A Prayer Prompted by Mark 15:22-41

Dear Lord Jesus,

You said during the time of your ministry, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Little did your disciples know at the time how that would happen or how it would look.

Now, having been accused, tried and sentenced, we see what you went through for us.  The humiliation, the pain and the suffering were all to pay the price for our sins.  You paid this ransom so that we could walk free.

You refused to come down from the cross.  You endured the abandonment of your disciples, which was tragic, but also of the very Father who sent you, at your greatest moment of need.  Such grief is thankfully beyond our experience. 

How fitting that those who passed by derided you, illustrating how badly we all needed the work your were completing at that moment.  How perfect also was the darkness that descended, dimming the view of the worst of your suffering from those present, and likewise from the rest of us who would read of it later,  And you died among thieves, like the worst of common criminals.

All of this you did for us.  We thank you for bearing our sin.  We thank you for paying the price for our salvation.  We thank you for the humility you expressed so that we might be glorified with you someday, and will know that glorified state for all eternity.

This is how we know what love is.

Thank you Jesus.

Amen.

The weight of sin – Mark 15:33-39

Last week we looked at Gethsemane.  Today we see Jesus die on the cross.  This is when he felt the weight of our sin upon him.  And it felt like being completely forsaken by God.  Let’s read about that hopeless, helpless moment.

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Crucifixion was cruel, but it wasn’t unusual.  People died this way all the time.  The day Jesus died, there were two robbers executed with him, one on each side.  What made Christ’s death any different from theirs?

The weight of our sin.

We really cannot say what that felt like.  I have compared it with the feeling of guilt.  Guilt is worse than pain because it has a psychological and/or spiritual component that physical pain makes worse, but cannot compare to.  When physical pain is gone, guilt can continue.  It can sap a person’t energy and deplete a person’t life.  Guilt, even without physical suffering can push a person to end his own life.   

And Jesus publicly and shamefully bore the sin, the guilt, of the world.

If there was ever a place that was truly God-forsaken, it was Christ’s cross that day on Golgotha.  “The Father turned his face away,” says the hymn.  Jesus was alone as he died, even though there were bystanders all around him.  None of them could understand what he was enduring.  Numbing the pain would never alleviate the suffering of substitutionary atonement. 

As Christ died, the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom and the way was opened for us to come into the very presence of God.  Christ was separated from the Father so that we might be joined with them both inseparably and forever.  No one saw it or said it better than the centurion.

39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son  of God!”

 

Jesus is mocked – Matthew 27:27-31

I recently read a blog post by a self-professed atheist in which the author mocked Jesus using a fair amount of vulgar language.  Looking back, I should have stopped halfway through, but for some reason kept going all the way to the end.  To save you the experience I will not link to it or invite you to read it yourself.  Sure, no problem.  You’re welcome.  Jesus is used to this sort of thing, I guess.  Consider this passage from Matthew 27.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters and they gathered the whole battalion[e] before him.28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Let’s keep in mind it only got worse after this.  Matthew goes from here to the crucifixion.  The Bible explains Christ’s motivation for his suffering as love.  One of several verses that point us in this direction is 1 John 3:16.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

It’s good to just keep this in mind.  If we ever need evidence of God’s love or Christ’s commitment to show it, we just need to look at the cross.  That was the punishment that we deserved and he took it on our behalf.  Being fully God and fully man, the price he paid was of infinite value, enough to easily pay for the sins of us all. 

Any sacrifice we make for others is nothing more than following his example and responding to his love.  Any criticism or demeaning comments from others we endure for our faith only draws us closer to his example.  Meditating on his love for us will make our potential sacrifice easier to bear.

Thank you Jesus!

Matthew 16 Verse by Verse

Matt photoThis chapter is something of a hinge point in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus confronts the disciples regarding his identity as the Christ.  He also teaches them about the costs of discipleship.

Matthew 16.pdf        (Omar Yamout)

Matthew 16.mp3      (Omar Yamout)

On taking up the cross – Matthew 16:24-28

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, one of the requirements of all citizens is to feel good.  When they don’t, which is often, they pop pills containing a hangover-free drug called soma, which makes them feel better immediately.  The worse they feel, the more soma they take, and all is well – at least until it isn’t.  But the readily available soma never seems to run out.  For extreme happiness, say on a weekend, larger doses of soma become pleasantly hallucinogenic. 

This is not the world we live in.  Ours is old and seemingly less brave, though we can argue that it takes a lot more courage to live in it.  Our Savior set the example by walking the path of crucifixion, the same path he calls us to in Matthew 16:24-27.

2Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

At the end of the day, or the age, really, what we want is to have followed Jesus.  Much of the time this doesn’t involve feeling pleasant, at least not in the way our flesh desires.  Crosses are not meant to be comfortable.  But there is a different type of satisfaction, a type that Huxley’s citizens were never allowed to achieve.  It’s a confidence inspired by following our Savior, of losing our lives in order to find them.  This path has a certainty to it, its satisfaction has a depth, that no amount of soma can give us.

Jim Elliot said it really well when he said, “I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.”  

We must not forget, however, that self-denial while following Jesus is only temporary.  It’s the price we pay for discipleship, for walking near to our cross-bearing Lord.  On the other side of the resurrection, we look forward to a cross-free, existence for all eternity in a new heaven, a new earth and a New Jerusalem.

Is this the Jesus we wanted? – Matthew 11:2-6

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

John the Baptist was languishing in prison.  Conditions were harsh even for him, a man unaccustomed to comfort.  Further, he was not a criminal, and he knew he didn’t belong there.  Where was that Messiah that was going to set the world right?  Jesus was certainly that very man, wasn’t he?  There was the voice from heaven and the Spirit descending like a dove.  He was a relative and John knew him well enough to believe Jesus of Nazareth was the one.  But again, here he was, locked up and no happy ending anywhere in sight.  Who can blame him for asking Jesus for some word of hope or instruction?

The doubts of a saint are vastly different from the doubts of the skeptic.  When we find we don’t have the Jesus we wanted, we need assurance, even if we are determined to believe.  It’s a question of trust.  We can trust someone during difficult times, but still acknowledge that the times are difficult.  Disappointment with God is a real thing.  Our faith may waver, but it will not fail.  Surely, as we wait, God will strengthen our heart.

The skeptic sees things differently.  Difficulties just add to his denials.  She builds a wall of doubt out of bricks inscribed with objections.  Trials are never an acceptable outcome of obedience.  Disobedience can always find its reasons.

The saint knows better.  The narrow gate and the difficult way lead to life.  The rugged cross is something to cherish and something to cling to, while awaiting to exchange it for a crown.  Is this the Jesus we wanted?  No matter, it is the real Jesus.  And he would tell us the same thing he told John: 

“The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”