Month: March 2024

Words From the Cross- Part 4

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

Mark 15:34

Jesus suffered six hours on the cross from 9 am-3 pm; and cried out with a loud voice these words which He drew from King David’s psalm (22:1)“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” At the typically brightest part of day,three hours of unnatural darkness had come upon the earth—it was during the third hour of this darkness that Jesus cried out in pain and loneliness of spiritual and mental torment due to the sin that He bore on our behalf. For the first time, a separation between the Father and the Son had taken place; and He suffered the pain and separation that we—not He—deserved!

It is noteworthy that at this point, Jesus used the term “My God” rather than “Father”…a departure from the warm term of close relationship that He had always used to address God. Some have maintained that Jesus was not really abandoned by God; that it was only His perception due to indescribable suffering. Yet, Jesus was not subject to emotions nor was He given to hyperbole; He could not be deceived, nor would He believe a lie. We can hardly grasp the horror and filthiness of the sins in His cup, nor the magnitude of wrath poured out on all the evil by a holy and just God. Jesus was in fact, truly isolated—totally alone (“forsaken”) in the universe; but the price was paid…righteous wrath was satisfied, and we are the beneficiaries. 2 Corinthians 5:21 sums it up this way, “For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In light of all of this, how much more precious and reassuring is Jesus’ promise that He would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5); and, it is also greatly reassuring to remember that Psalm 22 ends in hope and triumph:

Words From the Cross- Part 3

“Woman [dear woman], behold your son!”

“Behold your mother!”

John 19: 26-27

Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, has died and Mary, His mother, is probably a widow in her early fifties with little or no income. The scriptures cited above echo the loving care Jesus had for His mother: despite the agony He was suffering, His mind was on the pain and welfare of Mary. He made provision for her by entrusting her to John, fulfilling and adhering to the 5th Commandment to honor parents (Exodus 20:12), while at the same time, observing Jewish law that required the oldest son to take responsibility for his parents should the need arise. Without exception, Jesus always fulfilled prophesy perfectly, obeyed the law perfectly, and kept His word perfectly (Mt. 5: 17).

…all these things being accomplished while He was still agonizing on the cross!

Words From the Cross- Part 2

Both criminals had initially reviled Jesus (see Mark 15:32); yet, we learn in these verses that one thief later asked Jesus to remember him…

Although Jesus was suffering as a criminal, just as the two criminals on each side of Him were, this man understood that Jesus was totally innocent, while both of them were guilty and deserving of their fate. Moreover, this thief recognized that Jesus was indeed “King” just as the words over His head stated—“This is Jesus, King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:3, ) because he said, “when you come into YOUR [emphasis added] Kingdom…” Perhaps this man had heard of Jesus’ teaching and miracles; or perhaps, the actions and forgiving attitude of Jesus powerfully proved that He was the Son of God. Whatever softened this criminal’s heart, the result was, in my opinion, a repentant attitude and words of confession. Confession is aptly defined as “coming into agreement with God about one’s sin”; thus, the thief was agreeing with God that his criminal actions and lifestyle were deserving of punishment.

However, the best part of this exchange is Jesus’ immediate and merciful response, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Notice, this man never had a chance to earn any part of his salvation by doing “good” deeds (works), just as we cannot earn our salvation in any way whatsoever (Galatians 2:16). This thief understood Jesus did it all—Jesus earned for us what we could never accomplish; in fact, he witnessed it first-hand! And, the same is true for us today: It is by grace we “have been saved through faith; and this is not [our] own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians. 2:8-9).

Words From the Cross

Isaiah 53: 6- “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

The accounts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are recorded in all four Gospels. Each one contains a saying of Jesus while he was on the cross, but none contain all that He said. We would do well to remember that each word our Savior uttered required tremendous effort and determination, because death by crucifixion was brought on by the inability to breathe—in weakness and exhaustion, the body would sag, which required one to use their feet to push up to draw a breath. Yet, undoubtedly for our benefit and the benefit of those witnessing this event, Jesus spoke out loud the words we would need to hear. None of the gospels went into great detail about the horrors of crucifixion, and I will not explore it here; but suffice it to say that it was the cruelest of punishments.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These words of Jesus are recorded only in Luke, and according to general consensus, are the first utterance Jesus said from the cross. Stephen’s prayer as he was being martyred comes to mind, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Verse 55 says that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit”, demonstrating that a mere mortal can be enabled—through the power of the Spirit—to love others above self to the point of genuinely forgiving those totally undeserving of such grace. And so our Lord—suffering as a human being—petitioned the Father on behalf of the very ones who mercilessly reviled Him: The thieves, the passers-by, the soldiers…the people who did not know what they were doing; those that acted ignorantly in unbelief. As Paul said about himself before he was saved, “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1: 13).

Jesus described Himself as “meek and lowly of heart(Mt. 11: 29). Meek can best be defined as power under control…nowhere is this more powerfully demonstrated than at this time when, instead of calling down angels or cursing his tormentors, Jesus instead, petitioned for their forgiveness! It seems significant that Jesus asked the Father to forgive them instead of forgiving them Himself, as He had forgiven sins and had the authority to do during His ministry. Perhaps the people needed a chance to repent and freely choose Him as their Redeemer, which had not yet occurred.

As He had done His entire life, Jesus lived what He taught (read Mt. 5: 38-42); in fact, through His actions and words, He was teaching us how to forgive others, even as He hung on the cross. With these first words, Jesus exampled—in the most powerful way possible—true selflessness by forgiving the thoroughly undeserving, unbelieving revilers. Yes, He was truly “lowly of heart” full of mercy and grace—the kind of heart demonstrated in the Parable of the Fig tree found in Mark 13: 6-9:

The owner of a vineyard wanted a barren fig tree cut down, but his vine dresser intervened and asked for him to delay his decision so that the tree could be given every benefit and favor for success. I believe this vine dresser exemplifies the Savior’s heart, which is full of love—the kind of love that offers every chance for salvation. Praise God that we are beneficiaries of the Savior’s lowly (humble) heart of patience and mercy!

Over the next few posts, we will learn more about the words Jesus spoke from the cross.

The True Value of Education

EDUCATE: To develop and cultivate mentally or morally; to make fit for a calling by systematic instruction.

Society tends to regard education as an indication of intelligence and achievement according to their worldly standards. In fact, by way of secular thought, it is often held that the more education one has, the smarter he or she must be; the more titles and higher degrees, the more highly the scholar should be regarded. Yet, the Bible does not seem to view people according to these standards. Most of the disciples were not highly educated…they were described as “unlearned”; yet the educated Jewish High Court marveled at the teachings of Peter and John (John 7:15), and then they realized that “they [Peter and John] had been with Jesus.” Indeed, the disciples had been thoroughly cultivated In the knowledge of the Kingdom and the ways of God by Christ Himself…and the educated Jews were astonished.

All of this is not to say that seeking education is not a worthwhile pursuit. Hosea 4:6 states that, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” In this particular verse, the accurate translation of knowledge is “in the highest sense, knowledge of God, including obedience.” Therefore, to measure mental, moral, or particularly spiritual maturity primarily on the basis of the amount of formal education one has achieved is short-sighted and presumptive. It is always wise to remember that the value of education is not measured by the number of degrees or grades, but whether a student has been effectively equipped for God’s purposes. This education—formal or informal—may not unfold according to the expectations of the world. Nevertheless, by whatever means instruction is achieved, the most valued outcome is that believers are equipped and readied to carry out God’s plan for them with an informed mind and humbled heart.

The Power of Conviction

Genuine, helpful conviction is from the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each and every true believer in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16). Unlike self-condemnation or condemnation from the enemy, Holy Spirit conviction is not vague, but specific regarding our sin(s). Because of this, we can understand how to pray specifically and take hold of appropriate Scripture to counter condemning accusations. Conviction of truth by the Spirit helps us to change and assures us that God will keep His promises; indeed, we will be blessed when we heed Spirit-led promptings.

On the other hand, condemnation from our flesh, the world, or Satan only misleads and discourages us. It is when we experience this condemnation that we need to take up the Sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) and counter each and every disparaging lie with scripture. Furthermore, when we are rightly convicted about specific wrongdoing, a path to true repentance becomes clear and we are enabled to accurately agree with God about our sins, be forgiven, and cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Not only is restoration to joy and fruitful living made possible, it is indeed God’s graceful and loving intention as He convicts us by his Spirit (Psalm 32: 3-5).

“Godly grief over sin is the waiting room leading to repentance.”

Quote from Olan Stubbs

Conviction vs Condemnation

Condemnation– Act of pronouncing to be wrong or disapproved of. Act of declaring guilty.

Conviction– Strong persuasion or belief

Both condemnation and conviction can cause people to grieve over their sins; therefore, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two. However, condemnation and conviction differ radically in their origin, in the power to help overcome sin, and as to whether we are equipped to live our lives in genuine freedom and joy.

Have you ever experienced a vague sense that something is wrong with you, but you can’t pinpoint exactly what it might be? In fact, you might have no idea about how to deal with such condemning grief or how to change.Personal sinfulness can seem heavy and burdensome without solution—perhaps to the extent that one experiences hopeless shame, and in despair begins to believe that change isn’t possible or that they will ever be able to merit God’s concern. For believers in Christ Jesus, this kind of condemnation is always a lie (Romans 8:1).

The fact is, Satan is unable to steal our salvation, so he will use condemnation in order to steal our joy (our strength-Nehemiah 8:10), which could leave us feeling weak and hopeless—full of shame. We might (out of fleshly pride) try to hide our failures and weaknesses from others, or attempt to please God through good works to alleviate our guilty consciences. But, the only place we should hide is in Christ Jesus, our refuge and strength—in Whom we can receive the Lord’s promises, when we receive them in faith. Shame/condemnation pronounces us guilty and deficient; but, like Paul, we can discover that God’s grace is sufficient and powerful for all of our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).

The Holy Spirit is the source of genuine conviction—He causes us to be strongly persuaded in truth. We will examine the power of conviction in the next post.

This Is Love For God

Jesus gave two simple commandments that He declared were the very foundation for the whole of the the Law and the Prophets. In other words, all of the numerous laws found in the Old Testament essentially boil down to loving God and loving others. We cannot accomplish such selfless and self-sacrificing love (agape love) by our own will and power—we need the Holy Spirit’s power, motivation, and wisdom to do so.

1 John 5:3 tells us how—by the Spirit—we will be able to love God; and as a result, love others: “This is the love of God: to obey His commands; and His commands are not burdensome.” When we obey the two commands Jesus gave to us, we demonstrate in the most overt way possible that we truly love our Lord. This is not the kind of obedience that comes from law-keeping to earn our salvation in any way. No, it is the obedience that springs out of our hearts to honor, respect, and show genuine love for the Father…from a Spirit-filled desire to obey that first flows from his love for us (1 John 4:19); and then out of that abundance, our love for Him.

Victory Is Assured

I have a favorite college basketball team that I cheer for against any opponent; but admittedly, there are times I can get somewhat agitated over “bad calls” against my team ; )

We were invited to an all-afternoon cookout recently, which meant that we were going to miss a major game…against a major rival. Fortunately, we had subscribed to a network that offered recording capability; so of course, we recorded the game. On the way home from the party, we checked to find out who won the game—it was my team! Since we had decided to watch the recording only if we won, we quickly tuned in as soon as we arrived home. In a way, the game was more enjoyable because we were able to view it with more calmness and peace, knowing that no matter how unjust the officiating appeared to us or how fiercely the game was played; we would nevertheless, win in the end—our victory was assured!

During my devotion time the next morning, it occurred to me that believers can live their lives with calmness and peace much like we experienced when we viewed the replay of the game. That is, no matter how unjust and fiercely difficult the world becomes, we can absolutely know the game is already won—our victory in Christ is assured!

Keep Watch and Pray- Conclusion

In the last post, the account of Jesus and His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane was summarized. Jesus asked His disciples to keep watch and pray; yet, they continued to fall asleep each time Jesus returned to prayer.

The following application for believers today is a matter of my personal meditation based on these scriptures and the belief in Jesus’ promised return:

First, Jesus asked those closest to Him to keep watch, which literally means to “take heed lest through remission (put off or let slacken) and indolence (lazy; indulging in ease) some destructive calamity overtake you.” This strongly parallels with Luke 21: 36, where Jesus admonished believers concerning end-time prophesy, to “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass…” Few will say that we are not at least experiencing the type of calamities described here and other in prophetic passages that strongly caution us in these times.

WE MUST WATCH: We need to overcome the temptation to take our ease and cling to our comforts in a world that is full of tribulation; and instead, regard with great care all that is taking place lest we too are overtaken with the destruction. All the while, being faithful to pray so that we are not tempted to give up, forsake Christ, deny reality, become disobedient and self-centered; or any number of fleshly failures under the pressure of harsh truths or the prospect of suffering.

Here is the sobering reality of such failure: The hour could be at hand—perhaps we will be caught off guard and unprepared. We will in essence be asleep and not alert until it is too late to powerfully and effectively live out our faith for the sake of others. With such disobedience and indifference, will we be counted worthy at the end of the age (Luke 21: 36)?