that was ever conceived on earth. . . . I believe [it] to be the only system that ever did or ever will preserve a republic in the world.”

John Jay, the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, said, “The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the Word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.”
“In regard to this Great Book,” wrote Abraham Lincoln in a letter dated September 7, 1864, “I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book.”

“Hold fast to the Bible,” wrote Ulysses S. Grant on June 6, 1872, “as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives.”

Calvin Coolidge said, “The foundation of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.”

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, addressing the Long Island Bible Society just weeks before being thrust into the presidency by the assassination of William McKinley, said, ‘A very large number of people tend to forget that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally—I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally—impossible for us to figure to ourselves what that life would be if these teachings were removed.’

President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic.”

The Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path; when it burns low, our culture grows dark. The best way to keep America strong is to know her history, to honor her roots, to preserve her legacy, and to cherish the eternal God who, in His providence, placed this continent between two shimmering seas, and who, in His goodness, provided a Book that became her moral and intellectual foundation: the Holy Bible.

Spiritual Practice

Luke 21:34-35 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”

We are so easily distracted from our God. This world makes such demands on us, and those demands are seemingly constant. Committing ourselves to the direction of God is hard work, but it’s not impossible. The commitment to the way of the Lord may be made each night before sleep and each morning as the day begins. All we need to do is focus our attention on God’s work in our lives. Think it, speak it, act it.

What are the demands that distract me from God?

Gracious God, remind me that I am never alone. Through your grace heighten my awareness that you and your way are all I need.

Your Spiritual Journal

Amazingly enough, Almighty God is people-oriented. He identifies totally with human beings. We can see this in the way he communicates with us in the Scriptures and in how he revealed himself in the incarnation of Christ. He wants to relate with us intimately.

How can we follow God’s example and become more people-oriented ourselves? How can we be more sensitive to those around us? Here are some suggestions:

Focus on people

Make sure the most important things you do each day involve a focus on people. Projects are transient. Deadlines soon “die.” Do-lists may never be really done, or need to be. But people are eternal.

Reach beyond your own world

Make an effort to have contact and relationships with different kinds of people. Reach beyond your normal sphere of influence to touch those who are not similar to you in race, economic and social status, age, and so on. Making friendships outside your immediate world can be a little frightening at first, and will take time. But it will also be rewarding.

To do this, one couple I know took a short course at their local community college to learn how to teach English, and then began tutoring some Southeast Asian refugees in their city. At first this disrupted their normal family routine, but the experience for them and their family has been rewarding, not to mention the impact for Christ on the refugees.

Pray-and be alert

Ask God to send people to you. Then stay alert for those who take the initiative to talk with you, at any level and for any length of time. These are the people who will often be most receptive to your friendliness. Usually they come to you for help in meeting some inner need, even though they might ask you something as trivial as how you plant your garden. But even if this is the sum total of their contact at first, their interest will deepen and broaden the more they interact with you.

At least two things foster curiosity about the way we live and the source of our life: the joy we express and the love we show. People are irresistibly drawn to Christians who sincerely manifest those two qualities.

Don’t be afraid to be different

In communication at any level, it has been noted that where predictability is high, impact is low. That is, when people know exactly how we will act and what we will say and how we will say it, the impact of our lives may be minimal. If non-Christians around us can “predict” how we will react or what we will say because “that’s the way those religious people are,” then our influence on them will be insignificant. But if we respond to each person in a sensitive and loving way-recognizing his or her uniqueness-the impact can be great.

Let us share in the lives of those around us as we follow Christ’s example: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity” (Hebrews 2:14).

In His Words

He bought us from sin’s slave master so we could experience abundant life. He bought us to set us free.

My Redeemer, I know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that I was redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to me from my forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

Lord God, I know that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in me, whom I have received from You. I am not my own; I was bought at a price. Therefore I desire to honor You with my body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

And since I am a temple of Your Holy Spirit, I pray that You will cause Your glory to fill this temple of God like You did in days of old! (2 Chron. 5:14).

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