Saturday, April 11, 2015

7 Words: Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

The Seventh Word:
“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit!”
(Luke 23:46)
Easter Sunday
(Luke 23:44-49) 44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

All week, we have been looking at Jesus’ words from the cross. We are reminded that while God had a plan all along, a plan of resurrection and glorification, this doesn’t mean Jesus had an easy time. Jesus suffered terribly. And at noon, even nature itself responded as Jesus died. Darkness came across the land as the sun stopped shining.

Even the Temple was affected, as the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, was torn in two. And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

When I was planning out the program for the Easter Revival and chose the seven words of Jesus, I realized that I only had seven opportunities to preach. And I like to use a different text on Easter. The empty tomb. He is Risen! So I thought about maybe skipping one of the words of Jesus from the cross, but I couldn’t choose one to drop. It didn’t seem right to only preach on six of Jesus’ seven words. And I couldn’t combine two, because there simply isn’t enough time. So today, on Easter Sunday, we get Jesus’ last word from the cross.

There is something unique about this word. While Friday’s word: “It is finished!” was a word of victory, this word is pronounced victoriously. When someone is on the cross, their death is generally a torturously slow death of asphyxiation. They are unable to breathe. But Jesus summons enough strength to speak out in a loud voice. This isn’t a coincidence. Once again, Jesus prays from the Psalms. This time his prayer is from Psalm 31:5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

Jesus prays a prayer of trust and a prayer for rescue.

Sometimes we can get confused about terminology. In the US, when we talk about “spirit” we often think of a dualism: the body and the soul, two parts of one person. But the spirit, in Hebrew and Greek thought, comprised the person’s whole being. So the prayer is, as Eugene Peterson paraphrase in The Message: “I’ve put my life in your hands.

Jesus trusts God with everything.

And things go dark. Darkness reigns over the earth for three hours. Satan laughs in victorious glee. Jesus is delivered to death, to the grave.

But that’s not the end of the story. You see, on the third day, Sunday, he rose again! Luke 24:1-8 tells the story: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When Jesus prayed in faith, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” he was acting in faith. Only God could save him. And we see that God did save him. God was faithful. It can be easy to only look at the cross from this side of history. We already knew how the story would unfold. We knew that Jesus would rise again. But we have the benefit of hindsight. Jesus was living in that moment, with faith that God would rescue him, but it hasn’t happened yet. It reminds me of the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, facing the fiery furnace.

(Daniel 3:17-18) If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

This is Jesus’ level of trust. He is facing death, he is facing abandonment, even by his Father. He is dehydrated and spiritually thirsty. He has taken the world’s sin upon his shoulders. Yet he doesn’t give up his faith. Instead, he gives himself fully to faith, saying, “Even though things are at their worst, I still trust God with everything.”

What I love about Jesus’ last words from the cross is that even as Jesus spoke them, so can we. Thankfully, most of us will never know what Jesus experienced, and we will never go through the depth of what he experienced. But because of Jesus, even when we are at our worst, in our deepest struggle, because his spirit lives and moves within us, we can pray this same prayer. When we come up against darkness that doesn’t quit, death that steals our life, we can choose to trust in God. To say, “Father I trust you with my life.”

There are times when our faith is misplaced. Some trust in money: the almighty kwacha or the almighty dollar. It seems like money makes things better. That is sometimes true, as long as your money serves you instead of the other way around. But the problem with money is it’s never enough. It never satisfies. Sometimes we trust in people, and they always let us down.

But our trust and faith in God is not misplaced. Jesus demonstrated whole-hearted faith and obedience on the cross, and his faith and obedience were rewarded. Indeed, today we celebrate because the cross is empty, and so is the tomb! Jesus is alive! God raised Jesus from the dead. We have the assurance that God is faithful.

In closing, I need to ask you: Have you put your life and, indeed, your life beyond this life, into God’s hands? Have you accepted that you cannot save yourself, that you are in need of a Savior? If not, it is time to pray the same prayer that Jesus prayed on the cross: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

If you have given your life to God through Jesus Christ, are you making a difference in the world? Are you allowing God to use you to be a blessing to someone else?

7 Words: It is Finished

The Sixth Word:
“It is finished!”
(John 19:28-30)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

I love long-distance running. I have loved running since I was a little boy. But there is something about running a long race. My first long race was a 40 km trail race. It was over some very difficult terrain, and the last two or three km were all uphill. When I saw the finish line, I got tears in my eyes. I was finished, not just done with the race, but I was finished. I had nothing else left. You’ve probably seen football matches where, at the final whistle, the players collapse on the field. They’ve given their all. They are finished.

Jesus has been through an ordeal much more grueling than a 40 km race or a 90 minute football match. He has been tortured, whipped, and beaten. His followers have abandoned him, and, in Peter’s case, denied that they even know him. Jesus was made to carry his own cross, after which he was nailed to it and hung to die a terrible death. And at this point, he finally utters those words: “It is finished.

When Jesus said those words, it certainly would fit that Jesus felt relief that the end was in sight. His suffering was over. It is finally done. But the Greek word that we translate “it is finished” is tetelestai, and it means more than just “it is finally done.”

I love the way Eugene Peterson expresses this word from Jesus in his paraphrase The Message. “It’s done . . . complete.”

This is more than “it is finally over.” This is a full report of “mission accomplished.” God sent Jesus here to earth for a purpose, and Jesus had accomplished that purpose. He initiated and inaugurated the Kingdom of God. He revealed God’s character in a new, incarnational way. When God spoke to Moses, he told him His Name: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

Jesus came and lived out God’s Name. He showed compassion and grace. Slow to anger? He allowed a corrupt trial and never even spoke out in his own defense, even though he was innocent of all charges. His love and faithfulness abounded, and his love extended, not to thousands, but to millions, even billions as his mission, that which he was accomplishing on the cross, forgave wickedness, rebellion and sin. Jesus opened heaven’s doors wide open for anyone, through faith in him, to enter in. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God, for all of us to live, to live life to the full, fully in the reign of God.

Jesus completed the work for which God had sent him to earth. Jesus completed the work of salvation. This means that we don’t need to add to it. It’s not about how hard we work; our work does not accomplish our salvation. Yes, the Apostle Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), but he does not say “work for” – he says “work out.” There is a difference. The difference is that if we have to work for it, then it should stand to reason that it would be possible for us, if we work hard enough, to achieve salvation on our own.

Is that possible?

The standard, God’s standard, is perfection. If you have messed up, even once, and after that, you’ve been perfect, then it’s not perfection. Perfection is 100% perfection. And that is God’s standard. So if you want to try to do it on your own, that’s what you have to aim for. And if you’ve already messed up, forget about it. But Jesus’ act on the cross has paid our debt. Not only does he provide forgiveness for our sins, but he actually erases our sins, makes us as if we had never committed sin in the first place. That’s why it’s important to know that in Christ, we are new creations. The old is gone. The new has come. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (1 Corinthians 5:17)

Jesus did what you or I could never do. He took our sin upon himself and gave us new life in return. Jesus finished his mission, and we benefit from what he did. Because of what he finished, we don’t have to be “finished” – done, all out of energy. We have new hope every day. We also know that because he completed his work, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Until the day of Christ Jesus, we can live in the confidence of Jesus’ victorious words of completion: “It is finished.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

7 Words: I am Thirsty

The Fifth Word:
“I am thirsty.”
(John 19:28)

Today as we reflect on Jesus’ last words from the cross, I want to start elsewhere. I want to start earlier in Jesus’ ministry, in John 4. Jesus was on his way from Judea to Galilee, and on the way, he went through Samaria. Around noon, he stopped by Jacob’s well to rest. There he met a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water. He asked her for a drink. She responded, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:9-14)

It is very interesting to me that whenever the John the Evangelist talks about thirst, he brings it back to the spiritual metaphor. Thirst for John isn’t just a thirsty feeling. It isn’t just the need for water. It comes back to our need for Living Water, that which only Jesus can provide.

So we find Jesus, on the cross, experiencing extreme thirst. He has lost blood and sweat and is badly dehydrated. On its most basic level, Jesus’ statement, “I am thirsty” was, on the most obvious level, a request for something to drink. In response the soldiers gave Jesus “sour wine” (v. 29), a cheap beverage common among lower class people in the time of Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t just ask for a drink simply because he was physically thirsty, but also in order to fulfill the Scripture. Though John doesn’t specifically reference the scripture, he was thinking of Psalm 69, which includes this passage:
Their insults have broken my heart,
and I am in despair.
If only one person would show some pity;
if only one would turn and comfort me.
But instead, they give me poison for food;
they offer me sour wine for my thirst.
(vv. 20-21)

Jesus’ thirst also fulfilled scripture. But it was also a spiritual thirst; as Jesus suffered, he embodied the pain of the people of Israel, that which had been captured in the Psalms. Jesus was suffering for the sin of Israel, even as he was taking upon himself the sin of the world. His thirst was spiritual as well as physical.

In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 47, we see a prophecy about water coming from the Temple. The river was so pure that even where it empties into the sea, it makes the salt water fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. (v. 9)

Jesus lived out this prophecy – do you remember what happened when he touched a leper or an unclean woman? The Law said that anything or anyone who touched something or someone unclean became unclean themselves. So if you knew someone with leprosy, you couldn’t touch them, even if they were your child, without becoming unclean yourself. But Jesus went out and touched them and healed them, and instead of becoming unclean, he made them clean. Because he is that stream of Living Water, making everything he touches clean.

In Revelation 7, John sees a vision of a great multitude in white robes, so numerous that no one can count them. (Revelation 7:13-17)

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

Listen to this: ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’  ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

While Jesus suffered greatly, he knows that others will suffer as well. Jesus died suffering. And right now, in our world, Christians are dying, suffering. Islamic State is killing Christians, raping Christian women and even beheading Christian children and celebrating as they do so. Churches are being bombed and Christians killed in Pakistan. In North Korea, in Saudi Arabia, it is illegal to be a Christian. Christians have been chased from Ethiopia, where one of the oldest Christian groups has worshiped for two thousand years. In his thirst, Jesus fulfilled prophecy, but also, his thirst leads to another prophecy, the prophecy from Isaiah 49 that the elder speaks of in Revelation 7.

Jesus is the spring of Living Water, but on the cross, that water was fouled by our sin. But in his resurrection, Jesus makes that Living Water available for all who would come to the fountain. The problem is that we are thirsty for all kinds of other things. We thirst for money and power. We thirst for material things, things that will not last. But until our thirst is for Jesus, for his Living Water, we will never be satisfied.

Does your soul yearn for the Living Water that only Jesus can supply? If you are satisfied, like the Apostle Paul, you have learned to be content in all circumstances, it is because you do have the one thing that you need for such satisfaction. You have Jesus Christ’s Living Water flowing out of you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

7 Words: My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me

The Fourth Word:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mark 15:34)

One thing I’ve heard frequently, especially since I have arrived in Zambia, is what is sometimes called the Prosperity Gospel or “Health and Wealth Gospel” or “Name it and Claim it.” This is the teaching that if you ask for something in faith, God will necessarily give it. In this teaching, suffering is never in God’s will, so if one suffers, it stands to reason that they are out of or apart from God’s will. Perhaps they have sinned and they suffer the consequence of sin. Perhaps they do not have enough faith, and so they suffer.

There are several problems with this teaching. The big reason is that it does not fit within the context of scripture. Though there are some verses that seem at first blush to support this teaching, in context they do not. When the Apostle Paul begs God three times to remove the thorn from his flesh, God does not remove it in order that through Paul’s weakness, God’s strength will be manifested.

And in this scripture, we see Jesus, who never sinned, whose obedience to God went all the way to death on a cross. We see him suffer abandonment. When Jesus cries out, he echoes the beginning of Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
(vv. 1-2)

Jesus wasn’t just reciting scripture; he was praying scripture. This is an important distinction. When you have allowed scripture to penetrate your heart, you will find that the emotions you experience have been expressed before. There is nothing wrong with expressing your true feelings to God. God already knows what you are going through, so you don’t need to pretend that you aren’t.

But even though this was the worst possible suffering, Jesus wasn’t just expressing that he was at the depth of despair. He was expressing true abandonment by God. How can this be, as God has promised to never leave us or forsake us? We read in Psalm 23 that Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…

Worse even than the pain of torture on the cross was the pain of being abandoned by God. Why did God abandon Jesus? At the moment of his crucifixion, Jesus took upon himself all the sin of humanity. All the past sin, the present sin, and the future sin. Including your sin and mine. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us that He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. But he didn’t simply take our sins away. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He became sin for us. And our God is a Holy God, and he cannot allow sin in his presence, so when Jesus became sin for us, he was cast from God’s presence.

Know that Jesus’ faith was never in question. He still calls him “My God, My God” – indicating their continuing relationship. He doesn’t doubt. But he still feels the weight of that abandonment. He knew that God was everything he needed. He didn’t need God plus something else. God’s presence was like the air he breathed – necessary for life itself. And Jesus experienced the anguish of being without him.

So today I want to finish with two questions. First of all, do you feel abandoned? You are not alone. If you are in Christ, you are never alone. Jesus experienced true abandonment so that you don’t have to. He has been where you are. And if you are in Christ, you have been given the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who is always with you, never to forsake you. Because of what Jesus did for you, you are never alone.

The second question is have you given your life fully to Jesus? Is abandonment by God the worst thing you can possibly imagine? If not, then maybe you need to give him your whole heart. You need to depend on God like you need air to breathe.

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts (1707)