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The Crucifixion

March 29th, 2013

The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Galatians 2:20b

By the time the sun had risen on Friday morning, Christ had been arrested, hauled to the High Priest’s house, denied thrice by Peter, falsely accused, cruelly abused with slaps and punches to the face, and condemned by the Sanhedrin, the religious supreme court of the Jews. Somewhere in the dark recesses of the high priest’s house, perhaps in the cellar where archeologists have uncovered dungeon-like holding rooms, Christ was chained as the others rested till dawn. What thoughts He must have had in those moments are clearly laid out in the biblical record, that He had come to do the will of God, from the first to the last, from the easiest to the most difficult.

As the sun rose and warmed the earth, He was taken to Pilate, who sent Him to Herod, who sent Him back to Pilate. Both questioned and ridiculed Him, Herod more than Pilate, but neither found any fault with Him. Pilate had wished to release Him, after a good flogging, just to make a point we assume, but the Sanhedrin’s representatives insisted on His death. The Jewish form of execution was stoning, but the Roman form of crucifixion was crueler and it appeared to be their preference for Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate sentenced Him to death by crufixion, then flogged first, ridiculed and abused further by the guards, who placed a crown of thorns on His head and struck Him repeatedly on the head with the reed that had become the mock scepter, He was led out to crucifixion.

The crown of thorns pushed down upon His head was not comfortable at all, but compared to the other abuses, was only slight. The symbol of it was the more painful, mocking the thought that this Man could be considered a king. Kings have power and He had none. Kings evoked fear and obedience, and He was ridiculed. At first He carried His cross, perhaps just the cross-beam, it is unclear, but it was a load He was clearly unable to bear. The soldiers called upon a Simon of Cyrene to carry it for him. He came to the place of His death. His hands and legs were stretched out by soldiers used to this type of execution, and hardened by it, and nails were driven in, fixing Him to the wood. Then, with Christ on it, the cross was lifted up and fell into the socket of earth meant to hold it.  All there was left to do now was to wait for death to come.

For several hours He hung there, surrounded by criminals, a few friends, and many enemies. Scripture records seven things He said from the cross:

The first, to God: “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

The second, to the believing criminal: “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

The third, to his mother and John: “Woman, here is your son. Son, here is your mother,” Passing the responsibility for his mother’s care to the youngest disciple, John.

The fourth, the only recorded in Aramaic: “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?”

The fifth, an expression of the agony of crucifixion: “I am thirsty.”

The sixth, an announcement of His accomplished atonement for sin: “It is finished!”

The seventh, and last, to God: “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.”

Each expression gives insight into the sufferings and into His heart, but it is the fourth and middle one that stands out as the central theme of the cross, and the only one recorded by Matthew and Mark. He was forsaken of God on the cross. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He gave His life for us. The face of God the Father turned away from the Son as the guilt and sorrow of the world was placed upon Him. The cross was not merely a display of compassion, though it profoundly commends the love of God to us. The cross was an event where the Son bore our sins in His own body, where He became the sacrificial Lamb for us.

To plumb the depths of the sufferings of Christ calls for a spiritual and mental capacity that we simply do not possess. What little we are able to grasp tells us that our sin problem is great, that we are an offense to God and deserve condemnation. But it also tells us that we are greatly loved by God. Christ faced the cross alone, for the matter really was between the Godhead. It answers the question, “How can Holy God forgive us?” The cross provides the basis of our salvation. Christ gave Himself for us. The cross was a demonstration of the love of God for us, but more than only a demonstration. Upon the cross our forgiveness and salvation was purchased. As Paul wrote, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21).

Then the apostle inspired of God added these words that place the cross of Christ into our own experience.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
”For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

Our hearts can only say, “Lord, Jesus, I repent and trust in You,” and “Alleluia! What a Savior!” Isaac watts, in 1707, penned the words that have since helped believers to express their thoughts of gratitude for the Savior’s death.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Prayer:

Lord, on this Friday we remember Your death and may we ever be amazed at Your profound love for us. You could have walked away from the cross but love compelled You. Let us today have the spirit of true repentance and true faith in You. Let us live today in these fleshly bodies by the faith in You who loved us and gave Yourself for us. Amen.

Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)

The Last Thursday

March 28th, 2013

Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?

John 18:11

As the sun rose on Thursday morning of Holy Week Christ awoke from what would be His last night’s rest. He remained in Bethany that morning and sent Peter and John into Jerusalem to make preparations for the Passover meal, then at some point in the afternoon He traveled to the city Himself. Thursday was a day of “lasts”: His last entrance into Jerusalem, His last Passover, His Last Supper, His last journey to Gethsemane, and His last teaching before the cross.

There came a point in His ministry when the emphasis in His teaching changed. He continued to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven to the crowds, but He also began to pull His disciples aside for more in depth instructions. It remains so to this day, that the gospel is preached to the unbelieving world, so that they might hear and believe, but to the believer the message is personalized. The unbelieving world sees Christ from a different vantage point than the community of faith. We read in the Bible that day shall come when “they shall look upon him whom they pierced” (Rev. 1:7; Zech. 12:10) and mourn. The last time the unbelieving world saw Jesus of Nazareth was at His piercing as a Roman soldier ran a spear through His heart and lungs to determine His death. Christ appeared in His resurrected body only to believers (1 Cor. 15:3-8), and the instruction we receive as believers is likewise of a different nature. The information is not hidden, of course, for an unbeliever may read the Scripture as well as a believer, but he cannot understand it as a believer can. Paul wrote,

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:12-14

So it is not that we believers are better people in and of ourselves, but that we are enlightened by the Spirit of God. God continues to pull us aside by His Spirit and through His word to receive special instruction, special insight into His heart and mind.

One of the great differences is how it applies to our lives, that the promises of God become personalized to believers, and the Spirit of God impresses these things upon our hearts. For example, if I read of someone who has inherited a huge estate, I can perfectly understand what that means but it does not really mean anything to me personally. If however, I learn that I have personally inherited a huge estate, well that is very different and my reaction is entirely different. It has become my reality, no longer mere information but now it has become my experience. So it is with the promises of God, they are personalized for a believer. But beyond this personalizing of the promises of God are the experiences of the leading and empowering of the Spirit and the closeness of Christ to us.

How much greater the difference, however, to see someone who has a loving father, to see them interact, to exchange glances. I may envy such a person and wish for such a father. But then, if that father’s gaze connects with my eyes, and the love and affection, the relationship itself is now directed to me personally, if He calls me His son – why that makes all the difference in the world! This is the heart of Christ’s ministry, to reconcile us to our heavenly Father, to teach us not merely that there is a Father in heaven, but that He is our Father in heaven.

This very concept Christ wanted to instill within His disciples these last hours of His earthly ministry. He ministered to them not merely through His teaching but also through His example and presence. In some ways we see that Christ’s circumstances in ministry remained as unchanged as when He began – the disciples still quarreling over who is the greatest, Judas still not believing, His confidants still sleeping instead of praying, and, unquestionably the greatest unchanged factor, Christ still completely committed to His mission. The inspired author of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and the actions of Jesus in this last day of ministry reveal that to be the case. He is as patient and committed at the end as He was at the beginning.

Why does He not stop just long enough to really rebuke the immaturity of the disciples? When they argue about who is the greatest, why doesn’t He just shout, “I am! Now be quiet!” But that is not His heart, and instead He takes off His outer clothes, takes the form of a servant and washes their feet. It was the gentle rebuke of love that breaks stubborn bones. The meltdown of Moses, who exploded in anger at the constant immaturity of the people and struck the rock with his staff, is not repeated with Christ. With a gentle firmness He touches every failure around Him: the disciple’s boasting, the slowness of their faith, even the betrayal of Judas, as well as the denial of Peter. The cup the Father gave Him to drink was not merely sipped from, but consumed to the dregs.

Christ knew what the others did not. He knew that the sacrifice he was about to make would completely satisfy the requirements of Holy God to offer forgiveness to sinners like you and me. He knew that the resurrection lay ahead. He knew that the Holy Spirit would descend upon the church to baptize believers with His presence and power, to seal and indwell, to lead and guide, to transform and flood hearts with His love. He knew that all would not end at the moment of the cross, but that did not remove the pain of the physical torments or the greater pain of the spiritual torments, when He who knew no sin became sin for us.

As the sun set and the night darkened and the time of His ministry slipped away He prayed. The last moments before arrest were spent in the company of disciples, in an example of servanthood, in teaching them about the Holy Spirit, and in prayer. No frantic hurrying to make sure all things were done. They were. He ends His public ministry as he began it: on His knees praying for His disciples. In this setting He uttered these words to his disciples.

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

We have His peace as our gift from our Savior. He has overcome the world and the events that were about to unfold would accomplish our salvation, would purchase our victory, and would commend the love of God to us.

He prayed to the Father asking that we might be sanctified by his truth, that we might be united in our hearts with one another, and that we might see His glory revealed in our hearts.

I have made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.

John 17:26

And there the day with the disciples ends, the last day before the cross spent on earth as their Teacher, the soldiers are coming to Olivet, steps in cadence and the rustling of armor can be heard. The disciples are confused, angry, fearful, and caught off guard. But the Lord as calm as when He faced the crowds at Nazareth who wished to stone Him, as at peace as when He calmed the waters of Galilee, as great as when His humanity was pealed back and His true deity was revealed before three disciples, now is as silent as a sheep before the shearers, a kiss from the betraying disciple the last gentle touch He receives from humanity…

Prayer:

Lord, we are amazed at Your steadfastness in purpose, of your commitment to Your mission to bring us salvation, and of Your gentleness and strength.  Lord, we worship you. We bow before You, aware of our weaknesses, but believing that You can place Your peace, Your truth, and Your love in our hearts. Do so even now, Lord. Amen.

Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)