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Archive for March, 2013

The Sabbath Rest of Christ

March 30th, 2013

Therefore since we have a great high priest how has passed through the heavens - Jesus the Son of God - let us hold fast to the confession.

Hebrews 4:14

After Christ was buried and the sun set on Friday, except for a statement about the priests stationing a guard around the tomb, the story of Jesus’ death is silent until Sunday morning. Luke mentions that the disciples rested since it was the Sabbath, and Christ also rested from His work. For the second time in history God had finished completing a work on Friday and rested on the Sabbath. The first Sabbath rest of God was at creation, after six days of creative work God rested on the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2). He rested not out of fatigue and exhaustion, but because His work of creation had been completed. We may say that He rested out of respect for His creation that He had brought into existence.

Now following the crucifixion we see again that God the Son is resting on the Sabbath from His work completed on Friday. As on the cross Christ cried, “It is finished!” He announced that the sacrifice had been paid in full, His earthly mission completed. And He rested from His work. One may argue that Christ was exhausted, that was how crucifixion brought about death, but after death Christ was no longer tired, just as we believers will not be tired after our own deaths. The Sabbath Day following the death of Christ serves in a similar way to the Sabbath of creation - to call attention to the completed work of Christ for our salvation, to come to a full stop, we might say, so that it can be recognized that the payment was made in full. It seems that for just a few hours all of heaven looked at the sacrifice of Christ and recognized in unison that it was sufficient for our salvation.

The Apostles’ Creed states that Christ descended into hell, taking a hint from Ephesians 4:9, and intricate theologies have been framed around the necessity of Christ also suffering in the fires of hell for our sins. Apart from the Ephesians passage, however, except for an equally difficult passage to understand, 1 Peter 3:18-20, about Him preaching to those who died in the days of Noah, the Bible remains silent on the matter. If it was necessary for Christ to suffer in hell for our sins then that is where He went. All that was required He accomplished.

But the transaction had an end to it. His suffering came to an end. Christ paid the price in full, and rested from His work for our salvation. If you have ever made the last payment on something you know the relief that comes with having done so. Accounts are settled, nothing more is due.

What confidence this gives to the confessor. We come now boldly before the throne of God, not in our own name, nor in our own payment of atonements, not in our good works or our promises of better performance in the future, not even in the name of our sorrow, but in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, crucified for our sins. He is the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, and this means ours, yours and mine.

Think of the most difficult matters of your life for God to forgive. The “seven deadly sins” give us a simple panoramic view of our typical weaknesses: pride, gluttony, sloth, lust, envy, wrath, and greed. We can let the Spirit search us entirely for there is an answer from God for every need we have for cleansing and for growth: the cross of Christ.

Let God search you this evening. Let His Spirit examine your heart and your soul, not just your actions but your values and inner thoughts. Let the blood of Christ be applied wherever you have failed. Humbly accept that this is the only way you can be acceptable to God: through your faith in the sacrificial death of Christ Jesus for your sins. Agree with the Spirit about whatever He points out to you and with the conviction He will bring assurance that you can be completely forgiven and cleansed.

Prayer:

Lord, we come before You both boldly and humbly, admitting our weaknesses, confessing our faults, and trusting that on Calvary the price was paid for our sins. Amen.

Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)

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)