Friday, March 27, 2015

Lenten Series: The Sixth Word of Jesus



I wrote this a year ago, and was ready to follow it as my template for my next YouTube recording about the last words of Jesus on the cross. But as I prepared myself for the recording, I felt led to say something much different than you will read here. If you have the time, some time log onto the recording at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KDgUE5vMKs&feature=youtu.be


The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the sixth of the seven:

“It is finished”
(John 19:30)



Perhaps no other statement of Jesus on Golgotha’s hill mean so much to me as “It is finished.” I spent weeks contemplating why that is true, and decided the answer is best illustrated by an incident that happened to me 55 years ago. 

My friend Steve and I were eight years old. When my family visited his we often explored the undeveloped land near his new home. During one visit, as we played in and around houses in varying degrees of construction, we spotted a field of cattails. “Let’s play hide and seek” he challenged. In a moment he was racing through the cattails while I counted to 100.

The cattails swayed gracefully in the autumn breeze as I chased after him, pushing farther into the midst of the field. They were tall cattails . . . taller than I, and so thick I could push through them only with great effort. But soon they were no longer my concern. The darkening sky caught my attention and I stopped to scan in all directions. It was a futile effort. I couldn't see anything except the thin pale stalks around me.

"Hey, Steve!" I called aloud.

No answer.

"Steve!" I shouted against the rustling grasses. “Where are you? I'm not playing anymore." My stomach churned.

Then I heard him in the distance, "Riiiiichard!"

"Here! Over here," I shouted back. Breathing faster, I pushed into the wall of weeds. "Steeeeevennnnn! Where are you?"

"Over here!" He sounded closer.

At last, I heard him crunch‑crunching nearby. In a moment we faced each other. Sweat beaded on our flushed faces.

"Where were you?" I accused. "It got dark pretty quick and I figure we'd better be gettin' home."

"I was looking for you," he defended himself.

"Well, come on," I urged, not wanting to waste any more time, "let's get outta here."

"Which way is out?" he asked.


I stared at him. "Don't you know?"

He shook his head.

"But . . . but you live here."

"Yeah," he started, "But I've never been here before. Especially not in the dark."

We stared at each other a moment longer.

"Well," I said finally. "Let's go this way," I pointed to the left. Without speaking, we lunged against the weeds. It was a long time before either of us spoke.

"I think we're lost," I said softly.

Steve didn't answer.

"What do you think?"

He ignored me.

"What are we gonna do?" I stopped. Fear gnawed at me.

"I don't know," he shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. He’d been crying. "Maybe if we called out for help?" he whimpered.

"Hellllllp!" we chorused together. "Hellllllp!"

We listened . . . . And we tried again. And again. And again.

"Maybe we should pray," Steve said.


Wiping the sweat from my face, I nodded agreement. Neither of us was being raised in religious homes. In the years our families had known each other, the only time we ever heard God’s name mentioned was as a swear word or a casual exclamation of surprise. But now, lost in a tangle of fear and desperation, we both knew this situation called for help far beyond our capabilities. We closed our eyes and begged God to help us find our way home.

After a time, the ground grew soggy beneath our muddied shoes and we broke through to a clearing. The calm bay waters lapped the shore at our feet. We could see the lights of homes across the water.

"Doesn't look very far away," Steve suggested.

I shook my head. "No, it doesn't," I answered, lost in thought. "D'ya think we could swim it?"

We stared across the water. Finally, I sighed in resignation. "Maybe not." And so we once again turned back to the weeds, sobbing freely as we trudged on. Every now and then we prayed aloud, "God, please help us. God, please help us."

Then suddenly, it happened. Just like that. We broke through to a clearing. Wood framed houses rose before us . . . the same ones we played in earlier that day.


"We made it!" Steve shouted, his eyes dancing. "We made it, Oh thank you, God! We made it!"

As the years passed, life took me through many twists and turns. Memories of how God answered our desperate childhood prayer drifted into the forgotten recesses of my mind. I was too busy with life to think of such long-forgotten terrors.

But those twists and turns more often than not brought me into other fields of weeds, weeds so tall I no longer knew which way was out. The sun hardly filtered through the unyielding stalks of lust, envy, arrogance, pride, and greed. And every now and then, when I broke through to a clearing, I discovered disaster awaiting my next move.


I don’t know why it took so long, but I finally realized I needed help beyond my own ability. I had come to the end of my hope, my strength, my intellect, my understanding. So once again I prayed to the One I had for so long ignored. I asked first for forgiveness of my many sins, and then asked for help in finding my way out of the moral darkness enveloping me.

And that’s when it happened. Suddenly. Just like that, I broke through to the clearing. God opened my eyes to His Son’s sacrificial death, a death I so very much deserved, but a death Christ paid for me. I needed God’s forgiveness. In return He not only forgave me – but He showed me His love that was greater than all my rebellion. And I knew I was home.

Home.

Just like when Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Because of the years I lived in rebellion, I didn’t know Scripture called me a child of the devil.* But when Jesus finished His work on Golgotha He gave me the right to become a child of God.** Oh, I love to remember it! To me – the one who repeatedly spit in God’s face, who led others into mortal sin, who even killed his child in an abortion clinic – Jesus offered my penitent soul the right to be called a child of almighty God.

“It is finished.”

Struggling as often as I did to turn my life around, I didn’t know Scripture declared me a captive of Satan.*** But when Jesus declared, “It is finished”, His blood ransomed me from the devil’s grip and set me free.

“It is finished.”

My sins earned me God’s wrath.**** Like the sword of Damocles, it hung over my head. But, oh, when Jesus said, “It is finished” God directed His wrath, wrath I so worthily deserved, onto Jesus’ body.*****

“It is finished.”

Yes, no longer lost. No longer a prisoner. No longer a child of darkness. When Jesus spilled His blood on Golgotha and said, “It is finished” He meant it. His work of salvation was finished. And no power on earth or in hell could – or can – change it.

It is finished.


*For example, 1 John 3:8
**For example, John 1:10-13
***For example, 2 Timothy 2:25-26
****For example, Ephesians 5:5-7
*****For example, Isaiah 53:5-6















Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Guilty. But . . .


Lent, 2013. Somewhere into the third week I read through the Revelation. I paused at this verse:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead werejudged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. (20:12)

As I pondered the Final Judgment my thoughts wandered to what it might be like when the books – the books that record my life – are opened before the Great Judge. And Scripture texts cascaded across the images forming in my mind.

----------

I am dead.

I don’t know how I know it, but I am dead. And I stand before the Judgment Seat of God.1 The Accuser2 stands next to me, denouncing me and charging me with the many crimes I’ve committed during my life. Murder. Perversions. Treasons. Rebellions. The litany seems to never end. He cites all of them.

Each in order.

I don’t remember most of them, but my prosecutor holds aloft his dossier of dates and times and places. And with each accusation the memories of my forgotten sins flood my mind. They overwhelm my mind. With great shame – and fear – I try to push them from my mind. But to no avail.

Then almost from nowhere, He appears – my advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.3

He waits for the accuser to finish. And then He looks soberly at the Judge. “These accusations are all true,” Jesus says. “But Father, I ransomed him with My blood.4, 5 He entered the waters of baptism. He confessed his sins with each offense. 6He followed Me and served Me these many years.7And You promised I would not lose any whom you have given Me.”8

The Judge listens in silence. Then He looks at my Accuser. He looks at me. He looks at my Advocate. He raises His gavel, and I wait for what is about to come next.

“Guilty,” the Judge says with a solemnity I shall forever remember. “I declare you guilty on all counts.”

Panic – unrelenting panic grips me. And then I hear Him add, “But I hereby pardon you of all counts for the sake of my son, Jesus.” 9, 10

His gavel falls to the Bench with a crack that echoes throughout the chambers of heaven and of hell.

Dazed, I look at my Advocate. His eyes smile back. It is true. Gloriously, wondrously true. I am pardoned. Forgiven. Redeemed forever because of the blood of the Lamb.

---------------
(All scripture from Revised Standard Version Catholic edition)
1 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. (Rev 20:12)

2 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Rev 12:10)

3And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)

4 And they sang a new song, saying,“Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (Rev 5:9)

5 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

6If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

7 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:26)

8And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. (John 6:39)

9But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole . . . and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

10 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lenten Series: The Fifth Word of Jesus



The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the fifth of the seven (I expand on this essay during my YouTube recording at this link): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PweYsotqHME&feature=youtu.be


“I am thirsty.”  (John 19:28)

It started in the Garden. The savior prayed with such anguish, His sweat mingled with His blood and dripped to the ground. It was in the Garden that soldiers beat Him with their fists, pulled His beard, spit in His face. Then they dragged Him into the city and shuffled Him from Pilate to Herod, and back again to Pilate. They whipped Him without mercy, without hardly giving Him time to catch His breath. Then they pressed a crown comprised of thorns into His forehead. Blood oozed into His eyes and tracked down His cheeks. Mocking soldiers then laid the cross across His shoulders and forced Him to carry it to the hill, the hill that looked like a skull. The hill where He would die.

“I am thirsty.”

After all He’d suffered by the time they’d nailed Him to the cross, I do not doubt He was thirsty. I do not doubt thirst consumed Him.

As Jesus groaned through parched lips, someone dipped a sponge in vinegar and gall and brought it to His mouth (Matthew 27:34). The vinegar they offered Jesus was weak wine commonly used in Palestine to quench thirst. Gall was a bitter liquid with narcotic and anesthetic properties. Soldiers often gave it to prisoners about to be crucified as a way to dull their senses so they wouldn’t fight against the nails being hammered into their limbs. Sometimes friends gave it to those hanging on the cross to lessen their agony.

When Jesus tasted the gall He turned away. He would not drink the drug. He would finish the Father’s plan to its fullest course and its fullest cost. A short while later, someone gave Him the plain vinegar.

“I am thirsty.”

Although nailed to the cross, Jesus was the Lord of Heaven. The King of the Universe. He never needed to thirst. Or hunger. Or suffer pain. Yet He demonstrated by His life and by His death a ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.’ Even on the cross, He would accomplish His Father’s will. That is why His death – and His thirst – serves as an illustration for us.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote, "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” And the psalmist wrote: As a deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after thee (Psalm 42:1).

Restlessness. Thirst.

We who belong to Christ through our faith and baptism “have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20). When the Holy Spirit enters our lives He always creates within us a restlessness for God. A hunger for God. A thirst for God. If we are not restless for God, if we do not increasingly hunger and thirst for Him, we ought to wonder why.

“I am thirsty.”

Many things at first seem to quench our spiritual thirst, but in the end serve simply to anesthetize us to it. The Holy Spirit spoke of those counterfeit thirst-quenchers as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). But counterfeits can never fully satisfy. The only place to quench our God-designed thirst, our God-designed restlessness, is at His fountain, devoting ourselves to a daily drinking – a lifelong drinking – from that fountain through reception of the Sacraments, daily prayer, Scripture study, and humble obedience to the Holy Spirit.

“I am thirsty.”

Nothing but spiritual drink will ever satisfy our spiritual thirst. Nothing.

God created us that way.



Friday, March 13, 2015

Lenten Series: The Fourth Word of Jesus



I expand on this essay in my latest YouTube recording. You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVcpN5mxrkU&feature=youtu.be


The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the fourth of the seven:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)


As our home Bible study wound to a close, a young mother ran out to her car for a package she’d forgotten. She left her two-year-old daughter with half a dozen adults in the living room. But when Berea saw Mommy leave, her face froze with panic. She ran as quickly as her little legs could carry her and stretched in vain for the doorknob. Her screams brimmed with terror, as if she believed Mommy would never to return from the other side of the door.

One of the other women lifted Berea into her arms and tried to calm her. But it was no use. The toddler wanted no one but Mommy. And mommy was gone.

A few moments later, Berea’s mother returned. When she opened the door she lifted Berea into her arms, rubbed her back and spoke tenderly into her ear. The child quickly quieted down. Mommy had returned.

Some theorize Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have your forsaken Me?, only to draw attention to Psalm 22 in which the psalmist prophesied of Christ’s crucifixion nearly a thousand years before it happened (see Psalm 22:11-18). When Jesus quoted the first line of the psalm, they say, it was to demonstrate His fulfillment of that prophecy.

I think there was another, far more significant reason.

St. Luke tells us that while Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, imploring the Father to take the cup He was about to drink from His hands, Jesus’ sweat ‘became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44) . Bloody sweat is a rare, but well-documented physical phenomena called (hematidrosis) known to occur in some people suffering extreme stress. Jesus dreaded the crucifixion not only because of the physical pain He’d suffer, but He also knew what it would mean when He took upon Himself the sins of the world. The prophet Isaiah is only one of many Old Testament prophets to speak about the results of sin: But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:2).  

Separation.  From God.  

The Holy Spirit says this about Jesus: “Though He was in the form of God . . . . [He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7).  And so, being fully God and fully Man, Jesus experienced all the frailty of humanity – hunger, thirst, pain, cold, heat . . . . And now He was about to experience in our place what He in His deity could never experience.

Separation from the Father.

St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: [The Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  And in his letter to the church at Galatia, he added: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).

As the most holy Lord Jesus hung between heaven and earth, He did not simply take our collective sins on Himself, but actually became Sin – became Sin – so you and I who are ‘in Christ,” you and I who trust Him as our redeemer, our reconciler, our savior, could become the very righteousness of God. 

Oh! Think of it!

Jesus, who knew the incomprehensible intimacy of the Triune Godhead, for the first time in eternity was separated from His Father. For that one moment – oh, but for the eternal God that moment must have seemed forever – for that one moment the Father turned away from Him who had become Sin.

No wonder He cried out, My God, My God. Why have You forsaken Me!, for in some mysterious and inexplicable way known only to the Holy Trinity, Jesus was suddenly on the other side of the door. Suddenly separated from His Father. Suddenly alone.

That is the fathomless horror our sin caused Him. And that is also the divinely designed evidence of the matchless love the Son has for the sinner –you and me – so we would not have to live forever separated from God, on the other side of the eternal door.

Thank you. Oh! Thank you, Jesus.

Father of mercy, like the prodigal son I return to You and say: "I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son." Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom You promised Paradise: "Lord, remember me in Your kingdom." Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on You with trust: "Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of light. —Author unknown