By JD Rockel
The decision was made to meet at a family restaurant near the church. The first choice was The Acropolis, but it was too far for both families to go. It was also decided to have the girls ride with the rest of the DeLucas so the Westons could have some quiet time to reflect.
“Maybe this is a good time to get one of those small window buses we saw at the airport,” Ella said.
“That would be so cool,” Liam added. “We do have a big family, and with the Westons added it would be a good idea.”
“Let’s take any new vehicle purchase VERY slowly,” Renata replied. “Besides, once you girls are driving on your own the options for who drives with whom increases dramatically.”
“Right, like I’ll be driving soon,” Ella said with sarcasm in her voice. “I’ll never be able to afford insurance.”
“Mom, on that subject, I was thinking that I might be able to work at the Cucina this summer,” Rosa offered. “Didn’t I hear that you are looking for a hostess?”
“Sort of. With Stephanie being a partner in the business she is short on time for other duties. What do you think Tony?”
“Sounds like a good idea to me.”
“And Ella could be a dishwasher,” Liam added.
“Mom!” Ella said, clearly upset with Liam’s comment.
“We don’t need any conflict today,” Renata added to no one in particular.
“Quiet everyone. We’re here.” Tony got everyone to be still as he pulled into the parking lot. They had been following the Westons who suggested where to eat.
The girls got out first and headed to their respective beaus.
“John, so glad to see you. It’s been such a long time.” Rosa laughed and smiled when she helped John out of the car.
“You know, Rosa, I have enjoyed the services and people at Orchard Hill before, but with you there everything was… I don’t know… sunnier.”
“Come on, Rosa. You can stare into John’s eyes later. Jerry is hungry, and besides, I’m the sunny one according to Emily.” Ella took off in a run to get to the door with Jerry at her side.
“That was a much calmer drive than first thing this morning, Tony,” Harold said having slapped Tony on the back as he laughed.
“The whole morning was abnormal, Harold. I’m just glad you all decided to play fireman and pull up your pants in a hurry. All in all, it was truly amazing.”
Behind Harold and Tony were Renata, the younger twins, and Liam, with Rosa and John bringing up the rear.
“I’m sorry about what I said to Ella, Mom. I have a real hard time holding my tongue when it seems so funny.”
“Try to remember what Jesus said, ‘What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart.’ He was talking about what defiles us, but the same is true for what sanctifies us. Good or bad, what we say comes from our heart.”
When they got inside, Ella announced that it would only be a short wait. “I registered under your name, Dad.”
“I didn’t mention it before,” Jerry said, “but the coffee at Orchard Hill Church was nice and strong. I will need to go there just for the coffee.”
Renata laughed. “Whatever gets you in the door I guess.”
The chatter continued until they were led to the table and the formalities of drinks and orders were complete. Rosa sat holding John’s hand. He was to the left and Ella was to the right with Jerry. Across from them were Liam, Renata, Tony, and Harold. The twins stayed on the end by Liam and Renata where they camped out, crayons in hand.
Harold spoke first. “What interested me about the message this morning was the connection between the Old Testament and Jesus. Are there many of those connections in the Bible?”
“If I recall correctly, some people have identified over 500 verses that refer to Jesus,” Tony said. “I can’t say they are in every book of the Old Testament, but I know they can be found in the five books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets.”
“What’s even more compelling is that some of the references describe the crucifixion of Jesus in detail,” Renata added.
“How can that be,” Jerry asked. “Those books of the Bible were written hundreds of years before Jesus lived. Weren’t they?”
“Indeed, they were,” Tony replied. “That is what gives such credibility to the claims. It must have been God himself who provided the detailed information.”
“OK,” Jerry continued, “I have a different question. I remember when Mom would take us to church that the preacher kept talking about the importance of being saved. But, saved from what?”
“Hell,” Liam offered.
“Yes, but what exactly is hell?”
“That is a bit more complicated question to answer, Jerry.” Tony looked off into space as he thought about it. “Maybe the best way to explain hell is to start with God. All good things we experience in life come from God. The Bible says He pours out his blessings on good people and bad people. We all share in this common grace from God. So, when we are in God’s presence, we experience his blessing. But we can’t be directly in His presence because we disobey Him.”
“How do we disobey Him,” Jerry asked.
“Simply put, by not being perfectly good as He is. God gives us some examples of falling short. The most quoted list is the ten commandments. So just consider the commandment, ‘Do not lie’. Can any of us say that we never lie?”
“No.” Jerry was thinking hard about what to say next. “But what you are saying then is that God never lies. He always tells the truth.”
“You are exactly right, Jerry,” Tony continued. “And since God says every word in the Bible is from Him, that means every word in the Bible is true also. Therefore, when Jesus says ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’, we can be confident that it is absolutely true.”
“But that would mean Jesus is God.”
“Yup,” Liam added. “‘I and the Father are one.’ Jesus said. The Jewish religious leaders wanted to kill him for blasphemy. They understood his claim clearly, even though they refused to believe it.”
Everyone was silent. Just then the food arrived.
When the meals were all served, Tony said, “Please allow me to thank God for our food.” Rosa closed her eyes and bowed her head. “Father God,” Tony started, “we thank you for this time we can talk about you. Thank you for this food. May we understand you better through our discussions about your son, Jesus. Amen.”
After everyone got started on their meals, Jerry continued the conversation. “So, you started explaining what hell is, Mr. DeLuca. Please don’t stop now.”
A chuckle went around the table. It was nice to see that the dialogue wasn’t producing tension.
“So I was. Since God doesn’t tolerate anything that isn’t perfectly aligned with His nature, He can’t live face-to-face with us. This is clearly taught in the Old Testament and any Jew of Jesus’ day would tell you this. Therefore, we cannot live with God in heaven after death. He won’t allow it.”
Harold jumped in. “That makes it sound like we are doomed, without recourse.”
“You are correct, Harold. And that doom is what hell is. Now the story gets a little gross, I’m sorry to say. God says, ‘the wages of sin is death.’ Therefore, to pay for our sin, we must die.”
“But you said death puts us in hell, forever separated from God’s goodness,” Jerry said, sounding very concerned.
“Yes. That is sadly true. But that’s where Jesus comes into the story,” Tony continued. “The Old Testament sacrificial system used animals as a symbolic sacrifice. Their death represented a substitute for the people’s death. Thousands of animals would be sacrificed, over and over again.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. DeLuca, but that’s just crazy.” Rosa was afraid Jerry was pulling away. Please, Lord, hold onto him tightly. He’s so close.
“It was God’s way of showing how serious our sin is to him and what a great sacrifice it would take to satisfy Him. John the Baptist, Jesus’ predecessor pointed at Jesus and said to his followers, ‘Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.’ God himself, in the person of Jesus, became a human being. He lived a perfect, sinless life by obeying His heavenly Father in every aspect of life. Jesus then freely became the sacrificial lamb for all of mankind by dying on the cross. God acknowledged His acceptance of the sacrifice for humanity by raising Jesus from the dead and accepting Him into heaven.”
“So, how does this sacrifice of Jesus transfer to us?” Harold asked.
“By believing Jesus died for you and accepting His sacrifice as a gift on your behalf.”
“That’s it?” Jerry asked. “Just believe?”
“Yes, but… when we believe and accept the gift, we also accept our new relationship with God. We agree with God that His ways, His commandments, are the best way we can live our lives. We commit ourselves completely to obeying Him.”
Again, there was silence at the table. “And you have done this?” Jerry challenged.
“Yes, I have.”
“And I have.”
Tony, Renata, Liam, Rosa, and John all confessed to this commitment. The younger twins just continued coloring. They had professed belief after church one week about a year ago. But Rosa knew their level of understanding would need to grow.
After a bit more silence, Tony softly said, “I know this is radical and mind-blowing. It would be good for you to ponder everything for some time. Please jot down other questions you have. When you want to, we can discuss this some more.”
The rest of the lunch was cordial but subdued. Rosa was glad that John professed his faith in front of his family. She was concerned that Ella remained quiet. Lord, I feel this was a very powerful time and I thank you for it. Please give me the wisdom and courage to talk with Ella. I will trust you for a positive outcome so you may be glorified.