Tuesday, March 31, 2015

7 Words: Dear Woman, Here is Your Son

The Third Word:
“Dear woman, here is your son.”
(John 19:25-27)

We have been looking at Jesus’ seven words from the cross. His first word was a word of forgiveness. He told his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, and even while he is being tortured to death, his heart is for those who caused his suffering. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The second word was a word of salvation. He told the criminal on the cross “Truly, today you will be with me in paradise.” He opens the door to heaven to those who will in faith accept him.

Today we come to Jesus’ third word. While Jesus suffers on the cross, he is not the only one who suffers. He recognizes that there are others who are suffering along with him. What will happen to those who he leaves behind? What will happen to his disciples? Will they be able to carry on his work, or will they end up as he has? What will happen to his mother? In Jesus’ time, a woman was given her worth based on the man she was related to. When she was a little girl, her worth came from her father. When she was older and got married, her worth came from her husband. And after she had children, her worth came from her sons. But not only her worth, but her protection and her provision.

By the context, we can assume that Mary is a widow. Although Joseph is mentioned twice by name, he never shows up in John's gospel at all. He has presumably died by the time Jesus reaches adulthood, which makes Mary an 'almana,' or widow, whose status depends on the surviving members of her husband's household. When Jesus dies, she will belong to no one. There will be nobody to take care of her. She will be responsible for everything, all on her own.

Mary has only made two appearances in John’s gospel. This is the second; the first time she showed up was at Jesus’ first miracle. It happens in John 2, where Jesus, his disciples, and Jesus’ mother were all at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and they ran out of wine. (John 2:3-4) When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

Jesus said that his hour had not yet come. But now, his hour has come. And there is Mary again with Jesus. She is not alone. Her sister is there, along with Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Clopas. The beloved disciple is also with her as well. Scholars and tradition identify this disciple as John himself. We don’t know why he is there, but it is clear that he alone among the disciples is there.

When Jesus looks down from the cross, he sees them, and he speaks. He looks at his mother, and using the same term as he used at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, he says, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Then he looks at the disciple standing beside her and says to him, “Here is your mother.” From that hour, John says, the beloved disciple took Jesus' mother into his own home.

Just like in yesterday’s message, and the day’s before, Jesus not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk as well. He doesn’t just talk a good game; he lives it out, and even in his dying breath, he epitomizes what James would later say is pure religion. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

Jesus mercifully gives her a new son. He takes care of the widow in her distress. While Satan tears families apart, using HIV/AIDS, using sin, using divorce, using disease and all kinds of other means, Jesus fashions a new family. Remember that when Jesus breathed his dying breaths, he was caring for family. He was caring for orphans and widows. As for us, we who are so alive and well, how do we live this out?

And he still does this today in the church. Look around you. This is your mother. This is your father. This is your brother. This is your sister. This is your son. This is your daughter.

For some of you, you don’t know family. Or you do, but family is a bad word. Maybe your family wasn’t or isn’t so great. Through Jesus, God has invited you to be a part of his family. You are his sons. You are his daughters.

We have been brought together as family. And we are to care for our family. As a child, I learned a chorus that our church would sing, a song by Bill Gaither.

I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God,
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God.

Monday, March 30, 2015

7 Words: Truly, Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise

The Second Word:
“Very Truly, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:43)

We are part of a culture who says one thing but does something else. Zambia is a Christian nation, but daily, we all see corruption, abuse of power, abuse of women and children, misuse of money, stealing, lying, and all sorts of other sinful behavior. Our politicians promise us heaven but don’t deliver. People attend church, or at least claim allegiance to a church, but their lives do not demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit.

We are just like the people to whom Isaiah prophesied when he said, The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13)

As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the religious leaders and the soldiers. He hung between two criminals, and one of them, even while being crucified himself, also mocked Jesus. The Bible tells us that one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

He was not really asking Jesus to save him. He was mocking Jesus and his supposed inability to save anyone. After all, his very name, Jesus, means “God saves.”

The other criminal responded differently. Scripture tells us that the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

He recognized that it was his own crime that had put him there. He was guilty, and the punishment of his crime was death, so he was getting what his deeds deserve. Romans 6:23 gives it to us plainly. For the wages of sin is death

His death was the just punishment for his sin. He knew it and accepted it. But he also recognized that Jesus’ punishment was unjust. He had done nothing wrong. He had never sinned. Yet he was there on the cross, dying anyway. And in a last moment of deep faith, he said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

And Jesus responded with today’s word. Luke 23:43: Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Every day we are faced with the choice of how to respond to Jesus. We have sinned – Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – and the fair pay for our sin is death. God made this clear in the Garden of Eden. But even as we recognize that we have all sinned, we have a choice of how we respond. We can lash out, mocking God, daring God to punish us. Now, some of us don’t do this blatantly. We wouldn’t think of it. But in our actions, we are no better than the first criminal on the cross. We have been in church enough to know what God requires of us, yet our behavior doesn’t look any different from the world, from people who don’t even know Jesus. We are greedy. We are self-serving. We are hard-hearted and callous. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” It’s pretty clear that some of us, by our actions, demonstrate that we don’t love Jesus.

The big question, then, is have you put your trust in Jesus? Have you staked your life on him? Have you gotten to the point where you have asked him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”? Do you have the assurance that when your time comes, you, too, will be with him in paradise? There are some people who answer this “yes” because at one point they made a decision for him, but they live every day as though they want nothing to do with him. If you want to be with him in paradise, if you want to see him in heaven, live with him every day here on earth! Make him not only your Savior, but your Lord as well.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

7 Words: Father, Forgive Them

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

[Before we get started, I want to acknowledge several things. First of all, it is an honor to be invited to come and preach as a guest preacher. It is a distinct honor to be trusted with the Word of God, even though we have had little or no interaction before. This week as we worship together, I hope to get to know you better and for you to get to know me as well.

The second thing I’d like to acknowledge is that it is hard to preach to people I don’t know. I don’t know your names, I don’t know what you’ve struggled with, and I don’t even know your language. I apologize for needing to use a translator, but I thank you for the chance to bring God’s Word to you.]

I also admit that I am not fluent in your culture. There are things that are perfectly normal here in Lusaka that are completely foreign to me as an American. There are things that I do that you would find completely crazy, but they happen all the time in the United States.

One thing I’ve found out is that we deal with conflict very differently. In the United States, there are different ways to deal with conflict, but what seems to work best is directness. If you’ve wronged me, if at all possible, I will go directly to you and tell you. For example, three years ago I was moved to a new district, and my new district superintendent asked me to serve on the district leadership team. After I had been serving on the team for a year, we got a new superintendent. I was a couple of minutes late to the first meeting, and when I got there, the new DS told me, “you can wait out there…”

I was pretty offended… “I’m part of this team; why shouldn’t I come in?” After all, the reason I was late was because we had a brand new baby. So later, I went to the DS and asked him what the story was (see that – direct confrontation) and I found out that the former DS had not really added me to the team at all. But what I wanted to point out here was that I directly confronted the DS about the issue, and in my culture, that is completely expected and not offensive whatsoever.

However, when I was in Russia, I asked my roommate if he had taken some of my cold Cokes from the fridge, and he was very offended that I had confronted him directly. In their culture, I should have gone to his friend and asked instead of asking him directly.

But no matter what our home culture is, and no matter what it is that might offend us, the fact is that Jesus calls his followers to a life of forgiveness. It is also one of the hardest things for most of us to do.

Because we have every reason to be offended. We have suffered every sort of wrong, no matter who we are or what we’ve done (or not done) to deserve this treatment. But whatever we have suffered, Jesus has suffered it along with us. And his response: He asks God to forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.

There are lots of people who tell us what to do. Jesus not only instructs, but he shows us as well. While he is dying, being tortured on the cross, he asks God to forgive those who are killing him. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is how he lives it out.

It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness. That’s the point of the cross, after all. Jesus is dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity.

But the forgiveness of God through Christ doesn’t come only to those who don’t know what they are doing when they sin. In the mercy of God, we receive his forgiveness even when we do what we know to be wrong. God chooses to wipe away our sins, not because we have some convenient excuse, and not because we have tried hard to make up for them, but because he is a God of amazing grace, with mercies that are new every morning.

As we read the words, “Father, forgive them,” may we understand that we too are forgiven through Christ. As John writes in his first letter, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). Because Christ died on the cross for us, we are cleansed from all wickedness, from every last sin. We are united with God the Father as his beloved children. We are free to approach his throne of grace with our needs and concerns. God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:13). What great news!

When we recognize Jesus’ heart, that in his dying breaths, he asked God the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him, then it puts our offenses and those who have sinned against us into perspective.

Peter asked Jesus how many times they should forgive someone who sinned against him – up to seven times? (Just as an aside, he was being generous). Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” He goes on to relate a story about two servants.

The first servant owed his master ten thousand talents, meaning millions of kwacha. Because he couldn’t pay his master back, the master ordered that he, his wife and children, and everything they had, be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”(Matthew 18:26-27)

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (a few kwacha). He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. (Matthew 18:28)

Though the second servant begged, because he could not pay back the debt, the first servant had him thrown in prison. The other servants saw what happened and they reported back to the master. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34)

Jesus ends with a zinger: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Is there any doubt that God calls us to forgive? We know we are supposed to forgive, but did you ever think that the unforgiveness that you hold is sinful? The debts others owe to us are in no way comparable to the debt we owe to God. God has forgiven our million dollar debts… how have we responded to the debts that others owe to us?

Did you notice how the parable ends? The unforgiving servant is turned over to be tortured. Honestly, living in unforgiveness is torture itself. People are often unable to receive healing when they won’t release others and forgive them. Many mental issues are tied to bitter unforgiveness. Doctors have even linked unforgiveness and bitterness to diseases such as arthritis and cancer. Furthermore, the servant has to pay off the original debt. God the Father will do the same for any believer who does not forgive a brother’s offense. Why would God require this of us? Because when we withhold forgiveness, we are in fact standing in judgment over them. We are playing God. We are saying that Jesus died for my sins, but he’s not sufficient for yours.

We can’t have it both ways!

If you are feeling put on the spot here, please know that this is a message of mercy and warning, not harsh judgment. I’m not trying to cause guilt and shame if you haven’t forgiven someone. I know how hard it is. I have been betrayed, and I know it’s hard.

Satan wants us to sit in judgment over others, withholding forgiveness from them. He reminds us of the pain they caused us. He reminds us of the wrongs they’ve done again and again. When someone has been hurt by someone else, human justice says “They will stand trial for what they’ve done and pay if found guilty.”  God is the Judge, and He will pronounce righteous judgment, repaying everyone according to His righteousness.

So how do we escape the trap of revenge and unforgiveness? We put on Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart. You have to start with a willing heart. If your heart isn’t willing to forgive, your responsibility is to allow the Holy Spirit to transform you.

The next step to healing is to recognize and admit that you are hurt. Your hurts are real. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to pretend you weren’t hurt.

When you have forgiven, God calls you to take it a step deeper, to pray for the person who has hurt you. And you’ll realize that you have laid down a heavy burden, and you are closer to Christ!