Friday, March 6, 2015

Lenten Series -- The Third Word of Jesus



Log onto my YouTube Lenten series where I talk in greater detail about the  third of the Lord's last seven statements on the cross.  You can find it here:


To His Last Breaths
By Richard Maffeo

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 third of the seven:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:26-27)

Most representations of the crucified Jesus are remarkably sanitized. Rarely have I seen more than a few streaks of red paint around the wounds in His hands, forehead, feet, and side. But that is not at all what Jesus looked like when He died.

It started with flogging. Soldiers tied Jesus’ hands to the whipping post and stripped off his robe. Then one of them swung rock and bone- embedded whips against Jesus’ back, buttocks, and legs, slicing into His flesh until strips of skin hung from his body. Small veins and arteries oozed and spurted blood with each heartbeat and dripped down His back, His thighs, His legs. The pavement at His feet was moist with dirt and congealed blood.
         
After the vicious beating, Jesus dragged his cross to the execution site where soldiers tossed it to the ground and threw Him onto it. The spikes they hammered through His wrists and feet tore through exquisitely sensitive nerves. Electrifying pain exploded along His limbs.

As He hung between heaven and earth, breathing became an all-consuming struggle. Gravity pulled relentlessly on His diaphragm, forcing Him to repeatedly push against His feet and flex His arms to breathe. Yet, every movement intensified the strain on His ravaged nerves, and each breath forced His bleeding back against the splintered wood, reopening the raw wounds. Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture.

It is that picture in my mind of His horrific and bloody death that makes His Third Word – this one to His mother and His disciple – so poignant. And it is there that I so often miss the significance of the moment.

Jesus – his eyes alternately glazing over from dehydration, exhaustion, and throbbing pain, and then focusing on the soldiers gambling for his clothing, and the mob cursing and jeering – at one point His eyes locked with His mother’s.

I have sometimes wondered what she was thinking as she watched her only Son suffer. It must be a parent’s worst nightmare to bury a child, and Mary was living that nightmare. Surely Simeon’s prophecy bit at her memory, “A sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

Jesus gathered His rapidly waning strength and, in the language and culture of the day, fixed His eyes on hers and spoke tenderly, “Woman, here is your son.” And to John, He said, “Here is your mother.”  In 21st century language, He said, “My dear mother, My work is nearly done. John will now take care of you.” And to His beloved disciple He said, “John, I am counting on you to take care of My mom. Treat her as your own mother.”

St. Paul would say decades later, “Whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).  St. James would write, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress . . .  (James 1:27).  And speaking to those who thought themselves religious, Jesus responded, Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) —  then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God” (Mark 7:10-13).

Despite his nearly incomprehensible agony, Jesus continued to do what was right and necessary. In one of His last acts in life,HH He made certain His parent would be taken care of after His death.

True religion is not simply attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, devoting ourselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures. True faith requires we take care of others – and especially our parents, if they are still alive.

Are we tender toward them? Patient? Do we treat them with dignity and respect? Do they need financial help? Do we often call or visit? Do we model the Christian lifestyle they taught us and lived before us during our years in their home?  St. John, in his third epistle wrote: I have no greater joy than to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4). Oh, how great a joy it is for aging parents to know their children walk in Truth.

To His last breaths, Jesus took care to take care of His mother. How ought we who follow in Christ’s footsteps behave toward our parents?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lenten Series: The Second 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 second of the seven:  (I expand on this in my YouTube here:  What did the good thief do to merit Paradise? He repented. Repentance does amazing things in and for our soul. It lifts us to where Jesus hangs on the cross, face to face with His nailed and bloodied body – brutalized because of our sins.  We look at this in my YouTube about the second word of Jesus on the cross. You can find it here: http://youtu.be/GKQmfEngQJo What did the good thief do to merit Paradise? He repented. Repentance does amazing things in and for our soul. It lifts us to where Jesus hangs on the cross, face to face with His nailed and bloodied body – brutalized because of our sins.  We look at this in my YouTube about the second word of Jesus on the cross. You can find it here: http://youtu.be/GKQmfEngQJohttp://youtu.be/GKQmfEngQJo

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
(Luke 23:43)

Two men, hanging between heaven and earth, nailed to crosses on either side of the One in the middle. Two men, thieves, struggling against death, knowing it was only a matter of time before death finally sunk its talons into their souls.
And they watched the Stranger in the middle.

One thief knew he deserved to die. He’d broken the law, and now was paying the penalty. The other, even in the midst of dying, joined the mob at the foot of the cross in mocking, cursing, and blaspheming the Stranger in the middle.

But the broken thief would have none of it. What are you doing? he rebuked. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he did what everyone must do at some time in their life. No. Rather he did what everyone must do repeatedly in their life. He turned to the One in the middle and pleaded, Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42)

Repentance does amazing things in and for our soul. It lifts us to where Jesus hangs on the cross, face to face with His nailed and bloodied body – brutalized because of our sins. As the Hebrew prophet Isaiah foretold centuries earlier, He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Repentance frees us from ourselves, from our arrogance that binds us to eternal death. It teaches us humility and unveils for us our fleeting mortality and our desperate need for an eternal savior. Repentance brings us into an intimate relationship with the King of Glory reserved only for the penitent.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” The penitent thief spoke less than a dozen words. Short prayers from the heart are as efficacious as long soliloquies.

Jesus, remember me.

Oh, how the King loves to hear our plea born in a penitent heart so He, in return, can promise, as He promised the dying thief, Truly I say to you . . . you shall be with Me in Paradise.

Thanks be to God for His matchless and enduring grace.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The First of His Last Seven Words

Last year I published essays surrounding all seven of Jesus' last words on the cross. This year I am not only going to post them again, but will also record these essays on YouTube beginning February 22.
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The Lord Jesus uttered seven statements as He struggled for life on Golgotha’s cross. His first was, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The more I think about that statement, the more I am intrigued. And encouraged.
Forgive them.
Just a few hours earlier, in the Gethsemane Garden, soldiers led by the Jewish priests surrounded Jesus and the disciples. Peter drew His sword and came within a hair of cutting the skull of the high priest’s servant. He sliced off His ear, instead.
But Jesus would have none of the fight. “Put back your sword, Peter,” Jesus commanded. “Don’t you know I could call just now to my Father and He would put at my disposal 12 legions of angels to defend me?”
A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. In other words, the Lord could have called for 72,000 angelic warriors, swords unsheathed and glistening in the firelight, and the ground would have been drenched with the blood of those who’d come to drag Jesus away.
But He didn’t call for them. Instead, God-in-the-flesh-of-a-man, God their Creator, the Almighty God permitted His creatures to spit at him, pull His beard, punch him in the face, and haul him off to court.
And now, hanging bloodied and bruised on an old rugged cross, crowds of priests, soldiers and rabble mocking Him, cursing Him . . . .
I wonder sometimes if the thought crossed His mind even for a nanosecond to glance toward His Father and ask for those angels. If it did, He put it from His mind and said instead – Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
Forgiveness. It is why we can come anew to Jesus, perhaps especially as we approach the Lenten season in our continuing journey toward the Kingdom. There is no sin so grievous, so dark, so vile that the grace of God and the mercy of God cannot – and will not – cleanse with Christ’s blood.  What is it St. John wrote in His first epistle? If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7). And St. Paul’s encouragement to the church at Ephesus: In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).
Forgiveness. It is why we can stay with Him today, wherever we are in life and whatever we've done wrong. If we confess our sins, St. John tells us, again in his first epistle, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). When the penitent walks out of the confessional he or she has God’s absolute and inviolable assurance of forgiveness. As the Holy Spirit promises through the psalmist: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust  (Psalm 103:11-14).
Forgiveness. It is the reason we can journey with Him wherever He leads us. As St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome: If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:31-39)
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
When we sin, when we slash the whip once again across His back, when we drive another nail into His bleeding hands, how much do we really understand what we are doing? How much do we know how it grieves Him? How it breaks His heart? If we had the remotest clue, I don’t think we’d be so cavalier to do some of the things we do.
Father, forgive them.
But if the Scriptures teach us anything, it is that there is forgiveness with God, complete, unhesitating, and unqualified forgiveness to the penitent. And that is precisely why you and I can come to Christ, stay with Christ, and journey with Him wherever He leads us.
Thanks be to God.
 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Someone Must Speak

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand. (Ezekiel 33:6)

 
The ancient Babylonians (and their Assyrian counterparts) were an incredibly fierce, merciless, and barbaric peoples. Yet God brought them against His own precious possession – Israel – to  conquer and enslave them. God had repeatedly, over and over, warned His Chosen Ones through prophets and natural disasters that His judgment would sweep them away because of their flaunted national and personal sins.

The Old Testament book of Habakkuk was written by one of those prophets. It’s only three short chapters, but is an important message to read in its entirety for context and application to 2015. Here is part of Habakkuk wrote as he awaited the Babylonian army’s sweep through Israel – though by this time the warning was too late: 

I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us. (Habakkuk 3:16)

I confess to be stunned, frustrated, and not a little angry, at the deafening silence I hear from many (thankfully, not all) of today’s church leaders.  I don’t expect non-Christian talk show hosts and politicians to invoke prophetic warnings, but I DO expect Christian pastors, and bishops, and deacons, and teachers to perform their God-appointed duty as Watchmen on the walls (see what another Old Testament prophet said about warning others of impending judgment in Ezekiel chapters 3 and 33).

America (I won’t even mention Europe) kills more than 1,000,000 babies in the womb each year – without so much as a whimper from the Church or civil governments. And in the last decade we have flaunted our sexual sins with increasingly depraved perversity to increasingly greater applause from the highest levels of government to the smallest of churches – yes, even churches.

Why does anyone who names Christ as Lord think it so unthinkable that what we witness every day in the media about the descendants of the Babylonians and Assyrians (e.g. ISIS and groups like it) – why is it considered beyond the scope of possibility that such barbarism is yet another of God’s repeated warnings – maybe His final warning – before Christians in the pew, and especially church leaders, cry aloud too late:

I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us.

Christian! If Church leaders shirk their God-ordained responsibility, we must not follow their example. Someone – someone must be a Watchman.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

50 Shades of Hades


Do not be deceived . . .  Galatians 6:8
 
I remember a story – fictitious I’m sure – of a grandmother who baked brownies for her 8-year-old grandson. The mouth-watering aroma of chocolate filled the entire house.

“Those smell delicious,” her grandson said, eyes wide and sparkling. “What’s in them?”

Grandma smiled, “Chocolate, some sugar, flour, a little salt, eggs, and just a speck of dog poop. Not more than a half a teaspoon.”

“Ewwwwww!” Her grandson backed away from the pan. “UUghhh!”

“Do you not want any?”

“No way!” he said, vigorously shaking his head.

“But you’ll never taste the dog poop. It’s just a little bit mixed in with all this good tasting chocolate and sugar and flour.”

I have been reading lately on the social networks and some of the online news outlets about a movie based on a book by the same name. I suspect you’ve heard of it too, “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

I understand why some who do not know the beauty of Christ would pay to see what I hear is pornography on steroids, but what absolutely confuses me is why those who call themselves Christians would even toy with the idea of seeing the movie or reading the book.

Package filth in the sweetest of chocolates, and it remains filth.

“Do not be deceived,” the Holy Spirit solemnly warns, “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)

We will always reap what we sow: corruption or beauty, heartache or hope, emptiness or joy, death or life. This law of the spirit is as absolute as the law of gravity. Mock either one, and we lose.

Every time.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Fragrance Remains

I posted this a couple of times now. You might not have seen it before. Even if you have, I hope you find it useful.
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You will see me . . . .” (John 14:19).

 

My mind couldn’t rid itself of the memory. Yeshi hurt so badly. And I could do nothing to help him. Nothing.

I stared at my food. Yohanan told me to eat something. I needed my strength. He would return for me, help me take what I wished to his home where I would stay with him and his family. Then he left to meet the others.

“Woman, behold your son,” Yeshi said. And to Yohanan, “Behold, your mother.”

What will I take to their house? What will I leave behind? So many things. So many memories. This table and chair. As solid as when Yeshi built it, how many years ago? Five? Seven? And the dishes. My dear Joseph bought them for me when we wed so many decades ago. I miss him so.

My clothing. The parchments. The walking stick. . . .

But Yeshi. My Yeshi.

“Momma.”

Deep in thought, forcing back my tears, I thought I heard a whisper behind me.

What was it the old man said to me, “A sword will piece your soul”? I never understood what he meant.

I do now.

“Mother.” A little louder.


The voice startled me. And the fragrance. Suddenly the room smelled of, of . . . flowers. Like – yes, like roses. Roses of Sharon.


“Mother.” A command.


I knew that voice. I turned. Color drained from my face. The room spun. If he had not caught me in his arms, I would have fallen.


Still swooning, I let him hold me. The fragrance of roses rose from his robe. He cupped my chin in his hand and lifted my face to look at him.


“Yeshi!” “Yeshi!  . . . But how?”


He smiled. The same smile he always smiled when he spoke with me. “How? I have authority to lay down my life,” he said. “I have authority to take it up again. And now, he who believes in me will live, even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”


I reached for his face, caressed the scars in his forehead. My tears would not stop. “You’re alive! My son. My son. You were dead, but you’re alive.”


“Mother, I must go.” He grasped my arms and held me away from him.


“But . . . .”


“Magdalena and the others are at the tomb. I must meet them.”


“Yeshi! You can’t go. Not now. Not like this . . . .”


“I must. But you will see me again.” He let go of my arms, and his eyes locked with mine. “Momma, I love you.”


Then he was gone. In the time it took for me to blink, he was gone.


But the fragrance . . . oh! the fragrance remains. 



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Insufficient Sacrifice


As far as the east is from the west . . . (Psalm 103:13)

The blood of Jesus is not sufficient to cover my sins. God requires more than the death of His Son for my forgiveness.

Isn’t that what we are saying to Him when we say after our confession, "I don’t feel forgiven for these my deepest and darkest sins"? Isn’t that what we say to Him when we set our feelings as a higher court than His promise?

Really, is that what we want to say to Him?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Let's Try Something New


If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

 

Nothing you will read here is different from what I’ve written or said dozens of times over the past decade. Neither do I believe what I write now once again will make any more difference than it has in time past.

But the thought is once again heavy on my heart, and so – here goes:

As a charismatic Protestant I wondered why all Christians, regardless of their label, didn’t come to what Pentecostals call the “Full Gospel.” Why would they not want to enjoy and participate in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit?

But in time I realized that what some called the Full Gospel, others called heresy. What some called experiencing the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, others called working with demons.

Our differences went even deeper. What some called Biblical truths, others called heresy. What some believed to be the correct method of worship, others called stuffy and ritualistic.

When I committed myself to Jesus in 1972 I was in near total ignorance of the cavernous differences that exist among Christian groups. Because I was raised in a Jewish family in a Jewish neighborhood, my acquaintance with non-Jews was minimal.  Then, when I met Christ on a military base in Japan, my only exposure to Christian worship was in the military base chapel where Christians of every Protestant denomination met together and where all Christians got along as brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of our label. (I was only marginally aware that Catholics had their own services at a different time in the same chapel).

When I discharged from the navy, my wife and I moved to Springfield, Missouri where I was to attend an Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) college. In the same town was another bible college – Baptist Bible College, a member of a Baptist denomination called, Baptist Bible Fellowship.

At first, I did not know each group eyed the other with suspicion about their purity of doctrines – until I went to a pharmacy to fill a prescription.  When, for insurance purposes, the pharmacist asked where I attended school, I told him. But a few minutes later, as he handed me my medication, I noticed he’d written on my receipt the name of the Baptist school.  When I corrected him, his face blushed, and just about fell over himself apologizing for his mistake.

When I asked him why he was so apologetic, he told me what I would learn in the following months – Baptists and Pentecostals in that city accused each other of heretical teaching.

It is now nearly forty years later, and nothing has changed.  Indeed, since becoming a Catholic Christian in 2005, I have also learned of the great disunity that exists not only among virtually all Protestant groups, but that also exists between Catholics and Protestants. We continue to eye each other with suspicion and, in some cases, outright animosity.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone remembers Jesus’ warning to His disciples, “An hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. (John 16:2-3)

And Saint Paul added in his letter to the church at Galatia: (5:14-16)  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think Christians have spent enough time biting and devouring one another. Meanwhile, Satan continues his malicious strut throughout the earth, devouring hundreds of millions of souls – unimpeded by the only force in the universe that can stop him – the Church.

Again, and maybe it’s just me, but maybe we should try something new. Instead of biting and devouring, maybe we should start loving our brothers and sisters bought with the blood of Jesus. Maybe we should focus on areas of doctrine about which we agree – about which ALL Christians agree – doctrines for example synthesized 1500 years ago in what Christians call the Nicene Creed.

As Saint Paul wrote (Romans 14:4-10)  Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. . . .  For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s . . . .  But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

How Long?


So I’m reading the psalms – psalm 13 in particular. And the Holy Spirit drew my attention to David’s question. Not once, or twice, but four times in two verses he asks it . . . . How long . . . How long . . . How long . . . .How long?

Then I noticed the third stanza: I trust in You. I rejoice in You. I sing of You. 

In the midst of his utter confusion, his fear, and bewilderment, David takes his soul by the scruff of the neck, lifts his voice to God and declares – I will not be moved from trusting you.

No wonder God calls David a man after His own heart. 

1 "How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?"


3 "Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken."


5 "But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me."