32. And Onwards

(apologies for our silence – we have been away to somewhere that should have had wi-fi but didn’t. We finish off the Easter- the Cross series)

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 32. And Onwards

Acts 2:1,4  When the day of Pentecost came ….  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit

We perhaps walk away from Easter too quickly. The fact is that without Easter none of us would be what we are. Something amazing happened on the Day of Pentecost that we sometimes miss: “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (Acts 2:3) This was the fire of God but here is the amazing thing – it did not burn up these followers of Jesus.

Why? Because of Easter, because all their sin had been dealt with by Jesus on the Cross. These men and women could encounter God without being burned up. I believe these tongues of fire were the sign of God’s merciful presence; the disciples could be in the presence of the Holy God without being destroyed.  Again and again, the indication in the Bible is that God cannot tolerate the presence of sin and fire comes down to destroy it – but here the fire comes, and they are not only safe, but they are filled (how we take that word for granted!) with the Holy Spirit.

Now this wasn’t just for an elite group of the closest followers, because the ongoing teaching of the New Testament is that, that happens to all believers and is the work of the Holy Spirit, who carries the presence of God. We are ‘born again of the Spirit’ (Jn 3:5-8), made anew by the power of God, and without His indwelling presence we are not Christians (Rom 8:9). Paul speaks of His indwelling presence a number of times – 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19 your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you,” as well as 2 Cor 6:19 “we are the temple of the living God.” See also Eph 2:21,22 etc. Isn’t that amazing, a truth we so often take for granted, that the very presence and power of God Himself dwells within us.

Now stop and think about the nature, the character of God. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with all the love, goodness, and grace of God, expounded by Paul in Galatians as including, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) But it also includes all of His revelation: wisdom, knowledge, understanding and insight. All of these ‘resources’ are a gift from Him to each one of us.

But how can we, less than perfect beings, have all this, have this close encounter with the Holy One of Israel? The answer is ‘the Cross’. As we said at the beginning of this series (and this is the end), those words don’t just mean the physical means of death or the events themselves, but they are shorthand for all that Jesus achieved on the cross for us – our justification, our adoption, our being empowered to live the Christ-life, and a future destiny that contains the word, ‘everlasting’! All of this because of Easter. Thank and praise Him for it before we move on.

31. Postscript

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 31. Postscript

Acts 1:12-14  Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives … When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying….. They all joined together constantly in prayer

It didn’t feel right to stop at Easter day for the story has to go on. But it is not merely ‘a story’, it is time-space history, it happened and continues to happen. We move on to what are events that are probably a month and a half on from Easter Sunday. Since then the disciples – men and women – had spent a period of time up in Galilee with Jesus as we noted yesterday. Then they had returned to Jerusalem where Jesus left them and ascended back to heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand.

One of the things I have found in the back of my mind this Easter has been the emotional roller coaster that this time has been. For Peter, much of the time, it had been a nightmare. As one of Jesus’ leaders, he had let his master down – badly! He had denied Jesus three times – and, as we said previously, Jesus knew it (Lk 23:61). Who else would have known? Dare we even suggest there was a measure of relief – over this at least – when Jesus died. When Jesus rose, there was this specter of a confrontation with Peter, just hanging there in the back of his mind. But he didn’t take the cowards way out as Judas had, so he didn’t take his own life. He stayed with the others and went to Galilee, probably full of foreboding. And then, beyond anything he might have expected, Jesus told him to lead his church. But I am an absolute failure! Yes, but you are still here. “Feed my lambs …. Take care of my sheep … Feed my sheep.” (Jn 21:15-17)

A couple of years ago, a young man came to me and said, “I want to be a church leader.” I replied, “You must be out of your mind! However, if God is calling you, go for it.” Why that response? As my wife says having watched me for many years, if you have never been a church leader, you just don’t know and can’t possibly comprehend the difficulties and stresses that church leaders go through. They carry the church in their hearts, they are there on call twenty-four hours a day, they are front of the queue for enemy attacks, they carry the discouragements and the criticisms and are so often expected to be perfect, but they know they are not. We don’t know what Peter felt when Jesus ascended and left them, but I doubt it was relief. His calling would result, according to tradition at least, in his also dying on a cross. So now? They did the only thing you can do in such a situation, they sat down and prayed.

Life will go on despite our failures; we have an amazing God of grace and forgiveness. We are out the other side of Easter now and life goes on. But he IS still here, by his Spirit at least, and he is still leading his church and he is still there for us; that is the wonder of Easter. Our failures, our confusions, our hurts, are not the end. He will continue to lead us and work out his Father’s will. Join him in heart and worship – and keep on! The future is in His hands. Amen? Amen!

30. Possibilities

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 30. Possibilities

Acts 2:36  “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

It is Easter Day – Sunday. It is probable in our churches we sing songs of praise and of triumph and victory but all that is so far from the truth of that incredible day in history. Yes, Jesus has risen and death has been conquered. Yes, it is a glorious triumph, but that is not what the disciples were feeling on this day.

They had been taken up to the heights of the roller coaster by Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem a week ago but as the awful events of the weekend roll on, so the roller coaster dives down. First, they flee when Jesus is arrested (Mk 26:52). Then Peter denies Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-75) and only the women and John attend Jesus at the cross (Jn 19:25-27). When it comes to Sunday the women see and struggle with what is happening but tell the men to whom “the story sounded like nonsense”. (Lk 24:10-12). On the road to Emmaus, two convey loss and misery (Lk 24). Back in Jerusalem in the evening, they are locked away behind closed doors for fear of the Jews (Jn 20:19), Jesus appears but they think it is a ghost (Lk 24:36,37), and so Jesus rebukes them for their ‘stubborn unbelief’ (Mk 16:14,15) for even when he shows them his wounds, “Still they stood there in disbelief” (Lk 24:40,41) and later Thomas exemplifies their unbelief in his own expression of it (Jn 20:24,25). It is a tale of chaos and confusion. Don’t think badly of them for we would have been the same in their place.

But the story doesn’t finish there. They are told to go up to Galilee to meet with Jesus there. Why he won’t go with them we aren’t told. Perhaps it was to allow the scene to roll out with some more lessons. I referred at the end of the last study to Peter, growing frustrated with waiting and going fishing, but I wonder what more went on in Peter before this? He had badly let Jesus down and he knew that Jesus knew it and now he knew there would be a longer meeting with Jesus. What would Jesus say to him? Guilt, shame, fear?

But what are the possibilities now? Jesus has risen! Surely he can show himself to the crowds and the authorities and thus prove he is who he said he was? This is an opportunity for the glorious kingdom to be revealed! But no, from, Jerusalem to Galilee for a number of weeks of teaching in exclusion and then back to Jerusalem. Surely this is it! But no, even greater confusion, he ascends and leaves them. Jesus rising from the dead is for us, it is to convince us and reassure us and now he sends us to carry on doing what he has been doing. Today is a day of new possibilities but they are all about what Jesus can now do in and through you and me! Dare to face that truth on this day.

29. Pause

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 29. Pause

Rev 11:8   Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.

It is Saturday. The terrible deed has been done and the body has been hastily put in a tomb and the tomb sealed. It is all over – apparently. But of course we, with the hindsight of history, know that it isn’t. We are just waiting for tomorrow when we know he will rise from the dead, but we’ve got to go through this period of waiting.

But why? Why did Jesus have to wait for two nights to pass? I mean, the truth is that God could have raised his son within say twelve hours. Why wait for the ‘third day’?

I suppose the simple answer is that Jesus said it: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Mt 12:40) Yet that doesn’t explain why, apart from the fact of paralleling it with Jonah in the fish.

You may wonder why I have associated today with this strange episode in Revelation where ‘two witnesses’ have been killed in Jerusalem, now labeled as a city of apostasy, and we read, “after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet.” (Rev 11:11) Well there we have another period of waiting and those who follow numbers in the Bible suggest that seven is the perfect or complete number and so three and a half being half of that signifies a specifically limited period of time in God’s economy. But today we are waiting for three days or, at least, until the third day.

Three crops up a significant number of times in the Gospels, in say Matthew’s Gospel: the crowd, three days with Jesus (Mt 15:32), three shelters on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:4), three witnesses needed (Mt 18:20), Peter to disown Jesus three times (Mt 26:34), Jesus to rebuild ‘the temple’ in three days (Mt 26:61), three in the afternoon when darkness came and Jesus cried out (Mt 27:45,46) and now in the tomb three days. Is it because three is the number of God in the Bible, it signifies His presence, His plan, His will?

It is a mystery and yet it is a mystery that has the prints of God all over it. For another study you might check other times when Jesus (or God) waited. We so often get frustrated with waiting but there are times when God in His wisdom knows that time has to pass with apparently nothing happening. As I say, there are a number of these times in the Bible.

Peter got frustrated waiting (Jn 21:3) and went fishing and had to realise that Jesus had it all under control. Waiting makes us feel it is out of control. It isn’t. Be still and know that He is God. Wait quietly.

28. Confusion

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 28. Confusion

Mt 28:5  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

Today is Good Friday, the worst day in human history as mankind rejected the Son of God and put him to death on a wooden cross. When I was younger I found it a confusing day. It was a day of grief and mourning and yet I knew that in two days that would all be turned to praise and thanksgiving and worship. Forgive the analogy, but my wife used to say, “I don’t want to watch the film ‘Titanic’ because I know the ending – it sinks!” And that is a little bit what it is like, for me at least, with Good Friday. It is a horrible day, a day I would rather forget – and then I know the ending and would much rather focus on that!

So I have jumped forward on this day to the events on next Sunday morning, but what do I find? Still confusion! The two Mary’s have gone to the tomb. Face it, they were confused before they got there. They thought they could waltz into the tomb and embalm him properly, but the tomb had been sealed with a massive stone. They get there and an earthquake (angel) has rolled it away. The angel seeks to reassure them because Jesus isn’t there. They pass on a message – you’re to go to Galilee. They turn to go, and Jesus appears to them, and other records tell us they didn’t recognise him.

The truth of the matter is that all the events of this weekend are utterly confusing. Jesus had plainly told his disciples what was going to happen but when it did they fled in terror and hid behind locked doors. Saturday is a no-go day, nothing happens, they hide in misery. Sunday – he’s alive! But still they struggle to believe.

Now here is my main point and perhaps it hangs over this entire series: we as Christians with our Bibles and thousands of sermons have heard it again and again, but in so doing we lose a sense of the reality of it all; we romanticize it. No, the truth is that this weekend blows your mind away in every direction.

It is God bringing about the salvation of the world. It involves the glorious Son of God putting aside all of his glory, all of his power and all of his authority and submitting himself totally to the evil of mankind and dying on a cross as a common criminal. And then, when we have given up all hope because he is dead, the power of God is manifest in a way beyond our comprehension and Jesus is alive again. But then we start thinking back – water into wine, walking on water, raising the dead?

Why are we surprised, this is God? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isa 55:8).  This is the truth; I am not in the same league as Him. I just need to shut up, bow down, and worship Him. Make this a day of worship.

27. Enemies Disarmed

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 27. Enemies Disarmed

Col 2:15   And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

More mystery. “Powers and Principalities”? Intriguingly the Bible says more about this than most realise. Isaiah prophesied about God at the end: “In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below.” (Isa 24:21) ‘Powers’ and ‘kings’ -both rulers. Similarly, Daniel: He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.” (Dan 4:35) Whatever they are they are part of God’s creation: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him,” (Col 1:16) and they are all under Jesus’ rule: “Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Pet 3:22)

Now the only other ‘beings; apart from the Godhead and mankind that are mentioned in the Bible are angels, some of whom are fallen and follow Satan (see Mt 25:41 & Rev 12:9), all of whom are spirits (Heb 1:7,14) and when they are fallen we refer to them as demons. The leader of them is Satan: “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray …. the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night….” (Rev 12:9,10) and it is there we see one of the primary things he does – accuse people.

It is legitimate to suppose that ‘powers’ are angelic beings and there is a hierarchy (see Dan 10:12-14). Paul confirms these are our enemies: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

And yet to the Colossian Paul said Jesus has disarmed them. How? Well, we’ve seen one of Satan’s primary tactics is to accuse God’s people (e.g. Zech 3:1). How does he accuse us? He points out our guilt and demands that justice be seen and we be condemned and punished. But now Jesus has come and died for us, the apostle John was able to write, “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) Thus when Satan comes to accuse us, it is like Jesus steps up and says, “Father, I died for this one. Their sins are dealt with,” and so Satan and his followers are disarmed. It is only the unknowing who go down under his accusations. Our answer should always be, “Yes, I fell, I sinned, and I am sorry, but Jesus died for that sin, so I rest in his forgiveness. Satan go away.”  See James 4:7 and rejoice.

26. Reconciled

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 26. Reconciled

Col 1:20  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Our verse today comes at the end of a truly glorious paragraph that describes Christ who is displayed as the image of God (v.15), creator with the Father (v.16), the one who holds all things together (v.17), head of the church as the firstborn from the dead (v.18), expressing all the fulness of God (v.19) and the one who has reconciled all things to God (v.20).

We live in a Fallen World where Sin prevails, and the world is broken, no longer perfect as it was when God first made it. Things go wrong in it. It was Tennyson in his monumental poem, ‘In Memoriam’ who made famous the phrase, “Nature, red in tooth and claw”, encapsulating the state of this fallen world. This is how the world is, which makes Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s peace in 11:6-9 so dramatic.

We tend to focus on the reconciliation with the Father, but this verse seems to suggest that, in respect of the earth, it is much bigger than that; it is a picture that suggests that through the cross, one day there will come a time when everything that we know will be brought into peace and harmony.

We are told that in the present age, Christ is ruling at his Father’s right hand, establishing the kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24-26) and that one day he will return to fully establish it on the earth (see Rev 19). There is in Romans 8 what can only be described as a mysterious passage (v.18-22) that speaks of the creation groaning (v.22)  as it, “waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (v.19). Somehow there is a link between us and this world whereby our presence, it seems, should impact and change the very way the world works. That, at least, is what is implied by these sorts of verses.

But on safer ground, this reconciliation means between us and God and that includes both Jew and Gentile: “and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Eph 2:16). How was this peace, this reconciliation between us and God, brought about? “through his blood, shed on the cross”, seen in terms of the Passover lamb being slain and being seen as the sacrifice for sins, and seen as the punishment to end all punishments. Justice has been satisfied and thus any obstacle between us and the Father has been removed. The way is open for the Son of God, ruling at his Father’s right hand to express himself through his church to bring peace and harmony on the earth. Are we up to it?

25. Made Innocent

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 25. Made Innocent

Col 2:14  having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Wow! There is some imagery here that needs careful investigation.  Notice first “the charge of our legal indebtedness”. The Living Bible speaks on this verse of, “the charges proved against you, the list of his commandments which you had not obeyed…. this list of sins” while the JBP version speaks of, “the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads,” and the Message version says, “Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant cancelled and nailed to Christ’s cross.” What excellent attempts to expand and clarify this picture that Paul gives us.

Summarised, what we have is a reminder of the Law that we broke, whether it be in the simplest form – to love the Lord your God with all your heart – or in some specific way – failing to speak truth, desiring what others have, etc. God alone knows the full truth of the extent of our failures, but it was some sense of failure that brought us to Christ and whether it was conscience or conviction of the Spirit, we knew it was true, we were guilty.

So much of the time we human beings try to duck the truth, we pretend it is not so, we make excuses, or we cover it up with activity and busyness and making others appear worse that we are. We try to do it, but the truth is there, condemning us, whether or not we dare acknowledge it. We – mankind – are guilty. I have, in recent years, taken up reading a lot of history and what comes through again and again is our inability to live at peace with one another. It is the clear and obvious manifestation of Sin and we are all guilty.

It is this charge and this guilt that God has taken and dealt with. In the same way that debts in the past were cancelled by nailing them to the door of your property, so here Paul says, it is like God takes the Law, takes the list of our failures, and nails them to the cross so that they may die with His Son, because His Son has taken them all in this act of self-sacrifice by dying on the cross.

That list of charges stood against us and condemned us. No wonder we could never live righteous lives, we were too taken up with guilt and trying to duck it. But now that list of your sins and my sins has been attached to the cross where Jesus died, eternally linked to his death so that we are now declared innocent. It is so incredible that many of us still struggle to accept it that we, with all our sense of failure, can be declared innocent in God’s eyes and “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Read the whole of Rom 8:31-39) It IS true! Hallelujah!

24. Sins Gone

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 24. Sins Gone

1 Pet 2:24  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

I am sure we so often read verses of Scripture and just don’t pause to think exactly what it is that we are reading. This verse above is absolutely amazing in what it says. The first phrase, as with what follows, is clearly a quote from Isa 53. But note carefully.

First, “he himself bore our sins in his body.” The emphasis is on his physical body being killed on the wooden cross. It is a mysterious phrase. I have written on this before, but it bears repeating. Many years ago, I was asked to speak at a youth service at Easter and so I sought for a visual aid through which to communicate. I produced a cross with a figure hanging on it. Nothing special there. I then copied the picture but took a black felt-marker pen and scribbled all over the area of the body so that the body could hardly be seen. The black, I explained were all of our sins being heaped on Jesus as he hung there. It was like they were being given to him, attributed to him, carried by him; it’s like they covered him, soaked into him, become one with him: he was the guilty sinner of the world. Now there is much more we could say about that picture and it is just a visual aid to try and make some sense of this incredible imagery in this verse.

Second, the effect of that, seen in the middle of the verse, is that all those sins and indeed the power of sin have been taken by Jesus and they are no longer ‘on us’.  Because we have been given a completely new and fresh start and because we are now indwelt by his Spirit, the power of Sin in us has been broken. To say we might “die to sins” means their attractive, drawing power no longer has any say in our lives. We are free to live righteously.

Third, there is this mysterious phrase at the end, that comes from Isaiah, “by his wounds you have been healed.” So often his death and resurrection are used as a parallel to what happens spiritually to us when we come to him, but here ‘being wounded’ is contrasted with ‘being healed’. On the cross he was ‘wounded’ – beaten and nailed – and it resulted in his death. The effect of his work on the cross was that in so many ways, we are ‘healed’. Whereas we lived dysfunctional lives, now they have been made orderly and good. Whereas we were out of kilter with God, now we have been reconciled to Him and He to us. Whereas we were at odds with ourselves and with other people, now we have been brought into a place of peace and harmony, and it is all because of what Jesus achieved on the cross. We say we are ‘redeemed’ and that includes all these things, achieved by Christ.

23. Obedience

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 23. Obedience  

Phil 2:8   And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

We have been looking at ourselves, at how the Cross impacts us in our lives today. We’ve considered the physical act of crucifixion, the event, and we’ve gone on to consider its significance and meaning, but let’s go back and consider Jesus himself, what he was doing. There are so many aspects of this whole thing to consider and Jesus is central to it all, an example for us to follow, a wonder for us to worship.

Our verse above is part of what many consider a summary paragraph of the work of Christ, or maybe even one of those sayings the early church used to teach the basics of the faith, a saying that runs from verse 6 to 11. To catch the wonder of this verse we need to also consider the verses before it: “Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing.” There it is, the glorious Son of God who left heaven (see all of Jesus’ references in John 6 to coming down) and put aside his glory to live as a human being. Thus, when we come to our verse 8 above we now see the significance, the importance, the thrust of this words, “being found in appearance as a man”.

To carry the sins of the world, and to take the punishment that would satisfy Justice, the Son of God would have to do it all in human form. Consider the significance of that. That punishment would be meted out to a human body but in that human body he not only suffered the pain and anguish of the experience of execution on a cross, it also meant he received and took the total rejection and abandonment of the world and in so doing, for a moment, maybe longer, suffered a terrible sense of separation from the Father in heaven, observed in the terrible cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).

No, if we believe in the fact of Jesus taking the punishment for our sins, that punishment is far greater that merely the physical agony, as terrible as that was. To do this the glorious Son of God had to leave the side of his Father in heaven and put aside all his glory and come in human form and in that form take the anguish and pain of both the act of crucifixion and the separation of the Father.

Now, and perhaps only now, can we see the significance of the other words of that verse, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death –  even death on a cross!”  Everything about this would scream against him doing this. No wonder he prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” as he anguished, but still concluded, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  What followed was total obedience to the will of God, preplanned by the Godhead. Hallelujah!