Friday, March 29, 2013

That's Why They Call It "GOOD" Friday

I think this is the first Good Friday that I can honestly say I am joyful. I woke up that way. The day ahead didn't carry with it that usual sense of doom and gloom that Good Friday seems to bring. Maybe it's because the sun is shining and the birds are singing. Perhaps it's the smell of the outdoors coming through my open kitchen window. Maybe it's because there's the promise of a temperature over 50 degrees today, and if you live in Michigan, you know that's no small thing. It's Good Friday. It's Friday. It's good.

I have been totally obsessed with this set of Scriptures for the last two weeks, reading over them every day, sometimes more than once a day.

  Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.  
(from Isaiah 53)

Maybe they call it "GOOD" Friday, because what's not GOOD about that? 

 And then there's this: 

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (Galatians 3: 13-14) 

What's not GOOD about that?


"To Him who loves us and has freed (loosed) us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father--to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." (Revelation 1: 5-6)

What's not GOOD about that?    

You know this one...

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." (John 3: 16-17)

God doesn't just love me....He SO loved me!

What's not GOOD about that? 

It could be because one day, on a day that seems a lifetime ago, yet just yesterday, they stood me before the crowd, rocks in their hands. They demanded my stoning, but He kept drawing pictures with His finger in the sand. When He straightened and said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her," I could hear the stones, dropping, one. by. one. I dared not look up, until He spoke to me in the kindest, gentlest voice I had ever heard. He lifted my head, put a hand on each of my tear wet cheeks, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" I said, "No one, sir." "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."
One day, on a day that seems a lifetime ago, yet just yesterday, He would give His back to be beaten and His cheeks to those who pulled out His beard. He would be mocked and spit on. He would make His way down the Via Delorosa amid the shouting insults of the crowd. He would scarcely make it up the hill for His weakness and be laid flat on wood and the hands that cupped my face would be driven straight through with nails. On that dark and windy hill, He would cry, 
I was set free, my ransom paid, my redemption bought! 
Oh, there's nothing as GOOD as that!  
That's why I call it GOOD Friday!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Go With Me To Gethsemane

As another Resurrection season approaches, my heart makes it's journey to Calvary once again. Without fail, I always linger so much longer in the olive grove. The scene captivates me. I pull my wrap tighter around my body to keep out the evening chill, as I hide behind an old and gnarly olive tree, watching the events unfold. Here I am Gethsemane.

On Sunday the crowds cheered. They couldn't get enough of Jesus. Maybe they could see Him do another miracle. Jesus heard their praises, but He knew that in just a few days they would all turn against Him. On Monday, He witnessed the greed and prejudice of the city merchants. So overcome with righteous anger, He took a hand made whip and turned their tables over crying, "My Father's house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations..but you have made it into a den of thieves." The harassment began on Tuesday. His enemies challenged Him on who exactly He thought He was. "On what authority are you doing these things?" Animosity, hatred, and venom began to permeate the air. By the end of the week they would cast their vote to put Him to death. On Wednesday, one of His closest friends, one who knew His heart, His desires and His who had known His love... agreed to betray Him to His enemies for the price of a common slave...30 pieces of silver.

Thursday night Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples. They didn't understand that this would be their last meal together with Him. As Jesus looked around the room, He knew that these men would all be scattered in just a few hours. He knew that Peter, headstrong Peter, would deny Him three times. He looked up to see Judas get up and leave the table. The others didn't understand what was happening. But Jesus knew that in a few hours Judas would return with soldiers and clubs and swords. The eleven didn't get the significance of this night. But Jesus did and it was in this state of mind that He took the eleven and made His way to Gethsemane.

We enter our own Garden of Gethsemane by many routes. We enter through betrayal, loneliness, abuse, divorce, poverty, loss or grief. We enter when our wills collide with the will of God. There are many paths to Gethsemane but I believe we've all been there at one time or another. You may be there right now. Today. This dark night that Jesus spent in the garden can teach us much about our own dark nights...our own personal Gethsemanes.

We know that throughout the earthly life of Christ He often went to solitary places to pray. But on Thursday evening, He didn't want to be alone. He took the eleven with Him to the Mount of Olives as they usually did, but then He pulled aside three of His closest and went further off. We do not need to be alone in our Gethsemane. Jesus knew they were nearby. He knew they were there and He told them to pray. He knew they would go through a horrible time as well and He wanted them to be prepared by praying to the Father. When we are suffering we don't need to take the whole crowd with us. Remember that Jesus left eight of them behind. But it is perfectly proper to take a few trusted friends along with you when you are suffering. Don't try to go it alone. When you're suffering your Gethsemane, take along a friend or two.

Jesus was deeply distressed, sorrowful and troubled. The Greek word that is used for "distressed" pictures men who are struggling in a boat against wind and waves. Have you ever felt like you were in a little dinghy boat trying to stay afloat while the winds and waves of adversity threatened to drown you? That was the feeling that Jesus had that very night. He said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." Your soul is your mind, your will and your emotions. Every last bit of Christ was overwhelmed. He had not known such trouble in His earthly life thus far. He told the others that it was so bad that it threatened to extinguish His life right there and then. Forget the Cross! He thought that He was going to die right there in that garden. It was that bad!

No matter how excruciating your pain is, no matter how badly you hurt, no matter what you're going through, Jesus Christ knows how it feels. Don't ever say, "Well...He was God". He was fully God, but He was also fully Man. That's hard for us to wrap our minds around, but it's truth just the same. He was in exceeding pain and torment that night in the garden The full impact of what He would suffer hit Him and He staggered under it's weight.

"He fell with His face to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him." Have you ever hurt so badly that you just fell to the ground? Right here, Christ gives us permission to fall to the floor and be honest with God. We can tell Him we're suffering. We can tell Him we're struggling. We can tell Him, honestly, that we really would rather not do what He is telling us to do. Jesus did! In His own personal preference, He would rather not have experienced the pain of death and the horror of having the sins of the whole world put on His shoulders. And He told His Father so. We would often not want to go through what we have to go through. We can tell our Heavenly Father. Jesus did.

Christ would suffer physical pain but He would also suffer the pain of separation from God the Father. For a little while, God the Father would turn His face away from His Son. The One who had been with the Father since before the beginning of time, would be alone for the first time. And Thursday night in the garden was just the beginning. The kiss of a friend, angry crowds, betrayal, rejection and trials were coming. There would be mocking and spitting and scourging to the point that His skin would come off with each blow of the whip, until bone could be seen. Nails in His wrists and ankles and hanging on a Cross still being mocked by the crowds. It wasn't over yet in the garden. It had only just begun. It was enough to drop Jesus to the ground on His face before His Father, the only One who could possibly help Him. Often the pain that we experience in wrestling with submission is just as excruciating as the results of that submission will be.

Three times Jesus asked His "Abba"...His Daddy, to take this cup from Him. Jesus was persistent in prayer. If Peter, James and John had been awake they may have been reminded of the story Messiah had told them about the woman who kept bothering the unjust judge for mercy. Because of her persistence her request was granted. Christ had said that He told them this parable so that they would "always pray and not give up" (see Luke 18: 1-8). But they were asleep. He told them to watch and pray, but they slept instead. Don't sleep when you should be praying.

Maybe if Peter had stayed awake and prayed, He might not have denied Jesus. Maybe if they all would've prayed they would've received strength to endure, and they wouldn't have run like little boys. When you're facing something in your life, draw near to God. He will draw near to you and give you strength to endure well, strength for what lies ahead, and strength for victory.

Thursday night in the garden was the scene of a cosmic battle between Christ's humanity and His deity. The battle between His God-ness and His Man-ness. I believe that angels were perched over the portals of heaven watching. I can feel the evil one lurking, listening and thinking, "What's He gonna do? What's He gonna do?" All of hell sat silent, waiting and watching. Satan probably didn't understand the full scope of what was at stake in that garden, but I'll bet that he knew something was up! He's watching you too, by the way. How the next words that Jesus spoke must have rocked Satan's world! Jesus says, "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done". Angels cheered and demons screamed in fear. The decision was made.

Way back in Genesis 3: 15, God said that the serpent, Satan, would bruise the heel of Jesus but Jesus would crush the head of the serpent. Jesus would deliver the fatal blow. Satan tries to cripple us but it's not fatal. He may bruise us, but he doesn't crush us. Jesus will always deliver the final blow to Satan. And in Him, In Him, every time we choose to say, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done", we crush the head of our enemy and do tremendous damage to the kingdom of darkness. Demons shudder when we know what God's word says, and what He wants us to do, and even though we don't want to, we say, "Nevertheless". Let's do some damage to the enemy kingdom! Let's crush his head. The prince of this world has been winning for way too long, but the battle is not over. There are too many defeated Christians. It's time for Christians to start winning the battles because we know that one day Christ will win the war!

Doing the will of God isn't always easy. At times it can be excruciatingly painful. But can we look up and say, "Jesus, I wouldn't do this for anyone else but you, not for anyone or anything but you, but you want me to .. so I will obey. Your will be done?" And in that moment, we crush the enemy's head and get the victory. Hallelujah!

I don't know what it is for you that God is asking you to do or to endure. Maybe He wants you to forgive and be kind to someone who you would much rather slap upside the head. Maybe He's asking you to give up an addiction. Maybe you need to endure a difficult person or situation with a good attitude. Perhaps He wants you to give up your secret sin. I don't know...only you do...but you know that you wouldn't do it for anyone or anything. But can you do it for Jesus? Can you say, "Jesus, I wouldn't do it for anyone else but you...your will be done."

This night was so horrific for Christ that He was sweating with drops of blood falling to the ground. I have yet to see a human suffer like that. Hebrews 12: 4 says, "In your struggle against sin, you have not resisted to the point of shedding blood." This thing...whatever it is in your life, will not kill you. It won't make you sweat blood. It won't be easy, but you will never suffer the way Christ suffered for you...Amen?

When Jesus looked up and saw an angel from Heaven appear to Him, wonder if He thought His deliverance had come. Maybe it was time for them to fly back to heaven and forget the whole thing. Did His Father change His mind? But our text tells us that the angel "strengthened Him." We may not get delivered from our problems. We may not be able to escape what God is telling us to do. We may never see God go back and tell us that we don't have to obey. But in the midst of it all, He will give us the strength that we need to endure. I imagine that the angel came to Jesus with a message. And I imagine that it was the same message that God gave the apostle Paul some time later, when he prayed three times for something to be removed from his life. God said No! But He said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10) Do you think that maybe He said the same thing to Christ that night? Is He speaking that to you today?

Because of this cataclysmic decision of Christ's to say "Nevertheless", the purposes of God Almighty were fulfilled. If He hadn't submitted and obeyed we would be on our way straight to Hell this very day. Obedience brings about the purposes of God. Jesus became the source of our eternal salvation when He submitted. Look at Hebrews 5: 7-10: "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to one who could save Him from death (sound familiar?), and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek." It's okay to offer up prayer and petitions with loud cries and tears to God who can save us, but in the end, when the rubber hits the road, it's reverent submission and obedience that gets the purposes of God fulfilled in our lives.

Nothing, I repeat, nothing that you are holding on to is worth it. What you will gain through obedience and submission will be so much greater. Don't let fear of the pain of submission hold you back. When God's purposes come to pass there is nothing sweeter. Don't forfeit your God-ordained destiny holding on to lesser things.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr explained his situation after receiving a phone call threatening him with murder: "My strength was gone. I sat at the kitchen table searching for a way of how to disappear without being considered a coward. In this state of utmost exhaustion and complete discouragement I laid down my need before God. With my head in my hands I prayed aloud, "Lord, I believe that I am fighting for a righteous cause. But now I am afraid. I cannot go any further. I have come to the point where I cannot make it on my own." Almost immediately all my fears were gone. My insecurity disappeared! I was ready to face everything. Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. Nobody entered." We know what Martin Luther King Jr. went on to do. He prayed and submitted and said that not even fear for his very life, would make him set aside his obedience to the purposes of God for his life. We think that great men and women, who do great things, do not go through anything. Usually the very opposite is true. Every time we are about to walk into God's plan and destiny for our lives, there will be battles to fight and there will be Gethsemane nights.

In John 5: 30 Jesus said, "I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me." In John 6: 38 He said, "I have come down from Heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me." And in our passage today, Jesus said, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done."

That same kind of strength that made Martin Luther King Jr. go on...that same kind of strength that made Jesus go on, is available for you today for whatever it is you're going through. Pray, submit, receive His strength, grace, and the power that He will give you to endure. The purposes of God will come to pass in your life. God's good plan for you will come to pass.

Christ's Gethsemane night allowed Him to do this: "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! (I can imagine Jesus hitting His chest) Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! ("Wanna go"?) It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up." (Isaiah 50: 6-9) What boldness! What strength! What power!

All of that was imparted to Jesus, in that garden, that night. He didn't want to. But He did it anyway, and the big picture is that He did it to please His Father in Heaven, and He did it for you and for me. Our salvation, our forgiveness, our righteousness in Him, our abundant life, our eternity, was settled right there when Christ said, "Nevertheless".

What about you? Don't forfeit your destiny. Set your face like flint. In your Gethsemane...will you say, "I wouldn't do it for anybody else but you...nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done?"