Month: March 2018

The Road to the Cross 15

Hours had passed when we hear the cry from Jesus… a “loud” cry according to the witnesses of the Gospel. Maybe even a shout, as unlikely as that would be from one gasping for His final breaths on the cross.

He had been given something to moisten His parched tongue and dried throat. With a mighty effort.. the only way this could be done… He pressed all of His weight against the nails piercing His feet… and exhaled ONE WORD: “Tetelestai.” In the original language, one word would translate three into English: It. Is. Finished.

This was no cry of defeat or of one succumbing to death. This was the One who turned the wood of the cross into a throne, and the gaping, harassing mob into an audience with one focus: Himself.

It is finished. What is finished? His life? His suffering? His passion on the cross?

The word itself has an interesting use in Greek. Normally, it was applied in writing to a receipt to show a bill had been satisfied. We would write, “paid in full.”

But it was also used in legal jurisdictions and would be sometimes written over a charge made against a prisoner. Once his prison term had ended, his document of freedom was the one that had written, “tetelestai… paid in full.”

Maybe some of all of this was meant when Jesus shouted victoriously. The bill… the debt of sin incurred since Adam’s fall had been satisfied by His sacrifice. The legal penalty against all who had sinned had been met in the sacrifice of Jesus.

By His cross, Jesus had fully paid, “the handwriting of ordinances that were against us,” by His perfect blood and sacrifice. The debt is no longer owed. The law now has no power to exact a penalty from us.

It is finished. Those who belong to Jesus have their debt erased… their sins forgiven. Nothing else need be done… nothing else can be done but to trust in the precious blood of Jesus. As the hymn writer put it;

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

IT IS FINISHED!

The Road to the Cross 14

“I thirst.” Of all the utterances of Jesus from the cross on Good Friday, this one was the most human. It reminded again that, “He had to be made like His brothers in every way,” for atonement to be accomplished.

In short… He had to be really human. That means the Roman whips tore into real flesh and muscle. That means the nails penetrated real flesh. That means the blood that flowed in trickles down His forehead and into His eyes was real.

And that means that His experience, since twelve plus hours had transpired from the arrest in the Garden, to the travesty of six trials, to the beating in Pilate’s courtyard and then the cross… all took their toll on Jesus’ humanity.

His tongue was parched. No liquid had touched it since the night before as He shared a cup with His disciples. He said, “I will not drink this with you again until the Kingdom has fully come.”

The last thing He had to drink was that wine. His throat was not just dry… His body had begun to dehydrate due to perspiration, physical exertion, and blood loss. “I thirst” was really an understatement.

The sensation of being thirsty is usually the last symptom of dehydration of the human body. Now some would say He said this in fulfillment of prophecy. He did. Read Psalm 22. Others would say He said it in preparation for His shout that was next on His lips… to moisten his throat before He shouted it. Maybe.

But some are uncomfortable with the pure humanity of this statement. Others are appalled at the sheer cruelty of a process that would allow a person to die of thirst hanging in front of you.

I think Jesus was thirsty. And He asked for a drink, as He did of the woman at the Samaritan well. He was thirsty. The heat, the loss of bodily fluids… well… this happens in a human body.

And He was human. And He got thirsty, just like you and I sometimes do.

But thank God that this One who created, with His Word, the oceans and rivers and lakes of the world, died dehydrated on a cross…

…so we would never have to thirst again.

The Road to the Cross 13

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)

While our church in particular does not celebrate the season of Lent formally, it has a rich history in our Christian traditions. Among other things, Lent is a season of change; of seeing things a new way… of shedding old habits and establishing new ones. It’s not coincidental that behavioral therapists tell us it takes about 40 days for new patterns of thought to be firmly established, or for old ones to be stopped.

Lent—the forty days preceding Easter—is also a time for us to open ourselves to the possibility of seeing things about God and ourselves that we hadn’t seen before. When the disciples followed Jesus into Jerusalem, they were about to encounter realities that challenged and shook the very foundation of their faith.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in Jesus’ fourth statement from the cross… the cry from the darkness… God in the flesh crying out to God in Heaven, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

How can God turn His face away… from God? How can Deity be torn apart? How can the TRI-UNITY… the Godhead three-in-one… be ripped to pieces? What kind of inexplicable God IS this that we serve?

Well, obviously, He is a God who is not simply understood with tired platitudes and bumper-sticker-deep theological statements. Clichés won’t cut it here. Calvary blows that possibility up.

God asks the questions that have haunted men and women from the earliest days: WHY? I don’t understand. I don’t get it. I can’t grasp this. This is not what I thought it would be like to follow You, God. I. Don’t. Understand.

No answer came thundering back from the cloudy darkness that enshrouded Golgotha that day. It hung in the air like a thick, dark curtain… those on the ground waiting perhaps for an answer from… somewhere.

But none came… until Sunday. Friday midday until the light dawned on Easter morning were days lived in the darkness… in the unanswered… in the mystery of the perfect will of God that is not always easy to grasp.

An answer came clearly Sunday morning. And resurrection light will dawn for our questions as well. Our “why’s” will not forever hang in the darkness of our experiences of suffering and pain and loss. As we make our way to the cross, we will see a God who understands…

…and Who will answer us.

The Road to the Cross 12

“Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”

In a six-hour period, Jesus uttered seven statements. Most were spoken in less words than we have recorded in our English translations. That was by necessity, since the process of crucifixion was actually an act of slow suffocation. Words came at a premium. Only what was most essential would be spoken, and then only with great difficulty.

As Jesus began to take in the horrific scene around Him… the cursing of the crowd and the thieves… the brutality and indifference of the soldiers… He saw His mother, Mary. Standing with her sisters, and Jesus’ disciple and best friend John was the person He loved most on earth.

Simeon, the old blind prophet, had spoken a cryptic word to Mary and Joseph on the day of Jesus’ dedication at the temple. Barely eight days old, He held the virgin born son of God in His arms, looked at the young mother, and said, “A sword will pierce your heart.”

She was standing that day, thirty-three years later, feeling the cutting of that sword. It was indeed piercing her heart, as she witnessed the nails penetrating the hands and feet of her precious and divine son.

It was in that moment that Jesus spoke six words in Aramaic: “Woman… your son. Son… your mother.” And with that, John knew that his mission in life had taken on a new assignment… to care for and keep safe this woman who had raised, cared for, and birthed the Messiah.

Jesus in His moment of greatest agony felt profound love and concern for His earthly mother. He modeled the care that we should have for our aged parents. And from that moment, John took Mary into his home.

Ultimately, historians tell us Mary died in John’s home, overlooking the valley above the city of Ephesus. Jesus cares for us in our darkest places. He sees that we are not abandoned in our hour of deepest need.

Even when He was on the cross.

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.

 

John the Apostle’s home where Mary, the mother of Jesus died.

The Road to the Cross 11

“Remember me….” These words were uttered by a man staring down the dark tunnel of a hopeless eternity. “Remember me.” He didn’t even know the right words, the right formula to use to ask for salvation or rescue. He just knew he was alone… hopeless… forgotten.

Ironically, only “non-persons” were made victims of crucifixion in Rome. The Romans, much to our surprise, had a strong humane streak. People with any standing recognized by the Roman’s law could not be unjustly imprisoned, flogged or crucified.

A Roman soldier or citizen accused of wrongdoing was normally beheaded. Beheading was the last mercy – a dignity – afforded them as a right of their citizenship.

Romans proper would never have seen a crucifixion. Even the word was considered too coarse and profane to be uttered by a refined citizen. It was the place where the worst of the worst of criminals… or the most menial dregs of humanity were executed.

It was the place where forgotten people were taken. People that no one would stand up for were taken to the cross. No one would associate with them. Among all the pains of crucifixion was the one that expressed by a lowly thief hanging beside Jesus: “Remember me….”

The loneliness, the despair of isolation and severance of any semblance of humanity found its expression in two words, “Remember me.” And he found more than a promise to be remembered. He found hope.

He found life. He received a promise. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Jesus, though tormented and suffocating slowly, found a way to offer comfort to a forgotten man. He didn’t promise just to remember him. He promised to take him home with Him!

We always get more than we ask for when we come to Jesus. We always seem to ask too little… too small. Jesus met the lonely that day on cross. He knew what it was like to be alone… and to be lonely.

And if you’ll ask Him, He’ll walk with you right in the middle of it.

The Road to the Cross 10

Visit any of the holy sites believed to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion today, and you will normally find people looking in hushed reverence. On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the noise of a shouting throng and the cursing of tortured thieves and Roman soldiers polluted the air of Golgotha.

Noise was routine during a crucifixion. The begging, pleading and finally cursing of the crucified was an expected part of the process. But the “man in the middle;” the “King of the Jews” as His title read, did not join the symphony of profanity that spewed from the lips of His crucified companions.
In fact as Peter – one who perhaps witnessed part of the crucifixion – later would write, “As a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”

Jesus did not curse. He did not threaten retaliation. He was silent… until He began quietly to pray. “Father, forgive them… they know not what they do.”

Praying? He was praying as His hands and feet were being nailed to a cross?
Who does that? Cursing… that was anticipated. But praying… and what was it He prayed over and over again? “Forgive them… forgive them… forgive them.”

Forgive? Forgive who? The jeering crowd of spectators and heckling religious leaders? The crude Roman soldiers pulling down overtime to carry out this bloody task? The thieves on either side who cursed Him? Forgive who?

We know. He prayed for all of them… but not only for them. He prayed for Peter, who denied Him. For Judas, who betrayed Him. For a nameless soldier who nailed Him, holding his arm fast to the wood with his knee while his hands did their worst. For the soldiers… the spectators who watched. For the thieves who cursed Him. And even for the women, including His mother Mary, who watched and wept helplessly, as her son was being executed.

And lest we forget He prayed for us as well. “Father, forgive them.” The greatest need of the human heart is for that forgiveness He prayed for as, in His flesh, He reconciled God and man.

We come to the cross and listen, and hear the greatest news that had ever been spoken. The Son of God prayed, in spite of all we had done, for our sins to be forgiven… wiped away through the blood being spilled that day.

There is forgiveness in none other than the One who still prays for us today:
“Father, forgive them… they don’t know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

And because of the cross, the Father answers, “I will.”

The Road to the Cross 09

“Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “A king who would allow himself to be crucified must be the king of a strange kingdom, indeed.” We are followers of a strange kind of king, at least from the point of view of the world. We are part of a movement that is seeing the incoming of a strange kingdom indeed.

It is a kingdom where the rich become poor, and the poor become rich. It is a kingdom where the child leads, and the proud stumble. It is a kingdom where the sinner is forgiven, and the self-righteous condemned. It is a kingdom where the dead are made alive, and those who think they live are dying. It is a kingdom where the rejected become beloved. It is a kingdom where those who gain, lose and those who lose, gain. It is a strange kingdom, indeed!

And it’s populated by strange people. A.W. Tozer wrote of this in a book titled, The Root of the Righteous:

A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to go up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passes knowledge.

So as a citizen of this kingdom, don’t be surprised that the world doesn’t get you. You’re strange. Don’t be shocked when they hate the King you love… you’re strange. And don’t be surprised when Jesus comes again…

…you will have had it right all along.

The Road to the Cross 08

This weekend will mark a milestone in American and, indeed, world history. The passing last week of the most listened-to evangelist in history will be commemorated this coming weekend at the Billy Graham Library in Asheville, North Carolina. The world will watch. Dignitaries will fly in from all over the planet.

And let’s remember as we watch that we are celebrating a homegoing, marked by hope… and joy… and gratitude. It should be, and will be, a memorable day.

But let’s also remember one more thing. Billy Graham’s ministry marks the end of an influential, Christian statesman and preacher’s voice on this planet. But I would imagine the line is still formed in Heaven by those who are there because of this faithful, godly man’s ministry and eternal impact.

A couple of decades ago, an influential and godly pastor in my life died suddenly. He had come and led my home church into a glorious period of ministry and, at a distance, kept my spiritual life alive. He ordained me to ministry and baptized me at age 9. His death rattled me… and raised some serious spiritual questions in my mind.

During that time, the ministry of Chuck Swindoll had also taken off and I had listened diligently to this great teacher of God’s Word. He was ending his series on the life of Moses when my pastor died. His remarks were sent from God to me at that time as he said two things in his broadcast on the day of my pastor’s funeral:

  1. When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies. God raises up one man, and calls another away. The ministry of God does not rely on man. Never has, never will.
  2. When a man of God dies, He always has a Joshua waiting. The ministry baton is always passed on to another whom God will raise in due time.

While I have some good ideas about who Joshua will NOT be, I’m not sure I can say who it will be. I just know that there is one God has prepared to receive the mantle of Moses when Moses is no longer on the scene.

“And so we do not lose heart.” We do not despair. We express our gratitude for the one God sends, and listen carefully to the one God has already chosen to be Joshua.

So this weekend, express your gratitude. Share your thought and memories of Billy with others. Don’t forget his influence. But remember this one thing as you do:

Nothing of God has died.

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