Although I generally enjoy traveling I don't travel often. But in October of 2002 Danny and I had the opportunity to travel to North Dakota. Patrick and his growing family had recently moved there. They were lonesome for familiar faces and so made us very welcome. Nevertheless, not wanting to over-crowd the nearly newlyweds, we checked into a motel room for our stay, a family-owned place just off the highway.
When we're staying at hotels or motels, I always check for the bedside Bible, trusting that the Gideon's have made their appointed rounds.
However, on this trip, I didn't find a Gideon Bible in the night stand. Instead, I found a Bible in the desk drawer placed there by a different ministry, with a postcard invitation inserted encouraging the reader to take the Bible with them if they didn't have one of their own. That wasn't the only feature that I appreciated about the Bible, but since I didn't need one, I left it for someone who did.
Instead, I copied down the publisher's notes on each of the books of the New Testament. They had given an extremely helpful, extremely brief background for each book -- who wrote it, who the primary audience was at the time and other key aspects.
I still have the list.
According to the publisher's notes, Matthew aims to convince the Jewish people that Jesus is the Messiah they've been waiting for. Mark dwells on what Jesus did and by Whose power while Luke addresses a secular audience, and John's gospel emphasizes that Jesus is God.
When you look at each writer's descriptions of the events immediately preceding the crucifixion of Jesus, you can pinpoint the audience by the author's carefully chosen words.
In all four accounts, Judas is the betrayer; the Jewish leaders hatch the plot; and the Roman government, in the person of Pilate, hand Jesus over to be crucified.
So, who was to blame? Who killed the Son of God? Was it Judas by his act of betrayal? Was it Rome? Was it the Jewish leaders of the day?
Much has been made of the Jewish involvement over millennia and Scripture is clear, the religious leaders of the day certainly wanted Jesus dead. He threatened their very way of life, criticized their traditions and radicalized the populace to dare to believe that God had sent his Son to save them, to dare to believe that they needed saving. John's gospel records Caiphas saying, "You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." in John 11:50.
Sadly, throughout the course of history, this indictment of the Jewish leaders of the day has resulted in the condemnation of the entire Jewish race since the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, so much so that Pope Benedict's recent book "Jesus of Nazareth-Part II" made headlines because it made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people in the death of Jesus Christ.
That's been a long time coming, but perhaps not simply for the reasons Benedict cites in his writings. According to an Associated Press story in late February or early March, Benedict concludes in his book, "That only a few Temple leaders and a small group of supporters were primarily responsible for Christ's crucifixion."
That is true, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go nearly far enough and Pope Benedict squandered a rare and precious opportunity to identify for the world just who is responsible for the death of Jesus, the Son of God.
John clearly identifies the true culprits in perhaps the most well-known Bible verse of all, "For God so loved the world..." John 3:16
The world. That's you. That's me. Lost in the darkness, like sheep without a shepherd. Lied to and lying, betrayed and betraying, stumbling in a sin-soaked existence with no hope of rescue. Jesus' mission is clearly stated in Luke 19:10 "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Because Jesus saw us as sheep without a shepherd, because Jesus had compassion, because Jesus was willing to do whatever it took, even dying on that Roman cross, to restore the Creator's relationship with the created, on the night he was betrayed, "he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you ... This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'." (Luke 22:19, 20)
We signed his death warrant as surely as Pilate did. Our voices were heard in the crowd that day, crying "Crucify him!" We stood there, in the timelessness that is eternity, with his blood on our hands, even as he prayed, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."
And the answer to his prayer -- our forgiveness -- is realized forevermore on the morning of the third day.
"'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" John 1:29 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.