By Patty Juster
A strong young man stood by a gold gilded table pouring over some parchments. He seemed deep in thought as he glanced back and forth from the table to something outside his palace window. “Everything seems to match up perfectly with the plans my father gave me,” the King thought. He could remember that day years ago when his father excitedly told him what was in his heart. In fact he could see his father standing by this very table with him by his side and could hear him speaking those words that became permanently etched in his mind. “Solomon, I am old now and soon to pass on the way of all those before me. For all my life I have served my God faithfully and wholeheartedly. I had in on my heart to build him a temple, a permanent resting place where he could live among his people forever. For hundreds of years my God has dwelt in a tent and his presence has led my people all these years. But now that I have found a home it seemed fitting that my God would have a place where he could dwell forever. Yet, God said that I had shed too much blood and had been a man of war. It would not be right that I should build him a house so he has chosen you, my son, a man of peace, to build him a temple. Now Solomon, I am giving you the plans for this great house, the plans I have received from the hand of the Lord. You are still young and will need help to succeed in this great project. I have provided you with my gold and silver, with my merchants and craftsmen, with my fine timber and fabric. Everything you will need I have provided you. Now be strong and of good courage. Keep your heart pure and follow your God with all your heart, being careful to obey him in all things. In this way, he will make sure your kingdom will endure forever and you will never fail to have one of your seed on the throne. This great temple will be a blessing to our people as well as to the stranger and alien in your midst. When they pray here, God will hear their supplications and will grant them peace. They will find rest for their souls for His glory will dwell is this place. I bless you, Solomon, in the name of our God. May his face continue to shine upon you.”
The King folded up the parchment and went to the window again to get a better look at the finished magnificent temple. Then his attention was drawn to the sound of hundreds, yes even thousands, of cattle, sheep and goats coming down the street. His heart leapt within him as he headed for the stairs. Solomon did not want to miss the days of celebration ahead when he, the priests and the people would dedicate this dwelling place of his God. As far as his eye could see he saw shepherds guiding their flocks and herds towards the temple gates. Months ago he had ordered his herdsmen to prepare 120, 000 sheep and goats along with 40,000 bulls for this special occasion. Each animal had to be perfect.
Enough priests had to be trained and dedicated for performing the sacrifices. Servants had to be brought in to help tend the animals and to clean up after them. This was quite an undertaking, larger than anyone could remember. In Solomon’s and his father’s mind, no sacrifice was too great to express their love and commitment to their God. Zeal for His house consumed them…they somehow knew through the Spirit of God that millions would benefit from what happened here in days ahead. They were not serving themselves but future generations.
In front of the multitudes of people and animals were the singers and musicians praising God. A hundred and twenty trumpeters were blowing shofars…dancers were joyfully expressing their worship, and thousands of people along with the priests were shouting and praising God as one, “God is good and his mercy endures forever.” As they were worshipping, the priests began to lead the animals one at a time to the slaughter. Each one had their throat slit and their head was tilted back so all their blood could be drained out. God said that the blood belonged to him as the life was in their blood. Thousands of buckets of blood poured out…enough to make a river. Carefully each animal was skinned and its carcass was cut and prepared according to the law of the temple. Blood splattered all over the priests white robes. Sacrificing animals was not a neat job, neither was it pleasant. The work was tedious and hard and required great strength and stamina. Only by God’s grace could such a large number of animals be sacrificed in such a short period of time and without the priests fainting from fatigue.
The altar fires burned day and night for weeks and a sweet smelling aroma went up before the throne of God. Worship and praise continued along with the all night vigils. The excitement kept building as willing hearts gave all that they had. Before the last sacrifice was completed fire from heaven came down and consumed the offering and once again the Temple was filled with a cloud of glory. The priests could no longer enter and perform their services. They and the people fell with their faces to the ground and continued to worship with adoration too deep for words. Overcome by such extravagant love, they had no more strength to give. Each breath then became an offering to their God.
LOVE IS PATIENT
The old man stroked his beard as he stood in the middle of the road. His eyes squinted in the bright sunlight. It appeared that he had done this many times before as his eyes were deeply grooved with wrinkles. Evidently, he was waiting for someone to come walking down the road. The neighbors could be heard from time to time gossiping about this old man’s foolishness. It had been 15 years since his son had left him, and never had he heard a word from him. He could be dead, for all they knew. Yet, this old father faithfully stood at the crossroads every morning and night, leaning on his wooden staff. Every now and then you could see a trickle of water run down his sun worn cheek. After a few minutes he would turn around and slowly shuffle his way back to his stone house. The appearance and style of the house reflected the great wealth this old man had. Many fields of olive trees and grapevines surrounded his estate. He owned much fertile land and it bore him an abundant yield. Yet, in spite of all the comfort his money could buy, his heart was heavy. His friends taunted him and said his son would never return and that he deserved to die for treating his father in this fashion. But the old man would not listen. He knew in his heart that his son would one day return.
With such depth of kindness in his voice, the old man would often retell the story again and again of how his son grew restless. But he would never dishonor his son and tell others how his son no longer wanted to be stuck at home and be told what he could and couldn’t do. He and his father had had many conflicts and his father never saw things his way. The young man thought for sure that his father favored his older brother more than him and he felt that he could no longer trust him.
Feeling a deep isolation from the rest of the family, he thought that the only recourse would be for him to leave home and experience real life away from all those who would seek to control his life. He somewhat boldly approached his father and asked for his inheritance early. The wise father knew that he couldn’t demand that his son stay with him, as he was a man now. Though the father knew in his heart that his son’s decision would bring him to ruin, that he would spend his money foolishly, he had to release his son to follow his own heart. By giving his son freedom the old man knew he willingly took on the grief of daily bearing the concern for the well being of his child. He would suffer the consequences of his son’s choices and when his son hurt, he would hurt. Such is the cost of love, and the price of freedom.
The father grabbed hold of his son and hugged him strongly, speaking quietly into his ear that he will always love him no matter what he did. He told his son that he was always welcome to come back and live in his house. As the young man walked down the road, he never even turned to wave good-bye. The old man just stood there with tears in his eyes, and seemed to stoop over as he pounded his chest, “my son, my son, why have you forsaken me?”
Now, fifteen years later, before the sun was fully up, the old man once again stood in the road and stroked his beard, leaning on his weather worn staff. This time he saw movement, someone walking far into the distant. Slowly, the man moved closer and the old man’s face began to quiver. He threw down his staff and began to run toward the man walking toward him. Yes, it was his son…he knew that one day he would return. As they approached each other his son fell at his feet and wept. “Oh father, I have sinned against you and against God in heaven. I do not deserve to even be a servant in your household. Please forgive me and allow me to come be your slave. I was such a fool and have wasted your money and threw my life way through sinful living. How could you ever forgive me?”
“O my son, you were dead but now you are alive! Come, here is my ring and put on this robe. I more than forgive you, I embrace you fully as my son. You will eat with me at my table.”
“Servants,” he shouted back towards his house, “kill a fatted calf and prepare a feast for my son. He was lost, but now he is found.”
“Let me look at you,” his father cried, “I have waited for this day and now it is here. You have really come home.” Then the old man with tears running down his face could not stop kissing his son.
LOVE WEEPS WITH THOSE WHO WEEP
A large crowd of women and children were huddled together, trying to keep warm. Their thin coats provided little protection against the late autumn wind and rain. Many could be seen striking their folded arms against their bodies to try to stimulate blood flow. The gray sky accentuated the bleakness of the occasion. The Gestapo had rounded up the women and children from several barracks to witness the punishment of three young boys who had stolen bread from the camp kitchen. Several women could be heard whimpering softly so as not to bring the wrath of the guards down upon them. None of them chose to be here this morning. But these were the “lucky” ones, depending on how you look at it. Many of their train mates were herded down the road to the showers and to “better” barracks, so they were told. But these women knew better, they had heard rumors about the gas chambers and crematoriums. The daily stench never let them block these thoughts from their minds.
This morning, just like every cold morning, they have dealt with these horrors the same way that their bodies dealt with the cold. They became numb on the inside just like they were becoming numb on the outside. Shouts could be heard coming from some guards off in the distance. Apparently, some women had refused to be a part of this scene and now were suffering the consequences. There were a few screams, a couple of shots, and then there was silence. No one flinched. They were used to this by now. These outbreaks were a daily occurrence.
It seemed like they were standing out in the cold forever that morning while they waited for the guards to bring the three boys. But, finally, they could see them coming around the corner of one of the barracks. These poor boys had hardly any meat on their bones…just like the rest of them. It was not fair that any of them should have to experience such evil and degradation. Their eyes were glazed over and it appeared they were already dead inside. What was about to happen only solidified what already happened months ago when hope disappeared.
The guards pushed the boys on ahead of them until they reached the gallows in front of the crowd of women and children. They all knew what to expect, they have seen this before. Each boy was put on a chair, then a noose was slipped over his head, and with sordid pleasure the guards kicked the chairs out from under each youth. The noose soon tightened around their necks and they began to gag and gasp for breath. They did not die quickly, as their necks were not broken as they were in usual hangings. Their mothers, in witnessing their agony, fell to the ground. They yet had enough life left in them to grieve bitterly for the loss of their child. One mother could be heard groaning, and shaking an angry fist at God, “Where are you?” Somewhere in the crowd a voice called out loudly, “God is right up there hanging with your son.”
Yes, this was true. God knew that in creating man with a free will, it would cost Him as well man great pain and suffering. He was willing to bear this pain and suffering that would result from the evil choices made by fallen man. The holocaust represented the price of freedom. The cross represents the cost of love. Within the heart of God, before man even set foot on this earth, God bore the pain of all the sinful choices, and yet, knew his great power was able to bring all of creation history into conformity with glorious purposes. The Lamb of God was slain from the beginning of the world and sits in the center of the throne. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. Because God weeps with those who are weeping, great glory can be brought out of great tragedy. We do not grieve as those who are without hope. We have a savior who identifies with our every tear. How great a love the Father has for us in that he sent His only son to hang on a tree for us. We do not suffer alone.