My wife and I were watching the news a few weeks ago and heard a story about an elementary class that had come up with what most would consider an unusual punishment for not doing homework.  Students who failed to complete their previous night’s assignment were made to sit at a “special” table during lunch and recess.  Not so unusual yet.  But here’s the kicker.  While they sit at their “special tables”, students who had diligently completed their homework were to go to up to them and tell them what losers they were (along with other various snide and demeaning remarks) before flaunting their freedom by going off to play the next round of kickball.  Some parents were upset when they caught wind of this kind of punishment.  However, when they confronted the school principal, they found that the powers that be were supportive of the teacher’s procedures because it was a punishment that the students as a class had chosen for themselves…So let me get this straight, adult teachers are no longer wise enough to give paddlings at their discretion but 6 year old elementary students are seasoned enough to vote on the wise punishment of verbally ridiculing their peers!  (And when these kids get in to higher grades, we’ll pay for anti-bullying classes!).  Hopefully most reading about this either laugh at (or are outraged by) this incident.  We know that a person needs to be of a certain age and of a certain maturity level to make important decisions.  In fact, the ability to make an increasing number of choices is seen as part of the growing up process.  The beginning of a New Year naturally brings us to a time of reflection on the choices of the year that’s past and of resolving to make better choices in the year that’s to come.  Towards the end of our series on the Gospel of Mark, we looked at Mark 15:1-15 through the perspective of choices made.  I wanted to write about it in the newsletter this month in hopes that it will help us to make better, more godly, more mature decisions in 2013.

            Choice 1—Be Silent or Speak…The opening verses of Mark 15 find Jesus being delivered to Pilate.  He had been tried (though unjustly) by the religious authorities (the Council known as the Sanhedrin) the night before but they had no power to sentence Christ to die.  They took Him to Pilate, the Roman Governor, and made several false accusations in an attempt to get a verdict of crucifixion.  Yet, with lies being hurled against Him and with the official who from the world’s perspective had the power to either release Him or kill Him, Christ said very little.  Jesus certainly spoke out strongly against the religious leaders during His three and a half years of public ministry, so why not now at this crucial time?  Of course the number one reason is that the crucifixion was part of the preordained plan of God set forth from eternity past to bring redemption to mankind.  It had been prophesied some 750 years before Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh that He would be silent before His accusers as a sheep was silent before His shearers; and of course it proved to be true (Isaiah 53:7).  That being said there are some other salient lessons to learn from Christ’s silence.  First, though there are times to raise our voices like a trumpet, those moments are often preceded by long periods of quietness, of prayerful meditation and godly consideration of His Holy Word.  Jesus made no vehement renunciation of His accusers in Mark 15, but even when He did excoriate them for their hypocrisy, it was not until after He had spent much time in daily prayer, in silence and solitude with His Father, that He raised His voice.  Secondly, there’s a time when saying something is simply not profitable, when you would be merely “casting your pearls before swine.”  If your goal is to really be heard, knowing when to speak is just as important as knowing what to speak.  Finally, there’s a point when you “post your score” and trust God.  I don’t mean that in any kind of trite way towards Christ’s work on the cross that transpires in Mark 15, but I simply want to underscore a truism of life.  There are choices we make and things that God’s called us to be and to do, but at the end of the day we must trust Him, relying solely upon His power and providence, having done all that we can but placing no confidence in ourselves.  The admonition to stay silent and watch God work is a repeated theme in Scripture (Moses at the Red Sea in Exodus 14; Joshua and the falling of the Walls of Jericho in Joshua 6; etc.).  He is always faithful!  This year, let’s pray for the Lord’s wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent!

             Choice 2—What’s Right or What’s Safe…Even though Jesus said every little to Pilate, the Roman Official knew that our Lord was innocent and had only been delivered up for trial because of the envy of the religious leaders.  Pilate’s own assessment of Christ’s innocence should have been enough for acquittal, but God provided another means for the governor to know Jesus was not guilty.  Matthew’s gospel records that Pilate’s wife had a dream the night before about Jesus.  She sent word to her husband that he should have nothing to do with Jesus’ proceedings.  Still, despite all of this, Pilate ended up yielding to the will of the mob rather than doing what he knew to be right.  He determined that it was safer for his own well-being, for the maintaining of his position, for the furtherance of his career, for his life’s prosperity, to keep the people happy even though it meant doing something that was clearly unjust and wrong.  Now, before we judge Pilate too harshly, he was faced with a real dilemma with potentially disastrous results.  The religious leaders leading the murderous throng could very easily have turned their venom towards the Governor if he didn’t acquiesce to their wish to have Christ crucified.  Granted, the Roman Army would have stormed the region in the days following the killing of one of their high ranking officials.  But, that would not have done Pilate any good if the mob had killed him that day.  Perhaps Pilate could have scurried away from the angry crowd’s uprising if he acquitted Christ.  Still, the pandemonium that would have broken out would not have bided well for Pilate, for Rome was not gracious to leaders who could not control their part of the empire.  Looking through the lens of what we know now it is easy to see that Pilate would have been much safer, in the eternal sense of the term, if he had chosen to do what he knew to be right.  And so are we.  Most of us will never be faced with a choice that will require our physical life to take a stand for Christ.  But all of us know what it’s like to choose between doing what’s right and what’s popular (and the two are almost always on opposite sides of the ledger) or what’s right and what’s easy (again, the two are almost always on opposite sides of the ledger).  May God give us the strength, wisdom, and grace to choose what’s right, to follow Him, His Word, His Spirit, His will, no matter what the costs!

            Choice 3—What’s Best or What’s Worst…Before Pilate made his final verdict concerning Jesus, he offered the people a choice that he thought may get Christ off the hook and save his own skin in one grand bargain.  It was customary for the Roman Governor in Jerusalem to release a prisoner of the crowd’s choosing during the festival of Passover.  Rome was infamous for imprisoning people in a rather whimsical fashion and this custom of letting one convict go free helped to appease the inherent anger of the multitudes.  Pilate decided that he would follow through with this tradition.  He wanted the throng to request the release of Jesus, so he gave them a choice between freeing Christ or a man named Barabbas.  Pilate was sure they would want Jesus, a “man” who was known as a great teacher, prophet, preacher, and healer; instead of Barabbas, a known murderer and insurrectionist.  He was certain that given a choice so stark, a decision between the best and the worst, that they would choose Christ.  Yet, as we well know, they did not.  Their angry voices chanted in alignment with their wicked hearts as they cried for Barabbas to be given to them and for Jesus to be crucified.  The choice couldn’t have been more clear, the decision could not have been more telling…The decisions that we face on a daily basis are not quite as clear…or important…or are they?  Probably not.  But that having been said, one of the devil’s greatest tactics is to make us think that our life’s choices are more comparable to choosing between two equally acceptable alternatives instead of between what’s best and what’s worst.  To put it another way, the enemy of our souls would love nothing better than for us to believe that the decision to read the Bible or not, to pray or not, to witness or not, to go to church or not, to give to God or not, etc. are like choosing between slices of pecan and pumpkin pie rather than between apples and arsenic.  Our choices are important.  If you’ve never chosen to repent of sin and place faith in Christ, then I pray you’ll do so.  Your choice is clear, what’s best—salvation and eternity in heaven, or what’s worst—damnation, and eternity in hell.  For those of us who have placed faith in Christ, it is my prayer that we would realize the importance of our daily decisions to follow Him, and that we would be closer to the Lord in 2013 than we have ever been in our lives.