Father, Forgive – Part 1 of 2

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“ ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do’ ” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

Have you ever thought about what you would say if you only had a few moments to live? What would you wish to communicate to your family and friends, to those who have encouraged you, to those who have hurt you in life? Would you speak words that wound? Or would you speak words that give life, even in your dying moments?

Over the next several weeks I’ll be writing about some of Jesus’ final statements as he hung on the cross, giving his life for our sins.

The first of Jesus’ statements that we will look at is this: “ ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do’ ” (Luke 23:34, NIV). With this simple phrase, Jesus spoke life-filled words of compassion and mercy, healing and reconciliation. Even as his body hung, broken on a Roman cross, Jesus’ heart was intentionally and passionately focused on people.

Think, for a moment, of what Jesus was going through as he hung on the cross: the loneliness, the embarrassment, the temptation to quit. Each of these paled in comparison to the unbearable physical agony of suffering the brutality of the cross. If any of us were in Jesus’ position, I doubt that we would even be speaking to our father, let alone be praying to him on behalf of those who had so cruelly put us in this most desperate of situations. The weight of the world’s sin placed upon our shoulders would likely have torn us violently from the cross. But, in Jesus’ case, it was this enormous burden of transgression that held him there. Jesus had the courage and the compassion and the conviction to call upon his Father in Heaven to extend forgiveness. Jesus grasped the significance of the mission he was part of and was willing to obey his Father no matter what was asked of him. His thoughts were not on the extreme physical agony he was undoubtedly experiencing, but on the hurt in the hearts and souls of the people he was praying and dying for.

The suffering Jesus had every right to call down the wrath of God upon all of mankind, but he used his words instead to express unconditional love. Jesus could have summoned legions of angels to avenge him, yet he called upon his Father to forgive. Jesus could have easily stepped down from the cross and taught the folks there a lesson in justice and revenge, but he hung on the cross and taught them a lesson in grace. Jesus understood the importance of final words, of final lessons.

To be continued…

What Really Killed Jesus?

cross draped in whiteWas it the nails that pierced his wrists and feet, or maybe the spear that punctured his side? Was it the cruel words that echoed in his ears, their shouts to crucify, crucify? Maybe it was his gasping for breath, or his thirst, or his breaking heart. Whichever of these it may have been, I’m pretty certain that I played a part in why someone so innocent, so good, so young had to die? I am quite sure that I know why. They scourged him and mocked him and stripped this man. I looked away, only to see his blood on my hands. Naked and bleeding and paraded by men. He carried the cross. He buried my sin. As I look more closely, I finally see. It’s not what really killed Jesus, but who? It was me.

Isaiah 53 – Part 7

jesus statue“Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:10-11, NIV, emphasis added).

There’s a lot of talk these days about the will of God. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, for so many of us desire to live into God’s plan for our lives. For some, however, who scrupulously try to discern God’s will in every nuance of their being, the pursuit of God’s will can be, in the least, frustrating and, at most, downright dangerous to faith.

While it’s important to consider the extent of God’s will, here’s what I’ve come to understand in view of Scripture. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, his partner in the Gospel, these words, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV, emphasis added). This passage encapsulates what God’s will is, as well as what it’s not. Simply put, God’s will is that people would be saved by faith in the truth of Jesus.

Isaiah’s prophetic words above can and should be viewed in all of their severity. Still, I can’t imagine the Father taking any joy in the suffering of Jesus. God’s will was that Christ would die for the sins of the world, but I know that his heart was breaking as his only child’s body was broken on a Roman cross.

How do we fulfill God’s will in our lives? I believe that it begins with our faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there. Many people have no understanding of the forgiveness of God offered through the cross. So, let’s share it. May God bless us in endeavoring this.

 

Isaiah 53 – Part 6

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“By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:8-9, NIV).

Theologians talk about the “great exchange” that occurred at Calvary. It was there that Jesus took the sin of the world, even my sin and your sin, upon himself, and died a death he never deserved.

Paul says in his letter to the Corinthian Church, that “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). Just think about that. Jesus, who is perfection personified, took all the ugliness of our sin to the cross and to the grave, and, in exchange, he gave us all of his righteousness.

Jesus was crucified a criminal, even though he had done no wrong. And we are given eternity, even though we, on our own, have done nothing good. That is the good news of the Gospel message. Christ died for us so that we can live through him.

Isaiah 53 – Part 5

christ crucified

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7, NIV).

Within just one verse of Scripture, the Prophet Isaiah changes his metaphor describing people as sheep “…gone astray…” (Isaiah 53:6, NIV), to Jesus as a sheep, “…the lamb (led) to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:7, NIV). Why the quick shift in metaphor? Perhaps, it is to demonstrate God’s love, grace, and provision. God, the Shepherd of souls, doesn’t leave his sheep to wander aimlessly in barren pasture, where they can settle for a life outside the abundance of his mercy. Rather, God loves his sheep so much that he would rather become one of them than to see them perish. This is what is meant by the incarnation of God in Jesus, that God took on the flesh of his sheep so that he might save his sheep.

And here’s how God saves – in the silent submission of Jesus. The same God who spoke the universe into existence, who breathed life into humanity, remained silent while he was beaten, berated, and broken upon a cross. He made no objection to the unjust verdict of a jury of his peers, nor to the cruel command to carry the wooden instrument of his death. No, he remained silent. Jesus, who could have exercised his divine right to call down judgement from above, chose his words with unprecedented compassion as he pleaded for the forgiveness of people.

Jesus remained silent because his mission and message were greater than his own personal well-being. We can be thankful for that.

Isaiah 53 – Part 4

sheep

“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 53:6, NIV).

I find it interesting that the Prophet Isaiah would use the metaphor of sheep to describe human beings. Certainly, shepherding was a common occupation in Bible times. Moses and David each spent their fair share of time tending their flocks. Likewise, it was a band of misfit shepherds who first heard the angelic proclamation of the Messiah’s birth. Still, the comparison of people to livestock may be one that makes some of us feel, well, a bit sheepish.

Behaviorally, sheep are unique creatures in the animal world. Unlike cattle, sheep are not wrangled, prodded along, forced to move from one place to another. Rather, sheep are coaxed in the direction of their shepherd’s voice, which they are adept at recognizing. They hear their shepherd’s call and somehow understand that he is leading them to better pasture.

With the words, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19, NIV), Jesus invited his first disciples to experience his goodness. He does the same for each of us today. He never forces us into a relationship with himself. Rather, he simply calls us.

Like sheep, we have a tendency to stray. With so many voices offering so many “good” things, we sometimes wander from our Good Shepherd and the abundance he offers. Still, Jesus is never afraid to pursue us. For not only is he our Shepherd, but he is our Savior. Jesus took our sin upon himself and offered up his life to save us.

Isaiah 53 – Part 3

crown of thorns

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 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” (Isaiah 53:4-5, NIV).

Throughout human history, man has been unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions. We see this in the first human beings, Adam and Eve, who traded Paradise for a taste of forbidden fruit. Before their shamed exit from Eden, each placed the blame on another. “…‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree…’ ” (Genesis 3:12, NIV) were the excuse-laden words of Adam. Eve’s response to God was no better, that “…‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’ ” (Genesis 3:13, NIV).

In Isaiah 53:4-5 we witness further scapegoating and blame-placing. The prophet states that “…we considered (Jesus) punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4, NIV, emphasis added), as if God the Father was at fault for all that Jesus went through on the cross and that we were virtually blameless. But consider Isaiah’s words. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53;4-5, NIV, emphasis added). Clearly it was our sin that led Jesus to the cross, and any role that the Heavenly Father played in Jesus’ suffering and death was born only out of necessity.

I find it difficult to think of God as a wrathful, vengeance-filled Father, who would take any sort of pleasure or satisfaction in the bloodied execution of his beloved Son. Rather, I imagine the Father’s thoughts wrenched and his heart broken. Surely it offended him to see the sin of the world embodied in the sacrifice of his Son, but it pained him even more to see all that Jesus had to experience to redeem mankind.

Truly, God’s love is great, and it’s aimed directly at our hearts. Jesus died momentarily that we would live eternally. Let’s honor the sacrifice he made.

Isaiah 53 – Part 2

isaiah 53“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3, NIV).

Jesus was God’s great offering to mankind, gift-wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger. He forfeited his Heavenly home to take on the flesh of man, to live a life of example, and to die a criminal’s death. Through it all, Jesus would bring salvation to the world, eternity to humanity. Yet collectively we despised and rejected him.

Such behavior was evidenced within the first years of Jesus’ life, yes, even before his birth. From the Bethlehem innkeeper’s proclamation of “no room in the inn” to King Herod’s attempt to eliminate Jesus and any perceived threat he posed, rejection, time and again, would be Jesus’ lot in life. As an adult, Jesus would face harassment from the supposed religious leaders of the time. His message would often fall upon spiritually deaf ears and hardened hearts. Even his closest of allies would leave him to fend for himself in his dark and final days. “Crucify him” would be the rallying cry of humanity, and Jesus would suffer the ultimate fate of death on a cross.

Yes, Jesus was, as the words of Isaiah proclaim, “a man of suffering” who was “familiar with pain”. And certainly, such suffering and pain was brought about by the cruelty of the crucifixion – the lashings and beatings, the nails that were driven, and the crown that was worn. But perhaps Jesus’ greatest suffering and pain was brought about by our rejection of who he was and what he came to do.

It would be inaccurate to say that such dismissal and rejection, such disdain and hatred directed at Jesus are merely something of the past. For whenever we fail to recognize the gift he offers, salvation and life, it’s as if we are crucifying him anew. Whenever we yield willingly to sin, or when we reason that we can somehow earn our way without him, the proverbial nails are driven over and again.

Jesus came to Earth so that we could attain Heaven. He died so that we could live. Let’s therefore accept the gift and so honor the giver.

Isaiah 53 – Part 1

jesus picture“…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him… Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2-3, NIV).

A small picture of Jesus stood on the nightstand near my childhood bed. Long, flowing hair framed the masculine features of the Savior. The look of sincerity and quiet contemplation adorned his lips. His eyes were kind and focused, his beard perfectly trimmed. I would fall asleep each night under his protective gaze. Life was simple then, long before the awkward years of adolescence and the endless demands of adulthood.

But with age came struggle and temptation, sin and brokenness. The foes of anxiety and depression became my constant companions. Loneliness, fear, failure, and doubt attacked my mind and strangled my faith. I needed a Messiah to invade my mess of a life, a Savior to rescue me from my sin and from myself.

That’s when Jesus became the most real to me. I realized that there was so much more to him than an artist’s rendering recalled from my childhood. I recognized him, yes, as true God, but as one who had taken on human flesh, and with that, my very sin. I learned to appreciate his rawness, his untamable Spirit, his unkempt appearance, and his humanity despite his divinity. He became to me a Rescuer, who was not afraid to save me from the darkest, most remote places of my rebellion. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty, even bloodied over my sin.

The realness of God dressed in human flesh and the ugliness of the cross causes many to stumble. But true beauty is found in both. And when we get real with him, he becomes real to us.