Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Morning at Christ Church Dulles, VA -- Romans 8:26-34

This morning’s thoughts are drawn from this morning Epistle, found in chapter eight of Saint Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome which he penned sometime around AD 57/58 which staying in the city of Corinth.  The letter is perhaps the pinnacle of Saint Paul’s writings, so much so that the 16th Century German Reformer, Phillip Melanchthon suggested that it was “A summary of all Christian Doctrine”.

This summer at All Saint’s, we are doing a preaching series from the Epistle and we’ve had some insightful and inspiring messages, most recently from our newly-minted Priest, Father Jedd Trenum.  With God’s help, I hope to receive the baton from Fr. Jedd and continue sharing from this diamond mine of God’s love, expressed towards his people.
If you have your Bibles in front of you, I’d invite you to turn to this morning’s reading and follow along with me.

Misunderstandings and Misapplications

This morning we’re about to consider a portion of the Epistle that has brought much comfort to saint’s throughout the ages.  Yet at the same time it has been a source of false comfort or assurance form whom the promise has not been made.  I’m certain that you have heard well-meaning persons share some of Romans 8:28 with someone who has experienced a tragic loss, or is in the midst of a difficult or trying season of their lives.  I stress the term “some” because they will omit the full verse, which would drastically alter what was being conveyed.  Today, if you’re a child of God, you can rest in full assurance on the promise of this verse, because not only are you the object of this sentence, but also the object of God’s love.

Conversely, If today someone were find themselves outside the family of God and willfully walking in disobedience to His kingdom, this promise is not only void, but the reality is 180 degrees away from the promise.  Saint Paul reminds us in Roman’s 6 that the wages of sin (or a life lived apart from God) is death.  Therefore, by implication, we could conclude that we know that for those who reject God all things do not work together for the good, for those who have resisted being called according to his purpose.  This said, I can also say confidently that this is a treatable condition.  God is calling, and continues to call those who are estranged from Him to be reconciled back to Him through the propitiatory death and resurrection of His son, Christ Jesus.

Why do “All things work together for good”?

We’re the recipients of “Divine Prayer”

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

One of the first, and foremost reasons that all things are working to our good is the fact that we are recipients of Divine Prayer.  In the same way an earthly parent prays for their children, the Holy Spirit prays for us as God’s children.  While being God’s children in this present age, we continually find ourselves along a line of Divine demarcation line between the present and the eternal.  Consequently, we live along a line of tension between being children of Heaven while living out a sojourn here on a fallen world where, as Saint Paul described, this very cosmos groans and longs for the moment when Christ himself sets all things in order as Saint John described in Revelation 21:5.

Rev 21:5 ESV] 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

In this, we live most of our lives five to seven feet above ground level and go through life with a limited horizon.  Our perceptions are limited to the physical and though we strive to pray earnestly, fervently, and effectively, our prayers fall short, too often landing like a poorly hit softball in the infield, or a shanked golf ball off the tee box.
In spite of this, things work towards our good because God the Holy Spirit is praying for us.  He sees our weakness, our spiritual near-sightedness and comes along side us.  I want you to picture for a moment, those times when you are enmeshed in deep, soul-shaking prayer.  You may be seated by a loved one in the ICU, or be in some immediate danger.  It is at this very moment that the Holy Spirit is there alongside us, uttering intercessory prayer that is deeper, and more profound than we can comprehend.  Just as it was the will of the Father that the Holy Spirit would come alongside us, empowering our faith and our lives to walk this world as His witnesses, it is the Father’s good pleasure to have His Spirit praying with us, and for us.  This should also serve to humble us, should we begin to imagine ourselves as mighty prayer warriors.  Without the Holy Spirit’s intercessions, what would the fruits of our prayer lives look like?

We’re the recipients of a “Divine Calling”

Saint Paul, in further unpacking the truth of why all things are working for our ultimate good, does so in a compelling fashion.  For my fellow language geeks, this line of reasoning are referred to as a line of Sorites, where the predicate of one’s sentence, becomes the subject of the subsequent sentence.

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

In our continuing to consider why all things are working to the good for the child of God, we can’t ignore the fact that we were called, from eternity past, to be recipients of this grace of God; it was the Father’s perfect will from the mists of eternity past.  Verses 29 & 30 take us through a powerful description.  From a time before time, we were known and loved by the Godhead.  This foreknowledge is expressed in the original word “pro-ge-no-sko”, a powerful word that not only conveys the idea of foreknowledge, but of a foreordination.  Usually when we speak of ordinations, most of us think in terms of those who’ve received a calling and have been set forth as Bishops, Priests, or Deacons.  But every child of God has received an ordination of such, and in this foreknowledge, the Father then proclaimed this to be in His royal decree of His predestination.  Think of this, and it is a bit mind-blowing; and a point, we were seen in the heart of God.  At that moment, He decreed that we would be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus, so that He, the only begotten son of the Father, would be honored above all.  Because of this Divine decree, we were called into a life of faith in God, through His son Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This calling now begs the question; how can the unholy, and totally depraved stand before the holy and infinite without being utterly destroyed?  That person would be unable to stand before the presence of the Almighty with out having their atomic particles scattered to the four winds.  Consider the words of the Prophet Isaiah when he was swept up into the throne room of God, “Woe is me, for I am undone!”  Or, even the writer himself who was struck down on the road to Damascus?  No, the Father knew that in order for us to stand in his presence, we would have to be given a right standing.  This moment occurred at that moment when we responded to His call.  Because we placed our faith in Him, though responding to his invitation, we were made Just through faith.  This isn’t a New Testament innovation.  From the time of Abraham, we learned that those who were Justified before the Father, were made just by their trust in Him and His promises.

This takes us to the logical end of this chain of glorious events where Saint Paul declares that those whom the Father has justified, are those that he has also glorified.  This glorification of the saint will be fully manifested at the appearance of the Messiah, whereas Saint John declared:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. I John 3:2

Because so loved us, the Father declared in eternity past, that we would be glorified through all eternity, being seated in the heavenly alongside of His Son.  

This is potent truth, and it’s also a point where we could easily find ourselves sucked into moments of doubt or uncertainty.  Troubling thoughts like “What if I’m not called?”, or “What if I only THINK I’m called?” may creep into our heads.  If I could offer some assurance, it would simply to be to say that if you weren’t a child of God, you wouldn’t be worrying of whether you were His child or not.  Where the child of God desires to please their Lord, the unregenerate heart doesn’t really give much thought to this at all, living their lives as one whistling past the graveyard, so to speak.  This morning if you said yes to the Father, its because He’s foreordained and predestined you to do so.

We’re recipients of a “Divine Justification”.

Now Paul brings us to that moment where Lon Solomon, one of our neighboring Pastor’s, would refer to as that  “So What?” moment.  He asks us, If God is for us, who can be against us?  It’s a rhetorical question in its original rendering where Saint Paul literally proclaims, “If God is for me, who can be against me?” Let’s say that aloud in order to make it stick (Repeat - “If God is for me, who can be against me?”) How much more evident is this fact considering that God the Father gave God the son, His perfect image made incarnate in the man, Christ Jesus, to be the propitiatory sacrifice, as an atonement for our sins.  I’m not a fan of this statement, but some have said that the Father bankrupted Heaven to pay the price of our redemption.  Though you really can’t bankrupt the infinite, you can offer up your most priceless treasure, which is what transacted on the cross on our behalf.  So by extension of this fact, who may successfully indict us as we’ve been acquitted by the highest court in the universe?


So, what do we say in all of this?  When we confidently state that “All things work for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” We’re not parroting some dayspring greeting card sentimentality, we are declaring the counsel of the Almighty and an ironclad promise to the child of Heaven.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

Advent Begins in the Dark


I’m recalling the first Sunday in Advent 1979, when I was blessed to be part of a choir that was performing in the National Cathedral up on Mount Saint Alban’s.  It was a memorable Sunday on many levels that included hearing a homily whose takeaway was “Advent begins in the dark”, a catchphrase that has stuck in my head for nearly 35 years.  The Homilist employed an apt visual reference pointing to the wreath that would glow ever brighter before the season’s conclusion.  I believe though that the weight of this statement extends far beyond the lumens provided by the five candles and the setting of that first Advent bears witness to this fact.

Advent began in a period of Sociopolitical Darkness.  For more than half a millennia, Abraham’s children had been an oppressed and occupied people.  Her golden age and the splendor of Solomon’s temple were little more than stories told by grandfather’s to their grandchildren.  Worse still, they were now into the second generation of being under the iron boot of the Roman Empire.  Against this backdrop and in an act of subversion against the kingdom of darkness, the Angel Gabriel stepped into the realm of time and the Holy Spirit hovered over a comely virgin of the House of David.

Advent began in a period of relative Spiritual Darkness.  Four hundred years had passed since a Prophetic voice was heard in Judah.  Those who were waiting for the Consolation of Israel knew the teaching of faithful Rabbis and the endless circle of sacrifice but never knew the sound of one speaking under the unction of the Almighty in prophetic counsel.  The dark silence would be shattered as the angel pronounced fulfillment of multiple prophecies concerning the coming Messiah.   

But consider too how Christ’s Advent into our own lives also began in the dark.  We all at one time, walked in spiritual darkness.  Each of us, as Saint Paul wrote to the Ephesians, were living far away from God and living to serve ourselves and our own desires; our past, present and future held only the dark and starless night.  Yet when the Holy Spirit moved upon us to convict us of our transgressions and convince us of our need for a Savior, both life and light was brought to us in the new birth.

Those who know the Christ of Advent can take comfort in the fact that the child born in Bethlehem is the very redeemer who will again return to make all things new.  No matter how dark it may seem, His glorious light will burst forth at the Father’s appointed hour.  This Advent which began in the dark will culminate in glorious light.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The National Day of Prayer -- 2016

Funny, Irony has a way of waking you out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night.  About two hours ago, I woke pondering something.  Yesterday we learned that our three apparent choices for the next POTUS are an unapologetic Marxist, a closeted Marxist, and a populist strongman; today is the National Day of Prayer.

Today, Americans are gathering in various places to pray for our Republic. I'm certain that for as long as there has been a United States of America, there have been untold numbers of individuals of believers who have prayed for its direction and future.  

The United States of America is truly unique, and clearly has had the hand of the Almighty on its birth and development.  Though our path has been flawed and has fallen far short of your standards, it has strived to be a good and righteous land.  Joining with those who are praying for our Republic today, I want to offer up this prayer that is being offered at two different locations this morning:
Almighty and ever living God, we your offspring and the generations of Adam gather this morning under this flag pole to bring praise to you and to intercede for our Republic, its Leaders and her citizens. 
As we approach you, we don’t presume to come into your presence, trusting in our own goodness, but in your great and bountiful mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather
up the crumbs from under your table. But you are the same God whose property is always to have mercy upon the contrite. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, to enter into your presence, to lift up our petitions for our Republic that our Land may be healed and all her inhabitants would be reconciled unto you. 
We stand before you as the giver of all good things and the one by whose command, nations rise and fall. You’ve taught us through your holy counsels that every good and perfect gift comes from you and for this reason; we come before you this morning, joining others around this Republic who’ve also gathered in intercession. 
In your presence, we’ve come seeking your mercy for ourselves, and for our nation. Too often, we’ve been like the prodigal child; the one who though desiring their father’s riches and bounty, but determined to live life on their terms, or as the other harboring bitterness and malice under thin veneers of conformity and civility. In this we ask your mercy, and for the strength and resolve to live lives of gratitude and mutual concern for one another. 
We ask that you would move within our lives, that we would be used as change agents for good. We pray that we might become channels of your peace and mercy to those you’ve placed in our lives and paths. We pray too, as public servants, that through your help, we will be faithful and diligent stewards of the nation and its collective trust and treasure. 
We commend to you this morning, those who’ve you placed in authority to govern and lead this Republic including Barack our President, Joseph our vice president, and those on Capitol Hill; may they administer justice, govern wisely, and strive for the welfare and peace of the whole world. May they always stand faithfully, with an ear towards their constituents and a heart towards heaven. 
We uplift to you those in our nation who are in need or who suffer this morning. We call out on their behalf, asking that you would open you storehouses of mercy for them. Too, we offer ourselves that we might become you heart and hands extended to those in need. Make us channels of your provision. 
We commend to you, all those who stand in harm’s way, those who’ve sword oaths to protect, defend and serve their fellow citizens. Watch over them as they serve in faraway deserts, stand on thin blue lines or place their safety aside for the sakes of others. 
Finally Lord, we seek your protection against our enemies, both here in our homes and around the world. Not because we are deserving, but because you are one whose first principles include mercy and loving kindness. Protect us not only from our enemies, but also from ourselves that we might not only be recipients’ stewards of your blessings in this day, but also be able to pass along your bounty to those who will follow after us.
All of this, we ask, seek and hope for in your name.   Amen


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bedlam

The word "Bedlam" has a unique origin that reaches back to the 15th Century.  Its a highly contracted form of "Saint Mary's Bethlehem" on the outskirts of London, and Europe's first and oldest facility for the treatment of mental illness.  Over time, this sanitarium's name shrank to the two syllable word that we have today.  The word in its current state can be defined as "a scene or state of wild uproar or confusion".  Its synonymous with words like disorder, chaos, clamor, or pandemonium (An interesting word in itself which can be defined as the abode of demons).  I know this is starting to read like a wonky, boring bit on words, yet its rooted in something that struck me hard this morning while in the quiet space between my Radio Club breakfast, and the Saturday chores.  Our Republic is in the midst of a Titanic-like slide into the depths Bedlam.

Consider the world scene at present.  A dark, medieval horde is sweeping over the near east with violence that echoes the Red Horse-rider of scripture.  In-turn, they're driving a mass of humanity westward thats destabilizing Liberal governments and populations.  Meanwhile at home, we're divided and balkanized in ways never seen in 240 years.  There are casual calls for revolution by ignorant and uninformed minds whose only connection to bloodshed is through their playstation's or Xboxes.  We're saddled with a usurper POTUS who has become a law unto himself and seems to possess a paraphillic-like compulsion to spend trillions of dollars which the Republic doesn't possess.  To this point, the best we as a People have mustered to replace this willful king are an aging Socialist, a likely-felon, and a megalomaniac.  The world is on fire, our Republic is burning, and America is consumed with celebrating and enabling gender dysphoria.

How has the once most blessed and prosperous slipped into being a byword for national insanity in a generation or two?  The causes are legion, yet I believe they can be distilled down to the fact that we have lost our collective way because we've largely jettisoned our God. 

Consider the words of David, King of Israel:
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! 13 The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. 16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. Psalm 33-12-22 (ESV)
Scripture is clear, along with the lessons of history.  The nation that forgets the Almighty ends up in the ashes of its designs. Its also clear that nations repenting of their spiritual high treason can be restored and saved from destruction.

I think the call is clear today.  We who confess the Almighty as God, and Jesus as Lord are called to a season of repentance and prayer.  We're all in dire need of turning more towards the Almighty and away from self.  We've become complacent and nose-blind to the stench of our (MY) "respectable little murders" within the nostrils of the Godhead.

We're approaching the National Day of Prayer.  Even so, we shouldn't be waiting around for that day.  Today is the moment to approach the throne in repentance and intercession on behalf of a nation adrift.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

John 19:28 - 37, A Homily for Good Friday Evening

Our text tonight is drawn from the Gospel of John 19:28-37:
"28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth--that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken." 37 And again another Scripture says, "They will look on him whom they have pierced."
When we were all kids, there was a CBS TV program titled “You are there”.  The program took us back to pivotal moments in history and allowed us to imagine that we were all there as those events were unfolding.  Being a lifelong history nerd, I loved this program, as it gave me a sense of what was unfolding.  In time after coming to faith in Christ, I began to read the Gospels in the same way, as their narratives allowed me the reader, to stand on the side and witness the redemptive mission of Jesus unfold. 

The Gospel narrative in our portion of Scripture places us at the point preceding Christ’s final moments on the cross.  In the natural realm, his life is ebbing.  He has been awake approaching 36 straight hours and he has experienced indescribable physical and spiritual trauma.  To magnify this all, in his omniscience, he has seen it all and felt the sting of the events before they actually occurred. 

While in deep intercession, before his Father, Jesus experienced an extreme hypertensive event so severe that it caused the capillaries supporting his sweat glands to rupture, mingling blood with his perspiration.  Later, he’d experience multiple blunt force injuries at the hands of Temple Guards, Roman soldiers, and Herod’s cohort.  He suffered severe lacerations/blood loss resulting from a flogging that tore flesh off his upper torso.  Following all of this, in what would have killed most of us, he was then nailed to a rough-hewn Roman cross, Piercing skin, tearing flesh, and damaging nerves.  For the first time in all of eternity He sensed the separation from his Father as the sins of all of humanity was heaped upon him as he who knew no sin, became the offering for the sins of all.  For the past several hours, he had been hanging naked and exposed to the elements.  Here is where we find ourselves in John’s Gospel. Humanity’s redemption was now seconds away from its completion.

 We find ourselves now an unfolding scene that may have taken only a few moments to pass, yet in this short span multiple prophecies were being fulfilled.

Though Christ’s Divinity had no need for food or drink, he absolutely required it within his humanity.  It had likely been fifteen hours since he had anything to drink.  This would be unpleasant under normal circumstances, but he was in the middle of a dire one.  Beaten, flogged, impaled, and now exposed to the midday heat, Jesus was severely dehydrated.  Speaking to those witnessing his execution, he proclaims

“I thirst.”


David wrote of this moment in his 22nd Psalm where it is recorded:

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

Responding to Christ’s request, a sponge soaked in sour wine was lifted to him to quench his thirst.  This fulfilled another prophecy as recounted by David in Psalm 69:

“They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”
Though the “they” in our passage aren’t explicitly identified, there is ample evidence to suppose that it was one of Christ’s executioners who offered the drink, maybe in a moment of compassion for the condemned.  There were two measures of wine there at the spot of the crucifixion.  There was the fortified wine, mixed with myrrh intended to dull the senses and sedate the victim.  Jesus refused this, intending to face his vicarious sacrifice and death on our behalves fully alert and focused.  The second measure of wine was there for the soldiers, to quench their thirst’s while out in the hot sun. 


There are those who’ve questioned the accuracy of this passage, given the fact that the hyssop plant is a spindly herb which doesn’t grow taller than 24 inches, stating that such a plant would be completely insufficient to reach the height of one crucified or support the weight of a soaked sponge.  Perhaps a more accurate read of this might be that the sponge, rather than being lifted up (or supported by) hyssop, the sponge was lifted up along with hyssop.  This would make the sour wine more palatable to the recipient.  Those soldiers attending the crucifixion, being Legionaries, were armed with a long, slender javelin known as the Pilium.  In its Greek-equivalent, it was known as a hyssos.  But this herb played a much greater role in the religious life and law of the Jewish people.

John tells us that this all occurred in order that “Prophecy might be fulfilled”.  We can’t imagine that this was staged moment by Jesus as if he were playing from a script.  No, his thirst was very real and the Master was parched.  And though the executioners may have been completely ignorant of God’s prophetic word, Jesus knew them intimately as he himself was the Living Word.  He knew that the prophetic was becoming reality.

Hyssop would appear elsewhere in the redemptive story of the Jewish Nation.


In Exodus 12, hyssop was used to mark the LORD’s people. 

“Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.”
On that first Passover night when the destroying angel swept through Egypt, killing the firstborn throughout the land.  Only those sheltered behind the hyssop and blood marked doors were spared from this death sentence.

In addition to being the image of the Passover lamb, Christ was also prefigured by the heifer that was given as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  Hyssop was prescribed as part of the Sin Offering that was regularly made on behalf of the Jewish people by their Priests.  Numbers 19 recounts this

"And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer."
Given the aromatics in both cedar and hyssop, this had to provide a scent that masked over the otherwise unpleasant smells associated with the slaughter and immolation of the sin offering.


The state of Christ’s body at mortem was seen in the description of the Passover lamb.  The Lord’s instruction to Israel in Exodus 12, and again repeated in Numbers 9 plainly stated that the no bones were to be broken while offering up the lamb.  This animal was to be a perfect specimen even in its death.

John’s crucifixion narrative describes the routine procedure of Crurifragium, or the breaking of the condemned victim’s legs as either an act of mercy or expediency.  With their legs broken, the ability to support the upper body in respiration was severely compromised.  The victim would soon die from suffocation.  This wouldn’t be the case with the Christ.  As the soldiers went on to shatter the legs of the two thieves, they saw that Jesus had expired.  One of the execution detail members thrust his javelin upwards and into Christ’s Thoracic cavity, ripping through lung, pericardium and heart, resulting in the flow of blood and pericardial fluid. In this moment, the words of the Prophet Zechariah were fulfilled as all in attendance stood viewing the pierced and lifeless body of Jesus.  Many to those now wept

Several have conjectured as to what actually killed Christ.  They’ve addressed the totality of his of his injuries and their theories are reasonable.  I believe Scripture gives us a better answer.  If any singular thing killed the Christ, it was your and my sins.  For our sake he who knew no sin was made to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Those who clamored the loudest for Christ’s death now demanded that his lifeless body be removed from the cross and taken out of sight.  In a moment of sad irony, those who rejected the Lamb of God, were so incredibly zealous to stand on the letter of the law.

If this were the whole story, we would find ourselves at a pretty sad point right now.  The events of that Good Friday were about much more than an exercise in prophecy fulfillment.  It was to be prime meridian of human history and our relationship with our Creator. 
In verse thirty of John’s Gospel account, we read:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.


The three most powerful words since “Let there be” were shouted from the place of the skull: It is finished! (Telelestai)  God’s redemptive plan that was conceived in eternity past, announced to Adam & Eve in the garden, spoke of by the Prophets, heralded John the Baptist had now been brought to complete fruition.  But what had just happened?

In speaking to Nicodemus in John 3, Christ spoke of what would be accomplished on Calvary

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Adam’s sin debt incurred in the garden was paid in full.  From the time of Adam, to the time of Jesus, innumerable animals died and a sea of blood was spilled, yet this didn’t so much as ay the interest”.  In Christ, this debt was now wiped clean.  All who trust in Christ, and in his finished work on the cross could now stand justified, through Christ, before the Father.
Eternal life in the presence of the Almighty was now also made possible through Christ’s vicarious sacrifice.  The promise made to the unknown thief hanging beside Jesus, the promise of dwelling in his presence is also made to whosoever will believe.


So what are we to make of this account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection?  John answers this in his postscript to his Gospel account:

“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday -- At the Ninth Hour


Good Friday, at Noon

From Good's Friday's Gospel reading:
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit
As violent as our modern culture has become, I doubt that many readers of this blog have
witnessed a violent death, or have been called upon to serve as witness to a judicial execution.  

The U.S. is one of the few free societies, along with Japan and South Korea, which still administers the Death Penalty to the worst of offenders.  This said, our American method of Execution is sterile and detached, almost seeming like a medical procedure rather than an administration of death.  Those carrying out the execution have been medically trained and the act takes place in a room  resembling an operating theater.  Executions are carried out behind prison walls and witnessed by just a handful of individuals.  Every effort is made on the part of the state to carry out the procedure in a way that is quick, humane, and sparing the condemned from any unnecessary suffering.  Compared to other nation's who've retained capital punishment, these executions are relatively rare and get scant coverage.  This was hardly the case with the execution of the Christ.

Rome ruled with an iron fist and without pity, and her execution of justice was intentionally brutal.  The Roman crucifixion epitomized this fact.  Those unfortunates who experienced crucifixion died in the most prolonged, miserable way imaginable.  They would, over a period of hours to days, succumb to dehydration, physical exhaustion, and ultimately die by suffocation as breathing became ever more difficult.  Though this execution process could last days in the case of the strongest victims, the process could be artificially accelerated by the Roman's in order to satisfy the desire of the Jewish religious establishment who wanted the executions completed prior to sundown and the start of the Passover feast.

When comparing the most barbaric executions in our modern world to the death of Jesus, they would even be seen as relatively humane.  The execution of Jesus was slow, excruciating, and inhumane in the most extreme ways imaginable.

Jesus knew exactly what he'd be experiencing and I think that why he asked the Father if there was another way.  He was not merely going to die this afternoon.  He would be first offered up as a propitiation, poured out as the only offering fit to satisfy the justice and righteous wrath of the Almighty.  The weight of sin's debt demanded nothing less.  It was only upon it's satisfaction could Jesus cry out "TETELESTAI!", bow his head, and release his live to the Father.

Good Friday -- At Sunrise

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
By modern measurements, the sun would have rose in Jerusalem this morning at 6:36 AM with high temperatures approaching 80 Degrees.  Winds would have been light and steady , blowing in from the southern Deserts, with no chance of rain.  On that first Good Friday as the city was waking up, Jesus' ordeal had been under way for several hours.  Its easy to overlook sometimes, but by now, Jesus had likely been up for over 24 hours.  And, for the past few hours, he had already undergone two sham trials before Annas and Caiaphas where he was exposed to both physical and verbal abuse.  Now, we was being led to stand before the Roman governor, bound and beaten.  In an act of expediency Pontius Pilate would dismiss Jesus, referring him to Herod.  Herod, in-turn, would send him back to the Roman Governor who's legionnaire's will have beaten him within the limits of his life (a beating capable of killing most), before finally nailing him to the cross.  In the next nine hours, Jesus will have experienced an ordeal that's beyond our comprehension.

The cast of actors on this day were a broad and diverse bunch.  There were the members of the Jewish religious establishment who for quite some time, looked for an opportunity to rid themselves of this troublesome Galilean.  There was the Roman Governor who wanted no more trouble than he already had.  There were guards and soldiers.  There were followers, Apostles, and others who by providence were celebrating the Passover, "This year in Jerusalem".  Central to it all though, was the second person of the Trinity.  Jesus, Son of the living God.