At the Cross

April 16, 2017 – Easter Sunday
At the Cross - Logo
Read: Luke 23:39-43
Focus: vs. 43

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In Luke 7:36-50 we find the story of Mary, the woman who was forgiven of so much that she comes in off the street and disrupts a gathering to shed her tears on the feet of Jesus, wipe them away with her hair and anoint his feet with ointment. When Simon, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus into his home, recoiled at the thought of this sinner touching Jesus he was given a lesson he would never forget. Jesus tells the story, in verses 41-43, of two debtors who owed a debt they couldn’t pay. One owed 500 and the other 50. Is the amount important? Neither of them could pay the debt so it might as well have been a million. Both had their debt forgiven but Jesus makes the point that the one who owed more than the other would love the forgiver of their debts more. How much have you been forgiven for and how do you show your love to the Forgiver of your debt?

“At the Cross, at the Cross where I first saw the light and the burden of my heart rolled way. It was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day!” This is the chorus that was added to the song “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed!” that was written by Isaac Watts in 1707. An evangelist named Ralph Hudson added these words in 1885 and they speak to us this morning. Easter is the holiest day of the year on the Christian calendar. This is the day we celebrate the Resurrection of our Savior even as we live our lives every day in celebration of that event. This is an amazing day but I want to remind you that we don’t arrive at this bright morning without going through the dark death of Jesus on the Cross. The Resurrection marks the defeat of death. It’s the victory that makes eternal life possible for you and me. But in order to gain this victory Christ, first, had to die. Everything converges at the Cross.

There was a price that had to be paid. There was the redemption of Mankind to win. There was a debt owed and we couldn’t afford it. The only one with deep enough pockets to pay this debt was God. Everything converges at the Cross because that’s where the debt was paid and you were forgiven. Here is where the Way of the Cross gains and gives life.

For the past 6 weeks we have been talking about the Way of the Cross. You’ve read about it in your daily devotionals, you’ve studied it at your weekly Bible Study and it’s been a journey we’ve taken together. Along the way we’ve learned that the Way of the Cross is one of total sacrifice. It’s a singular principle that we have tried to understand better each week. We know that we are called to give our all to the One who gave His all for us. Jesus is our Living Hope for salvation. Jesus is the message God wants us to share with the world as ambassadors for Him. Jesus is the one through whom the circumcision of our hearts is possible so that we may walk in fellowship with God once again. Jesus is the Dangerous King who, because of the Resurrection we celebrate this morning, is now crowned the King of kings and Lord of lords. And today I want you to know that everything converges at the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Jesus never rises from the Grave unless he is first placed in there. Jesus is never placed in the Grave unless he first dies on the Cross. And Jesus never goes to the Cross if not for our sin. Now let’s think the other direction. The Way of the Cross begins at the Cross where we first meet Jesus. The Way of the Cross ends at Salvation and walks in fellowship with Jesus, our Living Hope in that very promise. The Way of the Cross makes all of us ambassadors for God as we share His message with the world. The Way of the Cross is the way of the circumcised heart where the Holy Spirits dwells within us and guides us along the way. And the Way of the Cross is the way of the Dangerous King who dares to change the world.

Everything converges at the Cross. Our passage for this morning comes from the one of the final moments of Jesus on that Cross. There are two thieves who were crucified with Christ that day, one on either side of him. One hurled insults at Jesus and mocked him. The other knew he had done wrong and came to Christ with a heart full of sorrow. He came seeking forgiveness as he asks, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Have sweeter words ever been spoken? “Today you will be with me in paradise.” They are words of forgiveness. They are the kind of words that cause a woman to cry at Jesus feet and wipe her tears away with her hair. They are the kind of words that have struck at the core of so many men and women of the faith down through the years. They are the kind of words that have inspired countless acts of obedience to God through loving service to the world and seeking the lost in His name. Imperfect and broken, we have come to the Cross throughout the history of Mankind. Penniless, we have come to the Forgiver of the debt we could never pay. This morning is another point in history. Here we stand at the foot of the Cross. This is where your sins are forgiven. This is where the Way of the Cross begins.

Stone Cold Tomb

April 15, 2017 – Holy Saturday
Sealed Tomb
Read:  Mark 15:42 – 47, NIV
Focus: v. 46, NIV

So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

There was no fanfare at the death of Jesus. It was just – over. He was just – dead. What more could be said or done – now.  The Master was gone. But wait . . . there was still something to be done. The body needed to be properly buried. Left to the Romans it would likely have been thrown onto the garbage heap and left there for the carrion eaters. Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple, boldly goes to Pilate and asks for the body. Pilate is surprised that Jesus is already dead. Most lingered on much longer but the work of Jesus was finished – almost. Pilate gets confirmation from the Centurion in charge of the crucifixion and releases Jesus’ body to Joseph. Remember that the Sabbath is about to begin and Joseph has little time so he quickly wraps the body in cloth and places it in a stone tomb, one cut out of rock, and then rolls a large stone in front of the entrance. We are also told that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joseph saw where they laid Jesus’ body. All have gone now. The only ones to remain would be the soldiers ordered to make the tomb site secure that no one could steal the body away and make spurious claims about it. All who cared are gone. Gone because of the Sabbath but they planned to return when the Sabbath was over.

What about Jesus now? Was everything he did and said for nothing? It sure seems to be the case. His body now lies in a stone tomb – stone cold tomb! It is the end of everything he stood for. It is the end of all His wonderful ministry of compassion. It was the end of three wonderful years of fellowship with the disciple band. It was the end of opportunities for the women who followed Him to minister to His needs. That will have to wait for Sunday when they can come to anoint His body with spices.

This stone-cold tomb holds now all that is left of a once vibrant, loving, compassionate person who spoke clearly against the “establishment” and its tightly held grip on the spiritual needs of the people. All is now quiet as the rest of the world solemnly goes to their homes and their beds and preparations for the Sabbath. The disciples are gone now, scattered in fear. Others speak quietly in the night about the events of that terrible day.

All Jesus has now is a borrowed STONE-COLD TOMB! It is Friday and Sunday is coming when . . .

Greater Love

April 14, 2017 – Good Friday
greater love
Read:  John 15:9 – 17, NIV
Focus:  v. 13, NIV

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

In the midst of preparing these devotionals for this Lenten season, I remarked to our pastor that these devotionals are getting deeper and deeper theologically. He agreed with me. The one I was thinking of was this particular portion of Scripture where Jesus is directly speaking to the soon to be enacted events that took place during the Passover. This is so pointed and poignant; filled with meaning and pathos. I love Christmas and the stories from the Bible about it because that is sort of where it all started but Easter and the event leading up to it are at the top of my list because this is the culmination of why Jesus came as that tiny infant.

Love, real love, is at the center of this. This is love that is totally based on the Source of love – even more than that, it is based on LOVE, Itself! I did not use the word “Itself” lightly. Love is a person, a being. This is the Being – God – who created us and who has interacted with us down through the ages to show His love, His being, to us. Love, and the proof of that love, is preeminent throughout this portion. In here Jesus speaks of His relationship with His Father – God and His Father’s relationship with Him as being that of love. He brings it home to each of His disciples, including us, just how much that love is really at the center of everything we are and do and of who he is and what He does.

Twice in this short passage Jesus emphasizes what our relationship with each other is to be (see vv. 12 and 17). He even puts it as a command to emphasize its tremendous importance. I wonder sometimes how well we fulfill that command. I suspect you wonder also. This is of such importance that the beloved disciple, John, also reiterates it in his short letters. Is it any wonder that John’s writings are so beloved by most believers? I am struggling not to write a complete series of sermons right here and right now! Isn’t love at the center of God’s Word to us? John 3:16 puts it quite succinctly for all of us. So much so, that I don’t even have the need to quote it here. You are already remembering that verse in your own heart and mind.

It is time now to focus on our focus verse, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13, NIV). Jesus is making a statement here that he reiterates in succeeding verses about friendship rather than servanthood. Friends are privy to much more of the personal life of another friend. Things are shared back and forth between friends that would not be shared with a co-worker or servant or employee. They have their function or place in our life but do not have the same privileges with us that a friend has. Jesus appears to be inviting them into His inner circle, a place previously reserved only for His relationship with His Father, God. The statement made is indicating the importance of His relationship with them. He is willing, and will, die for them. They really do not understand this yet but later on they will grasp the depth of this whole conversation. John is writing this after nearly 60 years of pondering under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. The depth here is amazing.

Even more for us is the fact that this is not meant just for the initial group of disciples but is applicable to all who believe and thus become not servants but Friends of Jesus. My landlord, while attending Roberts Wesleyan College, was a Free Methodist evangelist who ministered for many years in Kansas and throughout the Midwest. His name was Rev. Warren Chase, and he had tremendous impact on my life during the almost 3 years I had the privilege of being around him. His favorite hymn was, “Friendship with Jesus.” It is an old one that is not often found in hymnals of today. Some lines from the chorus are: “Friendship with Jesus, Fellowship divine; O what wondrous sweet communion, Jesus is a Friend of Mine!” Aren’t you glad that Jesus is a Friend to you? If you do not yet know Him as your friend then it is my prayer that you would have that relationship with Him.

The Crucifixion – Wine, Part 2

April 13, 2017 – Maundy Thursday
crucifixion
Read: Mark 15:33 – 40
Focus: v. 36

One man ran and filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

We enter now into the final verses of Jesus’ life. No longer are we talking about a final chapter. Time is getting very short. Jesus is still on the cross at this point and it follows a very long time of Jesus being awake. Nowhere is there any indication that, from sometime Thursday morning (likely at sunrise near 6:00 AM when He would have risen for a day which included partaking  of a Passover Feast with His disciples and ended with His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane), Jesus had an opportunity to sleep. From then on He was in the hands of the Temple guards and dragged from place to place for His trials and beaten severely. This became so bad that he could not even carry his cross to the place of crucifixion. It is unlikely that all this time after the Passover Feast that Jesus has had anything to eat or drink. We wrote in an earlier devotional that he was offered wine mixed with myrrh to deaden the pain of crucifixion and enable Him to live longer and therefore suffer longer. Jesus, we are told, refused that wine so that He would experience the full impact of His act of redemption on behalf of all mankind.

The crucifixion was at 9:00 AM and in our scripture reading for today it has reached about 3:00 PM. Jesus has been on that cross for six hours of excruciating pain throughout His body. He has suffered from loss of sleep, beatings and the continued bleeding from the crucifixion wounds as well as the wounds from His beatings. All this means tremendous pain. He is thirsty but receives nothing, according to Mark, until after He makes His final cry from the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) After this, to mock Him, those standing by offer him “sour wine” (nearly vinegar) so they can hear if He says anything else. They thought he was calling to Elijah and wanted to see if Elijah came to take Him from the cross. Did Jesus accept the “sour wine”? Once again He refuses. Why? Because it was His responsibility to bear the full amount of pain and suffering from the crucifixion so that our sins would be paid for in full. He took no shortcuts to accomplish our redemption! Shortly after being offered the “sour wine” Jesus calls out loudly once more and “breathed His last.”

Salvation was now accomplished and Jesus was freed from this earthly life. Never again would He be bound by earthly things but after His resurrection would be free to return to His Father. Twice wine was offered to give some succor to the Savior and twice he refused. No one would be able to say He took any shortcuts to do the work the Father sent Him to do. In this respect also He is our example as believers. Do we take shortcuts while doing the Lord’s bidding?

The Rest of the Story

April 6, 2017 – Thursday
baby jesus
Read:  Galatians 4:4, TLB and Matthew 20:28, TLB
Focus:  Gal. 4:4, TLB and Matt. 20:28, TLB

But when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a Jew, 

“Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”

We all love the Christmas story, don’t we? A sweet little baby is born to a young couple under less than ideal circumstances. Neighboring shepherds spread the news of angels visiting and proclaiming peace because of His birth. The local ruler is jealous and tries to have Him killed and so the family flees to a safer place. Some really nice rich guys are led by a star to bring the baby strange, but meaningful, gifts, and the whole event is news for a while but then dies down for years. We see little of the baby boy for many years and the story is just that – a good story and maybe a new holiday to celebrate.

But then, one day a grown man appears on the scene and begins doing miracles. He and his friends travel about doing good, but we are getting all kinds of flak from local leaders and spiritual guys. He claims to be the Son of God, but lots of these people know he is just that little baby all grown up – they don’t believe his claim. Ah, but some believe and begin to follow Him! This angers and threatens the big wigs so things are set in motion to take him to trial and kill Him on a cross. Trouble is, He doesn’t stay dead! He rises again and stirs things up for a while before going back to heaven and leading a movement from there that will last forever!

In the book written about all this, the writer of Galatians talks about the baby’s birth in this way:  “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4, KJV). When the time was right, Christ was born. The Christmas story had its beginnings many years before it was told.

But then, in that same Book, Matthew relates that: “The son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). In other words, He was BORN TO DIE!  Jesus, Himself, said that He “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, KJV). We all have sinned and the penalty for sin is death. But God chose to send His Son, Jesus, to pay that penalty for us, once and for all. The truth of Christmas is that Jesus came for Easter. He came to die in our place so that forgiveness from sin and assurance of Heaven could be offered to all who believe. Have you accepted this gift of salvation? If not, let Easter 2017 be the day you take full possession of God’s Christmas present to you. Then you will know The REST of the (Christmas) Story: John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (KJV).

Day 47 – Up From the Grave He Arose!

Easter Sunday – March 27, 2016

Day 47 – John 20:1-18 risen

Focus: vss. 14-16

 

14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Every good story has a moment where all seems lost before a glorious climax where the good guys pull out a stunning victory. John is telling just such a story. We get three years-worth of Jesus battling the bad guys and doing amazing things. He’s the hero of the story and everyone is pulling for Him. But the bad guys are getting angrier and angrier and you know that it’s all going to come to a head. Finally the bad guys do what bad guys do – they fight dirty. So they arrest Jesus and level false charges against him. According to the other gospels they bring in false witnesses to solidify their case before handing Him over to the Roman authorities. John shortens the story a bit and gives you the bare details. There is a trial, there is a crucifixion, there is a resurrection. The crucifixion is the moment where the bad guys have won. Jesus loses. This can’t be. Then the glorious climax when the tomb is found empty and Jesus walks out alive and well.

These are some great verses. Peter and John see the empty tomb and go home but Mary Magdalene stays behind and weeps for Jesus. Then she peers into the tomb and sees something very unusual: two angels are sitting where the once-dead Jesus was. She asks where they took the body of her Lord and then another guy shows up. It’s Jesus but she doesn’t recognize Him. I wonder if she couldn’t see through the tears or her mind just couldn’t fit the puzzle together as she knew well that Jesus had died on that cross. How could he possibly be here now? So he says her name and suddenly she knows who he is.

Jesus called her name and she recognized his voice. The Shepherd called to his sheep and she recognized his voice. It’s an amazing moment when Jesus calls your name. I’d recognize that voice anywhere. It’s the voice of the Risen Savior. Climax. The grave couldn’t hold him. Death couldn’t beat him. Satan couldn’t win. All seemed lost until the stone rolled away and Jesus walked out alive.

Do you realize what Jesus has done for you? We’re fond of saying that Jesus died for you but, even more importantly, Jesus lives for you. His death provided the sacrifice to pay the penalty of all the sins of humanity. His blood can wash our hearts clean. But if the Savior doesn’t defeat death, then we can never defeat death. Jesus defeats death on our behalf. Jesus has won the victory and you can have eternal life because He lives.

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. Thank you for defeating death so that I might live eternally. Thank you for loving me unconditionally. Help me to live my life knowing that it is a gift from you. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

The True Light Has Come

Easter CrossJohn 1:9-12, 14, 16-17

                 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

What a blessed morning to receive our Risen Savior!  The women who went to Jesus’ tomb that morning were surprised to find something special had happened.  Jesus said it would happen and yet He still took everyone by surprise.  And I’ll admit that you should seriously question what you hear if I told you I was going to die and then rise in three days.  You’d think I was crazy.  Yet this is Jesus we’re talking about.  Even those closest to him, those who had a pretty good idea of who He was, were caught off guard by this.

Those who loved Jesus were in mourning.  It was grief they were feeling that day and they were busy trying to figure out how to move on with their lives.  Everything they had expected fell apart and faded away.  Everything they thought would happen died with Jesus on that cross.

Maybe that’s where they needed to be.  Maybe this was the last step in Jesus’ plan to turn the disciples, and the world, on their ears and change the way they thought about everything.  Everything had to die on that cross with Jesus before it could rise with Him and once again come under the rule of God.  All their hopes and dreams.  All their thoughts and expectations.  All risen with our Savior that morning.

Where are your hopes and dreams this morning?  Where are your thoughts and expectations?  Have they died on that cross with Jesus?  That’s the only way they will be risen with Jesus.

Jesus is the True Light and the world still doesn’t recognize Him.  “Yet to all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He has given the right to become children of God.”  God’s action on our behalf wasn’t completed at the cross, it was completed at the resurrection.  Death isn’t defeated without the Resurrection.

I hope you can praise Jesus with me today.  He is our hope, He is our life.  He bore our sins upon that cross.  He was crucified on our behalf.  He has also risen on our behalf.  Our God is alive!

Happy Easter!