June 14, 2019- Father, Forgive Them, Luke 23:32-43, John 14:1-7

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Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him (Jesus).  And when they came to the place that is called Golgotha, or Place of the Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And he (Jesus) said to him (the second criminal), “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-43 (ESV)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus says this from the place where He is being crucified, after He has been brutally beaten and He is suffering.  He is asking for forgiveness for His tormentors, even as His blood is being shed to atone for their sins.

We are His tormentors. Our sins put Jesus on the cross.  All of humanity was represented in the crowd that chanted “Crucify Him!” before Pilate, just as all of humanity was born into the Fall and the curse of the Garden.

The two criminals are both looking at Jesus, yet they see Him very differently. The first mocks Him, deriding Him because He doesn’t simply snap His fingers and miraculously release them from their crosses.  The second, in faith, fears God and trusts Jesus.  The second criminal is saved by his faith in Jesus.  The first is lost in his unbelief and left to die- condemned and in despair.

As people who believe and trust Jesus, we know that we are not always going to be released from our crosses in this life. When we pray that most difficult of petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done, we know that thy will and my will are not always the same thing.  God is faithful, God is good, but He does not excuse us from our crosses any more than He took the cup of suffering away from Jesus.

Jesus did nothing to deserve the condemnation and suffering He endured. We might look around and rail at God, “If you are God, why do kids get cancer?,” or “If you are God, then why is there injustice?” Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, especially if we look at the perfectly innocent suffering of Jesus.  It is only by the mercy and grace of God that we are spared more suffering than we can bear.

The object of our faith is Jesus- the One who has the power of life and death. Jesus, who bled and died to save those who screamed, “Crucify Him!,” is the One who says, “Come to Me. I forgive you. Trust Me. Believe Me. I came to save you from the consequences of your sins.”

(Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

No matter who we are, where we come from, what we have done or have not done, Jesus came to save us from the penalty of death that we have earned and deserved.

April 19, 2019 Good Friday- The Punishment that Brought Us Peace-John 19:17-30, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53:1-5, Matthew 27:51-54

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So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.  Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.  So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture – Psalm 22:14-15), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:17-30 (ESV)

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54 (ESV)

The Lord of Life, tried and hastily convicted by a kangaroo court, at night, is now consigned to a cruel and ignominious death nailed to a Roman cross in a place called Golgotha, a place of a skull.

The penalty for sin- the sin of the Garden and all the sins that humanity has built upon and multiplied ever since- is death. This was death that Jesus had neither earned nor deserved. Our sins and our inability to save ourselves from the penalty of death put Him there.

Jesus’ captors took the opportunity to divide up his clothes, even rolling the dice to see who would get his one-piece tunic so they wouldn’t have to tear it up. The prophetic psalm of lament (Psalm 22) that David had written centuries before the Romans and their exquisitely cruel method of death by crucifixion came into being springs to brutal reality as Jesus was scourged, mocked, and left suffering, panting and thirsting on the cross.

He was offered sour wine, which could not have been worth much to assuage anyone’s thirst. After being offered this offensive drink, His suffering was finished. The punishment that brought our peace, the blood sacrifice required to redeem us from eternal death and hell, at that moment was fulfilled.

At the moment Jesus surrendered His spirit, the curtain of the temple that separates the Holy of Holies, the place of God, from common sinful humanity was torn. The new High Priest has made a new covenant in His blood, not the sacrifices of lambs and goats and bulls that could only foreshadow His true and once and for all atonement. The dead who had died in the promise of Christ by faith were raised from their graves.  Even the centurion assigned to witness the crucifixions on that day declared, “This truly was the Son of God.”

Today we take a somber look at Jesus’ death. We thank God that by His wounds, we are healed.  By His suffering and death, we have peace.  We dare not overlook so great a salvation.

By the grace of God, in Christ, it is finished. He has had the final say over death and the grave.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.


But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

July 16, 2018 – Setting Our Minds on God-Mark 8:31-38

crucifix5And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:31-38 (ESV)

The apostle Peter gets it so right (Mark 8:27-30) then he slips up and gets it so wrong. He goes from rightly naming Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, to having Jesus call him Satan- all in less than a chapter of Scripture. Even the apostle Peter was a saint and a sinner at the same time.  No one wants to hear about persecution or suffering, especially when it comes to one who doesn’t deserve it. No one wants to contemplate losing his or her closest friend, especially in the way that Jesus had to die.  On the surface the thought of the Lord of Life having to die a cruel death seems counterintuitive. How can the Messiah save His people if he is rotting in a tomb?  And what is this business about rising again after three days?  No wonder Peter protested.

The necessity of and the reality of the crucifixion is hard to put one’s mind around. The closest we can get to understand the barbarity and sheer repugnance of crucifixion was historically accurately depicted in the movie The Passion of the Christ. The truth of the resurrection, which was not shown in that film, is even more difficult for us to get.  How can the dead be raised?  Better yet, how can death lead to life?

It is really easy to get tied up in the pursuit of things in this world. It is easy for us to get comfortable and to take confidence in our physical or mental ability, in our relationships with other humans, or in our possessions.  The reality is that while those are good gifts from God, they are not our reason for living.  All of those things, as good as they may be, are only temporary.  Only God is forever.

Taking up one’s cross is not a popular thing to do. It may cost us friends or family. It may cause others to think we are silly or uneducated. Our confession of Christ may cost us material wealth or temporal security.  It may cause us to go to prison or even be killed, which happens routinely in countries ruled by governments that are hostile to Christianity. For the sake of the Gospel we might be called to sacrifice for others in ways that have a heavy cost- materially, physically or emotionally.   Yet we know our life is with Jesus, no matter what our circumstances in this life might attest.  We cannot be ashamed of the Author of life.

We don’t take up our crosses to earn brownie points or add currency to a merit account. Nothing we do- or don’t do- can earn us salvation. It’s all on Jesus.  Even our faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We follow Jesus – by faith- because we were created for the good works He planned for us (Ephesians 2:10).

Are we setting our minds and hearts on the things of God? Do we have peace knowing God is in control? The Holy Spirit is always with us and in us. We can always pray for God to give us faith, strength, hope and His peace no matter what our circumstances.

March 30, 2018 – Good Friday- By His Wounds, We Are Healed – Matthew 27:45-54, Isaiah 53:5

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From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54 (NIV)

The promise of Isaiah 53:5 comes to fruition at that moment. He was pierced because of our transgressions.  He was crushed and broken for our iniquity.  His punishment purchased our peace.  He was wounded so that we could be healed.  It is important for us as Jesus followers to see and understand that His sacrifice for us was no small or inconsequential feat.  As we embrace the theology of the Cross, we take up our crosses as well.  Because of Jesus we are free to die to ourselves and live for Him.

The Lutheran tradition can be a bit divided on the imagery of the crucifix. Some find it a bit macabre and gory to have a crucifix displayed in the church, or a bit too solemn and joyless for to focus upon the Body of Jesus as He dies on the Cross.  Crucifixion is macabre. Jesus’ death was painful and dirty and humiliating. His grace- and our salvation- was infinitely expensive. We have no way to imagine the cost to our Savior.  We cannot fathom the weight and the agony of carrying the sins of the whole world, for all of time.

Jesus would no more have been remembered than any other common thief or insurrectionist, except for Easter morning. Good Friday would commemorate nothing more than one of many men being crucified for being an enemy of the Roman Empire, if it weren’t for Easter morning.   There was no shortage of crucifixions in Jesus’ day.  Public crucifixion was common, and there were plenty of dissidents and criminals who met their death in ignominious fashion on Roman crosses.  The difference is that for Jesus, crucifixion was not the end.  The Cross could not defeat Him.  The tomb could not hold Him.

We need to be shocked and appalled and brought to sorrow by the imagery of the crucifix just as much as we need the triumph of the empty cross and the empty tomb. It is good for us to regard Jesus as He is dying on the tree, as long as we understand that His death on the Cross is not the end of Him.  Isaiah was completely right about Jesus. The age old prophecy has been fulfilled.

May the Holy Spirit bring us to the same conclusion as the centurion today: “Surely this man is the Son of God!”  By His wounds, we are healed.

March 28, 2018- Judas in the Mirror? John 13:21-30

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After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”  His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.  Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.  Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.  As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. John 13:21-30 (NIV)

Who among us has betrayed a friend at some time or another? Whether we betray others to save our own hides, or for personal gain, or even from our own fear, the sin of betrayal has a special kind of sting to it.  It is a violation of an intimate understanding between friends, a breach of trust.

Jesus is fully human as well as He is fully God.  Judas’ betrayal had to be painful for Jesus just as it is painful for us to be betrayed by a friend or a family member.  The ones closest to us have the greatest power to hurt us, because they are the last ones who should.

It is easy for us to think that we would never betray Jesus the way that Judas did- selling the Holy One of God down the river for less than the equivalent of what it would take to fill up a Toyota Camry. The reality is that any one of us could have been Judas given the right set of circumstances.

We sell out Jesus every day. We betray Him in our actions. Like Peter we try to stay strong and we plead our allegiance and our love for Jesus, but in our moments of crisis we deny Him. (Matthew 26:69-75) Like the disciples, we aren’t able to stay with Him and pray an hour in the garden without falling asleep.  (Mark 14:32-42)  In our fallen humanity we are not even able to come to faith in God, let alone stand strong for Jesus.  The Holy Spirit must intervene on our behalf.

The good news is that Jesus still loves us. He still went willingly to Caiaphus and stood before the Sanhedrin, who had plotted to kill Him.  He was handed over to Pontius Pilate and was chosen for crucifixion by the people, while Barabbas was set free.

Thankfully Jesus does not betray us. He is faithful even when we are not.  We can always trust Him and we are set free, knowing that because He took our place on the Cross that we are free to share in abundant and joyful life now, as well as we enter into His eternal life.

We want to stand strong with Jesus. We want to pray with Him in the garden, but we are weak.  Jesus walks the path with us and for us because we cannot endure it alone.  He alone was able to bear the cost of our sins- and the sins of this fallen world.  He will not betray us.

 

February 23, 2018 – The Punishment That Gives Us Peace – Psalm 22:14-24, Isaiah 53:5

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I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.  My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!                 

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. Psalm 22:14-24 (NIV)

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

Psalm 22:14-18 is often referenced on Good Friday, as it is a foreshadowing of the passion and crucifixion of Christ.  The imagery is disturbing.  It tells us of the suffering that Jesus willingly endured for our sake. Jesus was abandoned to the torture of the Romans.  His hands and feet were pierced.  He took the punishment that brought us peace. (Isaiah 53:5)

Psalm 22 is not only about the passion and death of Jesus, but about the faithfulness of God and how Jesus has taken on the punishments that we deserved.

Today is an opportunity for us to meditate on what Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice means for us.

How do we live in response to all He has done for us?

 

November 24, 2017 – Christ, the King! Colossians 2:6-19, Matthew 20:25-28

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As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision  by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV)

Speaking of kings seems like a very old fashioned thing to do.  The United States declared independence from the British monarchy 241 years ago.  Admittedly, King George III was a rather tyrannical monarch, and history has proven over and over that one man having absolute power will lead to absolute corruption.  Human monarchies typically are not terribly effective forms of government.  Dictatorships are even worse.  Why should One Guy be in charge of everything?

In Scripture we learn that even the “good kings” like David, Solomon and Hezekiah had tragic faults. The “bad kings” were Really Bad. So why would we want to call Jesus “King?”

The answer is that Jesus simply is (that simple little word again) the King.  He was not made- He is One with the Father Who made us. Unlike human beings who want to think they have some kind of divine calling to rule over other humans, Jesus is the divine ruler.  No debate, and no proving ground was ever necessary.

Yet Jesus took the ultimate proving ground. While He could rule over humanity with an iron fist- and be within His right- Jesus took the route of sacrifice and ultimate love.  He entered into the world of humanity and took on the entire human experience, including poverty, suffering and an unspeakable death.

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As we think about Jesus the conquering King, we also remember He comes to us in humility and compassion. We represent Him and follow Him when we reflect His example- when we remain humble, when we sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others.

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But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)