Snapshots: Day 32

Snapshots: Day 32

The Snapshot: “It is finished.”  A vision across time.  Three crosses on a hill, with humans nailing others on to them. The one in the middle started shining brightly but then from every direction darkness hurtled at the one who was light, darkness seeking to obliterate the light. From within me a cry, forgive us, Lord!  A battle for survival. But then as the last glimmer of light vanished under the darkness, there was an immense explosion and light poured forth in every direction and as it poured over me, my chains fell off, failures, disappointments, distress, anxieties, guilt, and shame, and as I looked down at myself I was full of light, transformed and clean. (1 Pet 2:24) Salvation!

Further Consideration: It was approaching Easter and I had a dream, a very vivid one, just as I woke, perhaps more of a vision. It was so clear it seemed appropriate to insert it into these Snapshots of the Bible. In one sense it doesn’t matter where we are in history, or where we are in the Bible, we constantly need reminding that history pivots on this one unique event, the crucifixion of the Son of God.

In shorthand we simply refer to all he did and achieved for us as ‘the Cross’. It is, first, an historical event, noted even in secular history. The details are there in the Gospels: three crosses and on the one in the middle hangs Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He speaks seven times: to ask forgiveness for those doing this (Lk 23:34), to reassure the thief beside him (Luke 23:43), to reassure his mother (Jn 19:26-27), to cry to his Father (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34), to declare thirst (Jn 19:28), to declare it is finished (Jn 19:30) and to commit himself to God (Lk 23:46). These are the recorded facts.

But second, it is a prophetic event, spoken of by the prophets who gave insight into what went on in the spiritual realm (see Psa 22), the powers of darkness attacking him trying to break this ‘perfect sacrifice’ the one without blemish or failure. It was a battle of light over darkness but, the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5)

But then, third, it is a life transforming event. It happens when we come to the end of ourselves and like a drowning man we grasp for whatever straw God offers, and He offers the death of His Son on the Cross. Religious Jews demanded signs, intellectual Greeks demanded logic and wisdom, and the apostle Paul declared, we preach Christ crucified…  the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:23,24) and, I resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) When we accept the wonder of what happened on the awful day, suddenly He comes in power and we are transformed, our sins forgiven, our lives cleansed, adopted as His sons and made anew. I remind myself of this every 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.

19. Self Gone

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 19. Self Gone

Rom 6:6   For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—

We pursue this link between death and resurrection, especially as it is worked out in spiritual terms and applies to our lives as Christians. In yesterday’s study from Galatians Paul spoke of his own life as having been crucified or put to death, with Christ, so that the risen life or power of Christ could live in him.

Now in today’s verse from Romans, Paul says the same thing but now expounds on that life that has been “done away with”, the old life that we lived before we came to Christ. He uses this same parallelism to what happened to Christ when he says, “we know that our old self was crucified with him,” i.e. to be able to live the new life our old life had to be put to death.

Now there is nothing very mystical about this, indeed it is very practical. For you to become a Christian you had to come to a point in your life where you recognised that the life you were living fell short of what it could be and, when you eventually understood it all, fell short of God’s wishes for you. In simple language, you repented. No repentance, no salvation. Not only did repentance mean a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turnabout, turning from an unrighteous life towards a God-empowered righteous life, to obtain that you had to surrender the old life to God, give it to Him and be prepared to walk away from it. Everything from then on would be Jesus focused – the means of receiving forgiveness, and the power to live a new life.

But the big issue about your old life was that Sin prevailed in it. There was this propensity to being self-centred and godless and that was worked out in wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong actions, maybe not all the time to your awareness at least, but you were certainly aware that that was how you were – and as much as you might try you couldn’t break free from that (see Paul in Rom 7).

Paul referred to that as “the body ruled by sin.”  Notice the word ‘ruled’; we were not masters of ourselves. The reality was this ‘Sin thing’ dominated us, controlled us and in Paul’s words made us “slaves to sin.” The only way of changing the situation was for that old life to die and so we put it to death – crucified it – by giving it to God, surrendering to Him. By NO other way can that life change. But it didn’t just finish there with us being empty, lifeless beings; He justified and adopted us and empowered us by His indwelling Holy Spirit. It is now by His indwelling presence that we have the means to live different lives that are selfless and godly and righteous. Hallelujah!

18. Door to Life

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 18. Door to Life 

Gal 2:20    I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I stated in a recent meditation something that may appear obvious but perhaps because it is we so often miss it, and that is that before there can be resurrection, there had to be death first. We have in the earlier meditations considered very lightly I might say, the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection, but we have now moved firmly into the area of considering what are the implications of that death.

In our verse above, from Galatians, Paul suggests what we might call a parallelism in his life to that of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It is a very powerful verse containing great truths.

The first thing we might note is the way he considers the life he now lives. The heart of it, he says, is that “Christ lives in me.” It is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, who now indwells every Christian.  How we so often take this incredible truth for granted; Christ lives in me!

The second thing, Paul claims, is that this life is no longer ‘me’ orientated, no longer ‘me’ directed or motivated, this life of his (and mine and yours) is now Christ orientated, Christ directed, Christ motivated. He considers (and by implication he wants us to consider it true for us too) that the life he had previously, has been ‘crucified’ or put to death, so that the new power of Jesus could come in and raise up a completely new life. That is all about power.

Third, the foundation of this new life is faith, faith in Christ. Faith, the New Testament tells us, comes by hearing. You and I have heard the Gospel, we have read it in the book, we have it clearly before us and we have responded to that, and it is all about Christ. No Christ, no Gospel, no salvation. Our faith is focused on him.

Fourth, at the heart of this belief is the fact that Jesus, “loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus’ death wasn’t just a ‘legal’ act done for mankind, an amorphous mass of people. No, Christ, because he is God, could see each one of us and he uniquely died for me, he uniquely died for you. He saw me, and he saw you. He loved me, and he loved you, and it was that love that took him to the Cross where he died for me, died for you – and then rose again so that we would believe.

What an amazing declaration Paul makes. I died to my old life so that I could rise with a new one, a life in which Christ now lives. I live it by faith in the Son of God (yes, who indwells me) who came to earth, lived out his life to reveal his Father in heaven, but who then died as a sacrifice for my sins so that I might be forgiven, and then he rose from the dead to secure my faith. Now it is him in me. Incredible!

17. A Power Name

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 17. A Power Name

Acts 4:10  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

Familiarity so often removes mystery. At first sight there is mystery in this verse spoken out by the apostle Peter. A man has just been miraculously healed and Peter says it is by the name of Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth, that this has happened. What does that mean? It means that what Peter had said and done that resulted in this man being miraculously healed, came about because of all that Peter had known and experienced of Jesus and so that now he has the authority of that same Jesus to do the same things Jesus had done.

And then comes the thrust about Jesus: “whom you crucified”. Yes, you rejected him, and you tried him and wrongly declared him guilty of sin although he was sinless and then executed him. Yes, all right, all of that is not there in the record, but that is what is implied in it. And to prove you were wrong, “whom God raised from the dead.”

And that is why the name of Jesus is the name under which you and I operate, the name under which you and I serve God, the name under which we can have confidence that God will act. Peter does not spell it out here and perhaps it would have to wait until the fuller understanding was given to the apostle Paul. The truth was that by being crucified Jesus was being offered as a sacrifice for sin so that Justice would be appeased because all the sins of mankind were taken in this momentous punishment taken by the very Son of God. He was a figure so great that no one could ever say he wasn’t big enough to take your sin, my sin and the sin of every person who has ever lived or ever will live. Yes, that was what was happening on the Cross.

But as we’ve seen, it didn’t end there; he was raised from the dead and by his resurrection he proved he was who he had said he was, this Son of God ‘big enough’ to carry our sin.

And so, what was the outworking of those two things, Jesus’ death and resurrection? Well, as heaven sang of Jesus, “you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9,10)

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, you and I who have become believers, have been united with him and so, as he now reigns at his Father’s right hand, we share in that reign with him and his authority and power is expressed in and through us so that we do the works of Jesus here on earth as he said (Jn 14:12), just like Peter.  Hallelujah!

15. Casual

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 15. Casual

Mt 27:35   When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

As I read the Gospel accounts I am struck by the ordinariness of affairs by a certain group of people involved in the terrible circumstances that we find in the back quarter of each of the four Gospels – the Roman soldiers. I suspect we take this for granted but the reality was that these battle-hardened men had seen death many times and, in all probability, had crucified many men before Jesus. For them this is just another job.

For those of us who have been Christians for many years, who have probably heard the Cross preached on many times and have perhaps read the accounts many times before, it is possible that the terrible nature of these events has similarly become almost ordinary to us and we no longer weep, and we no longer marvel at them.

Perhaps for some of us, seeing the terrible events portrayed in Mel Gibson’s film, ‘The Passion’ (which I would not recommend for anyone to see) that ordinariness has been shattered. I think I would far rather recommend we pray each Easter, “Lord, please open my eyes afresh to see the wonder of what you were doing.”

But consider this; we have already considered something of this, in Study No,10 ‘Mistaken’, so I will not repeat it all again here, but we would do well to remind ourselves, nevertheless, of the wonder of all that Jesus had been doing and the glory that was his in heaven.

Again, in Study No.6 ‘Helpless’, we considered the power and authority of Jesus, that had been shown in the way he had been in total control of his life and circumstances as seen in the Gospels. He was completely Lord of all those circumstances.

But then now, we zoom in on this little episode, almost a little aside, and I know, as we saw in Study No.8 ‘Planned (1)’, it was to fulfil prophecy, nevertheless what we have is almost the equivalent of a bunch of scavenging crows scrapping over the remains, but to avoid disharmony they do what they probably did time and again in these circumstances, they drew lots for who would get what. “OK, nice cloak; I wonder who the lucky man is. OK here are six straws. Shortest straw gets it… oh, the lucky man is….!”  And that was it.  “Next, a nice pair of sandals, somewhat worn but some miles left in them yet. Let’s see who is going to get them.” And so it continued. But note, “when they had crucified him they divided up his clothes.” All the while this casual banter is going on, the glorious all-powerful Son of God is hanging in agony behind them, about to take the sin of the world. THE most important event of history – while they are being so casual!!!!!!

14. Criminal & Rebel

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 14. Criminal & Rebel

Mt 27:38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

There was a point of time when Jesus was with his disciples and he asked them, “Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15) Simon Peter came up with the amazing answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (v.16)

Now in Study no.10 we saw the contrasting assessment of the religious establishment: ““We have found this man subverting our nation,“ (Lk 23:2) and “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and then the Romans will come and take way both our place and our nation.” (Jn 11:48), i.e. they viewed Jesus as a rebel, an agitator who might bring the wrath of Rome down on them.

Thus, when the day of execution came, as far as they were concerned there were just three rebels hanging there. The fact that these other men being executed were rebels is again emphasised a few verses later: “In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him (Mt 27:44)

In fact, the whole context of rebellion is added to when the Governor tried to release Jesus, using a custom that was common and we are told, A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” (Mk 14:7) and “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.” (v.11) How incredible! The chief priests are so determined to have Jesus killed that they incite the crowd to have a known murderer and rebel to be released instead.

What are we seeing here? We are seeing people branding Jesus with an unfair brand simply for personal expediency. It may be an emotional thing, or it may be a thing of personal pride. For the religious authorities of Jesus’ day, he showed up the emptiness of their ‘system’ and the absence of any spiritual authority –  although they had lots of political authority! And so it was for those reasons, political expediency, that they orchestrated his death. A lowly fisherman could see him as the Messiah, the Son of God because his eyes had been opened the moment he allowed Jesus into his life (see Lk 5:3,8)

When it comes to political expediency or personal expediency, the tactic is to call Jesus names – a rebel, or ‘just a do-gooder’ – and thus ignore the reality of who he is. I have read a well-known leading crusading atheist and I noted the emotion with which he spoke about his childhood and a wishy-washy religious person. Others reject Jesus because they know the moment they accept who he is, their lives will have to change as they have to then accept him as Lord.

4. An Agreed Package

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 4. An Agreed Package

Mt 20:19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.

Mocked, flogged AND crucified. The first two were bad enough without adding the crucifixion, but the Romans didn’t do things by half measures – and anyway it had been agreed with the Jewish leaders that he would be put to death. That might stave off a riot.

I have added the word ‘agreed’ to the title for the Godhead knew exactly what would happen when you put yourself in the hands of the harshest army on earth. This was, after all, the plan of God – and we’ll come back to this because it is important to understand.

The whole ‘package’ is going to include total rejection, which includes mockery, and we’ll see that later as well. I suspect that the idea of flogging, which didn’t leave much of a person’s back intact, was a) it allowed everyone else to see what the Romans could do and, by implication, there was the threat not to cross them and b) by the time the flogging was finished the person was in no state to resist anything else they might want to do to them.

In fact, asking a man to carry the cross of his coming death was a further inhumane way of treating him. ”Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).” (Jn 19:17) So weak did it leave Jesus that it became clear he wasn’t going to make it to the place of execution and so Matthew adds, ”As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Mt 27:32) We haven’t even reached the act of crucifixion yet but what we have so far is something all of us would want to avoid if humanly possible.

Now bear this in mind when we put our starter verse in its context, spoken by Jesus to his disciples: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19)

Our temptation on hearing those words spoken at that time might be to wonder at the knowledge of the Son of God and then marvel at the declaration concerning the resurrection, and in so doing miss the terrible things he was saying. When you face the awfulness of this ‘package’ declared here, the greatest wonder is that the Son of God, who would have perfectly understood the Roman procedures, could keep a straight face and not break down in tears as he spoke them, but clearly, he didn’t as it still didn’t impact the disciples into believing it. Pause and ponder these things and quietly utter your adoration.

2. Objectionable

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 2. Objectionable

1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

Again we start our focus on the Cross, the crucifixion of Christ, through the eyes of the apostle Paul. Yesterday I suggested that we will find a distinction between the events (crucifixion) and the significance or meaning (the Cross) as we go on. For the moment we are seeing Paul’s focus on the events, the actual putting to death on a cross of Jesus Christ. Yesterday we saw him saying this was absolutely at the heart of the gospel, with the implication that without it there would be no gospel. No death, no Saviour.

But here, a little earlier in his letter, we see him making an equally strong declaration, but it is in distinction to those who come from a different perspective: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” (v.22) The Jews had their Old Testament (as we would call their scrolls today) and had set views or interpretations, so demanded that Jesus perform signs to show he was their Messiah conforming with their understanding, while Greeks exalted in their wisdom or intellect and wanted reason.

For both groups, crucifixion was an anathema, a loathing. The Jews saw such a death as a proof of a cursed person (Gal 3:13) – and so no way could Jesus be the expected Messiah, the anointed and blessed of God – while the Greeks saw it as pure folly to talk about a condemned criminal being executed being a means to finding meaning and purpose in life. For both the religious and the intellectual this whole idea was preposterous.

Paul almost implies, ‘I don’t care what you think, this IS God’s method of bringing salvation to the world. You Jews may stumble over this, rejecting it as crass insensitivity to suggest that a crucified man can be our saviour, and you Greeks may scratch your heads and rumble on about it being pure nonsense, but this ‘crass insensitivity’, this ‘pure nonsense’ is the way that God has decreed to be the way people can be saved, it is the only way for meaning and purpose to be truly achieved.’

Which leaves us pondering on how we, ourselves, view the crucifixion, the Cross of Christ? Are we embarrassed by it? Do we try and convince people of their needs for a relationship with God without any reference to the Cross, the crucifixion, Jesus dying for them? Until we do include it we are preaching only half a gospel, which in truth is no gospel.

So, do we include the facts of the event – Jesus’ death on a cross – and do we include the significance that we will go on to see in later studies – it was to take your sins and mine and declare us free of guilt and thus acceptable to God. That is the Gospel. Worship Him.

1. Significance

Introduction to Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross  

In the series we were following we came to an appropriate point where we could pause up and come back to it in a month’s time. We are in the period referred to as Lent, and Easter Sunday is in 30 days’ time.

To quote the Internet, “For Western churches Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday. (This year [2018] it began on February 14. The date varies from year to year, starting in either late February or early March. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays), and is treated as a period of reflection and, for some, a time for fasting.”

I am aware, looking down the list of subjects and themes we have covered in the past, that I have written on ‘Aspects of Easter’, another series simply called, ‘Easter’ and another on the ‘Holy Week’. However, my attention was recently drawn to the number of references in the New Testament to either the ‘cross’ or to the word ‘crucifixion’ and so I would like to attempt a series of short meditations on single verses that contain either of those words. I do this in fear and trepidation because this is really holy ground and verses standing on their own do not form a theology and therefore this attempt denies creating a neatly structured or systematic approach. Each day will thus stand on its own and may or may not follow on from the previous one.  Their only link is that somehow, and it may be tenuous, every verse refers to that terrible event that we remember on Good Friday. I will say no more at this point and simply let them speak for themselves and trust that by the end we will have seen a fresh focus on this key episode in the life of the Son of God.

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 1. Significance

1 Cor 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

For many across the world, the words, ‘the Cross’ or references to the crucifixion of Christ, mean little. Others attribute a mystical sense to such words, others have a vague inkling of a mystery that just eludes them. For the apostle Paul, who we find writing here to the church in Corinth, the whole matter pertaining to the Cross, to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is of absolutely crucial importance.

I like the Message version’s take on verses 1 & 2: “You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”

Paraphrase versions are so helpful aren’t they. The JBP version is even more enlightening: “You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ and the fact of his death upon the cross.”

Paul’s life was amazing; he was absolutely sold out to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went and here he makes sure we understand that the heart of that message was Jesus’ death on the Cross, the event we remember on Good Friday. I nearly wrote, “that we are looking forward to on Good Friday” but unlike perhaps a birthday party, this terrible event is not something to be relished. It is absolutely horrible, and in this series, I do not intend to visit the events of the Cross in any great detail; I’ve done that already elsewhere.

The thrust that comes punching out of this present verse is that, as far as the apostle Paul was concerned at least, whatever else we might teach about Christ (and I recently wrote a long series which I found impacted me deeply called, ‘Focus on Christ’) the most crucial part of our teaching about Christ, if we are to follow in the great apostle’s footsteps, has to be the Cross, has to be the crucifixion of Christ. I think we are going to see that crucifixion focuses more on the event, the fact that Christ was put to death on our behalf, while ‘the Cross’ refers more what Christ was achieving through that event on our behalf. So, when Paul speaks here of Christ’s crucifixion (and later on we’ll see his earlier reference to ‘the message of the Cross’ (1 Cor 1:18), he is saying the gospel is anchored in the death of Christ and without it there would be no gospel. It is that important and for that reason we will consider it slowly in the days ahead as we look at both the event (crucifixion) and its significance (the Cross). Pray for help as we do this for we tread on holy ground.