Good Friday

christ on the cross

We all suffer.  In some way, whether with a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone must face living in a fallen world with its pain and heartache.  Suffering which seems to have no reason, the senseless kind and the type where nothing good appears to be going on at all can be very troubling to our souls.

At first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man.  Yet, it is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ meant the redemption of the world.  On this day Christians remember and commemorate the events that led up to the cross; unpack those events and interpret them with profound meaning and significance; and, worship Jesus with heartfelt gratitude in light of this redemptive event.

The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given over to the final week of Christ’s life, especially leading to the cross.  Good Friday worship services often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross.  Christians remember the last words of Christ, and recognize the significant impact his death had on the immediate persons around him.  Believers also contemplate the lasting results of that singular death as an atoning sacrifice; perfect love; reconciliation between God and humanity; victory over evil; and, redeeming all creation.

Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day.  It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for the accomplishment of deliverance from the power of sin.  There is the recognition that something profound and meaningful has truly happened in the egregious suffering of Jesus.  Thus, we not only remember the anguish of Christ, but what that horrible torment accomplished.  In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its impact could not plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.

With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar.  Yet, it is not.  The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Perhaps that is because no one likes suffering and cares not to think about it.  Not only do unchurched folk care not to think about it, but church attenders would like to be mindful about other things than the cross.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the problem: “Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, and science.  The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.”  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul has said, the cross of Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Our contemporary religious milieu celebrates and promotes self-styled spirituality; it is the “in” thing to eschew church and develop a personalized religion that fits the demands of the modern (or postmodern) world.  The cross, however, is “out;” too much blood and sacrifice, and not enough of what I’m looking for in life.  Perhaps we should think long and hard on Hebrews 13:12-13 –

“Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured.”

The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges.  Because Christ suffered, our suffering has meaning.  So, today, let us contemplate the cross, observe the salvation accomplished through Christ’s death, and offer prayers and petitions for those who need deliverance from the power of evil.  In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross.  Amen.

Feeling Pain

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“There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.” (Isaiah 53:2-5, The Message)

I don’t like pain.  I’m not at all into the feeling of discomfort.  I am told by a few lady friends who have had kidney stones that they are as painful as childbirth, if not worse.  I’ll take their word for it.  I completely believe them because I have had a few stones in my life.  The last time I had one, I vehemently demanded and commanded the emergency staff at the hospital to help me now, and to get me the strongest pain relieving drugs known to humanity now.  I thought I was giving birth to a boulder, and I did not just want pain relief; I needed it.  The pain was acute, and there was no way to let my body relax enough to pass a stone without some significant medicinal intervention.

We often use the word “pain” as if it is a one-size-fits-all for a range of unpleasant experiences.  But the reality is that there is a world of difference between physical pain and emotional pain.  As painful as those kidney stones were, nothing compares to feeling deep emotional pain.  It hurts more than a hundred stones.  It’s a different kind of pain, requiring a different kind of remedy.

When we have physical pain, it is both good and right to work on alleviating the pain through the wonderful drug therapies which exist.  More than once I thanked God for morphine.  But emotional pain is unlike any other kind of hurt.  Whereas immediate pain relief is often necessary to the body in order for it to heal, such is not the case with the soul.  Emotional pain, the kind where our spirits are broken and our souls are damaged, the kind where dreams are shattered and hope drains from the spirit, will not simply go away or ever be alleviated apart from actually feeling it in all of its ugly hurt.

Trying to mask, cover-up, or numb emotional and spiritual pain will not do.  Working harder or faster; imbibing a few strong adult beverages; smoking; overeating; a shopping spree; or pornography are not paths to properly handling the kind of pain that is deep down in the soul.  Binging on sports or Netflix might temporarily distract a person from emotional pain, but it doesn’t make it go away.  In fact, it only exacerbates the future pain.  Try and put a lid on emotional pain and it will only explode its contents on others who don’t deserve the unhealthy barrage of words and behaviors.

Emotional pain must not be ignored, circumvented, or stuffed.  It needs to be faced squarely and deeply felt.  One must resolutely walk into it and through it because it is the only way to effectively deal with it.  Unlike the human body, which is designed to heal itself when given the chance through meds and rest, the soul cannot heal unless it recognizes its hurts, names them, and feels them.  To try and work around it, believe we can simply buck-up and get over it, or wrongheadedly think it only belongs in the past, will not do.

Jesus entered into our pain.  He felt terrible physical pain as well as agonizing emotional pain.  The pain of the entire world was focused on him.  Christ intimately knows our pain first hand.  The path to healing goes through the cross – not avoiding it or going around it, but facing it in all of its foulness, degradation, and pain.

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When my emotional pain seems to go right down into the marrow of my bones to the point where my insides hurt, popping some pills will not help.  I don’t need my pain masked; I need it transformed.  I need to crucify my disappointments, my missed expectations, and my desire for revenge.  I need to nail my perfectionism, my puny attempts at control, and my avoidance of forgiveness to the cross.  And I need to see that by the wounds of Jesus Christ I am healed.  Only through entering into Christ’s pain, and allowing him to enter mine, will I ever experience the long sought healing deep in my soul so that my insides are made right once again.

The emotional kidney stones of my soul are transformed by the rock of my salvation, Jesus Christ.  The great servant of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, said that he has been crucified with Christ and he now no longer lives, but Christ lives within him (Galatians 2:20).  The cross was not simply an historical event occurring two millennia ago; the crucifixion is a past action with the continuing results of genuine deliverance and real healing.  Pain is a gift, and one that must be opened and acknowledged, seen and felt, and transformed.

Good Friday

 
 
            At first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man.  Yet, it is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ meant the redemption of the world.  On this day Christians remember and commemorate the events that led up to the cross; unpack those events and interpret them with profound meaning and significance; and, worship Jesus with heartfelt gratitude in light of this redemptive event.
 
            The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given over to the final week of Christ’s life, especially leading to the cross.  Good Friday worship services often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross.  Christians remember the last words of Christ, and recognize the significant impact his death had on the immediate persons around him.  Believers also contemplate the lasting results of that singular death as an atoning sacrifice; perfect love; reconciliation between God and humanity; victory over evil; and, redeeming all creation.
 
            Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day.  It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for the accomplishment of deliverance from the power of sin.  Thus, we not only remember the suffering of Christ, but what that horrible suffering accomplished.  In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its impact could not plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.
 
            With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar.  Yet, it is not.  The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Not only do unchurched folk care not to think about it, but church attenders would like to be mindful about other things than the cross.  Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the problem:  “Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, and science.  The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.”  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul has said, the cross of Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
 
            Our contemporary religious milieu celebrates and promotes self-styled spirituality; it is the “in” thing to eschew church and develop a personalized religion that fits the demands of the modern (or postmodern) world.  The cross, however, is “out;” too much blood and sacrifice, and not enough of what I’m looking for in life.  Perhaps we should think long and hard on Hebrews 13:12-13 – “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured.”
 

 

            The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges.  So, today, let us contemplate the cross, observe the salvation accomplished through Christ’s death, and offer prayers and petitions for those who need deliverance from the power of evil.  In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the cross.  Amen.

Hebrews 12:1-3

            “Capital punishment” is simply a softened way to say “state-sponsored killing.”  It is a bit like always using the word “discomfort” instead of “pain.”  Pain is still pain, and some pain just hurts like hell.  Jesus knows all of this first-hand.  He experienced capital punishment – not only state-sponsored killing but state-sponsored torture, humiliation, and intentional shaming.  What Jesus faced was no humane lethal injection; it was full of prolonged agony, blood, nakedness, and public humiliation.  It was awful.  It was the ultimate act of shame.  The cross was terribly painful in every sense of the word; it was filled with physical pain, emotional hurt, mental anguish, and even the spiritual weight of separation from the Father, and the worst pain of all:  carrying the sins of the entire world, past, present, and future.
 
            This is a staggering thought, that Jesus would endure such incredible torture.  So, it is even more astounding that the author of Hebrews would describe this event from Christ’s perspective as “the joy set before him.”  Huh!?  Such sorrow, such agony described from the vantage of Jesus as joy.  Our Lord was no masochist.  He willingly persevered under such strain and pain, endured the worst that hell could throw at him, and faced the ignominy of the cross all because of love.
 
            Jesus Christ loved us so much that he went through the horror of it all with confidence knowing that his sacrifice would mean the redemption of humanity.  With each lash of the whip, with every curse uttered against him, and with all the cruel force of sinful people Jesus had a settled conviction that he would endure so that we could be saved from sin’s power.  Now that is love!
 
            Thus, whenever we despair over some slight of another, become down because of a little opposition, or wonder if we can make it another day under the stress, we must put our lives in perspective.  We are saved, redeemed, forgiven, and loved infinitely by the God who gave himself for us.  Consider him who endured such hostility so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
 

 

            Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered in a way that I can barely comprehend.  And you do it all for me.  Oh, Lord, forgive me for all those times of being ungrateful and discouraged over my circumstances.  Lead me to the cross, and let me bow in worship before you.  Amen.

1 John 2:1-6

            “My little children,” the Apostle John wrote, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Jesus is our advocate, the one who speaks on our behalf, our mediator who stands in the gap between heaven and earth, standing-up for us when we have no leg to stand on. 
 
            Jesus has atoned for all our sin, guilt, and shame through his “propitiation” which means that his death has satisfied the demands of justice and put to rest the sin issue once for all through his blood.  Christ’s gracious intervention has saved us from ourselves.  Jesus has made it possible for us to experience forgiveness, restoration, and new life.  When we are so broken and so full of tears that we cannot even speak words at all, Jesus steps in and speaks on our behalf with words that mean something because they have been backed up with the action of the cross.
 
            So, then, we all really have two choices in the matter:  we can either pretend everything is okay and proceed with business as usual; or, we can come to Jesus, confessing our sin and receiving the grace of forgiveness and cleansing.  What is more, Christ’s followers are called to be little advocates practicing the ministry of coming alongside and interceding for one another before God and others.  If spiritual healing is needed, there are no better verses than these to ingest, believe, and bank on.
 

 

            O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is the love of God in Christ, the true source of healing and the real bond of peace.  Amen.

Jesus Is Enough

 
 
Jesus is our great high priest.  His priesthood, his intercessory ministry, is permanent.  He is the once-for-all sacrifice for sins.  Jesus lives forever.  He saves completely.  Jesus meets our need.  He has been made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:23-28).  Say any of those statements in the typical church and hardly an eyebrow would get raised – they almost seem ho-hum.  Our blank affect testifies that we have lost a great deal of the original force and extreme impact of Christianity.
 
In the first century, it was a radical idea to have one sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  Every ancient person understood that sacrifices were only temporary; you had to keep offering them over and over again.  Christianity, however, asked the world to have a new understanding of sacrifice.  No longer would there be any sacrifice – no grain sacrifice; no offerings of first-fruits; no animal sacrifices; no sacrifices, period.  There was no longer any need for them because Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  This was such a crazy and ridiculous notion for so many people that they mocked Christians for it.  Both Jews and pagans could barely wrap their minds around such a liberal progressive idea.  It would be like saying to us today that there is no longer any need for money because somebody just became the underwriter for everything everybody does.
 
            Yet, we in the modern church sometimes go back to the old kind of sacrificial system, not by physically offering animal sacrifices, but treating Christ’s once-for-all finished work as if it were just too good to be true.  We reason that we need to do something to help save ourselves.  However, Jesus has not just saved us partially, but fully.  Our church attendance can subtly be looked upon as a sacrifice to appease God, as if he needed to be soothed into not becoming angry at us.  Our giving can become some non-bloody sacrifice that is meant to satisfy God’s furrowed brow against us.  Our service can degenerate into a sacrifice to assuage our guilty conscience.  In all these kinds of instances, it is going back to an old sacrificial system that is obsolete.
 
            The biblical and theological truth is that Jesus has thoroughly saved us from our sin, and, so, has cleansed us from all guilt, including a guilty conscience.  Jesus meets our need and has completely satisfied God’s wrath against sin.  Jesus is our mediator and intercedes for us as we come to God’s throne of grace.  That means we do not need to try and get God’s attention with performing spiritual cartwheels or some incredible sacrifice that will somehow obligate him to take notice.  The truth is that there is never a time in which we lack attention from God.
 
            Since we have been justified by faith in Jesus, we need not worry anymore about being good enough.  Since Jesus is perfect, his work is made complete in us.  This constant anxiety of feeling like we don’t measure-up does not come from God.  Jesus is sufficient and has taken our place so that we can live in the freedom and joy of a complete deliverance from sin, death, and hell.  There is no longer any necessary sacrifice to make!
 
            “Well,” you might say, “if everybody in the church believed that then nobody would ever do anything.”  No, it is just the opposite.  When we feel like we don’t measure up, we do less, not more.  A low level discouragement sets in and we do nothing because we intuitively know it will never be enough.  We do just enough to squeak by, never quite knowing if it is doing anything.  We consider giving up because Christianity doesn’t work for us.  But when we grasp the New Covenant of Christ’s sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and are overwhelmed by grace, then everything we do in the Christian life is a simple desire to say “thank you” with our life and our lips.  It is a joyous offering ourselves, body, soul, and spirit.  It is the grace, and not the wrath, of God that teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and godly lives (Titus 2:11-12).
 

 

            On this upcoming Reformation Sunday we celebrate the glorious reality that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by our own accomplishments, pedigree, or effort.   Trusting in our heritage, relying on our family’s faith, or believing our hard work gives us a leg-up toward heaven will only end in despair.  But if we trust in Christ’s perfect sacrifice then a whole new world of mercy and grace opens before us.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Good Friday


            What makes Good Friday good?  For Christians all across the world, this day reminds us that the grace of God in Christ makes Good Friday good.  The good news is that when Jesus died on the cross, it was neither simply a terrible act of violence nor just another crucifixion by the Romans; it was a courageous rescue operation that broke our bonds and set us free from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  
            What has God liberated you from?  Do you have and enjoy freedom in Jesus Christ, or are you still in bondage and need to be freed?  One of the harshest masters in our culture is the enslaving master of shame.  It locks us in an inner prison of the soul and makes sure that we do not tell our secrets.  Shame’s slaves are legion:  a well-respected mother secretly struggles with alcoholism, afraid to divulge what really keeps her going throughout her day; a much-loved man keeps looking at pornography, with no one suspecting his dark insatiable lust; a woman cannot bring herself to share with anyone that years ago she had an abortion, and barely a day goes by without the guilt raging within her; a family is too ashamed to ask for help, and are wondering how they will pay the bills this month; a couple suffers in agonizing silence, lonely and too scared to speak to anyone in the church for fear that they will be labeled as weak and unspiritual.  And on and on the examples can go.  
            All these people live in the icy grip of shame, which is why they keep up appearances on the outside, but on the inside are hurting and dying a thousand deaths.  A load of guilt has kept them hostage.  They are ashamed because they feel they have not lived-up to others’ expectations of them.  And that sense of not measuring-up has enslaved them.  
            But here is what makes Good Friday good.  This good news, the greatest story of all, of Christ’s crucifixion tells us that Jesus not only bore our guilt, he bore our shame.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2-3).  Because Jesus did not allow himself to be bound by any shame, he freely took our place.  He took on the shame that should have been ours – the cruelty, the rejection, the mockery, and the sheer humiliation of shame – he took it all for us.  And since Jesus became shame for us, there is no need for us to be ashamed of anything anymore.  Our addictions, our failures, and our sinful secrets were crucified on the cross with Jesus.  By faith in this substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf we experience real and genuine freedom.
            We are all to come to the foot of the cross and find forgiveness, love, and healing in Jesus’ name.  Christian author Richard Foster has said:  “By living under the cross we can hear the worst possible things about the best possible people without so much as batting an eye.  If we live in that reality, we will convey that spirit to others.  They know it is safe to come to us.”  Good Friday is good because it frees us from our pride and self-centeredness and allows the new community of Jesus-lovers to help others break their bondage to shame and guilt.
            Grace is neither just a word, nor simply a nice idea – it is a powerful spiritual reality to be lived and experienced.  Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the day of forgiveness.  Today is the day to let go of our crushing burdens and tell our secrets in Jesus’ name.  Today is the day to rid ourselves of bitterness and the petty nursing of grudges against others.  Today is the day to repair that damaged relationship and apologize for being such an obnoxious and stubborn sinner.  Today is the day of salvation.  Jesus is waiting for you with outstretched arms.  See the wounds on his hands and his feet – wounds that heal and bring new life.