March 28, 2012

Six Hours of Pain and Grief - Mar 28, 2012

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When I was in college I painted a picture for my brother Seth. We both like trout fishing, so I chose to recreated a mural I had seen. A close up picture of a school of rainbow trout. It wasn't a realistic picture. A head here, a tail there. The long sweeping colors of a flank. The wary eyes of a face. All were packed together in a jumble of troutness.

I chose to paint the picture like comic book art, with vibrant colors and dark black lines to define the features of the different fish. In order to make this work in an acrylic painting I did all the colors first, only adding the defining lines and details at the end.

Because the defining lines came last, it was a frustrating painting to work on. Along the way everything looked wrong. Only at the end when I added the overlay of detail did the whole image pull together.

Our reading for today describes the last six hours of our Savior's earthly life. Just like the trout mural, this image of Christ's final hours looks wrong along the way. Every verse is filled with mistakes and things that shouldn't have been. The colors are vibrant enough, but they clash and tear at each other.

What's wrong with this picture?


Mark 15:25-37 (NKJV)

25 Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. 26 And the inscription of His accusation was written above:
27 With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. 28 So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”
29 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”
31 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.
33 Now 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 out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
35 Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” 36 Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”
37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.

What's wrong with this picture?


Verse 25. "Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him."

In the minds of the disciples, this wasn't supposed to be happening. Jesus was the Christ. He was supposed to restore the glory of Israel, not die at the hands of the Romans.

The execution of Christ was also wrong on a cosmic level. God the Son had become human. But now, instead of shimmering glory, He was clothed in suffering. The God-Man was being CRUCIFIED. He was being tortured to death in a manner that was beyond barbaric. And this was being done by the very sinners He came to redeem.

Verse 26. "And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS."

The plaque affixed to a cross was supposed to be the crime that the crucified had committed. But the inscription which hung above Jesus' head wasn't a crime. Above Jesus' head hung a joke which the Roman governor had directed at the Jews. This is what Rome does with so-called Jewish kings. And his ruthless joke was made at the expense of the very Son of God.

Verse 27-28. "With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'"

The men flanking Jesus were violent men. Robbers being executed for their crimes. Jesus' placement in the center suggested that He was the prime criminal being executed here. The worst one. But in fact, He was innocent before men and sinless before God.

Verse 29. "And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days,"

They had misunderstood Jesus' words. In the past, Jesus had poetically foretold His death and resurrection by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19 NIV). He was speaking of the temple of His body.

Verse 30. "save Yourself, and come down from the cross!"

If Jesus had come down from the cross He would not have saved Himself. To die in this way was a command that God the Father had given Him. Saving Himself would have been rejecting God's command. It would have been a sin condemning Him forever.

Verse 31.
"Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, 'He saved others; Himself He cannot save.'"

The idea that Jesus was powerless to escape the cross was simply false. He had saved others. He was capable of coming down from the cross. He had cast out demons, healed diseases, walked on water and raised people from the dead. He had the power, but He CHOSE to remain on the cross.

Verse 32. "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him."

The idea that a miraculous descent from the cross would make Jesus' enemies into His followers was again, simply false. Miracles don't create faith. The mob who arrested Jesus had seen Him heal a man's severed ear. This very afternoon all the people of Jerusalem would watch as a supernatural darkness covered the land from noon to three. The priests in the Temple would find the sanctuary curtain hanging ripped in two from top to bottom, revealing the innermost room of the Temple. And after all these supernatural events, when Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead - these men still refused to trust in Jesus.

The robbers who were justly being executed for their crimes also joined in to mock the innocent Jesus. And this too was utterly wrong.

Verse 33. "Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour."

Even nature was affected with the wrongness of what was happening here. Darkness at noon was not normal. And with this strange and unearthly darkness, nature itself testified that something very wrong was now unfolding in the world.

Verse 34. "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' which is translated, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'"

Before the universe was created, the Son of God had existed with the Father and the Spirit as the eternal, three-in-one God. The very names of "Father" and "Son" describe their intimate relationship. It had eternally been the loving relationship of perfect Father and perfect Son.

But here on Calvary that relationship was broken. It defies understanding. It is the wrongest thing here.

Verse 35-36. "Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, 'Look, He is calling for Elijah!' Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down."

The bystanders were wrong when they thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah for help. That's not what He had said. Separated from the Father, the Son was experiencing hell on the cross. With His tormented cry He was expressing the deepest suffering of His soul. He, the Son of God, was feeling the sinner's just punishment for sin. He was experiencing Hell in our place.

Verse 37. "And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last."

Crucifixion was designed as a form of torturing execution that would last as long as human endurance made possible. Crucifixion was designed to make sure your last breath was one of weak, humiliated defeat. That a crucified man would die with a final triumphant cry was unexplainable.

That God-made-man would die at all was unthinkable. Wrong in every way. But on Calvary - it happened.

What's wrong with this picture?


That the sinless Son of God should suffer and die in the place of sinners was wrong. It should not have had to be this way. But instead of this being the last straw that condemned sinful mankind forever, the bitter crucifixion and death of Christ stands as the turning point in human history. Through His death, sinners, even those who actively participated in crucifying and mocking Him - are offered pardon for sin and eternal peace with God.

Alone, the image of Christ's crucifixion looks all mixed up and wrong. But the resurrection of Christ adds the final details and defining lines which make this picture pull together. It's the resurrection of Christ which makes all the wrongness here make sense.

The resurrection of Jesus three days later, testifies that Jesus was who He claimed to be. He was the Savior foretold who would gave Himself to pay for the sins of mankind. Christ experienced all the horrible punishment that our wrongness had piled up. Through faith in His blood we are declared right with God. Forgiven in full.

Over 700 years before Jesus died on the cross, the prophet Isaiah foretold it. Isaiah 53...
" 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV).
Just some twenty or so years after Jesus died and rose, the apostle Paul summed up the significance of the cross, saying...
"21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).

When we look at the last six hours of Christ's earthly life, everything looks wrong. But when everything is finished, we see that God has taken ugliness, defeat and death and turned it into victory. Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and He lives to this day, ruling over us from the Father's side.

When we look at our own lives, everything looks wrong there too. Even our "good deeds" are tainted by self-serving agendas and impure motives. But in the cross of Christ we find that God has taken all our sins away and replacing our defeat with victory.

Because He died, we shall live. Because He lives, we shall never die. This we believe. All glory be to our crucified and ever living Savior.


March 25, 2012

Two Covenants - Mar 25, 2012

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On the front of the bulletin today it says, "Two Covenants". That's what our Bible readings will focus on today, two covenants.

A covenant is simply a legal agreement. A deal. An understanding between two parties. We deal with covenants every day. But not all of them are the same. Some come with conditions. Things we have to do on our side of the agreement. Things that the other party has to do on their side. A covenant with conditions is nullified if the conditions aren't met.

A grocery store rebate is a great example of a conditional covenant. The manufacturer says, "We'll give you some of your money back if you buy our product. But, you'll have to fulfill some conditions. First, fill out the rebate form that came with the product. Then send that to us along with a copy of your receipt and the barcode off of the product that you purchased. Then we'll send you a check for the rebate amount."

If you don't send all these in properly, no deal. You won't get the rebate. This is a conditional covenant.

But there's another kind of covenant between two parties. A one sided agreement.

An inheritance is a good example of a one sided covenant. If some relative of yours writes it in their will that you get all their money when they die, it's yours. That's it. No hoops to jump through, no conditions to fulfill. That is a one sided covenant.

Again, our readings for today focus on two covenants. We'll see that one is a conditional covenant based on obedience. The other is a one sided covenant based on faith.

Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Here God references the old covenant that He had made with the nation of Israel, and a new covenant that He would establish in the future.

The old covenant was the law. When God rescued the Israel from Egyptian slavery, He led them out into the wilderness to the foot of Mount Sinai. There God gave them the Ten Commandments, and countless other laws to obey. If they obeyed these laws God promised to watch over them and be their God. The law was a conditional covenant.

But keeping the conditions of this covenant wasn't as easy as clipping a barcode and sending in a receipt. Israel simply couldn't keep the terms of this covenant because the conditions required PERFECT OBEDIENCE.

With a single sin this covenant was broken. And break it they did. Shattered it is more like it. The whole history of Israel is one long laundry list of failures to do what God required.

But this was actually why God established the covenant of the law in the first place. It may seem odd that God would make an agreement with conditions that He knew the Israelites couldn't keep. But it made good sense. God's whole purpose in establishing the covenant of the law was to show the Israelites that they were sinners who needed a Savior.

That's where the second covenant comes in. And this covenant is different. The new covenant is a one sided agreement where God does all the giving, and Israel simply gets the inheritance. The core of this covenant is summed up in the last words of this reading...
"...I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV).
The wonderful thing about the second covenant is that it can't be nullified by our failure to keep our side of the bargain because there are no conditions on our side of the bargain. The only way to lose an inheritance is to reject it altogether. To refuse to receive what is freely given.

This second covenant is a covenant of grace. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the inheritance of forgiveness was established. Sinners inherit this forgiveness through faith in Christ. Even that faith is a gift from God.

The apostle John spoke of this covenant of grace when he wrote...
"...the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
Jesus Himself spoke of the covenant of grace when gave His followers the Lord's Supper. He said...
"...Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV).
Psalm of the Day: Psalm 143 (NKJV)

A Psalm of David.

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD,
Give ear to my supplications!
In Your faithfulness answer me,
And in Your righteousness.
2 Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous.
3 For the enemy has persecuted my soul;
He has crushed my life to the ground;
He has made me dwell in darkness,
Like those who have long been dead.
4 Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart within me is distressed.
5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all Your works;
I muse on the work of Your hands.
6 I spread out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah
7 Answer me speedily, O LORD;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide Your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.
8 Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.
9 Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter.
10 Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Your Spirit is good.
Lead me in the land of uprightness.
11 Revive me, O LORD, for Your name’s sake!
For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.
12 In Your mercy cut off my enemies,
And destroy all those who afflict my soul;
For I am Your servant.

Some find it hard to grasp the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. They mistakenly think that the old covenant was one way to get to heaven, and the new covenant just another, different way. As if the Old Testament followers of God got to heaven because they followed God's rules close enough to earn their own ticket.

But king David had no such mistaken notions. He writes...
" Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous" (Psalm 143:2 ESV).
God established the covenant of the law for the precise purpose of showing us that we dare not trust in ourselves for righteousness. Instead , we must abandon our own efforts and trust in God for rescue.

In His Word, God repeatedly tells us that we are NOT righteous. Our works condemn us, they don't save us.

In Isaiah 64 it says...
" 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away" (Isaiah 64:6 NIV).
In Romans 3 it says...
" 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin" (Romans 3:20 NIV).
In 2 Corinthians 5 it says...

" 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

Through faith in Christ we are declared as righteous as God Himself! Our righteousness comes as a gift from God, not as something earned through our keeping of His law.

This is why God counted sinful king David as righteous. David trusted God's promise to deliver him from danger in life, and to deliver him from his own sinfulness through the Savior that God had promised to send.

David expresses this trust when he says...
" Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in You do I trust;" (Psalm 143:8 NKJV).
Gospel History: John 12:20-33 (NASB)

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast;
21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
25 “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.
26 “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.
28 “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
29 So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.
31 “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.
32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

Like I said earlier, the old covenant of the law was a covenant which had conditions. Keep the laws of God and God will be your God. But it was impossible for sinners to obey God's law perfectly, so this covenant was broken.

But Jesus kept the covenant of the law for us. His whole life can be summed up in one word - obedience. He was obedient to His heavenly Father in everything he said, did and thought. He kept the law of His Father perfectly. He was sinless.

Theologians sometimes divide the obedience of Christ Jesus into two parts. Active obedience and passive obedience. The active part is what He did in life. All He DID in word and deed. The passive part is what He did on the cross, when he chose to submit Himself to torture, hell and death though He deserved none of these things.

Jesus was looking forward to the passive obedience of suffering on the cross when He said,
"Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27 NASB).
Instead of seeking to escape the suffering to come, Jesus submitted to the Father's will saying,
" Father, glorify Your name" (John 12:28 NASB).
And God the Father responded to Jesus' expression of total obedience by saying,
"...I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (John 12:28 NASB).
The Father had been glorified by His Son's perfect active obedience to this point. And in His Son's willing suffering on the cross, the Father's name would be glorified AGAIN.

Through Jesus' obedience, our disobedience would be canceled. And in the new covenant of grace, founded on the cross, Christ's obedience becomes our own.

In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote...
" 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11 ESV).
NT Letter: Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV)

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...

This last reading from the book of Hebrews emphasizes the real struggle that Jesus went through. Obedience is easy when the command that you're following is pleasant. Full obedience is learned when the command is painful to carry out.

When we think of the fact that Jesus was truly God, perhaps we get the idea that His life was easy. That it was no big deal for GOD to endure the crucifixion. But when we remember that He was also fully human, it looks a little harder to do what He did. To be absolutely obedient to God the Father in thought, word and deed - even while He was being scourged, spit upon, mocked, beaten and crucified.

Through these things the MAN Jesus learned what complete obedience means - through experience. And because He did, His mission was perfected. Finished. Completed. Accomplished.

Through His perfect obedience, active and passive, you and I have received eternal salvation.

The writer of Hebrews ends our last reading with a curious phrase.
"...once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him..." (Hebrews 5:9 NIV).
What does it mean to "obey" Jesus?

The Greek helps us out. The Greek word for "obey" that we find here is made from two words put together: "hupa" and "ahu-oh". "Under" + "listen". Simply put, to "obey" Jesus means to "under-listen". To humbly accept what He says.

Like it says in James...
"...receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21 ESV).

The covenant of the law was founded on obedience. And because sinners could not obey, that covenant was broken. But the new covenant is based on what we might call "the obedience of faith". Through the gift of faith, God gives us the righteousness which we could never have obtained through the keeping the law.

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for the covenant of the law. Thank you for showing us your high standards, and the impossibility of our keeping your law. But thank you even more for the covenant of grace. Thank you Lord Jesus, for your stolid obedience in the face of horrible pain. Thank you for not just being our greatest example, but for being our great redeemer. Increase our joy and peace in the gift of forgiveness you've given us. And through your Holy Spirit, produce fruits of faith in our lives which bring glory to God. Produce fruits of faith which loudly proclaim "thank you" to our great God and Savior. Amen.

March 21, 2012

Five Flesh Wounds - Mar 21, 2012

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Grace and Lenten peace be multiplied to you, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. This evening's text comes from two sections of John chapter 19, as follows:
[Verses 17-18:] And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.

[Verses 31-37:] Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, "Not one of His bones shall be broken." 37 And again another Scripture says, "They shall look on Him whom they pierced."
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who was wounded for our transgressions, Dear Fellow-Redeemed,

Nowadays when people use the term “flesh wounds,” they’re usually talking about wounds that aren’t fatal, and in most cases aren’t even particularly dangerous. Gunshot wounds, for instance, that merely crease the flesh, or that pass through without harming any major organs. In our day we take it for granted that, given modern medical care, wounds like that pose no great danger. But it wasn’t always that way. Before the advent of the sulfa drugs in the 1930s, and penicillin in the 1940s, There was technically no such thing as a “non-fatal wound.” Any wound – even a flesh wound – can and often did kill its victim. In the Civil War, e.g., many more soldiers died from gangrene or infectionof so-called flesh wounds than from any other cause. Those people took flesh wounds seriously, and for good reason.

We do too. Because tonight the subject before us is wounds. To be specific, the five wounds in the hands, feet and side of our Savior. None of those wounds by themselves caused His death; indeed, the final wound wasn’t given until after His death. But whose wounds had great meaning, both when they were inflicted on Jesus and to us Christians today. Join me tonight was we fill in another portion of the Portrait of our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers:

They serve to remind us -
I. That Jesus really did die.
II. That the prophesies concerning Him really were fulfilled.
III. That you and I really are cleansed through His blood.
Interestingly, the first brief text I read you says nothing of nails. It simply says they crucified Him. Crosses on which criminals were put to death could be X-shaped or T-shaped. The victims could be fastened with ropes or nails or both.We know that Jesus was fastened with nails, though the word “nails” only occurs once in the Gospels, and that’safter Jesus’ resurrection. Do you remember when? It was when doubting Thomas said, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe John 20:25. We know what kind of nails they used in crucifixions, by the way. That particular Greek word doesn’t refer to the kind of nails you’d use, say, to shingle a roof or to build a birdhouse. It refers to large iron spikes.The kind that had to be driven in with force, and with force wrenched out again when their purpose was accomplished.

As for the spear wound. The spear of a Roman legionary was a formidable and intimidating weapon. It was typically twelve feet long, twice the height of a man. Its shaft was made of ash, an inch and a half thick. The iron spear head was triangular or spade-shaped, eight inches to a foot long, weighing over two pounds. Honed to a razor's sharpness, the spear was the weapon most feared by the enemies of Rome. One such enemy commander, after the Battle of Balaclava, wrote in his diary, "I don't care about their swords. They use them so slowly and only cut. But I am terrified of their spears".

We don't know if the soldiers who were detailed to carry out Jesus' execution carried swords. They may have. But they did have spears. And they had other grisly tools of their trade–a hammer to drive in the nails, and a mallet or iron bar to break the legs of the crucified in order to hasten their deaths. The Jews had requested that this be done to Jesus and the two malefactors, so that the bodies might be taken down before the Sabbath. It was even more urgent because this was a special Sabbath, occurring as it did during the holy Feast of Passover.

As we know, Jesus endured a long litany of suffering at the hands of the Jews and Romans. The blows, the mockery, the scourging and finally the crucifixion. Given that fact, the wounds He received in His hands, feet and side may relatively unimportant, a sort of footnote to His Passion. But that's not so. The events that I read to you a moment ago are important for us Christians on a number of levels. The first is so obvious that you might tend to overlook it. The FIVE FLESH WOUNDS remind us that Jesus really did die.

Well, you might ask, who would ever contest that? Who would ever say that Jesus didn't die on the cross? You'd be surprised. Skeptics and unbelievers over the years have combated the resurrection account by speculating that Jesus may never really have died in the first place. That he merely fainted on the cross. That he was near death. Near enough to convince the detail of soldiers. But that he didn't actually die, and that he was later resuscitated. If you don't believe in the resurrection then you have to say something like that, or else it's pretty hard to explain the over 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after Easter Sunday.

But our account for tonight leaves no room for doubt. Jesus really did die, as John records: Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear.This, by the way, really can’t be called a “flesh wound.” For the word for "pierced" indicates not just a glancing cut, but to forcefully penetrate, to thrust through with a death blow. One writer remarked that, had Jesus not been dead already, this blow would have killed Him.

The second truth that the soldier's spear reminds us of is that all the Old Testament prophesies concerning the Christ really were fulfilled in Jesus. For you see, if these prophesies were fulfilled, then we may trust that all the others were fulfilled as well.

God was making sure that all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ would be fulfilled to the letter. And that's just about the only way to explain this very strange crucifixion! For it was strange, in many ways. Consider: it normally took the victims as long as two to three days to die. But Jesus died in just six hours. Normally the bodies of the victims were left on the cross to rot, and be eaten by birds of prey. But God could not allow this to happen, for the prophecy said that …He would not suffer His holy One to see corruption. It was common for a victim's legs to be broken in order to bring about a swifter death. But this could not happen to Jesus, for the Old Testament prophecy said that, like the original Passover lamb, not one of his bones should be broken. It was very unusual for a crucifixion victim - dead or alive - to be stabbed. Certainly Pilate had not ordered it so, and Roman soldiers were not known for their initiative. But again, the Scriptures had to be fulfilled, and there was an Old Testament prophecy in Zechariah that said They will look on Me whom they pierced. -- Zech 12:10.

The scriptures must be fulfilled. God would not allow a single syllable of Old Testament prophecy to go unfulfilled. How comforting for us! For we know that if the prophesies concerning His bones and His wounds came true to the letter, then there are other wonderful prophecies that we can be confident were all fulfilled as well. Then we can have confidence that Jesus was and is our Savior. That He was and is the Lamb of God so long foretold, the One who takes away the sins of the world. Then there are so many other wonderful prophesies that we can confidently believe in, like the one in Isaiah chapter 53, All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. -- 53:6-7 How fitting that Jesus, the Paschal Lamb, should give His life on the very eve of the Passover Sabbath. For Jesus is our Passover! Paul says, For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. -- I Cor 5:7-8.

Water and blood flowed from the wound in Jesus' side. John, the eyewitness, states it simply, One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. It need not have been a miracle, by the way. In cases of extreme physical stress, congestive heart failure does sometimes cause water to build up in the lungs and around the heart. A sharp, slicing thrust with a spear going through the lungs and then the heart would naturally release water and then blood. What is the significance of these two elements? Well, in reading this account many are reminded of the Sacraments of the Church - the water in which we receive the covenant of God's grace in Baptism, and the blood of our Savior which we receive in, with and under the wine in the Lord's Supper. But surely this account holds an even more basic reminder than that. For the episode of the soldier's spear reminds us of the simple fact that you and I really are cleansed through Jesus' blood.

John writes, And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth. Why is this important? John answers, So that you may believe. John wants you to believe in Jesus as your Savior! There was a heresy called docetism that was already spreading at the time of John. It said that Jesus didn't really have a human body. According to the false teachers, what looked like a human body was nothing more than a phantom, an apparition. The Apostle puts paid to that notion immediately. "Listen," says John. "you docetics are wrong. Jesus was true human as well as true God, for blood and water flowed from that spear wound! I was there, and I saw it with my own eyes!" And that is so important for our faith, too! For you see, Jesus had to be true man as well as true God. If he had not truly been a man, with flesh and blood and thoughts and feelings and emotions, that he couldn't have redeemed us. His whole mission was to become truly human. To come here to earth and take our place. To succeed where we had failed. To step into our shoes and keep the commandments of God in all those places where we have broken them. To offer to God the perfect righteousness and obedience that you and I could never give. We read in Galatians, When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. -- Gal 3:4-5.

And that's exactly what Jesus did. He redeemed us. That precious blood that flowed from the wounds in His hands, His feet and His side is for you and me the elixir of life! It is this same John who in his first epistle states it so simply and beautifully, The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. That's John's whole point. Jesus is our Redeemer. The blood did flow. It flowed for us. It flowed to cleanse us and give us life!

The idea of cleansing or cleaning hits home with most of us, I think. Most of us know how enjoyable it is to relax in a clean house, but how difficult it is to get the house clean in the first place. And even when you have worked as hard as you can on your cleaning job, it still isn't completely clean. Even if your guests can’t see it, you always know the nooks and crannies that remain dirty and cluttered. When I was a bachelor and company was coming, I used to tidy up my kitchen by a shoving the dirty dishes inside the oven. The kitchen looked clean, but I knew better.

My friends, you all know where your dirty dishes are. You know your history of sin. You know the nooks and crannies in your soul that have harbored sin and lust and shame. God knows them too. But God has provided this miraculous cleansing agent! He has poured out the blood of His Son Jesus Christ! He did it to solve your problem of sin, and make you truly clean inside and out. What a miracle! The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. Maybe you feel like I do sometimes, the way the Apostle Paul felt when he said he was the "chief of sinners," the worst sinner there ever was. I feel that way a lot. But that doesn't change anything. For the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. We can't but regret that our sins contributed to the death of God's son. But we can't help rejoicing that the precious blood flowed, and that the universal cleansing agent of the blood of Jesus Christ was shed to cover our sins, too! Well might we sing with the hymnist,

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress.
Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head!

Did you know that there are people who say that the nails and spear are still in existence today? Nails supposedly exist in various Catholic churches in Italy and Germany. There are three artifacts claiming to be the spear. One is on display in Armenia, one in Krakow Poland, and one in the Vatican in Rome. Like other purported relics of the Passion, such as the holy grail or the shroud of Turin, the nails and spear are surrounded by mystery. There are legends of astounding miracles performed by or upon people who have come into contact with them. Of course, such mythical claims are little more than superstition. Carried too far, they can even become idolatry, a fatal distraction from the real meaning of Christ's Passion. That's not where our focus is. Our focus is on Jesus. The nails and the spear are just reminders of Him. Reminders that He really did die, that the prophesies really were fulfilled and, most important, you and I really are saved through his cleansing blood. John himself says it best near the end of his Gospel: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." -- Jn 20:31.


March 18, 2012

An Attitude of Repentance - Mar 18, 2012

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My wife has a hoodie from when she played volleyball in high school. On the back it has a simple drawing of a volleyball and a net. It says, "Put the round thing over the net thing". You could say that's the whole point of volleyball - put the round thing over the net thing. But a good volleyball coach will zero in on different aspects of the game. A good coach will focus on serving, digging, setting and spiking the ball. As a team learns the finer points of playing volleyball, they become better at "putting the round thing over the net thing".

Repentance can also be described in simple terms like this. Repentance is turning away from sin, and trusting in God for forgiveness. But our God is a better coach than that. So, in His Word He helps us to zero in on the different aspects of repentance.

Each of our Bible readings for today is somehow connected to the topic of repentance.

Like I said, repentance can be described as simply turning away from sin, and trusting in God for forgiveness. But that simple summary makes it sound as if repentance were a one time event. It's not. Repentance is more like and attitude. You could says that repentance is the ongoing philosophy of the Christian life.

Think about it like this. If you're sailing on the ocean, you can't just set your course and go to sleep. Once your ship is pointed in the right direction, you have to keep plotting the course. Wind and currents and all sorts of factors will push your ship off course. If you don't keep steering back on course, you're going to end up somewhere you don't want to be. Quite possibly in real danger of running aground or getting lost.

In the same way, repentance is constantly steering back on the course of God's will. If we Christians don't pay attention, inner sins and outer circumstances may shipwreck our faith.

Let me give you one more illustration. Each of us was born sinful. We have an inner sinful nature that isn't in line with God's Will. This sinful nature makes us like a car that has faulty alignment. You've probably experienced this before. As you drive down the road, the car pulls to the left. So, you have to constantly compensate, pulling the wheel the other way. Otherwise you're going to go off the road. Again, this is repentance. Constantly working against our inner sinful nature, keeping on the road of faith.

Since an attitude of repentance has to come from God, let's begin today by asking Him to bless our study of His Word.

Prayer: Father in heaven, open up our hearts to your Word. Give us understanding as we read, and help the lessons we learn today to stay with us as we travel toward our final destination - Your side. Strengthen our faith in the Savior which you sent to take all our sins away, and give us strength to live lives characterized by an attitude of on-going repentance.

Old Testament: Numbers 21:4-9 (ESV)

4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Here we see the Ancient Israelite people blown off course.

First they forgot how God had blessed them in the past. Not so long ago they were slaves in Egypt. They were being oppressed by a Pharaoh who forced them to make bricks for his building projects. This same Pharaoh was afraid that the Israelites might ally themselves with a foreign invasion force, so he decided to weaken the nation by ordering all the newborn male children to be cast into the Nile.

But long ago, God had promised Abraham that the Savior of the world would be born from his descendants, the Israelites. So, when Israel cried out for help, God heard them. And through Moses, God freed the people from slavery and set them on the path to a land of their own.

The Israelites not only forgot how God had blessed them in the past, they also forgot His promises concerning the future. Instead they focused on the immediate present, and blamed God and Moses for their current problems.

This was sin. And they were not sorry about their grumbling. So, God sent them a stern rebuke.

Sometimes this is what is required to move sinners to repentance. Sometimes we need to hit the bumpy edge of the road before we wake up to the fact that we're drifting. And so God sends us bumps.

In this case, the Israelites woke up real quick. There were snakes everywhere, and people were dying. Not all misfortunes are the result of impenitent sin, but the Israelites recognized that their situation this time WAS. And so they turned back to God and to Moses, and expressed that they were indeed sorry for their sins of rebellious grumbling.

One of the main things we learn here is that suffering paves the way for repentance. But here we also see that repentance toward God is followed by God's grace and deliverance.

Like it says in First John...
" 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9 ESV).
It's also important to note the way that the Israelites expressed their repentance. They said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST YOU." They didn't just say, "We're sorry we grumbled, because snake bites really hurt". They said, "We have sinned... AGAINST THE LORD." That's what true repentance is. When we say, "Hey, this thing I did was wrong. It was a sin against God that I don't ever want to do again".

Psalm of the Day: Psalm 38 (NIV)

1 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
4 My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.
6 I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.
7 My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
9 All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away.
12 Those who want to kill me set their traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they scheme and lie.
13 I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
like the mute, who cannot speak;
14 I have become like one who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.
15 LORD, I wait for you;
you will answer, Lord my God.
16 For I said, “Do not let them gloat
or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.”
17 For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am troubled by my sin.
19 Many have become my enemies without cause;
those who hate me without reason are numerous.
20 Those who repay my good with evil
lodge accusations against me,
though I seek only to do what is good.
21 LORD, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.

In our last reading, the Israelite people perceived that the fiery serpents had come because of their sinful grumbling. In Psalm 38 the Psalm writer recognizes that his current suffering is ALSO a result of his sins. Notably, David accepts this rebuke from the Lord. Obviously he's not enjoying it, but he accepts it.

This is a characteristic of the repentant heart. It accepts punishment from God and isn't bitter toward God's rebuke. Solomon sought to instill this attitude in his son when he wrote...
" 11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in" (Proverbs 3:11-12 NIV).

Have you ever cut yourself with a knife while washing a sink full of dishes? I was taught to wash the knives separately so you know what's in the sink and can be extra careful. That's good advice. But, after a while, you get a little lax. Oh well, I'll just thrown those knives in with the rest of the dishes. It'll be fine.

Now, if you get a little nick, you probably won't alter your strategy. But if you get a nice, deep felt-the-blade-sliding-into-my-flesh cut, then you're more likely alter your approach in the future.

This is the same principle God uses. Sometimes he lets us feel the earthly consequences of our sins for a while to open our eyes to a particular sin, and to help us remember to change our ways in the future.

Before we move on, I'd like to point out one more important thing we see here in Psalm 38. In the last verse, David writes...
"Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior" (Psalm 38:22 NIV).
David recognizes and confesses his sins to God. He accepts the rebuke that God is sending his way. And he doesn't lose faith. He continues to trust that God WILL deliver him in time. And knowing that God loves him, David prays that his deliverance will come soon.

When talking about repentance, we need to remember that it IS turning AWAY from sin, but it's also turning TO the LORD - and expecting and praying for his sure deliverance.

Gospel History: John 3:14-21 (NKJV)

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.

In this reading, Jesus references our Old Testament reading about the bronze serpent. Let's revisit that event one more time.

The people grumbled against God. God sent fiery serpents into their camp. The people recognized that they had been sinning against God by grumbling against Him.

They sinned. God rebuked. They repented. But up to that point they hadn't been rescued yet. Moses had to make the bronze serpent and put it up on the pole first, THEN whoever looked at it - lived.

I'm rehearsing the story because it brings out one CRUCIAL point about repentance: repentance doesn't save. Being sorry about your sins doesn't erase them.

Think about it. In our criminal justice system, being sorry about a crime doesn't mean you don't have to go to jail. Imagine if it did! You murdered someone? But you're truly sorry? Okay, no punishment is needed. That wouldn't be justice. For justice to happen, crime must be punished, regardless of how repentant the criminal is.

When Jesus started preaching, His message was...
"... repent AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL" (Mark 1:15 ESV).
Repentance paves the way for sinners to see their Savior. But if Jesus hadn't suffered the punishment for our sins, we would remain guilty, and schedule for eternal punishment in hell.

But Jesus was lifted up, just like the serpent in the wilderness. He was lifted up on the cross of Calvary. And there He did indeed feel the punishment for each and every one of our sins. And all who look to Him for forgiveness receive it in full.

Now, earlier I described repentance as an attitude instead of a one time act. In this way, repentance is like a diet. Going on a diet isn't a one time act. If you don't keep on following your chosen meal schedule, you're not on a diet.

In verse 20, Jesus says...
"20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:20-21 NKJV).
Jesus is describing the attitude or the philosophy of two people. The impenitent sinner and the repentant sinner. The impenitent sinner embraces sin as his way of life. The penitent sinner embraces God's way as his way of life.

The takeaway is twofold. The impenitent sinner CANNOT BE forgiven because he doesn't WANT to be forgiven. He wants to keep on sinning.

The penitent sinner CANNOT BE CONDEMNED because even though he sins every day, he struggles against those sins and brings them to God's Son for cleansing.

When people see the life of the penitent sinner, they see clearly that God is at work in that person's life. Not that the penitent sinner is perfect - not at all. But the penitent sinner is forgiven, and is being guided away from the darkness of on-going sin and into the daylight of an on-going attitude of repentance.

Before we move on, I want to just highlight one fact about our salvation. Our sins aren't forgiven because we get really good at avoiding sin. The snake bitten people who looked at the bronze serpent were healed, just like that. In the same way, all who trust in Jesus for forgiveness are forgiven, just like that. Jesus simply says that whoever TRUSTS in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Our salvation is a FAITH thing, not a works thing. This fact will be brought out strongly in our last reading.

NT Letter: Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

So far, the letter readings that we've had this Lent have directed our attention to the power of the Cross. But here, Paul directs us to the power of Christ's resurrection from the dead.

Because Jesus suffered and died on the cross, our punishment for sin has been used up. It can no longer fall on us because it fell on Jesus.

When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He was putting His stamp of approval on the sacrifice that Jesus offered for you and me. God doesn't raise liars from the dead, so, Jesus' resurrection means He was who He said He was, and our sins are now forgiven through faith in Him.

If you scan over this section of verses from Ephesians 2, one thing you'll notice is that God is doing all the work. When it comes to our salvation, God simply doesn't allow us to do any of the work.

Let's read over the text again. Note how it's all God doing things for us. MERCY is undeserved kindness extended because of pity. GRACE is undeserved love extended just because. God says it's HIS LOVE FOR US that made Him raise us from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ Jesus. He's the SAVER we're the ones being saved. He's doing this to SHOW US his grace and kindness.

And then comes that line where it says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8 NKJV). And some people say, "See, that's the part we do. We have to choose to believe in Him." But God says, WRONG! I even give FAITH TO YOU! Faith comes from God, not your own works. God says, "You are MY workmanship. I created you in the beginning and through the Gospel I have recreated you in Christ."

About the only thing that God doesn't do here is found in the last verse. There it says...
"...we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV).
In other places the Holy Spirit describes the good works of the Christian as fruits of faith. Things that grow and flourish in the rich soil of faith in Christ. God doesn't do our fruits of faith for us. But He just about does. Paul says that God "prepared them beforehand that we should walk in them". Like a parent who lays out their child's clothes so they don't look silly when they get dressed for the day, God laid out good works for us to walk in through life.

After God has restored us to His side through faith in Christ's cross, He has good things for us to do. These things don't have any impact on our salvation - Jesus already got that part done for us. We're forgiven. But, in the fruits of faith we find further blessings.

In Galatians 5 it says...
" 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

Repentance isn't our work. It's the work of God in our lives. But, like I said earlier, repentance isn't just turning away from sin, it's also turning to God in faith. Trusting that through Jesus our sins have been forgiven, just like God promised.

When we're turned to see God through the eyes of faith, we see that all of this has been God's doing, not ours. His gift, not our work.

And this realization empowers us to step out into our lives every day with confidence. God has blessed us in the past. Our sins stand forgiven now. His promise for the future is sure in Christ. And He gives us a path of further blessing to follow in this life.

Sometimes we color repentance dark and grey. As if it's us beating ourselves up over sin. That's not repentance. Not complete repentance anyway. Repentance is only black at the beginning when we see our sins. But then it turns to light and joy as we see our Savior.

May God bless us so we always see our sins, turn away from them, and trust in Christ as our great Savior. May God bless us so that we run with lightness and joy along the paths which our great God and Savior has set before us.


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

March 14, 2012

Four Ruthless Soldiers - Mar 14, 2012

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When it came time to propose to my wife, I went shopping for diamonds. Well, just for one diamond that would go in her ring.

As I visited different jewelry stores, I saw a lot of diamonds. Each offering was presented for my examination on a dark little panel of black felt. The darkness of background brought out the purity of the diamond.

Tonight we will see the same contrast between darkness and sparkling perfection when we see our crucified Savior, set on the dark background of Four Ruthless Soldiers.

John 19:23-24 (ESV)

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things,

The soldiers who crucified Jesus were a desensitized bunch. That is an understatement that we in this room will probably never fully understand.

Like all human beings, these men were born sinful. They had grown up apart from God. They had been ruled by their sinful natures all their lives. Throughout that time, they had not been shaped by God's Word, but by the sinful world around them.

Their occupation had made them even more grim and merciless than the average man. They were soldiers in a time when wars were fought by hand. They had seen the life blood drain out of their enemies at an arms length. They had seen living eyes go blank. For these men, killing was routine.

When they received orders to crucify Jesus, they made preparations. Hammer. Nails. Cross beam. Food and water - for them, of course. They were going to be up on Golgotha for a good while, so they packed a lunch.

At one point during Jesus' trial before the Roman governor, the governor had attempted to induce the people to back down by scourging Jesus. Soldiers had scourged him with a many thonged whip tipped with bits of bone or metal. This too, was business as usual. There was no hint of mercy in their deed.

Even after Jesus' body was torn and bloody, the soldiers felt no empathy. In Mark 15 we read...
"16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him" (Mark 15:16-20 ESV).

Crucifying a man began by getting him to the site of execution. But since crucifixion also meant as a lesson for the living, the condemned man was usually led in a long parade through the city. The soldier who led the procession carried a placard on which was written the crime for which the man was being executed.

For the soldiers, this was again - business as usual. But it was business with a purpose. Intimidation. The parade of the condemned said, "This is what happens when you cross the Romans, they cross you". The Romans had not become a world power by being gentle. They were brutally practical.

When Jesus was led to the hill of execution, we're given an additional detail which further colors in the character of these soldiers. Along the way Jesus apparently fell under the weight of His cross. The scourging had taken too much out of Him. And so the Romans grabbed a man passing by and forced him to carry Jesus' cross. They weren't going to do it. They were the conquerors. They held the power. It was not unusual for a Roman soldier to force a Jew to carry their baggage for a mile whenever they felt like resting.

It was humiliating for a Jew to be forced to carry things for their hated enemies. But the Romans reveled in it. It was again, very practical. You could get a job done without breaking a sweat, and you could remind the Jews of their place - all at the same time.

When the soldiers finally reached their destination, they crucified Jesus. And when the nails had been hammered in, holding the victim securely to the cross, they hung the charge above His head, and turned to other matters.

Here again, the coarse practicality of the Roman army comes out in high definition. They considered a crucified man to be a dead man. And so the clothes they had taken off of Him were now up for grabs.

We're told that the four soldiers detailed to Christ's cross divided His remaining possessions up into four parts. Something for each of them. The four parts were probably a head covering, a belt, sandals and an outer garment (a wrap, like a robe).

The Gospel of Mark tells us that they cast lots to decide who got what. Basically, they rolled dice.

But, on this occasion there was one extra item. Jesus had worn a finely woven garment next to his skin. Kinda like a soft undershirt. This was a nice piece of clothing, so they decided to roll the dice one more time to figure out who got to take this prize home.

Perhpas we've heard this account so many times that we've become desensitized to the cruelty of this act.

Imagine waiting at the deathbed of a dying loved one. All the sudden you notice that he's wearing a really nice shirt. So you ask him between his rattling breaths if you might be able to get that when he's dead. I mean, he's not going to need it anyway, right?

This is what these four soldiers did just a few feet from Jesus' nail pierced feet.

These soldiers serve as a contrasting darkness to bring out the innocence of our sinless Savior. And you know, it's ironic that there were four soldiers who did this. It's not unusual, that was the typical number of Romans soldiers detailed to a cross. But it is ironic, because in the Bible the number FOUR is sometimes used as a symbolic number for Mankind. In the four soldiers hunkered near the cross of Christ we see what each of us would be apart from God grace - utterly sinful. Unfeeling, self-centered and greedy.

But there behind these dark sinners we also see Jesus, standing out in stark contrast to them. THEIR purpose was to kill and intimidate and ultimately to help Rome take and keep whatever lands they wanted.

But Jesus' whole purpose in life was not to take, BUT TO GIVE. To give spiritual sight to the blind, stumbling sinner. To call wandering people back to their Creator. To give forgiveness and eternal life through His death in the sinner's place.

These men were utterly insensitive. Gambling for Jesus' possessions in plain sight of Him.

But Jesus was so touched by pity, even for sinners who considered Him less than dirt, that He suffered FOR THEM. He paid the hell that each of THEIR sins had earned, and He did it GLADLY for the joy of saving them.

These men and other soldiers like them fed on the conquered and the hopeless. They forced the Jews to carry their burdens They offended them at every opportunity. They gathered up the possessions of the dying with no attempt to hide what they were doing.

But even while these men were gambling for Jesus' last piece of clothing, He was suffering in order to give them AN ETERNAL COVERING. He was suffering to cover their sins with HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.

The apostle Paul once told Christian friends living in Galatia...
" Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27 ESV).
We hope that these men later came to realize what Jesus had done for them. That He had left them a much more lasting and valuable garment to wear, BEFORE GOD. But we don't know in their case.

The theme of our meditations this Lent is, "Portrait of our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers". Tonight we've shaded the background of this portrait BLACK by examining the ruthless soldiers who crucified Him. But this isn't meant to be an exercise in passing the blame, for in their actions we see a reminder of our own dark desensitization.

How many times have we Christians repaid evil for evil instead of taking the opportunity of forgive people in the name of our great God and Savior? How many times have we Christians squabbled over material things and ignored the spiritual? How many times have we Christians laughed at jokes made at the expense of others, laughed at things that we wouldn't want others to hear us laughing about?

Oh yes, we belong with those soldiers, squatting in the dirt. Us and the rest of the world. We belong there with our backs turned to the Savior as He suffers in sinless perfection behind us.

But John leaves us with one more detail that we do well to note. In verse 24 he says...
"... This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things," (John 19:24 ESV).
Here John references a prophecy found in Psalm 22. Unknowingly, these men were fulfilling yet another prophesy in the long list of prophecies fulfilled around Jesus. Another prophesy which identified Him as, not just another tortured criminal, but as the Suffering Savior foretold in Scripture. The Savior that suffered for a purpose. The Savior who died to give us forgiveness for every insensitive action, for every unfeeling sin that we've ever committed.

We deserve to be drawn into every depiction of the cross, right beside these sinful soldiers. But not just because our sins are as dark as theirs. There at the foot of the cross, Jesus' sinless perfection shines out, and falls gently down upon us. His sparkling perfection covers us in His mercy, forgiveness and peace.

When your conscience turns your inner eye on the blackness of your sins. Remember why God gave you a conscience - so that you can see your great need for redemption. And, so that you can see clearly the diamond of Christ's righteousness which through faith in His Name has been GIVEN TO YOU.


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

March 11, 2012

Seeing the Invisible - Mar 11, 2012

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It is hard to understand what you cannot see. In fact, it is impossible unless someone teaches you.

About 170 years ago a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis (Ig-nahts Zem-uhl-vahys) was working in Vienna. He was in charge of two birthing clinics run by the Vienna General Hospital. These clinics offered free birthing services to poor or single mothers.

Semmelweis was troubled to the point of sickness with his work. One out of every ten women who gave birth at his clinics died from something termed Childbed Fever. But this wasn't all. Unexplainably, more women died at First Clinic than at Second Clinic. Semmelweis wanted to know WHY.

So, he looked at the data. He examined the differences and the similarities between the clinics. One difference that he found was this. First Clinic served as a training facility for medical students. Second clinic as a training facility for midwives. At First Clinic the medical students also performed autopsies, whereas the midwives of Second Clinic did not.

In 1847 a close friend of Semmelweis died after being accidentally poked with a scalpel during an autopsy. When they examined his body, they found many similarities to the mothers who had died of Childbed Fever. Semmelweis made the connection immediately. Something was being transmitted from the dead bodies to the birthing mothers on the very hands of the doctors.

Semmelweis had a revolutionary solution. Have the doctors wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution (like bleach).

The result of the new hand washing policy was astounding. The death rates at First Clinic dropped 90%.

But here comes the tragedy. When Semmelweis suggested to the medical community that the reason for these deaths was a lack of cleanliness, his hypothesis was considered extreme. Some doctors felt insulted at the implication that they had dirty hands. At the implication that THEY were causing these deaths. After all, they were gentlemen. They were not unclean. For the most part, Semmelweis was ignored, rejected and ridiculed.

Eventually he was forced out of Vienna, committed to an asylum and died of septicemia at the age of 47.

You see, the medical community at that time did not yet believe in germs. Mostly because they could not see them. Only decades later did men like Luis Pasteur prove their existence of germs.

It is hard to understand what you cannot see. In fact, it is impossible unless someone teaches you.

In the book of John, it says...
" 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known" (John 1:17 NIV).
Our Scripture readings for today tell us how the invisible God Has revealed His existence, His will, and His character to the people He created.

Old Testament: Exodus 20:1-17 (ESV)

1 And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

One of the fundamental principles of parenting is: let your children know what you expect of them. Don't expect big heads on little shoulders. Children are just learning what is acceptable and what is not. So adults need to tell them very specifically what is expected, and we need to remind them.

God did this for the human race that He created. First He wrote right in wrong in our hearts. Then when sin blurred those lines He gave us a handy summary of right and wrong in the Ten Commandments.

As we read the words of the Ten Commandments, the very Spirit of God is working, helping us to understand what He expects of us.

Some of these commandments we get pretty easy. These are the ones that God doesn't spend much time on. Don't murder. Don't commit adultery. Don't steal. Don't lie. God doesn't need to spend many words on these commands because we get these commandments. These are things we don't want other people to do to us, so we instinctively understand that we shouldn't do these things to others. It's the other commands that God uses more words to explain.

For example, take the last commandments about coveting. In Romans 7 Paul writes...
"...I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet'" (Romans 7:7 ESV).
Through God's commands about coveting we learn that God isn't just concerned with outward actions, He's concerned with inner motives. He wants us to learn that we don't just sin through what we say and do, we even sin in through what we think.

Much of parenting is simply encouraging good behavior, and discouraging bad behavior through reward and punishment. And God does this for the human race that He created also. Here in Exodus 20 God says, "I'm serious about how you act. I WILL punish those who hate me, and I WILL bless those who love me and keep my commandments. The commandments contain two promises - the promise of punishment for the wicked, and the promise of blessing for the righteous.

And it's in these promises God reveals something about Himself, and about us.

First He reveals that He is a jealous God. In our day, we generally associated the word "jealous" with a bad attitude. But this isn't the sense of the word "jealous" when applied to God. Replace the "j" with a "z" and you get a clearer idea of what God means here. God is ZEALOUS. He's intensely emotional about how his creations act toward Him. He's not going to put up with people breaking His Law. And He's not going to forget to bless people who keep His Law out of love for Him.

The second thing God reveals to us through His commandments is that we are sinners. Even though we know God's threats to punish the person who sins, we still sin. Even though we know God's promise to bless the keeper of His Law, we still sin.

Ever heard someone say, "Well, we're all human". When we use this phrase we suggest that we shouldn't be surprised when people sin. It's just human to sin. And along with this sentiment we subtly imply that since everyone does it, and it's to be expected, that makes it okay.

Through His commandments God says, "No way. Your sin is NOT okay. Not according to my standards."

Psalm of the Day: Psalm 19 (NASB)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

One title for this Psalm is "God's revelation in work and word". The first half of this Psalm talks about how the physical world testifies to mankind every day that a great, wise and powerful God exists.

The apostle Paul repeats this truth in Romans 1 when he writes...
"...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20 ESV).
The second half of Psalm 19 talks about how God reveals His perfect and holy will through the commands found in God's Word.

At the end of Psalm the writer becomes pensive. He turns his thoughts inward. He's convicted by God's commands. He knows he has sinned often and in many ways that he is not even aware of. He writes,
"Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12 ESV).
And he is afraid of what he calls "presumptuous sins". He doesn't want to be ruled by his arrogant sinner's heart. Instead the Psalm writer longs to master his sins. Like God told Cain,
"...sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it" (Genesis 4:7 ESV).
With the last lines of the Psalm he expresses his only hope for forgiveness. He says,
"...O LORD, [You are] my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14 ESV).

The commandments of God do exist to show us God's will. How He wants us to act. But more than that, they exist to show us that we are sinners who cannot do this. They exist to point us to the Redeemer from sin which God promised from the very first sin.

So often when people read God's commandments they think that God is saying we can actually keep them, and if we do we can get to heaven. NO! Forgiveness for sins has NEVER BEEN A WORK THING, it's always been A FAITH THING. Even the ancient Psalm writer knew this.

Gospel History: John 2:13-22 (ESV)

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Through His threats and promises connected with the commandments, God made it clear that He was intensely serious about being honored by the human race. Here in the Temple, God's Son makes it clear that He is of the same mindset.

The Temple courts were meant to be a place for people to approach God in worship and prayer. They were not meant to be a market where wallets were padded through exorbitant prices and where money was worshipped by the religious authorities who encouraged and benefited from this trade.

But sinful humans often focus on the temporary at the expense of what lasts. We miss the point. We don't understand unless God opens our eyes and points us to the truth.

The reason for this is that we are born sinful. Sin has so permeated the human condition that we can't see spiritual truths clearly anymore. Our sinful nature blinds our spiritual sight like cataracts. Like Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians...
" 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV).

And, it appears from this story about Jesus cleansing the Temple, that some of the things that God teaches aren't meant to be fully understood right away.

Here the enraged Jews demand a miraculous sign from Jesus to show that He has the authority to do what He is doing. Jesus responds...
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19 ESV).
It doesn't appear that Jesus intended anyone to understand this prophesy about His resurrection right away. Even if He did, they didn't get it.

Later on, after Jesus had been raised from the dead the prophetic statement that He uttered here was illuminated in the minds of His disciples. And at THAT time it strengthened their faith in Him.

May the Holy Spirit help us to hold on to the words of God in our hearts and minds, even when we do not fully grasp their meaning. And may those words open up to our mind at just the right time, to the glory of God and the strengthening of our trust in Him.

NT Letter: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (NIV)

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

This Lent I've been trying to emphasize that the Cross of Christ is not a place to pummel ourselves with guilt and sorrow, it is the headwaters, the source of the Christian's forgiveness, peace and power.

It's not surprising that we miss the point. Our sinful nature gets in the way of our understanding God's free gift of salvation. Only through the revealing power of the Holy Spirit working in the Word of God do we finally break free of the idea that we have to put on a parade of emotional pain in order to enter the presence of God.

Does God want us to see that it was our sins that put Jesus on the cross? Clearly yes. Does God want us to be sorry for all the ways we've sinned against each other and against Him? Definitely. But God wants us to see our sins CLEARLY and DEFINITELY so that we can then see that all our punishment was swallowed up by His Son on the Cross.

God uses the Law to grip us by the collar and pull us close. And then He says, "Look! Look at your sins! Look how ugly they are! Look how twisted and damaging and sick they are! Look at all the hell you deserve because of them!" And then he drops those sins off the side of the boat into the deepest abyss we could ever imagine. And smiling He says, "See? They're gone. You sins stands forgiven in Christ. You will never feel my wrath because of Him."

Even then, it's hard for sinners to believe that God's love is that big. That ridiculously free. The Gospel is so far beyond our sinner's hearts to grasp that it can only be understood though God's persistent and brilliant teaching.

In this last reading Paul illustrates how impossible it is for sinful people to understand God's gift.

The Jews were the type of people who looked for miraculous signs to validate a message. When they looked at Christ on the cross, they were confused. Where was the glory in this? Where was the miraculous sign here?

The Greeks were the type of people who were always trying to logic things out. Philosophy was their thing. When they saw Christ on the cross, they just thought it was silly. We're supposed to get behind this guy? He's our great leader? He got Himself crucified?

But the irony is that in the cross there was both sign and power.

When Christ was crucified He was fulfilling ancient prophesies found in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 that said that One would take the fall for the many. And the sign of the cross was followed by the sign of the empty tomb. Christ rose from the dead, as foretold. What greater sign could there be that this was the Messiah foretold?

And if we're looking for power, there's power in the cross. The power of Christ's crucifixion is found in His voluntary choice to die. It takes one type of power to ride into battle and cut down the enemy with a sword or a gun. It takes a greater power to willingly sacrifice yourself because you know it will win the battle once and for all.

It is hard to understand what you cannot see. In fact, it is impossible unless someone teaches you.

And those whom God calls by the Gospel of Christ, He enlightens with the Gospel. He teaches us to see that in the cross of Christ is GOD'S power, GOD's wisdom, and GOD's love - all SO MUCH MORE than man's power or wisdom or love.

If we try to see God apart from the Bible, we only see a hazy shape. But through the Words of Scripture Christ Jesus reveals the true God to us. He is an intensely emotional God, zealous and protective of His honor. But He is also an intensely and emotional God, zealous and dedicated to saving those who could never save themselves.

We started our service today by talking about a Hungarian doctor who suggest a simple way to save human lives. Wash your hands.

The medical establishment just couldn't see the wisdom in that. They had it all figured out. Human health depended on a balance of the four humors of the body, not on imaginary "germs" or other such nonsense.

Let's not do the same when it comes to spiritual things. Let's not dismiss God's revealed way of salvation by thinking we've got some other way figured out. Instead, let's listen to the Greatest Teacher - for in Christ we are given SPIRITUAL CLEANSING and ETERNAL LIFE.


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