Father’s Will Completed

       And so we come to climax of this incredible part of history.   He is risen!   This day we celebrate the most wonderful event in all of history – the risen Son of God makes himself known to us – he is alive!
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.     Luke 23:46
Mary and the others go to the tomb.   It is empty.   The stone is rolled back.  There are angels present.   And then – there he is!   He is alive!    Yes, He’s alive!   He’s alive! He’s alive!    He’s alive.   Let’s never stop saying it, “He’s alive! This is the risen Son of God!”
Now let’s go to the last of these seven ‘words’ of Jesus on the Cross.   Yesterday we noted that Jesus “gave up” his spirit as he ended his life in complete control.   Different Gospel writers would have recorded different things that were remembered by their sources.   John, who had been standing there watching, was struck by the finality of those words, “It is finished.”   Luke, as he perhaps later talked with Mary, catches the relational aspects of Jesus’ last words.   Women pick up relational things better than men, and doctors (which of course is what Luke was) pick up personal things better than most men.    Thus in Luke’s record we have what are probably the words that immediately followed, “It is finished”.   What do we see here?
The first thing is Jesus awareness now of the Father.    A few minutes earlier he had been crying out for God’s presence. Now he addresses the Father directly.  Now whether that is because the burden bearing and resisting the enemy opposition has come to an end is not clear.  When we refer back to Psalm 22, that messianic, prophetic psalm of the Cross, the latter third of it is a declaration of faith that starts in verse 22, “I WILL declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I WILL praise you.
Again and again in the psalms there comes a turning point where the psalmist speaks out in faith, while the situation is still unchanged, and praises the Lord.  Whether Jesus is now aware of the Father’s presence as he approaches death, or whether he determines to make a faith statement despite the circumstances, is irrelevant.   The key thing is that the Son, at the end, addresses the Father.  This has been a plan executed now, but planned before the world began, a plan formulated within the Godhead.    Within the Godhead the Son is always subservient to the Father, and so even here, now, right on the edge of death, the Son’s last words remind us of his relationship with the Father.   It is as if his final act is to direct us to the Father, as had been his aim throughout his years of ministry.
It is as if the Son is saying, “Father, I’ve done my part so now I hand over to you for you to do what only you can do at this moment.”  We noted yesterday, verses from Acts that acclaim the resurrection as the work of the Father.  Very well, says Jesus, I leave this body and leave it up to you Father, how and when the resurrection will occur.  
If Jesus did descend into hell (Eph 4:9) as we suppose, is it, that in going down to eternal punishment, he will stay there until the Father retrieves him and gives him back a body on this Easter Day?  Is that the extent of the Son’s submission to the Father’s will, to go into the utmost depths of eternal punishment and to stay there until the Father raises up the body, three earth days later?   If this is so, it just further adds to the wonder of the work of the Son of God who died for us.  Total and absolute submission to justice, to the will of the Father, on our behalf!   There he stays until, on this morning in earth time, the body rises up, unwinds the grave clothes and the Son is back on the earth with a body through which to communicate to his followers for the next weeks.   He is alive!   He is alive!!   He is alive!!!   He has conquered!!!!    And now, God has “exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11) Praise His Name!

Father, I worship and adore you!   Lord Jesus, I exalt and praise you!   Thank you Lord for this wonderful thing that you have done – for me!

Completed Task

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
We come to the closing seconds.   There are two words in these final seconds that the Gospel writers record.  Let’s consider these first in the light of this Saturday.  Have you ever seen TV or a film that portrays the fight to keep a person alive.  Eventually after trying everything possible the heart monitor registers a straight line and death has occurred.  There is a moment of silence, a moment of shock, a moment when all acknowledge that the thing they had fought against has won.  Jesus dies.   For the followers who were looking on, the bottom of their world had just fallen out.  Perhaps, even to the very last minute, there had been the hope that having been through all this, he would suddenly triumph and recover and step down from the Cross.  This one who had spoken to wind and waves, who had spoken to blind eyes and deaf ears, this one who had spoken to dead bodies, surely this one could speak to his own body and revive!   But, “It is finished!
For the disciples who looked on, these must have seemed the most terrible words of resignation. It’s over, it’s the end, I’ve failed, there is no more! In their grief and anguish these are words of defeat. These are the words of failure. The whole glorious three year ministry of bringing heaven to earth has been terminated prematurely! Months back in the midst of the incredible healings and miracles, if they had been told this would happen (and they were!) they would never have believed it. That all of these wonderful things would be thrown back in his face and he would be smashed into oblivion, no way!   The following thirty six hours will be, for them, the blackest in their lives.   There is no future, no hope.    Our dreams have been shattered.   A Future? Who cares!   It is finished!
But that was the perspective of frail and weak and misunderstanding humanity.  It was not the perspective of the Son of God.  When he says, “It is finished!” he is saying, “The work is complete!   The plan from before the foundation of the world has been fulfilled.   The price has been paid on the earth.  The way is open for the salvation of whoever comes.  It is finished!”
But is it the end?  Definitely not!  He still has to be taken down and put into the tomb of a rich man.  He still has to rise from the dead, but those are things for men and God respectively to do.  Jesus’ part is finished here on the earth for the moment.  Yes, after the Father raises him up (Acts 2:24, 5:30) there is more to do, but for the moment, the plan has been executed faultlessly. He has completed the task of redemption, there is nothing more to do on earth that can add to that, and so it is time to depart.
So we then see he “gave up his spirit”.    Even in the last act he is in control.   He could have held on but the work has been finished so he releases his spirit from the body and it is over.  The body in front of the watchers is now an empty shell.  He has no more need of it for the moment.   Its function has come to an end.   The body was necessary to carry the Son of God through some thirty or so years on the earth, experiencing the things that human beings experience, and expressing the Father’s will in the three years of staggeringly wonderful ministry, but that phase has come to an end.    It is finished!
Father, this is, in a sense, an awful day.    From our point of view, a day of reflecting on our disgrace and a day of sense of failure, but as we realise the wonder of what has happened, we cling to the truth and praise and thank you, that the work of redeeming us was totally finished as Jesus died for us on the Cross, and it only remains now to receive it.   Thank you so much.

Sin-Bearer Exhausted

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.John 19:28
In the light of what we remember on this day, perhaps these three words of Jesus, uttered on the Cross at the end of the three hours of darkness, appear very mundane at first sight. That is why these are ‘meditations’ – we need to meditate, reflect and ponder on them.
If we accept the suggestions of yesterday’s meditation, then we have just come to the end of three hours when the Son of God had been carrying the sin of the world and resisting the powers of darkness.   We say resisting because if we are right in interpreting the prophetic aspect of Psa 22:12,13 as the powers of darkness raging at Christ on the Cross, then Satan’s objective would have been to break Jesus and make him curse.   Job had to resist that temptation when his wife told him, “Curse God and die!”    The spotless Lamb of God had to remain spotless – despite the fact of taking the world’s Sin upon himself.  
He had to remain the sinless Son of God and so we refer to the battle on the Cross – the challenge of Satan to try to get Jesus to break down and express himself as less than the man who was full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). What we are suggesting therefore is that for three hours in darkness, the greatest battle was being fought for the world’s future.   On the Cross, Christ was fighting to preserve his right to be the sinless Lamb of God who alone could take our sin.   By the end of that time he would be exhausted – and that apart from the awfulness of hanging on this terrible torture machine.   A twofold battle was drawing near its end, the battle to remain true despite the utter physical anguish of the Cross, and the battle to remain true despite the railing of the powers of darkness.   Who would not be at the end of their physical strength after such an endurance trial.    It is natural then, that he is thirsty, that is the natural response of an exhausted person.
But there is more to it than that.   Note the words, “knowing that all was now completed.”    Jesus, despite the anguish, was still in complete control of his awareness. He knew the end was near, he knew he had triumphed and that the task of carrying the world’s sin as God’s Lamb was nearly over.   Yes, Jesus ‘knew’.   He was still the Lord in the midst of the most horrifying of circumstances.   How incredible!
But there is yet more.  Throughout his life and ministry he knew he had a schedule to work to, a prophetic schedule, things to be done simply because God had spoken of them, things that would act as signposts for those who were looking.  And now there was yet one more sign to be put up.   In Psa 22:15 there had been the reference to being dry-mouthed, while in Psa 69:21 there had been reference to being given vinegar for his thirst.  That has not yet happened, so the final detail must be added.  
Within this also the humanity of Jesus is revealed.  One heresy that later arose was that the physical man, Jesus, had not died.   Here in this few words the lie is revealed – this very human request (for a request is what it was) was made, revealing the total humanness of this Lamb.   It is a request of humility.   The one who is the source of living water (Jn 4:13,14, 7:38) is now at the end of himself and is only minutes away from departure.   In this final state of weakness there is no final moment of bravado, just a moment of being totally true to who he is – a man in desperate physical need.   To the last moment, he remains true without any pretence.  He is wrung out, he is thirsty – he is at the end of himself, yet gives no negative response, right to the end.
Lord, you fought the great fight of eternity and triumphed and bought my freedom. Thank you that you remained true.  You bore the burden and never gave even a hint of wrong response.  Thank you for loving me that much.  Thank you that on this day you went through all that to win my freedom, my eternal life.  Thank you so much!

Sin-Bearer Crushed

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Matt. 27:46
On the Thursday night Jesus committed the future of the church into the hands of his disciples.  By late Friday morning he was hanging on the Cross of Calvary.  From midday, for the next three hours, a darkness came over the land (Mt 27:45).   At the end of that time Jesus cried out the words of our verse today.    Those same words start Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm that gives us insight into the human anguish of the Son of God on the Cross.  
In that psalm there is a sense of helplessness and anguish that mirrors all of the human feelings of the one being we are considering, who was being crucified.   In v.12 & 13 he describes those who surround him, roaring at him, and then in v.14-17 the physical anguish he felt.   However the sense of verses 12 & 13 seem different from what man has done in the following verses.
Could this be the roaring of the powers of darkness, the demonic hoards that gathered to mock and vilify him?  Could the darkness that occurred be a physical expression of the spiritual darkness that was there in those hours?   Perhaps the truth has never been characterised better than in C.S.Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” as the Lion, Aslan, is tied up on the stone table to be murdered by the Witch: “Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage, and for a few minutes the two girls could not even see him – so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him.” Could this be what was happening in those three hours?
Throughout the sacrificial law of Moses, is the picture of the one sacrificing the innocent creature placing their hands on its head in identification, with the idea of their sins being transferred to it.   In 2 Cor 5:21 Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin.”    Even if we take the alternative here, “to be a sin offering,” the sense is the same: Jesus had your sin and my sin put on him!    The writer to the Hebrews (Heb 9:28) wrote, “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin , but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”    If you bear something, you carry it.   The picture is of Jesus carrying the sins of the world as he hung there on the Cross.   Imagine every individual sin as a little bit of blackness, and then imagine every sin that is ever committed in the entire history of the world coming on Jesus in that three hours.    It says that in that time, he was enveloped in the most horrible blackness imaginable.
If we put the pictures of the two paragraphs above together, (remember that ‘Satan’ means ‘adversary’ or ‘accuser’), and you are left with a picture of the sin and guilt of the world coming upon Jesus on the Cross, and Satan and all the hoards of hell railing against him, accusing him and blaming him for every wrong thing that has ever and will ever happen.   Next time you hear some unthinking critic say, “It’s all God’s fault!” you can quietly say, “Well He took the blame,” and then you can quietly add, “So are you letting him take the blame for your guilt?”
But how does this link, you may be thinking, with our verse today?  Imagine this utter darkness of sin coming down upon Jesus, imagine him utterly surrounded by the hoards of hell.  The Father has not moved; He is still there, nothing has changed, but for the man-God hanging on the Cross enveloped in this blackness, surrounded by the demonic world, it is impossible to see or sense anything else.  All he can sense is blackness and evil.  Do you remember when we were meditating in Isaiah 53, we considered that “he was crushed for our iniquities” and we said then that Jesus, who was so strong in spirit, was totally crushed so that his spirit was so distorted in shape that even his awareness of his Father (which is what the spirit in us does) was devastated.  All Jesus was aware of was the blackness and the evil.   At that point the fullness of Sin put upon him means that his awareness of the Father’s presence (which was still there) was denied to the man so that he cries out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” because that is exactly what it feels like.
Imagine the awfulness, if you will, of this.   Ever since existence, the Father and Son have been one in awareness.    Never has there been separation.  In the last thirty or so earth years, the unity has been ‘in the Spirit’, in a sense limited by the human experience, but now, for the first and only time ever, the utter terribleness of separation is experienced as the Son is swamped in our sins and surrounded by the horrors of evil.  In the hearts of both Father and Son must be the most awful anguish and sense of isolation.  Never has the Godhead experienced such a thing – but they did it for you and me.
Lord in the light of these pictures, I am silenced in awe.   If I say thank you, it seems meaningless in the light of what I have seen, but I don’t know what else to say.

Even More Caring

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took here into his home. John 19:26,27
We have seen Jesus caring for all those who unknowingly were involved in the greatest tragedy in history, which was also the most glorious event in history (think on that!), and then we saw him bring hope and assurance to a dying sinner.  Now he brings care and attention to his mother.
If God had been anything like us, it’s fairly certain that at this point of his human experience, Jesus would be raining down curses on mankind, curses on every being in sight, who ultimately brought him to this place.   If he were like Job (see Job 3) he would curse the day of his birth, and perhaps even his mother for bringing him into this world.  That is not an uncommon thought in those whose lives have been less than a blessing!  Yet there is nothing of that in Jesus.   As he hangs there in agony he sees, through the bloodshot eyes and screaming agony, his mother and the apostle John standing there, helpless, just looking on.  His heart reaches out and he feels the agony she feels as she looks on and sees the horrendous thing that are doing to her son.    He also senses in her a fear for the future – what now?  In three quick ways, possibly sparing his breath as the torture of the cross bears down on him more and more, he conveys a wealth of meaning.Dear woman,” he addresses his mother.   Not ‘mother’ which would have driven the sword through her heart even more (Lk 2:35).  “Dear woman” was how he had addressed her at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:4) where he was separating himself off from her, indicating he was a man with a mission, not merely her son.  Similarly now, he gently disengages from her and her from him.  It’s time for her to let him go as her son, for soon she will see him as her Lord.  This is the Son of God redeeming the world, not just ‘her boy’.
Here is your son,” taken out of context might be taken to mean, “Here I am your son. Take in what you see,” but the context clearly indicates that he is referring to the apostle John, often referred to in this Gospel as ‘the disciple whom he loved’, who was standing next to her.   It’s as if, in disengaging from her, he says, “I’m no longer your family, John is.”  And so he turns his eyes to John and mouths, “Here is your mother.” John knows Jesus and understands.    He probably nods, and from then on he takes her into his family and cares for her.
In these words, in this incident, there is a divine transaction taking place.  So far, for the last thirty years or so, the Son of God has been relating to people as a human being. There have been a number of significant relationships.  Now, and we use that word a third time, it is as if Jesus is disengaging himself from human relationships.
We have referred previously to the sin offering in the Law of Moses, that prefigured Jesus.  The flesh and hide were taken “outside the camp” and burned (Ex 29:14) and the writer to the Hebrews identified Jesus with this (Heb 13:11,12).   On the Day of Atonement, that we have also considered (Lev 16), there were two goats. One was sacrificed as a sin offering (v.9), and the other was to be cast out into the desert as a scapegoat, a goat that would carry their sins away (v.10,20-22).   Could it be that the two goats represent two aspects of Jesus, one the humanity of Jesus that died on the Cross taking our punishment, and the other the Son of God side that could not die but would carry the sins away to hell?   As the end draws near, the Son of God prepares to disengage himself, in love, from those he has loved.   His human life is coming to an end and the divine is preparing to carry our sin away. Is this what was just starting to happen, for you and me?
Lord, we recognise that what was taking place on the Cross was a mystery. You have shared some of the truth with us and have left us to wonder and speculate about the rest. Even as we wonder and speculate, we realise that we are just grasping to catch a wonder that is beyond our wildest dreams in the incredible thing that you have done – paid our price and taken away our sins.   Thank you so much!

Death-bed Confessions

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.Luke 23:43
Yesterday we saw Jesus’ consideration and desire for all those involved in bringing him to this point. Today we see an equally remarkable example of care and compassion.  Two thieves are being crucified alongside him.  One of them reviled Jesus but the other one saw Jesus’ innocence and, by the way he spoke, accepted Jesus for who he was. Today we might speak of a ‘death-bed confession’ when someone genuinely turns to God in the closing minutes of their life.    In that respect we might see Jesus responding in the way that a modern day priest might, pronouncing absolution.  The one thing the dying person wants is assurance of their future, the other side of death.  Jesus gives it to this man.  He acts as a priest.   But the man has just spoken about Jesus as if he is a king about to enter his kingdom on the other side of death, and there is about Jesus’ response, a certain definiteness that is akin to a regal pronouncement.  The king is declaring his will.   Jesus is speaking as both a priest and a king.
It is when we pause and think about the circumstances that this seems all the more remarkable. By the way we have spoken so far, it almost sounds like a father confessor sitting at the bedside of a dying person, but it’s nothing like that!  Jesus is dying!   Jesus is hanging on a wooden cross by nails that have been driven through his body, an agonising experience enough when the soldiers did it, but now he is actually suspended by those nails they tear at the flesh, and all the muscles, nerves and tendons are screaming out in agony.  This is one of the vilest forms of execution known to man.  This is supposed to be the ultimate deterrent!
In this position you have to make every effort to hold yourself up otherwise it becomes impossible to breath, and so every survival instinct in you makes you pull up on the nails which only accentuates the agony. In this position one thief screams out of desperate, hateful agony. The other thief, out of this position, calls out of integrity and a desire to know Jesus.   Every word in this position is a major effort. You do better to remain quiet, and so every word must come with a powerful motivation behind it.   
For Jesus, that powerful motivation was simply the compassion that he had shown again and again throughout his three-year ministry. Despite the agony, he continues to minister hope and love.   Nothing will stop the Son of God ministering the grace of God, not even the nails of death!
What is Jesus actually saying to the man?  This day you will enter heaven, for that is surely what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of paradise.  The dying thief is the antidote to all those who insist that you have to work for your salvation.  Here is a man who confesses that he deserves the punishment he is getting, a man who has not been religious, who has not atoned for his wrongs by good works.  He had done nothing – except confess his state and believe in Jesus – and for this he receives, directly from the Son of God himself, the confirmation that he has a place in heaven that he will shortly receive. He epitomises the truth: salvation is not by good works, it is by believing in Jesus.   End of story!
Lord, thank you for your staggering love and compassion that reached out even in what must have been one of the worst moments of your human life.  Thank you that you gave us the assurance, that it is simply by confession of need and acknowledgement of you, that we can come with you into heaven.  Thank you so much for this!

Sinful Ignorance

    So, here we are in Holy Week and we take the ‘seven words’ in the order they are usually considered, starting with Jesus initial prayer. By the nature of some of these words, the meditations will be longer than those in Lent if we are to really take hold of some of the wonder that is here.  
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Jesus is hanging from the cross in agony and he utters a prayer that would have been appropriate to go with yesterday’s meditation.  The first thing to consider is that if Jesus asks for forgiveness for them, there IS something wrong that needs forgiving.
In the immediate past there were the soldiers, instruments of the state, simply fulfilling their brutal duty without much understanding of the rights and wrongs of the situation.  Before them, going back, had been Pilate, the representative of the Gentile world, who had looked for the easy way out, had bowed to the pressure of the forces within Jerusalem, and had cast justice to the winds.   Then there had been the common crowd who allowed the religious authorities to manipulate them (Mk 15:11) and who cried out for Jesus’ death.   Before them had been Herod, representative of the secular rulers of Israel, another weak man who had wanted to see Jesus, wanted to see a miracle, wanted to be convinced on his terms, but yet when Jesus refused, he simply cast him back to Pilate (Lk 23:8-12).  Before him there had been the religious authorities who had been behind the arrest and trial of Jesus, whose blindness to the truth had produced a zeal that worked against (and with) the will of God.   Before them had been the disciples, most of whom fled at the time of the arrest to leave their Lord at the hands of injustice.   Every person, every group and been implicated in some way.
The second thing to consider is that Jesus is asking his Father to have mercy on these weak, foolish and corrupt people who deserved to die.   Jesus knew that he only had to say a word and over seventy thousand angels (Mt 26:53) would come and devastate this planet – but that was not the way. How could the Father possibly forgive them all?  Perhaps a clue is found in the Law of Moses (Lev 4:1) that speaks about “When anyone sins unintentionally” with the implication that sin cannot be dealt with until it is recognised.   There will come a time when it was recognised (Acts 2:36,37) and then there will be repentance and there will be forgiveness, but for the moment they act in ignorance of who it is they are putting to death.
Those who do not repent will still remain answerable for their general sin, but for the moment the Son cannot give even a hint of wrong response to this terrible injustice. It is sometimes said that it is not the sin against us that we have to worry about, but the way we respond to it.   Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44) and here he is the perfect example of the one who does do what he preaches.   To the very end Jesus remained sinless (Heb 4:15).  He had to, to remain the Lamb without blemish.    To the very end he remained the spotless Lamb, a perfect sacrifice.   Everything at this point reveals the glory and greatness of the Son, standing out in stark contrast against the sinfulness of mankind.   This is a terrible time, but it reveals even more the glory of the Lamb of God.
Oh Father, it seems incredible that Jesus, in the midst of his agony could have prayed for us, thinking of us in the best way possible, yet your word clearly teaches that, and we marvel.    We marvel and wonder that your Son who experienced every aspect of humanity, including the very worst as he hung on that cross, could yet retain the wonder of love.   Thank you Lord, that you retained and exhibited that love up to the last breath of that body.