April 22, 2011

He Hung Forsaken, So We Stand Forgiven - Apr 22, 2011

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The apostle John penned these words in the first century AD:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV).
Whenever someone claims to be speaking on God’s behalf, it’s a good idea to test that person. Throughout history, men and women have manipulated million by claiming THEIR message was God’s.

When Jesus appeared on earth some 2,000 years ago, He claimed that His message was from God. To validate His claim, His message came was accompanied by three things. First, He performed miracles. He healed the sick and the blind and even raised the dead to life. He walked on water, cast out demons and fed thousands with an armload of food. Second, He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. When examined, the details of His life matched up with what the ancient prophets had said the Savior would be like. Third, when Jesus spoke, His sermons fit perfectly with what the Bible said. In fact, His words illuminated the Scriptures, bringing His listeners to a clear understanding of what the Bible really meant.

When Jesus died on the cross, we find these same three things illuminating that dark event. At the cross we find miracles happening, prophesies being fulfilled and the words of Jesus illuminating not only what the Bible meant when it foretold the coming Savior, but also what that Savior’s life and death means for us today.

The theme of our meditation on this Good Friday is: He hung forsaken, So we stand forgiven.

In this reading from Mark, Jesus has been hanging on the cross since nine in the morning.

Mark 15:33-39 (NIV)

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Let’s quickly look back through this text and explain the simple details.

Darkness came over the land from noon till three. Obviously, darkness at noon is not typical. It was certainly a local darkness, since we’re told that it covered the whole land. Some believe that the sun stopped shining altogether as a supernatural sign to the whole world that something historic was happening.

At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” To this point, Jesus had said little from the cross. Like a body builder attempting his heaviest lift, this was not a time for idle chit-chat. Yet, here Jesus was moved Him vocalize His agony.

The Roman soldiers below misunderstood Jesus. They thought He was calling for mercy and asking the Old Testament prophet Elijah to save Him.

These soldiers were hard men of war and professional executioners. Jesus’ words aroused no pity from them. Instead, they thought that perhaps that encouraging this man to speak might provide some amusement to pass the time on this grim assignment.

So, they lifted up a sponge full of sour wine (probably from their own lunch) up on a hyssop reed. This would wet the lips of the crucified and help Him to speak. It worked. Jesus cried out one last time, and died.

Mark doesn’t include what Jesus cried out, but thankfully, the apostle John does in his Gospel. Jesus’ last two statements were, “It is finished” and “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” (John 19:28, 30).

At this point, we’re told that the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was a huge thing, as thick as a person’s hand and hung between the two innermost rooms in the Temple. It closed off the room called the “Most Holy Place” from the rest of the Temple. This room represented God’s presence.

Last, we’re told that at the foot of Jesus’ cross stood a Centurion. A typical crucifixion detail assigned four soldiers to each man to be crucified, and one Centurion to oversee them.

Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. They were hard men who earned their positions not merely through strength and toughness, but through cunning on the battlefield.

No doubt this Centurion had seen a lot of suffering and death through the course of his service to Rome. But at the death of Jesus he saw something else: truth. Upon hearing the roar which Jesus sent up when He chose to die, the Centurion testified, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Earlier I said that at the cross we find three things illuminating this dark event. Things which show us it’s meaning. We find miracles, prophesies fulfilled and Jesus’ Words. Let’s take at look at these things.

The miracles aren’t hard to find. There was the supernatural darkness that cloaked the land. There was the huge Temple veil torn in two by the hand of God. And Matthew’s Gospel tells us of others. At Jesus’ death an earthquake shook the land, and many tombs were opened. Many followers of God were resurrected from the dead and later appeared to people in Jerusalem. (Matthew 27)

The prophesies fulfilled aren’t hard to find either, thanks to the Gospel writers who point them out to us. The Old Testament prophets foretold first of all, that He would be crucified. That He would be mocked by those below. Prophecies foretold how the soldiers would divide up Jesus’ remaining possessions, His clothes. The prophets even speak of how they would give him sour wine to drink.

The miracles surrounding the cross were meant to grab the people’s attention. To show them that God was at work here.

The prophesies were meant to show that Jesus was the Savior that God promised would save sinners from hell.

Both the miracles and the prophesies fulfilled were simply not things that could have been faked, or fulfilled by human ingenuity or planning.

When the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the mob he said, “This is the man”. Through miracles and prophesies fulfilled on mount of Crucifixion God said the same thing, “This is the man. This is the Christ whom I promised”.

With His own words from the cross, God’s Son said the same thing. When Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was doing two things. He was expressing the depths of his suffering. He was cut off from all God’s goodness. He was suffering the punishment that all mankind’s sins had earned. AND, He was also quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, the Psalm which most clearly depicts the suffering Savior.

With Jesus’ final words from the cross, He testified once and for all that His work of redeeming sinners was finished. He said, “It is finished… Father into your hands I commit my Spirit”.

He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven. There is nothing left for us to do. Forgiveness has been earned by Jesus, and is given as a gift wherever this Good News is proclaimed.

He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven. This is the meaning of the cross. EACH Gospel brings this theme out clearly by the details they record about Christ’s crucifixion.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all include the detail that the curtain before the Most Holy Place was torn in two, showing that the way to God was no longer blocked by our sins. Now it had been opened through Christ’s sinless sacrifice.

Matthew and Mark both record Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Expressing the fact that Jesus experienced the full punishment for human sin – separation from God – Hell.

In Luke we’re told of a conversation between Jesus and one of the robbers crucified next to Him. After the robber expressed his faith in Jesus, Jesus told Him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise”. Jesus didn’t give him any penance to do, no assignment through which the robber could earn forgiveness. Jesus simply told this man who believed, The way is open and I’ll see you there TODAY.

In John Jesus’ precious and final words are recorded. He says, “It is finished”. Our suffering, He suffered. Our forgiveness He won. He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven.

Was Jesus really the Son of God? Did He really suffer for me and you? Are your sins really forgiven without any effort on your part? That’s the testimony of Scripture. That’s the testimony of all the details surrounding Christ’s cross.

And that’s the testimony of God the Father too. For three days after Jesus died on the cross, the Father raised Him from the dead and restored Him to glory.

He hung forsaken, so we stand forgiven. And He rose on Easter, so we can be certain that this is true.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s what we get to celebrate on Sunday.

May the God of grace and forgiveness watch over your hearts on this day, and forever. May you always take shelter in Christ Jesus, our crucified, risen and living Savior. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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