Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Was the Cross Enough?

When I was younger I understood that dying on the cross of Golgotha caused excruciating pain. Pain that I have never experienced. But I still had questions in my mind. Was Jesus' crucifixion enough to pay for all the sins of the world?

It is true that no man has ever lived a perfect life as Jesus did on earth, but haven't other humans experienced the same amount of pain? What about the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus, the thousands of Christians that were torn apart in the Roman Colosseum, and the millions of Jews that suffered the devastation of  Nazis concentration camps? I knew that their blood could not atone for sin, because they were sinners themselves, not perfect sacrifices. But was Jesus' death enough?

Yes. Jesus' death was enough. In searching the Bible I have learned that Jesus did not only endure physical death, but spiritual death as well. During the Last Supper Jesus was “troubled in spirit (John 13:21)” because he knew that one of His disciples was going to betray Him. Later in the evening, Jesus took His closest disciples took a certain place and informed them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry here and watch with me. (Matthew 26:38)”. He walked a distance away and fell on His face, weakened from sadness and the weight of His burden. There were many times Jesus would travel to pray alone with God. In the garden of Gethsemane, God allowed us to hear in on their conversation. Jesus was so troubled emotionally that His life was susceptible to death. He prayed: “Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt”. Jesus was God, with God's power, but He was still 100% human, and was not sure that He could endure what He was required of His Father. God the Father loves His Son and He sent one of His angels to strengthen Jesus. Even then, Jesus prayed harder. “And being in agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground, (Luke 22:44).” The condition of sweating blood is identified as Hematidrosis, a "rare clinical phenomenon". A few cases in history have been recorded that men who were preparing for battle sweated blood and a few cases when men were unexpectedly told that they were going to face death. It is an uncontrollable condition in which there is “deposition of hemosiderin in the parenchymal cells, causing tissue damage and dysfunction of the liver, pancreas, heart, and pituitary" (Wikipedia). Jesus' human body was enduring the maximum stress level.

While on the cross Jesus' spiritual death occurred. He was separated from God Almighty. God the Father turned His face from His Son, allowing full wrath and punishment to fall on His shoulders for the past, present, and future sins of all the other humans that had lived and will live. Jesus was left in the blackness, pain, and filth of all evil. He was completely alone. No man, angel, or God Himself was there to bear it with Him. He was abandoned. “...He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the Ghost, (John 19:30).” When there was no more crime that could possibly be charged, Jesus gave up His spirit. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost, (Luke 23:46).” Although God left His Son, Jesus called out to Him, commending His spirit to Him. Commend, the original Greek word parativqhmi, means to place beside, near, or before; to set forth in hopes that it would be received; to entrust. Jesus could not see God take His spirit, He could only commend it to Him with a prayer that it would be accepted of Him. He offered all He had.

Jesus' death was more than the physical hurt of the betrayal, mocking, stripes, and crucifixion. It was the separation from God. Pain was not the price of our redemption, but it was rather a by-product of the punishment and separation from God. Separation caused the most unbearable weight of human emotions and pain. It is something we will never be able to full appreciate or comprehend until we share perfect, sinless fellowship with God as Jesus did before He died. The words of Elizabeth Hewitt's hymn My Faith Has Found a Resting Place echoes in my heart: “Enough for me that Jesus saves, this ends my fear and doubt; a sinful soul I come to Him, He’ll never cast me out. I need no other argument, I need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me”. May our life attitude be as the apostle Paul's. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world, (Galatians 6:14).”

~

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?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

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. 

(by Isaac Watts, 1707)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Approved of God



                                  "...in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God,
in much p a t i e n c e, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 
In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; 
By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, 
BY LOVE UNFEIGNED, 
By the word of t r u t h, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: 
As deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; 
as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, 
and yet possessing all things."
II Corinthians 6:4-10
~
I entitled my blog By Love Unfeigned, which is from the passage above. Having unfeigned love is one of the ways we can approve ourselves as ministers of God. When I first read this passage years ago, I stopped at the word unfeigned. What does it mean? My research began. Unfeigned is translated from the Greek word ajnupovkrito├č, which means undisguised, sincere; genuine. It is by absolutely pure love that we can be approved of God. I know from the times my heart has been tested that my love is not 100% genuine all the time. Only when Christ lives in us and we claim His perfect love as our own, can we be approved of God. Notice in II Corinthians 6:4-10 how ministers of God are identified: in, by, and as. Being a minister of God, we will be led in dark paths that require faith. But by trust in His word we can follow. And as we follow, so are our lives fulfilled. While fulfilling His ministry on earth, Christ Jesus said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," (John 15:13). Are we sincerely  ministers of God on earth now? Do we love others sacrificially in such a way that we put our lives and dreams aside to usher God's truth to others? In laying our lives aside we may feel like we have nothing for ourselves, but in reality we possess all things. Our place of prayer is before His Throne of grace, and our work is invested in His eternal Kingdom!

"For there is one God, 
and one mediator between God and men, 
the man Christ Jesus," 
(I Timothy 2:5).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Measure of Mercy

Most of us know that mercy is showing favor to those who do not deserve it. What is mercy in comparison to love? In Ephesians 2:4 we see that it is through Christ's mercy that God's love can be extended to us. Proverbs 3:3 and Micah 6:8 inform us that we are not to forsake mercy, but rather that we are required of God to love mercy.
While reading through the Gospels our Bibles have a parable entitled, “The Prodigal Son”. Although he may indeed be the main character of Jesus' parable, I recently learned something important from the older, faithful son. Imagine.
~
The sun was draining as the faithful son sunk his mattock into the earth. Despite the famine, he worked long hours in his father's fields. It probably would have been easier if his younger brother were there to help, but  he was gone. Had been for several years. Sometime later he paused. Music? Yes, from across the darkening fields he heard music –and laughter. He was very expectant as one of the servants came from the house. “What has happened?”
Your brother,” the servant panted, “has returned. He is home.” When the faithful son did not reply, he continued, “Your father has killed his prize yearling. I was commanded to prepare it for supper.” The servant hurried off. The faithful son finished his work and walked slowly toward the house. His mind reeled. My brother disrespectfully insisted on receiving his part of  father's inheritance. He wasted father's living on foolish pleasures and dirty harlots and forsook us in the family work for several years. I've worked harder than ever. Although I know he loves me, father has never honored me with a feast... His thoughts were interrupted by a hearty laugh. He stood outside the door. Everyone inside sounded so overjoyed. Finally his father came out.
Son, come in; it is time to celebrate!” The faithful son did not move. He took in a breath and began slowly.
All these years I have done all you've asked. I've never left your will for me. You've never given me a feast to enjoy with my friends. After a few minutes of being gone for several years, you throw him a feast. He used your inheritance on harlots and gambling, Father. Celebrate? Why?”
Son, you have earned all that I have. It is yours. Now it is right time to celebrate your brother's return –not his leaving. He has repented of his error and did not even expect to be accepted as family– but I've forgiven him. He is a new, faithful son now, and that's why I rejoice!”
~
The parable does not reveal the faithful son's response. That is for Christians to answer in their own lives. It does not matter how long you have been saved or how devoted you are to the ministry. What does matter is having the motives of Christ. We become prideful in our faithfulness and forget the mercy by which we were saved. Jude 1:21 instructs us to keep our eyes on the mercy of Christ. The same mercy that saves us also keeps us in God's love. Mercy is not something that we can create in ourselves; for, we are as undeserving as everyone else. We must come before the throne of grace and pray that we may obtain mercy and find grace in time of need (see Hebrews 4:16) . God is our store of endless mercy.
You will be repaid for serving those you love, even when you do not feel like serving them. But you will be abundantly ~blessed~ when you give of yourself to those who do not deserve your love or cannot give in return. Mercy is one of the truest forms of Christlikeness that can be displayed in the human heart. What is your measure of mercy? 

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose to whom he forgave most. And He [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.” Luke 7:41-43

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:13;14