He Is Alive!


Sunday we’ll celebrate Easter. Those adventurous enough to awake in the waning hours of night and find their way to a Sunrise service actually commemorate the moment of discovery.

Grieving women, determined to provide Jesus with a proper burial, made their way to the tomb where they’d seen His body laid. They brought with them the necessary spices to preserve His corpse, but the tomb had been closed with a stone too big for them to maneuver.

According to Mark’s account this difficulty hadn’t dawned on them before they set out. Otherwise they could have asked a couple of the disciples to accompany them. Interestingly, they didn’t decide to turn back once they realized they couldn’t get into the tomb with that boulder blocking the entrance. Perhaps they kept going instead of searching for a few strong men because they knew a Roman guard had been stationed there. Were they hoping to find mercy from their persecutors?

No telling what kept them going, but their persistence paid off. When they got to the tomb, the stone was already rolled aside. That’s when they first heard the truth: Jesus isn’t in the tomb because He’s alive. Not, mysteriously missing. Alive!

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:4-7)

I love this announcement. It carries a subtle rebuke—as if the angels are saying, Hel-lo! Weren’t you paying attention? He told you He’d be out of here in three days. And you’re still looking for Him in this tomb? Why? Why would you do that?

The_Empty_Tomb004I can only imagine the confusion those women felt. The shock at not finding His body, the questioning—yes they remembered His words; could it be true? Had He meant literally “rise from the dead”? The flicker of hope fanning ever brighter. And at last they went to report what they’d seen to the disciples.

Two at least, Peter and John, went to see for themselves. But seeing, they still didn’t totally get it. They recognized that the women had told the truth—the tomb was open and there was no body, even though the grave wrappings were still in place. It was as if His body had evaporated. Today we might think it looked as if His body had been transported elsewhere, leaving the grave wrappings undisturbed.

All they knew was that there was no explanation—apart from the one Jesus had given them repeatedly and with increased frequency: He had risen from the dead. He was alive.

The Living Christ makes Christianity unique among all other religions. And wonderfully, the Bible tells us His resurrection is emblematic of our own resurrection to new life: “and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18b).

Paul clarified this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. Apparently some people were teaching that there was no resurrection. Paul said Christ’s resurrection proved this to be false:

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Cor. 15:20-23)

So, yes, come Easter morning, celebrate because Jesus has risen; He has risen indeed! He is alive!

This post first appeared here in March 2013.

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Published in: on March 31, 2018 at 4:08 pm  Comments Off on He Is Alive!  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Good Friday?


When I was younger, I was troubled by the fact that Jesus said He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights and yet apparently spent something closer to a day and two nights in the grave.

When I was older, I learned that the way the Jews reckoned time, He would have been considered to be dead and buried for three days. They began reckoning for each day at sunset, not sunrise, so the day He died and was buried would be day one, the Sabbath would be day two, and the end of the Sabbath, at sunset the first day of the week would begin and that would be day three.

I’ll admit, ever since I heard that explanation, I thought it was cheating. Besides, it didn’t answer what Jesus said specifically:

for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt. 12:40 – all caps indicates a quote of the Old Testament, boldface emphasis is mine)

Years and years ago, Pastor Charles Swindoll, who used to pastor my church, preached about Christ’s death and burial, postulating that perhaps we’ve figured His day of death incorrectly. Using the information from the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath and that He was resurrected on the first day of the week, at or before sunrise after the Sabbath.

But there’s a very good possibility that He may have been crucified, not the day before the Sabbath, but before a Sabbath.

First, the crucifixion took place during Passover–not a one-day event, but an eight-day celebration. How the commemoration was to take place is explained in both Leviticus and Numbers. Here’s the description from the latter:

Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work . . . On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. (Numbers 28:16-17, 25 – emphasis mine)

These days of “holy convocation,” which could fall on any day of the week, apparently were understood to be a type of Sabbath. Leviticus 23 lists the holy convocations, starting first with the weekly Sabbath, then Passover and finally the Day of Atonement. In describing the latter, the term Sabbath appears:

You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath. (Lev 23:31-32 – emphasis mine)

Now add in the information from the gospels. Mark and Luke say Jesus died on the day of preparation, the next day being the Sabbath (Matthew simply refers to it as the preparation), but John adds some information, clarifying the day of preparation:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14)

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31 – emphasis mine)

A High Day, one of those Holy Convocations, perhaps–treated as a Sabbath. And in this instance, perhaps falling in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, meaning that Jesus would have been buried on Wednesday night, and remained in the tomb all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, just as He said.

How important is our celebration of Good Friday rather than Good Wednesday? Should we start a campaign to get it changed? Hold boycotts of Good Friday services? It’s not an issue that should divide churches and no one’s salvation hangs in the balance because of the day we choose to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And no one should do any of the above to try and sway others into believing something different from the traditional understanding.

There’s much more we could discuss about the events surrounding Jesus’s death: Judas’s betrayal, for instance, and his subsequent suicide; Peter’s adamant statements that he didn’t know Jesus, hours after his failed attempt to prevent His arrest; the passerby named Simon who was commandeered to carry Christ’s cross; the seven recorded statements Jesus made from the cross; the soldiers gamboling for His clothes; the thief making a statement of faith as he hung dying, and Christ’s response to him. Each event is significant and has much to teach.

There’s also a common understanding of what took place after Christ’s death, from three in the afternoon until six. When the Romans realized that Jesus was already dead, they pierced His side “to make sure.” The blood and the water that poured from his pierced heart convinced them He had died.

One of his disciples, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and claimed the body. He gave up his own grave on Christ’s behalf, then he, along with Nicodemus, wrapped the body in burial cloths with some spices, laid it in the tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the entrance.

This was a hasty burial, no doubt, because they had to finish before the Sabbath which began at six that evening.

Significantly, a group of women who we don’t hear a lot about, but who had followed Jesus also, saw where they put His body: “Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Mark names two of these women: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of a man named Joses. Matthew mentions these two women also, apparently because they stayed by the tomb for a time: “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Matt. 27:61).

Why this is important becomes clear later. But at this point, Jesus was dead.

Of course, we know the end of the story—something none of those first century people understood. Jesus was about to do something new and miraculous and amazing and earth-shattering and death-defying—something only God could do.

This post is a combination of two previous articles: one posted originally in March 2013 and the other in April 2014.

Published in: on March 30, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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Spring


Here in SoCal, winter came late this year. We had one devastating rain storm in January, and then nothing until March. Since the storms have come, we’ve had a series of them one after the other. Never much rain, but definitely cooler temperatures.

And now it’s likely over. After tomorrow, there’s just no rain on the horizon. Of course we could break the mold and have rain in April, but that would be a bit shocking.

Elsewhere in our country, people are enjoying a final snow day, but they, too, realize, spring is just around the corner. The signs are there. The old growth is sporting new, birds are singing, squirrels are cavorting from tree to tree, buds are blossoming.

Spring is the greatest testimony to new life that we can possibly imagine.

New life is precisely what Easter celebrates, only on a much greater scale—new life that is everlasting. New life that goes beyond the physical, new life that changes things now and changes things forever after.

Interesting that the Bible uses the metaphor of a seed “dying” only to bring new life up from the soil. That’s the picture of resurrection life, the very thing Jesus experienced so that we would know what’s going to take place in the future.

Because a lot of the fear or dread of dying comes from not knowing.

Jesus simply erased that by showing up so we know. When, that’s still in question. But the fact of the new life, that’s as certain as the dawn.

So is the new life that we enjoy now as people set free from the Law, from guilt, and from slavery to sin. The new life now is just as much a part of Easter as the new life then. It’s not as dramatic, perhaps, though it might be.

When someone has been abusive and no longer is, or addicted and is suddenly set free, their new lives are pretty dramatic and notable. A pastor here in SoCal who I hear from time to time on the radio, admits that his life was headed in the wrong direction when he was a young man. He did any number of things he isn’t proud of, but today he’s the teaching pastor of a church that has as its mission, “To proclaim to the city of Los Angeles that ‘there’s God in heaven who loves you.’ ”

That’s new life in the here and now.

No, Christians don’t suddenly become perfect. But when we blow it, when we revert to the old life, we have God’s love and forgiveness and power through His Spirit so that we can change.

The movie I Can Only Imagine is the true account of another man whose life was a disaster. He wasn’t just heading the wrong way, he was already there. Abusive to his wife and son, to the point that she up and left him, his hard heart only turned harder. Until he met Christ.

Then this “monster” became the kind of man his son wanted to become.

Here’s the movie trailer, which gives an idea of the transformation that took place.

That’s what new life looks like in the here and now. Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, any ethnicity or skin color or language in all the world, and God can transform what we were to the likeness of His Son.

Jesus was the one who welcomed children, who fed the hungry, who invited the outcasts to join him, touched the diseased, brought health and healing to the “crazy man,” praised people the religious folk didn’t even notice. Why? Because just like His Father, He loves the world.

So He wants to bring new life. On a grand scale. On an eternal scale.

He did so by giving up His life so we might be declared free, clean, new.

Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Need For The Cross


As we approach Easter, I’m well aware of the fact that many people will simply ignore the day. Some (at least those in the northern hemisphere) will also celebrate it as a “spring is here” day, commemorating the new life in nature demonstrated by buds on trees, green replacing the colorless world of winter, baby birds pushing out of eggs.

But the resurrection of Jesus? No need for such “myths,” many will say.

The resurrection, of course, hinges on the cross. Jesus had to die first before He could be raised incorruptible.

In fact His death was not an act of martyrdom. It wasn’t the tragedy that spawned a movement.

Rather, Jesus did something no one else could do. The nails that crashed into His hands and feet, essentially nailed the “certificate of debt” owed to God by every sinner, to that cross.

The blood Jesus spilled that day was that of a Perfect and Unblemished Lamb—chosen to make redemption possible. His blood did exactly what the blood of the Passover lamb did: it covered those “under the blood” so that the angel of judgment would pass over that place.

Jesus paints His own blood over the doorposts of our heart, so that we who believe He did what He did and promised what He promised, will be redeemed in the exact same way.

Because Jesus went to the cross, anyone of any race or gender or culture or age can now receive remission of that debt we could not pay—the wages of sin which is death itself.

Some people think that God unfairly judges, that “nice” people or “good” people should go free. But that’s like saying the nice rapist should go free or the good business man or great basketball player who abuses his wife should go free.

Because the truth is, we all fall short of God’s standard.

Some people think God is terrible for “sending millions of people to hell.” But the truth is, those “millions” who make themselves God’s enemies, don’t want an eternity with Him.

Some people claim God is cruel for allowing suffering. But again, He has only given way to what people who oppose Him want or have earned:

“Your ways and your deeds
Have brought these things to you.
This is your evil. How bitter!
How it has touched your heart!” (Jeremiah 4:18).

Which brings us back to the debt of sin and the cross that cancels it.

If someone says God is “unfair” for giving laws He knew we wouldn’t keep, they’re missing one important ingredient: holiness. God is perfect, without spot, righteous. A different standard simply would be other than perfect, not holy, marred. Fellowship with a perfect God is not possible for imperfect people.

Unless God makes it possible.

The cross did just that.

Couldn’t God have just changed the rules, waved away the requirement for sin?

Well, that leaves out an important ingredient too: justice.

God is as just as He is holy. When His law is broken, when the debt is owed, He requires payment.

So Jesus paid at the cross.

It’s kind of funny. Of all the objections I’ve heard about Christianity and God’s plan of salvation, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an objection to God loving humanity so much He was willing to die.

Sure, I’ve heard that God the Father was committing child abuse by sending His Son to die. But that’s all wrong. His will was to save the world. He didn’t send a “second god” or a “lesser god” or a human iteration of Himself to die. Jesus is God and Jesus went to the cross even though He could have commanded legions of angels to come rescue Him. He didn’t because “of the joy set before Him.” That joy was each and every person who would love Him back.

The cross is the greatest symbol of God’s love. There Jesus showed God’s love, cancelled the debt of sin, washed away sin, provided a way of escape from the result of sin, and reconciled all who believe in Him to God.

In short, without the cross, there would be no Easter.

Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization


Easter_LilyPerhaps some will think I’m crying wolf. Is Western civilization really declining? I think we have only to look at Easter and see how our society treats it to realize that there’s been a fundamental shift.

Many Christians—perhaps most—identify Easter as the single most important event in human history. It is also the bedrock of the Christian faith–without a resurrected Christ, we have nothing. In fact the Apostle Paul said, if Christ was not risen from the dead, we are most to be pitied:

if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:14-19 – emphasis mine)

For years—perhaps centuries—Easter has been afforded a place of honor in Western civilization among “Christian” nations. Here in the US many traditions sprang up around Easter that have little to do with Christ’s resurrection.

For a time it was the Easter bonnet and the Easter dress. Then there was the Easter lily, the Easter basket, and the Easter bunny with Easter egg hunts. There was even Easter vacation for school kids. TV often put on special programing, and stores kept special Easter hours or remained closed. For years Easter cards have been available, and these often contain something of the resurrection message.

What seems apparent to me, however, is that Easter, even its non-religious traditions, is fading from the public arena.

A number of years ago a minor controversy arose that proves this point. First, Google chose Easter Day to “honor” Cesar Chavez with a doodle on its search page. As it happens, March 31, the day Easter fell that year, was Chavez’s birthday and two years earlier President Obama declared that date to be Cesar Chavez Day. The point is that Google had a choice—feature Cesar Chavez or feature Jesus Christ. Their response? We’ll honor Cesar. After all, he means so much to Western civilization.

The other part of this controversy, however, is the way some downplayed it, calling it “silly” and “much adoodle about nothing.” In other words, commenting or complaining about a business like Google ignoring the holiday that marks the singular most important event in Christianity was simply not considered newsworthy.

Of course, Google wasn’t the only entity that ignored Easter. CalTrans, the road maintenance organization here in California, was busy at work Sunday morning on at least one freeway. I don’t recall any businesses posting “Closed for Easter” signs either, so perhaps the criticism aimed at Google was not silly but misguided. It’s all of Western civilization that is leaving Easter behind.

Was striping away non-religious Easter traditions, a bad thing? Was the Bing search engine more respectful to Christians for including Easter eggs on their site? I have to say, no, I don’t think so. They were more respectful to Easter tradition, to Western culture, but not to Christ and Christianity.

As the world has become smaller, those of us in the West have learned that the East also has a rich heritage and has made significant contributions to Humankind. We’re learning to appreciate different ways of looking at the world. However, some take this learning and appreciation a step farther and denigrate that which has formed the West.

I’ve heard, for example, slams against the “Greek mind” and against Aristotle. Too linear, the accusation is. The Eastern mind understands time to be cyclical, as we see all of life to be. Look, for example, at the water cycle or the life of a plant.

Individualism is bad too, according to a recent radio commentary. Especially here in the US we have prided ourselves on being individuals, but we live in a world of community. We need fewer Lone Rangers and more group hugs.

The ironic thing is that Christianity isn’t actually a Western religion. It’s roots, of course, are Semitic. While the New Testament of the Bible was originally written in Greek, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Then, too, Christians celebrated Easter all over the world, not just in enclaves in the West.

And community is practically a Christian’s middle name. In fact Christianity provides a beautiful marriage of individualism and community. God gives each Christian a special gift, and then instructs us to “employ it in serving one another” (1 Peter 4:10).

In short, if it’s possible to wrap this weighty subject up in a sentence or two, when the West ignores Christ, we’re not expanding our worldview or becoming more cosmopolitan. We’re actually taking a step backward and denying the most unifying Power and Person imaginable. God Himself said He loves the world, not the West or the East, not Africa or North America. He loves the world. He gave His followers the commission to make disciples, not just at home but in the farthest recesses of the world.

Why else have Christians from any number of nations gone to far-away places to live and work and preach the good news? It’s not to claim that one culture is better than another. It’s to bring into the family of God people from every tribe and tongue and nation scattered throughout the world. Yes, family. I have brothers and sisters in all kinds of places, some who risk their lives to celebrate Easter.

Ironic, I think, that Western civilization seems intent on divorcing itself from the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings that influenced our worldview, while people all over the East are embracing those same truths.

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in April 2013.

Published in: on March 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm  Comments Off on Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization  
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Easter Isn’t A One Day Event


The_Resurrection014I know stating that Easter isn’t a one day event will be self-evident to some and nonsense to others. I guess it goes back to what a person believes Easter commemorates. There are some, of course, who think it marks the cycle of life and the coming of spring after the cold winter. Others think it’s about candy and the Easter bunny. Some think it’s a call to attend church for the year, to get a spiritual boost.

A smaller number of people think Easter celebrates the day Jesus rose from the dead. Those people might have some question, along with the others, about this idea of Easter being something other than one day that marks a notable happening.

But Easter is much more. True, there was a moment in time when a group of mourning ladies made their way to a Judean tomb with the intention of adding spices to the body of the man they had hoped was the Messiah of God. What they discovered was an empty tomb and a angel saying they shouldn’t be looking for the living among the dead.

And there it is. Easter marks the fact that Jesus lives. He didn’t just come out of the tomb on that first day of the week, then die again. He, in fact, conquered the grave—defeated it, gained total victory over it. Death could not, would never, touch Jesus again.

What He accomplished as a sinless sacrifice for the world God loves, was not a one-day exploit. He didn’t die as the Passover lambs did. His sacrifice was complete—the once-for-all kind, the just for the unjust. And His resurrection was the first fruits of God’s harvest. Just as Jesus came out of the grave with a new body that will not die—a new body that was remarkably familiar because it bore the scares of His crucifixion and allowed Him to eat at will, but also one that was remarkably different because He could pass through doors and disappear in a blink—so too, those who believe on His name will one day receive our glorified bodies.

So that first Easter was the start of Jesus’s life after death. While we are to remember Jesus’s sacrifice by taking communion—the bread to remember His body, broken for sinners; the wine to remember His blood shed to cleanse us from all sin—Jesus most definitely did not stay dead.

There’s an old church tradition among Christians on Easter. When someone says, He is risen, the congregation, or even individuals, respond, He is risen indeed. I like that affirmation, but I think a more accurate response would be, You got that right! He is alive and lives inside me!

Because, that’s the capper. Not only did Jesus get that new, glorified body, He has put His Spirit inside each one of His followers. That’s why one of the irrefutable evidences of the resurrection is the host of believers who have new life because Jesus Himself imparted His life to us.

It really is a thought TOO BIG. How can one man’s sacrifice cover the sins of all who believe? How can He live in me here in SoCal and also live in the lives of precious fellow believers living in Sri Lanka? Or Ukraine. Or Morocco? Or Tanzania. Or Peru. Or Alaska. Or South Korea.

Jesus lives and lives in the hearts of believers because . . . God. It’s really that simple. God can do the impossible. He is smarter, more capable, wiser, more powerful, unstoppable, irrepressible, more noble, truthful, good than we can ever imagine. What CAN’T He do?

So it was His good pleasure to find an answer to the problem of sin by taking on the sin of the world, paying the penalty for that sin, and then declaring from the cross, It is finished. The sacrifice was done, His new life, however, was days away from beginning.

And that’s what Easter is. Not a one day event but the celebration of Jesus alive—present as friend of sinners, as Living Water infusing His people, as the soon and coming King we await.

Published in: on March 28, 2016 at 7:19 pm  Comments (3)  
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He Is Risen Indeed


The_Empty_Tomb020

No doubt about it—Christ the Lord is risen today. Hallelujah!

Published in: on March 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm  Comments Off on He Is Risen Indeed  
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Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken


The_Crucifixion011During Passion Week, we Christians commemorate the great sacrifice Jesus made for us, giving His own life in order that we might experience newness of life, freedom from sin, reconciliation with God. But our focus often centers on Christ’s physical suffering. In looking at the events surrounding His crucifixion, however, it becomes apparent that He suffered in every way humanly possible.

First, His suffering had a social component. One of His twelve chosen followers in whom He poured His life, betrayed Him to His enemies. One of His inner circle, who knew Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, who saw Him transfigured, denied Him. All His followers abandoned Him, literally leaving Him for dead. Jesus could not have been more alone.

His suffering was also intellectual. Jesus identified Himself as the Truth, yet He endured false accusations. People twisted His words, claiming He said things He didn’t say. His very purpose for coming to earth was misrepresented and misunderstood. He was also subject to an illegal trial which unfolded in six phases. He was questioned and denounced by Herod when He gave no answer, condemned by the High Priest when He did answer, and ignored by Pilate when He offered him the Truth.

Jesus suffered emotionally, too. The Roman soldiers made fun of His position as King of the Jews. As Pastor Swindoll taught, those godless men who hated the Jews presented Him with three things that marked a king: a robe, a scepter, and a crown. The crown was made of thorns, the scepter was a reed, and the robe, identified in Matthew as a chlamys, was a short robe covering the shoulders and ending at the elbows such as military men wore. He was naked from the waist down.

In addition, as He hung on the cross, onlookers and even for a time both thieves dying with Him, taunted Him. Somewhere nearby soldiers gambled for the few possessions He owned–His clothes. And ultimately, He had to put His mother into the care of someone else.

I believe the worst suffering of all, however, was what He went through spiritually. Jesus Himself gave voice to what He was experiencing:

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?” (Matt. 27:46)

Jesus, with God and also God, somehow experienced forsakenness by God. He was, after all, becoming sin for us. And Holy God has no part with sin.

Yes, the pain and suffering Jesus went through, being whipped and nailed to a beam, hung above the earth for hours until He died of His wounds—this was physical torture few of us can imagine, and yet His sacrifice extended beyond one part of who Jesus was. It encompassed His total person. He give Himself completely to be consumed by the Consuming Fire of God’s wrath.

And as He died, He said the most wonderful words possible: It is finished. The burden of sin paid for, the certificate of debt canceled.

How can we not love a Savior such as Jesus!

This post first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on March 24, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments Off on Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken  
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Good Friday Or Good Wednesday?


The_Burial006When I was younger, I was troubled by the fact that Jesus said He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights and yet apparently spent something closer to a day and two nights in the grave.

When I was older, I learned that the way the Jews reckoned time, He would have been considered to be dead and buried for three days. They began reckoning for each day at sunset, not sunrise, so the day He died and was buried would be day one, the Sabbath would be day two, and the end of the Sabbath, at sunset the first day of the week would begin and that would be day three.

I’ll admit, ever since I heard that explanation, I thought it was cheating. Besides, it didn’t answer what Jesus said specifically:

for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt. 12:40 – all caps indicates a quote of the Old Testament, boldface emphasis is mine)

Years and years ago, Pastor Charles Swindoll, who used to pastor my church, preached about Christ’s death and burial, postulating that perhaps we’ve figured His day of death incorrectly. Using the information from the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath and that He was resurrected on the first day of the week, at or before sunrise after the Sabbath.

But there’s a very good possibility that He may have been crucified, not the day before the Sabbath, but before a Sabbath.

First, the crucifixion took place during Passover–not a one-day event, but an eight-day celebration. How the commemoration was to take place is explained in both Leviticus and Numbers. Here’s the description from the latter:

Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work . . . On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. (Numbers 28:16-17, 25 – emphasis mine)

These days of “holy convocation,” which could fall on any day of the week, apparently were understood to be a type of Sabbath. Leviticus 23 lists the holy convocations, starting first with the weekly Sabbath, then Passover and finally the Day of Atonement. In describing the latter, the term Sabbath appears:

You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath. (Lev 23:31-32 – emphasis mine)

Now add in the information from the gospels. Mark and Luke say Jesus died on the day of preparation, the next day being the Sabbath (Matthew simply refers to it as the preparation), but John adds some information, clarifying the day of preparation:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14)

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31 – emphasis mine)

A High Day, one of those Holy Convocations, perhaps–treated as a Sabbath. And in this instance, perhaps falling in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, meaning that Jesus would have been buried on Wednesday night, and remained in the tomb all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, just as He said.

How important is our celebration of Good Friday rather than Good Wednesday? Should we start a campaign to get it changed? Hold boycotts of Good Friday services? It’s not an issue that should divide churches and no one’s salvation hangs in the balance because of the day we choose to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And no one should do any of the above to try and sway others into believing something different from the traditional understanding..

For one thing, identifying the day of Christ’s death requires some speculation, one way or the other (on Friday, the speculation is how the time Jesus spent in the tomb adds up to three days, and on Wednesday, determining the relation to the Sabbaths mentioned). If we knew that the apostles instituted Good Friday services, we could resort to tradition, but I’m not sure when Good Friday first became the day of remembrance.

I have a hard time imagining the first century Church doing so. Since they had actually witnessed His death, they would likely center their celebration on His resurrection. Then, too, Jesus Himself instituted Communion with the specific instruction to do it in remembrance of His broken body and shed blood. Why add in a separate day of commemoration if the Church already regularly held such a remembrance?

Nevertheless, remembering Christ’s death on our behalf, whenever it takes place, is not a bad thing. It’s actually quite a good thing as long as we understand He is alive today, seated at the right hand of the Father.

But here’s the reason I like the idea of Good Wednesday. It counters the idea that the Bible erred or that Christians have to do fancy footwork to make the facts fit. Simply by interpreting Scripture with Scripture, and believing that Jesus meant what He said, we can discover that yes, it is possible, dare I say probable, that Jesus died earlier than is commonly thought.

This post first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on March 23, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments Off on Good Friday Or Good Wednesday?  
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Good Men Don’t Need A Savior


church2Easter, which is the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is just ahead. Historically people who rarely go to church will make the effort to attend this coming Sunday. Many will hear Scripture read and sermons preached, all illuminating Jesus, alive from the dead.

Some smaller number will tie the resurrection to Jesus’s mission on earth—His sacrifice, His shouldering the burden of sin and dying that those who believe on His name might be saved.

The problem is, in western culture, most people don’t think they need to be saved. Trapped miners need to be saved. Kidnap victims need to be saved. Hostages in a botched bank holdup need to be saved.Puppies that fall into sewer pipes need to be saved. But the average, everyday person, living his life—going to work, coming home, watching a preseason baseball game on TV, having dinner, helping the kids with homework, turning in after the Late Show—the average, everyday person doesn’t need a savior, does he?

Actually, he does.

Because of the nature of time—a second ticking off without us really being aware of it, and us growing older without feeling all that different, until one day we start seeing the gray hair and feeling the stiff joints—because of the invisible eating away of our lives, we don’t realize we are in need of rescue.

Death is winning, though we try to ignore it or pretend it isn’t so. The irrevocable truth remains the same as the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God: the wages of sin is death.

Unless we’re rescued.

But who could save us from the certainty of death? How about Someone who already went through it and came out the other side with a new, glorified body?

Jesus, the resurrected Son of God can save us! Not from physical death—that’s a consequence that remains in place—but from spiritual death. From the grip of sin. From the strictures of the Law. From the accusations of guilt.

He can save us not only from, but to: to the hope of heaven, to a new and glorified body like Jesus’s, to life everlasting without the sadness and sighing we experience here and now.

There’s just one problem. Good men don’t qualify for rescue. Jesus came to rescue sinners.

The real problem, of course, is that there is no such person as a good man. Or a good woman. We are all sinners, but not everyone recognizes that fact. Some admit that they don’t do everything they should or that they did things they should have avoided. Their answer, though, it to simply try harder.

They determine, for example, to learn from their mistakes. And to make up for them. They might decide to donate money to a good cause or volunteer at a community center or even at a church. The problem is, good things cannot wipe out the immoral acts or wrong doing of our past. Or of our future.

The truth is, we were made for relationship—with God and with others. But sin bent that purpose. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. When He confronted them, Adam blamed Eve, and indirectly blamed God for giving her to him. Eve blamed the serpent.

What they didn’t do was fall on their face and say, I’ve sinned in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your child. They blamed and excused and tried to come off as if they were the injured party, not the one who was wrong.

Not much has changed. Come Sunday, I suspect a good many of the once-a-year churchgoers will walk to their cars after the service still wiggling and squirming out of the clear fact that they are sinners, not good men or good women. Who knows but a good many of the regular attenders will do the same thing. After all, they go to church every Sunday! That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

Well, no, actually it doesn’t. The good that we do can’t undo the wrong. Adam and Eve could have worked all day in the garden to cultivate it—a good thing. They’d be taking care of their environment. Oh, but wait. That’s the job God gave them to do.

But Eve could have accepted Adam’s authority and he could have loved her and clung to her and . . . and that’s also what God had told them to do. Every good thing was already normative behavior. There is no good thing that is above and beyond that can make up for a failing.

And of course we now have our sin nature to deal with as well, so the Bible now categorizes our righteousness, the rightness of our lives morally, as nothing but despicably filthy rags.

So we are left with two choices: confession or continued cover up. We can stop pretending that we’ll ever balance our wrongdoing with our good behavior, admit that we are sinners, and that we need a Savior. Or we can continue to try what has not worked in the past or pretend that the wrong we do isn’t really wrong at all. It’s society or our parents or our spouse or the police or the government or the church or . . . or . . . anybody but me, because I’m good and I don’t need a savior.

The sad thing is, God gives them what they want. They don’t want a savior, then they won’t have a savior. He’s not going to force anyone into His kingdom. He’s all about rescuing those who want out of the kingdom of darkness. Those who sit in the dark and call it light, who look at their evil thoughts and intentions and selfish, prideful actions and say, I’m good—well, there’s no rescue for them.

Published in: on March 22, 2016 at 7:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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