Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 9 -- How do we respond to the Crucifixion?

Luke 23:39-56

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
44 Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last. 47 So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” 48 And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. 49 But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
50 Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. 51 He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. 54 That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. 55 And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

The crucifixion of Christ raises several different responses as I read this passage. There's anger, compassion, hurt, relief (that it wasn't me), appreciation and sorrow. This passage shows us 3 different people who were there that had different responses to the crucifixion that we should keep in mind today.

1. Recognize who Jesus really is.

This wasn't a great day. There wasn't a lot of applause and praise for Jesus. Even those who had been the closest to him were silent. John was there. Mary was there. But there's not much recorded that they said.

Here, starting in verse 39, we do have recorded what a condemned criminal had to say. In response to the mocking of another condemned robber, the man we've come to know as The Thief on the Cross acknowledged who Jesus really was. He confessed Christ's purity and divinity and asked His forgiveness. Hanging on a cross close to death with the background as a criminal, there wasn't much he could do for the Kingdom of Heaven. Still, his confession of Christ was sufficient for him to receive the promise of eternity with God. If this doesn't refute a "works theology" I don't know what can.

2. Recognize our wrongs.

Check out those Roman soldiers. They're gambling for the clothes of Christ, mocking him, even going to far as to taunt a dying man with vinegar as he asks for a drink. Hard-hearted lot those guys. But in this passage, we see them come face to face with their own sins as men. They could be big shots while Jesus was dying. However, when He died and Heaven and Earth reacted, they changed their tune.

You see, they saw the world go dark for 3 hours. (Luke 23:44-45a) This could not be explained by an eclipse as it was during the Passover's full moon. They felt the earth shake. (Matthew 27:51b) People who had been dead came out of their graves and started running around town! (Matthew 27:52-53) That one doesn't get mentioned as much, but ought to. What would you be thinking if you started seeing dead people walking around town? "Let's see.....last time we heard about this was when Jesus raised that Lazarus fellow. Jesus is dead, but somehow He's got to be behind this."

Anyway, the Roman soldiers saw all this. They'd probably also heard the stories of the miracles and the loving way this man had with people around. It actually brought about 2 reactions in them. They realized Jesus' divinity, but they also realized their sins and wrongs. They started beating their chests, which was a sign of deep anguish. I'm sure for that centurion a picture of all that he'd been a part of these last few hours flooded his mind and he was deeply sorry for what he'd done. We don't know, but I have a feeling this was more a godly sorrow leading to repentance than a worldly sorrow leading to nothing but death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

3. Recognize that anything you risk for Christ is worth it.

As we go on in the passage, we see a man named Joseph from Arimathea come forward to claim the body of Christ and direct it be put in his tomb. That's a nice gesture. I suppose Joseph's probably got enough time to get another tomb (although Jesus needed that tomb for just 1 weekend).

No, it was more than that. Joseph was a member of the Council of the Sanhedrin. He was one of the upper crust of the Pharisees. Remember in high school how a cheerleader would be ostracized by the other cheerleaders and popular people if she would deign to date a nerd? Multiply that by 1000 to see how Joseph stepped out. He had great position and a fortune based on that position. To step out and name himself as a follower of Christ risked all that.

He wasn't alone. John 19 records that Nicodemas came, too. Nicodemas was the fellow that originally came to Jesus by night because he didn't want the Sanhedrin to know what he was doing. Now, Nicodemas and Joseph came boldly in broad daylight at a time when the Pharisees think they've won. Again, we don't see what happened with Nicodemas and Joseph after this. Undoubtedly they were cast out of the Sanhedrin before they could formally resign. Assuredly they were mocked. Most likely they lost much of the wealth they had. I wonder if their families disowned them because they couldn't understand what would make them risk everything they had.

They knew what they were doing. They'd surely heard Jesus talk about counting the cost. (Luke 14:25-33) They'd already done the math. They were not fools to give what they couldn't keep to gain what they couldn't lose.

How about us.

A reaction to the crucifixion of Christ isn't limited to people who were there. It's also not limited to just a decision about where we spend eternity. Just because we're not seeing dead people walking around doesn't mean we don't have a reaction.

There's always the "Sunday reaction" of eternal life. Jesus came for much more than that. What's your reaction to the crucifixion when you get cut off in traffic? When the waiter gets your order wrong? When you sense your co-workers gossipping about you? When you're lonely?

Remember, Jesus came (and died) that you may have life, and have it more abundantly. I would suggest that no matter what day of the week and no matter what is going on, you should watch the lamb.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August 2 -- Crucifixion

John 19

In this passage, we see the savagery of what those few hours held for Christ.

1. Jesus was humiliated

Everything that was done to Christ during the crucifixion was done to belittle Him. He called himself a king, so the soldiers mocked him with a purple robe and a crown of thorns. They spit at him. They blindfolded him and took turns hitting at him. I've never seen an execution today, but from what we hear, it's taken seriously and solemnly. There aren't any mind games played with the condemned.

We also get a somewhat sanitized version of the crucifixion. Jesus, who was pure and holy, was probably placed naked on the cross in full view of men, women and children. Fortunately, artists over the generations have seen fit to give Him a tattered loincloth. Satan didn't. Satan wanted to try to break and humiliate Jesus to the point that He'd give in.

The final humiliation was sin. Jesus was the only man who ever lived that knew no sin. However, in those last few moments all the weight of all the shame of all the sin in the world -- past, present and future -- all came on this one man. In asking His Father why He was forsaken, we know that Jesus felt that shame.

2. Jesus was tortured.

This is fairly obvious, especially if you went to Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" movie. Crucifixion doesn't kill by pain or loss of blood or trauma. Crucifixion puts the body in a position that the lungs can't fill with air and the victim suffocates. Slowly. The only way the body can get air is to try to raise up from that position by standing taller or lifting themselves up by the arms. Those tricky little Romans made that more difficult by driving nails through the hands and feet so that the subject faced the choice of intense pain in the hands and feet or the inability to get air. The idea was that finally the loss of air would make the person too weak to raise up any more and they'd eventually die.

That wasn't all Jesus went through. There were the whips, the weight of the cross, and so forth. I don't usually like to dwell on the barbarity of the event, but it cannot be overlooked.

3. Jesus died.

Of course He did. However, that shouldn't be overlooked either. Jesus, who just a few years before this had been living through eternity as God and came to Earth as a man, now died as a man. I can't comprehend all of what happened from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. But I do know this: Jesus' body stopped working and died just like everyone else's had.

Jesus wasn't dead long. There's a Southern Gospel song (I can't find it) called "Weekend" that goes something like:

Jesus needed that tomb for just one weekend

He didn't stay there long

He didn't. And on Saturday, the Bible says He was busy in Sheol (what the Jews of the day understood as the place of the dead) preaching the gospel of salvation to everyone who'd gone before Him so that they had the chance to respond and receive salvation.

Jesus didn't enjoy that Passover. When thinking about the crucifixion, I'm always taken to Hebrews 12:1-2 which says "Therefore, we also, because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Jesus hated what was happening to Him. And He did it anyway. How? He looked through His circumstances and saw what waited ahead. He didn't hear the insults. Instead, He looked ahead and heard His Father tell Him how proud He was. When Jesus felt the nails, He looked ahead to the Second Coming and saw the saints rising out of their graves. When Jesus was gasping His last, He looked ahead to the day when all God's children were gathered before him in Heaven.

This makes me think of a very simple mathematical equation:

Jesus > Humiliation + Torture + Death.

For those that haven't had math in a while, here it is in English: Jesus is greater than the combination of humiliation, torture and death. And He still is.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26 -- Betrayal

Matthew 26:47-56

Through history there are a few figures who have come to symbolize the term "betrayal". In Rome, there was Brutus. When Julius Caesar realized Brutus was involved in the assassination plot against him, it resigned him to his fate: Et tu, Brute? Brutus was manipulated to join the plot by his wife and by reading messages that were forged by Caeser's political enemies.

The most famous American incident of betrayal was Benedict Arnold plotting to turn over the fort at West Point to the British during the Revolutionary War. Arnold was a decorated general who had been a war hero, but he felt slighted that he had not been promoted where others had been. Although history recounts there were several men named "Benedict Arnold" with high offices in colonial New England, nobody names their sons "Benedict" anymore. Moreover, although the heroics of Arnold, Gates, Schuyler and Morgan at the Battle of Saratoga are immortalized with granite monuments, there is no mention of the name of Arnold.

The most bittersweet example of betrayal takes place in this passage. Unlike the others, this betrayal was foretold centuries before. Jesus understood that and had even told the group that one of them would betray Him.

Your Reaction is Most Important
Jesus understood that He could not stop what had been prophesied. He even told Judas, "What you do, do quickly." John 13:27 Jesus even mentions in this passage that He could have brought a halt to all of this when He told Peter that He could have called the angels to His side.

Check out how Judas fingered Jesus. Why was this necessary? The soldiers with the arrest warrant knew who Jesus was -- everybody did. If there was a formal need for an identification, why not just stand at a distance and point? Why did Judas approach Jesus, call him "Rabbi" and kiss him on the cheek?

Satan had entered into Judas by this time and what better way for Satan to twist the knife in Jesus' back than to pervert one of the most intimate expressions of fellowship? We don't greet people with a kiss now (unless you're in Europe), but several times in his writings, Paul urged his readers to greet the brethren with a "holy kiss." (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26). Therefore, Judas approaches Jesus, in the presence of some of the other disciples after missing the Passover meal, and greets him with the symbol of fellowship. We all know what happened after that.

We've all been betrayed. For some of us, it's our hairline or our stamina that's betrayed us over the years. Others have been betrayed by business partners or friends that have turned against us. Some have even felt the sting of a spouse that has turned away for another. We all know the flood of emotion that accompanies betrayal. Why!!???!!??? That has to be the most common complaint or question followed closely by an intense desire for revenge.

What struck me the most in this passage was Jesus' response to His betrayal. There's no flood of emotion. Jesus wasn't a Vulcan. He had every emotion we did. He cried. He laughed. Well, there were 2 emotions I can think of that he didn't have: guilt and shame. He didn't want to tear Judas limb from limb. Instead, when Judas came forward to kiss Him, He simply called Judas "Friend."

A component to betrayal is that the person putting the knife in your back is someone you have a relationship with. If one of your enemies sticks it to you, that's expected. It still gets your goat, but it doesn't leave you with the intense pain of someone that's close to you. Jesus had selected 12 and Satan selected 1 of the 12. I'm not saying that when a friend, partner or mate throws you under the bus that you have to continue in relationship with them. But look what Jesus did. He called Judas, "Friend."

The lesson I see here is that we can't control what other people do. Some will stand by us forever. Some will say they'll stand by us forever, but when things get tough, they won't know who we are (Peter, but that's another lesson entirely). Some will stab us in the back. We can control how we respond to betrayal.

We can respond with bitterness and anger. That's natural. Jesus wouldn't do that and explicitly told Peter to cease with the anger when Peter struck Malchus the guard. What do we get when we react with bitterness and anger? We get a stomach ache. Like I say, it's natural to respond to this type of betrayal -- especially that of a spouse -- with bitterness and anger. But there's a time to let that go and move on. Imagine what would have happened if Jesus had gone before Ananias, Caiphus and Pilate with bitterness and rage at what Judas had done to Him? Imagine how different the world would be if Peter, James and John had stayed locked up in the room burning with rage at how Judas had ruined everything? If there's to be bitterness, let it be only for a short season.

We can also respond with a desire for revenge. Jesus told Judas that he wouldn't have a good end, but that wasn't a vengeful statement so much as a warning from Old Testament prophecy. However, we know that God reserves revenge and justice to Himself. We are not to seek vengeance on those who have betrayed us. It's OK to be honest with God and tell Him what we'd like to see happen to them, but we've got to leave it to Him.

Why must we avoid these type of human reactions? You can't walk in love if you're holding on to anger and revenge. I think sometimes we forget that the Law of Love supercedes everything else. Remember, after betrayal, you've still got a life. Will it be a life of love that works as a testament to the grace and power of Jesus or will it be a life corroded by the acid of anger flowing through your veins that becomes an example of "what could have been....." That's all your choice. Be defined by God's Love rather than by someone else's treachery.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

July 19 -- Abiding in Christ

John 15:1-8

When we went through this in class, everyone raised their hand to wanting to abide in Christ. Everyone also raised their hand to wanting to bear fruit for God. However, nobody volunteered to have something they liked in their life taken away.

You've heard the saying, "Anything worth having is worth working for." Getting in shape means working out and going through the soreness that follows. Having a nice looking yard means taking the time and money to make it look that way. God says that whenever someone is producing fruit, He'll prune them in order that they can produce more fruit.

Pruning isn't fun. As with our class, it's not something that you just sign up for. However it's also necessary. Look at it this way: no matter where we are in life, there are bound to be parts of our life that aren't bad, but they're not producing anything for God's Kingdom.

For example, many nights after work, I'll come home to sit down and watch television. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a spy show or a crime show or something like that. But watching TV isn't producing anything for God's Kingdom. God might choose to prune some of that TV out of my life so that in its place there can grow more fruit. It might be as simple as calling to encourage or reach out to someone, get involved in a Bible Study, watch/listen to a teacher of the Word or spending time talking with my wife.

The swap here is interesting. I lose dead wood and gain what God's Word calls "more fruit." Instead of asking, "Would anyone here like to have something you like taken out of your life?" perhaps I would have gotten a different response to, "Would anyone here like to trade in some dead wood and get fruit in exchange?"

There are 4 types of people discussed in this passage. One is the person who isn't connected to Jesus. That person is removed from the vine, withers and dies. Obviously, we don't want to be that person.

The second person is one who is bearing fruit. That's the person that gets to stay connected to the vine and gets to be pruned. This leads to the third person. Jesus said that the person who is pruned then produces more fruit.

However, there's a fourth person that we want to aspire to be. This is the person that produces much fruit. That's who we want to be. That's who God wants us to be. Do you know what you have to do to be that person? The same thing a branch of a tree does. Nothing. A branch does nothing to get its nourishment. A branch doesn't do anything except to be there. Jesus said that all we have to do is "abide in Me." We get on the tandem bike with Jesus and follow Him. Now, that doesn't mean you get to just lay back in the recliner and watch it all happen. Part of abiding means that when God leads to you something, you do it.

However, what you don't do in order to produce much fruit is to figure out what to do and put your plans into it. When you set out to do that, you get nothing. Just like the branch of an apple tree can't produce an apple if it's separated from the tree, we can't do anything for God's Kingdom if we disconnect ourselves from Jesus.

The question then becomes, what does it mean to abide? I'm not sure I can give you any pat answer. There's no Seven Steps to Abiding in Christ out there. Besides, if we sit around and go through some kind of checklist, we're doing it ourselves and defeating the purpose.

Instead, I'd offer up the following characteristics of someone who's abiding in Christ. Let these become part of your lifestyle, something that you become rather than something you do, and God's Word says you should start seeing much fruit in your life. This is far from exhaustive.

Abiding in Christ

Romans 12:1-2 TRANSFORM
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

You can't do it like you are. Abiding in Christ means that when junk starts happening around you, you'll not react with anger, fear, worry, frustration or revenge. Instead, you'll have peace and joy. That doesn't happen without a transformation of your mind.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 PRAISE
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

It's kind of a no-brainer that abiding in Christ means that you're going to do the things that show God you know who He is and praise Him.

Ephesians 4:29 SPEAK
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

Your grandma taught you that "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." That's good advice and would lead us all to say a lot less. However, God's Word says that if you can't find anything good to say, say something good.

1 John 1:7-9 CONFESS
7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we wake up in the morning and go through the day, we're going to make mistakes. There's going to be sin. It's part of life, especially if we're interacting with other people. No matter how holy and sanctified we are, it'll be there. The nice thing is, God knows. If we hide it, we're lying to Him and lying to ourseles. God tells us to just go ahead and get it out to Him so He can deal with it. Then we go back to having fellowship with Him and one another. If we have the confidence that God will keep his promise to cleanse us from everything and never turn His back on us, we can enter into a much deeper relationship of abiding with Him.

James 4:2-3 ASK PROPERLY
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

You're going to have desires and wants. However, if you delight yourself in the Lord, He's promised to put His desires into you. (Psalm 37:4) We end up dissatisfied because in our own power, we sit around and want what we don't have and when we do get around to asking God for something, it's often a selfish request. If we're abiding in Christ, we're going to be asking for the things that He wants anyway and we'll then see him fulfilling our lives in a way that glorifies His Kingdom.

Phillippians 4:6-7 SUBMIT
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Praying with supplication means we have to put our agenda aside. Submitting isn't something that comes naturally. However, submitting is essential to abiding in Christ and producing much fruit for His Kingdom. Otherwise, the Old Man is still running the show and you'll be advancing your status on earth, but doing nothing for God.

Hebrews 11:6 FAITH
6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Abiding with Christ without pleasing God doesn't fit. You will have to have faith in God in order to abide and be fruitful for Him. Then, what's the reward? Fruit.

1 John 4:7-8 LOVE
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God is love. So how could you abide in Him without making love the center of your life? You can't. We can let God's love reign in us and spill over to the world around us and that's the essence of abiding in Christ.

I wish I could tell you there was one of these that was the key. They're interrelated. But don't wake up thinking, "Today, I'm going to speak good things to everyone. " I've done that. Then, I'll sarcastically bite the head off the first person to cross me. It's a matter of deciding to life within Christ and seeing your life start to resemble the characteristics above. Remember, be a branch.