Monday, March 25, 2019

Words from the Cross: My God!

One of the most dramatic moments in the crucifixion happened at about three in the afternoon.

Matt 27:46-50 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, "This man is calling for Elijah." Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, "Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him." And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 

I know the popular thought about this verse: My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me? Taking those words literally creates a considerable problem. What happened to the faithfulness of God in Jesus’ darkest moment? Did the God, who said He’d never leave us nor forsake us, leave Jesus when He needed Him most? Does God have a limit to what He can or will handle before He has to give up on us?

Though God clarified much of the historical mystery through the cross, there is still some mystery that remains. We read words like: 2Cor 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And we really don’t know what that means. How did He do that? When did He do that?

We know that Jesus was taking on the burden, the cost and the consequence of our sins when He died, and was setting up the divine exchange we call salvation where we exchange our sin for His righteousness, but were those consequences applied physically, emotionally, spiritually, or all three? What happened between Jesus and the Father when the penalty of sin rolled over onto Him? We don’t know.

All my life, I’ve heard preachers say, God had to turn His back because He couldn’t look at Jesus becoming sin for us. God was too holy to embrace Jesus when the iniquity of us all fell on Him, so He had to forsake Him.

It preaches well, but there is no Scripture telling us the Father forsakes Jesus the moment He died.
Of this I am convinced: God did not abandon His Son. I see the Father like a heavyweight prize fighter. Ever watch videos of Mohammed Ali? He never takes his eyes off the target. This was the target from before the foundation of the world. God would never look away at the most strategic point that brought the solution into the plan. You don’t close your eyes at the point of pulling the trigger and hope you hit the target.

And beyond that: In no place in any Scripture does Jesus speak to the Father as My God. He will use the name God in general, He’ll call Himself the Son of God, but when praying or speaking directly to God, He always calls Him Father. He speaks of God as One when talking about Him, but in personal context, He breaks that down into the three parts of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit.

Why would Jesus, in the darkest moment, change that intimacy? As kids, when we were hurt, we cried out to our parents. We’d scream Mommy or Daddy. Never would we suddenly switch to their formal names.

But what about: My God, My God, why did You forsake Me? If that isn’t about God forsaking Jesus what is it about? Jesus is quoting Scripture. Psalm 22 is a prophetic description of the crucifixion in Psalm 22. Jesus was telling those watching to read that and be strengthened by what David wrote.
It would tell anyone watching what was going on. But more so, it would tell them they could count on the faithfulness of God in what they were going through.

Ps 22:1-5 My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed. 

Jesus was helping His followers remember that the faithfulness of god would remain reliable for whatever they would face.

Why didn’t He quote: Isa 53:3-6 He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. 

Because those verses were personal. They reminded Him what He was going through and why this was necessary. Until the Holy Spirit came, they didn’t understand this Scripture. But they could identify with the emotion of being forsaken.

Anyone watching Him die, felt the agony of Psalm 22. To them the dream was over, God seemed to be shutting down the new adventure. They felt rejected. They were despised. They thought they’d been forsaken. And looking at the cross, perhaps even thought God had turned His back on the Son. But Jesus made sure they knew better. Because, had God forsaken Jesus, He would have had to have changed into different God. What would that say about Him? Whom He had shown Himself to be was a God of consistent faithfulness.

Deut 32:3-4 For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. 

Ps 33:4 For the word of the LORD is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness. 

Ps 36:5 Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. 

Deut 31:6 Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.

Ps 37:28 For the LORD loves justice and does not forsake His godly ones;

Ps 94:14 For the LORD will not abandon His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance. 

If the Father had forsaken Jesus, He would have had to cancel all the promises that spoke of His faithfulness.

And the writer of the Book of Hebrews would need to rewrite:Heb 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…except for that moment when God forsook Him.

God didn’t forsake Jesus. If He had, what would that say about us? Could there be a point in our distress when God would stop being God?

Isa 49:13-16 Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted. But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me. 

Paul had experienced that: 2Cor 4:7-10 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 

Paul had been there. He had felt the same desperation Jesus felt. Pain, agony, desertion, alone. Yet, as did Jesus, Paul saw in his desperation that God was completely faithful.

Folks, please don’t think God forsook Jesus. Don’t ever think God deserts His children in their time of need. Don’t ever think He turns His back on us. Don’t ever let your despair lead you to deny God’s faithfulness. God never forsakes His kids.

  1. God does not forsake His children.
  2. He did not forsake Jesus on the cross.
  3. He will not forsake us in our time of distress.
  4. Even if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Words from the Cross: Be With Me

When we introduce ourselves, we tell someone our name. But, what do they know about us? Almost nothing except what to call us. For them to know us, they need more information. That information is the backstory of our lives. It’s who we are, where we’re from, what we have done and can do. It tells the things that are important to us. The backstory defines us. Without that information, we remain unknown except by name.

That’s why, when the world looks at Jesus, they don’t see what we see. All they see is a name. Why doesn’t He mean the same to them He does to us? We know the backstory. We see God’s plan and how Jesus fulfilled that plan. Without understanding the backstory, we cannot appreciate who Jesus is and what He did.

God didn’t want people to somehow figure Jesus out, to come up with their own idea of who He was. He wanted to explain Him Himself, so they would understand the total picture. To do that, He would provide the backstory. How? By hiding snips of information scattered throughout Biblical history. No one got the whole message until Jesus revealed Himself by crucifixion and resurrection.

Like a divine puzzle, there was a picture waiting to be revealed and each piece of the puzzle told a part of the story. No one had the box to look at, so everyone had to trust that God was accomplishing something with each piece being put in place. For those who lived the OT stories, they saw only limited details. When we look back at those stories, we see them in the context of a completed picture.

Rom 16:25-26 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. 

We understand what to them was only a mystery.

In one of the first stories after creation, Adam and Eve violated God’s command and got caught: Gen 3:8-9 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" 

Why would the Lord ask, “Where are you?” Where were they? In the Garden. Where were they supposed to be? In the garden enjoying His presence. So, something must have happened in that garden that separated them from that privilege.

Here’s a clue: There must be a connection between being able to enjoy God’s presence and doing what God says, since it was by them not doing what God said, or doing what God said not to do, that they now felt estranged from His presence.

We look at that puzzle piece and realize a tremendous truth: man was created to enjoy God’s presence. But we also see sin takes that privilege away.

Later, Isaiah would add another puzzle piece that explained what had happened. He said: Isa 59:2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. 

Fit that into the Genesis story: Gen 3:22-24 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. They lost paradise because of sin.

The prophet Micah handed us another puzzle piece to explain why God did this: Micah 3:4 Then they will cry out to the LORD, but He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time because they have practiced evil deeds. 

But why did God have to kick Adam and Eve out of the garden? The Tree of Life was in there. Remember the other tree?

Gen 2:9 Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

Gen 2:16-17 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." 

The Tree of Life was what sustained life in the garden. Because of that tree they could have stayed there forever. But now that Adam violated that privilege and caused the separation, the Tree of Life was a hazard. He’s estranged from God. Because of His mercy, God would no allow him to remain forever in that condition. The wages of sin has entered the picture.

To prevent Adam from living forever, separated from God, God had to kick him out. The consequences of their actions demanded it.

Why couldn’t God just forgive them? In a way He did. Remember the covering God made for them?  
Running throughout both Testaments: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness – forgiveness in the ultimate sense of removing sin as far as the east is from the west. We’re not that far into the story. So, God had to make a temporary arrangement to cover their sin until it was time for Jesus to come.

Gen 3:10-11 Adam said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 

Covering their nakedness would become known as atonement – God’s method of dealing with sin by covering it until Jesus could pay the debt. Atone means to cover. Like someone taking you out to dinner and says: my treat. They haven’t paid yet, but the promise is they will when the time is right.
What does that piece of the puzzle show us? God doesn’t want anyone to live forever separated from Him: He’s not willing that any should perish but all come to repentance. And He has a plan to ultimately deal with sin.

The picture thus far shows the condition of separation from God with hope of God having a plan to deal with it.

Sin separated us from Him. Sin is the attitude of our life being contrary to the holiness of God. Sins are the actions produced by that attitude. It is Sin that must be cleansed. So, God is laying the groundwork for what it will take for man to be able to enjoy God’s presence again.

Sometime later, when Moses was being introduced to God, Moses showed his ignorance that God was a personal reality. He knew of God as the historical God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but knew nothing of God’s presence in his life.

Ex 3:13-14 Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" 

I am is the name that incorporates all that God was in the past and will be in the future into the present. It doesn’t need anything to explain it. I am what? I am who I am. In that name, Moses saw that God intended to be with him. So much so, that later he would say: Ex 33:15-16 Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" 

Moses recognized that by God’s presence, we are more than just people. We are the People whose God is with them.

In the NT, Peter clarified that even more: 1Pe 2:9-10 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

If God intended for us to enjoy His presence, and we were separated from Him because of sin, there must be an answer coming that would remedy that situation. In other words, what Adam messed up, God must restore. But how was He going to do that?

Good ole Isaiah again: Isa 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. 

There’s the plan. What God has done thus far is introduce the problem and the temporary solution to managing that problem by covering sin. The ultimate answer is on the way.

In final preparation for that answer, Jesus prayed: John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 

Be with Me takes us back to the theme of the puzzle. God’s intentions that are hidden within promises, prophecies, clues and glimpses tell us He plans to give His presence back to His people.
By sin, mankind lost the be with Me privilege that Adam and Eve had with God before the fall. By Jesus’ death, that loss could now be restored.

Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus said: John 14:1 Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 

Being with Him. That’s salvation, that’s eternal life, that’s the privilege of being a Child of God. Living forever in the presence of God.

So, it would be no accident that while on the cross, Jesus had a moment to clarify that even further, even to demonstrate God’s ultimate intention: Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." 

Jesus is holding up a major piece of the puzzle. “Here’s why I am doing this. This is why I came. So that whoever cries out to me, even one as estranged as this thief, I will receive as My own and give him the privilege of enjoying God’s presence.

So there it is: pieces of the puzzle suddenly make sense in Jesus.

Col 1:26-27 the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Glory means that which identifies God’s presence. The hope of God’s presence being restored in our lives is now possible. That was the promise in Jesus’ death. He died so we might have the life God intended. Him in us and we in Him.

Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, the sin that separates us from God can be removed through forgiveness provided by that death. Once that barrier is gone the presence of God moves into our lives and God is with us forever. Because He is with us, we are with Him and connected to all the promises, power and privileges given to God’s children.

  1. Out of a mystery, God has revealed His plan for us to enjoy His presence forever.
  2. His intention is for us to be with Him and He be with us.
  3. Because of the consequences of sin, there is a separation that keeps us from that privilege.
  4. But because Jesus died, that separation can be removed when we call out to Him for the life He promises.
  5. When we do, we can then enjoy the life that lasts forever.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Words from the Cross: Forgive Them

A man was taking a walk through the neighborhood and noticed a boy who was too short to reach the button straining to ring a doorbell. The man stepped up to the porch and aggressively pushed the button for him. "Now what, young man?" he asked the boy. 

“Now we run like crazy!" Sometimes we do things that if we knew better, we wouldn’t have done.
It has never felt right to me that ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law. If we didn’t know it was against the law, we wouldn’t have broken it, generally. But, the law is black and white. Either you did what the law said not to do, or didn’t do what the law said to do, therefore you violated the law.

Lev 5:17 Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment. 

We understand this judicially. The word judicial means of or relating to judgments – rules, laws, commands. A judge declares you guilty based on the fact of what you did.

But we struggle with it judiciously. The word judicious means having good judgment. A judge may declare you not-guilty, even though you did what you are charged with, if, in his judgment the circumstances warrant it.

Justice lies somewhere between the two.

The judge has the right to determine what would be best in any given situation. For justice to be served, the verdict may demand punishment, or it may require pardon. But the judge has the right to decide. A judge can even factor in ignorance when determining guilt if he chooses to look at the crime through intent.

But why was God’s rule so harsh? Where is His justice? Leviticus and the Law in general are the standards God set to teach His people how to live as His people. He’s telling them what’s right and wrong. That standard has to be rigid if people are expected to adjust their lives to it. You can’t adjust to a standard that keeps changing. It must be impartial, holding everyone to the same standard. And there must be consistency in the outcome for disobeying. For people to learn accountability for their actions there can be no excuses. That’s the judicial side of Law.

Paul said: Rom 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 

When it comes to God’s standard, there is no excuse. He’s fair and impartial. Here is the line. Don’t cross it. If you do cross it, here are the consequences.

One of those laws was Do not kill. So, it is interesting to me when Jesus was on the cross He would say: Luke 23:34 "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

It sounds like He is asking the Father to excuse them in this act of killing Him on the basis of ignorance. How can you ignorantly kill someone?

What was Jesus doing? He was appealing to God the Judge as their advocate. The role of the Advocate is to seek justice. John wrote: 1John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 

An Advocate is one who comes along side to help. Like an attorney pleading our case before the Judge, Jesus is asking the Father not to hold this against them.

As Judge God can act judicially, or He could act judiciously. He could throw the book at them for what they did, or He could determine justice would be better served in setting them free from the charges. Why, in the cruelty of this moment, would Jesus ask Him to pardon them? Because what was being accomplished was greater than their actions.

Consider what was going on. John 10:15-18 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.

Though the Romans and Jewish leaders were instrumental in His death, they were not taking His life. He was giving His life up to serve the purposes of the Father.

Gen 22:8 Abraham said [to Isaac], "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

Isa 53:5, 10 He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are made wholeThe LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; as He rendered Himself a guilt offering

John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 

If Jesus was declared by prophecy to be the sacrifice for sin, slain as the sin offering which granted forgiveness which John affirmed He was, what was going on here?

Heb 9:26 Jesus has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Manifested: displayed, exposed, identified.

John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. Explained what about God?

2Cor 5:19, 21 God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against themHe made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 

The mission of Jesus was greater than the accumulation of the actions of the people crucifying Him. Even though their actions were against Him, and violated God’s command not to kill, they played into God’s plan to sacrifice Jesus for the sins of the world.

Last week we mentioned Elisabeth Elliot. She was the wife of Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed in 1956 along with four other missionaries as they tried to make contact with a tribe in the jungle of Ecuador. Years later another group of missionaries returned to that same village and shared the gospel. The very native that had led the attack received Jesus as his Savior and became a Christian. He’ll go to the same Heaven as Jim. Where’s the justice in that? Why was he not held accountable for his crime? Because the purpose of God had been accomplished in his life.
The sum total of that man’s life was reduced to one collective need – forgiveness. He was forgiven, not just for taking Jim’s life, but was washed clean of all that separated him from God. From that total forgiveness he became a Child of God.

It was the same for the men who performed the literal work of bringing about Jesus’ death. When it was all over, they needed to cry out for cleansing of their whole lives, not just one sin.
So, what was Jesus asking for? "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."
Jesus wasn’t calling for the spiritual experience of removing their penalty but acknowledging they were making divine history happen without knowing it.

John 19:9-11 and Pilate entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above

Jesus was telling Pilate he wasn’t in charge of the story. God had placed Pilate there to fulfill prophecy. To carry out the mission of sacrifice, Jesus had to be in control.

After Pentecost, Peter shared a second message: Acts 3:17-19 And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 

There was no greater sin to be forgiven of than them having rejected Jesus as Messiah and Savior. In fact, what the Romans and Religious leaders did in ignorance is not what they are held accountable for. We would think: “Oh, you killed Jesus. You deserve the hottest space in Hell.” The Nazi’s made much out of this accusation against the Jews. And like the Nazi’s, they actually thought they were doing God a favor: John 16:2-3 They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. 

So, to accomplish the plan, God kept them from understanding who Jesus was: 1Cor 2:8  the wisdom [of God’s plan] which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 

They were without personal knowledge of who Jesus was and why He came, so their ignorance helped them participate in God’s plan. But their ignorance didn’t remove the guilt they carried for rejecting Him as Messiah. They had rejected their only hope. And in the end, that’s what they would be held accountable for, not killing Jesus but refusing to crown Him King.

During the Revolutionary War, a spy appeared with an urgent message at the headquarters of the enemy commander Colonel Johann Rall. General George Washington and his Continental army had secretly crossed the Delaware River that morning and were advancing on Trenton, New Jersey where the enemy was encamped. The spy was denied an audience with the commander and instead wrote his message on a piece of paper. A porter took the note to the colonel, but because Rall was involved in a poker game he stuffed the unread note into his pocket. When the guards at the camp opened fire in a futile attempt to stop Washington's army, Rall was still playing cards. Without time to organize against them, Washington and his men captured the camp. Colonel Rall lost because he refused the message.

The message of the Gospel is both good news and bad news. BAD: Rom 3:23 there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… GOOD: Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for usBEST: John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 

Jesus came to die. For Him to die, someone had to kill Him. According to prophecy, the method of that killing had to be crucifixion. Remove everyone from the scene except Jesus, the cross, nails and a hammer. And you are the only person available. You, then, must nail Jesus to the cross. It has to be done, so, like Mel Gibson in the Passion, it’s your hand pounding the nails into His hands and feet.

Then, if, after having done so, you stood before God, what would He ask you? Were you the one who nailed Jesus to the cross? Or did you receive Jesus as Savior and King?

Jesus died because we all need forgiveness – not for specific sins but for the fact we are sinners separated from God. Who killed Him was immaterial. But, since they did it, the pathway to access to the Father is now available through Jesus’ death.

Paul said: 1Tim 1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 
Paul wasn’t judged by the specific things he had done before he gave his life to Jesus. He was judged because he was separated from God because of sin period. The moment he gave himself to the Lord, he received the forgiveness that washed away all his sin.

The key to understanding why Jesus died is seeing our need for forgiveness from the sin that separates us from God. Which one? The sin of rejecting Him. Thankfully there were men who helped Jesus accomplish the death. Even more so, thankfully, there was a God who would, by that death, accept us as His children.

  1. The crucifixion was a spiritual necessity.
  2. Forgiveness needed a cleansing agent to wash sin away.
  3. Jesus carried within His body the only blood that could cleanse sin.
  4. To release that blood, Jesus had to die a bloody death.
  5. Crucifixion produced such a death.
  6. All of this was planned by God so that He could offer salvation to the world, and more personally to us.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Blinded by the Veil

The ability to see has to do with light getting through they eye, carrying images to the brain. Without light or the ability to get light through the eye we cannot see. In other words, if anything blocks the light getting through, we are blind.

Jesus was with His disciples one day and they came across a blind man.

John 9:1-7 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. 

Jesus said two significant things. I need to prove something about who I am as the Son of God, and I need to demonstrate that I am the Light of the world. Meaning what? Since we’re in a story about seeing, and since the medium of sight is light, Jesus, as Light of the world, must have something to do with both physical sight and spiritual insight.

John 9:13-16 They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, "He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, "This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath." But others were saying, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And there was a division among them. 

John 9:17-19 So they said to the blind man again, "What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?" And he said, "He is a prophet." The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, and questioned them, saying, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?" 

John 9:24-25 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give glory to God [and not this man]; we know that this man is a sinner." He then answered, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 

“Guys, here’s all I care about: before Jesus came along, I couldn’t see. Now I can.” So, as Jesus brings Light into the world, He brought something into this man’s condition. He fixed whatever blocked the light getting through his eyes so that he could now see. But He also wanted to use this miracle to teach a greater truth about Himself.

Do you realize this is the only known miracle in which Jesus spits in dirt and makes mud to apply on the eyes for healing? Ever wonder why?

If you have ever watched any episode of a crime scene investigation show you know that DNA is often the answer to solving a crime. Remember DNA is the specific code each of us has that tells what we are and who we are. One way to get DNA is through saliva. Rabbi Jason Sobel wrote that Jesus’ use of spittle communicated an important code message about who He was and what His connection was to the Father. He had told them He was the Son of God, the firstborn. But in that culture, the right of receiving the blessing of the firstborn could be denied if it could be proven that the son wasn’t the firstborn. How could He prove it?

In the Talmud – the written collection of the Rabbi’s teachings and traditions – there was an answer. It said that the saliva of the firstborn son had healing properties and could be used to prove that a son had the right to receive the blessing of the firstborn. Until now, it remained true only in theory. Interesting.

So, when they heard how Jesus healed this man, it was more than just another healing incident, it was a proof statement. To the Rabbi’s and Pharisees’, it should have confirmed Jesus’ claim as being God’s Son because only the saliva of God the Father’s firstborn could supernaturally heal in this way. The power to heal came from Who He was. That’s why they asked so many times for the man to tell them how Jesus performed this miracle.

And each time the man told them, they rejected this proof. As a result, only the one born blind could now see and those who claimed superior insight of the Scriptures remained blind.

Seeing has symbolic meaning beyond sight. If I say, “I see,” it means I understand. It also has a spiritual meaning. We know that light refers to good and darkness to evil. But Jesus used seeing to distinguish believers from non-believers. Those who could see had the insight into who He was. They are the ones who had believed and received salvation. Those who had not were spiritually blind.

On two occasions, Jesus told why He came: John 10:10 I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 12:46 I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. 

I will give them life and take them out of the darkness – the darkness symbolizing the emptiness of life without Him. The life He offered would be both abundant and eternal. But because the Pharisees rejected His proof:

John 9:39-41 Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind also." Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. 

He’s not talking about physical sight to the Pharisees but spiritual insight.

But they say they can see. Wouldn’t that make them believers? No, they believe they have insight without Jesus. That their lives are adequate without Him. They live in darkness and don’t realize it.
If they admitted, like the blind man, that they can’t see what would help them understand who Jesus is, that they don’t recognize their need for Him, then there was the miracle of understanding that would bring them abundant life and spiritual insight. Because they rejected that, that miracle remained only a promise, not a reality. Because they saw no need for Him, they had physical vision but were blind spiritually.

Go back further into the history of Israel. During the Exodus, God told Moses to go up Mt. Sinai. It was there God gave him the Ten Commandments. Though he didn’t see God physically, being in God’s presence had a physical affect on Moses. He glowed.

Ex 34:29-35 It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. Afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the LORD had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him. 

Why cover this up? Moses’ glowing face brought the presence of God a bit too close. Like any light, it exposed things the people wanted hidden, revealed things they preferred to keep concealed.

John 3:19-20 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 

What do we do with a bright light? We block it, or shade it, or turn our heads away. Bright lights disturb us.

So, what the people did in Moses’ day, what the Pharisees did with Jesus, was cover up so the exposure of God’s truth wouldn’t penetrate their darkness and disturb their lives. They still do it today. Does that change the promise of God’s desire for them?

A blind boy was flying a kite as his dad stood by watching. A man came by and asked why he was flying a kite since he couldn’t see it. The boy said, “Oh just because I can’t see it I still know it’s there. I feel the tug on the string.”

Even living behind a veil, trying to block out God’s truth, we still feel the tug. Why? God loves us too much not to give us the opportunity to come out of the darkness.

They were saying, “We don’t want a personal relationship with God. We don’t want Jesus to be the Light of our world.” So, they put a veil over their eyes and remained as they were.

Paul saw what they had done in Moses’ day – and were doing in his day. He brought the historical lesson into modern times to describe those who wanted to remain in their own darkness instead of coming into the Light.

2Cor 3:12-16 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 

Hardened minds mean they’re made up and don’t want to be challenged with insight that will press them for a decision. We’re comfortable, don’t disturb us. Even today, there are those who don’t want to know the truth because it doesn’t fit the life they’ve created. They’re blind to what they could have and don’t know it.

But if, in the moment they grow tired of the darkness, they cry out to God, the light will get through and they will see Jesus as the only One who can give them life.

Jesus showed us two possibilities in this one story. Physical healing, because He has the power to heal, and spiritual healing because He can offer us life in relationship with the Father. One was accepted, the other rejected, which showed us one completed miracle – the miracle that happens when the Light of the world touches the darkness of a lost soul. The blind man received the miracle. The Pharisees rejected it.

In a letter she wrote to Bishop Brooks, Helen Keller said that she had always known about God, even before she had any words. Even before she could call God anything, she knew God was there. She didn't know what it was. She had no name for God – nothing had a name for her. She had no concept of a name. But in her darkness and isolation, she knew she was not alone. Someone was with her. She felt God's love. And when she received the gift of language and heard about God, she said she already knew. She said, “I knew all along there must be one like that, I just didn’t know His name.”

When the Light of the World touches the darkness of our soul, the veil falls off, our eyes are opened, and we can see a Heavenly Father welcoming us into His family.

I want to narrow this down to a specific few today – those who have yet to invite Jesus into their lives. What’s keeping you from asking Jesus to remove your darkness? Why not take down the veil that keeps you from seeing Him as your Light and Life? What is more important to you than receiving the miracle that happens when He answers the cry of your heart?

  1. The miracle of Jesus giving sight to a blind man amazes us.
  2. The miracle of Jesus giving life in relationship with God should amaze us even more.
  3. We are not designed to live either in physical or spiritual darkness.
  4. God has made a way out by asking Him for salvation, through which, we will experience the miracle of an abundant and eternal life.
  5. That’s why God provides light and life through Jesus.