How Precious is the Crucifixion to Us?

Why does the crucifixion matter? Why do we talk about the blood? There are those in the world that are surprised that we still talk about the death of Jesus every year. However, His death is central to the message of Jesus. It wasn’t peripheral to Jesus. It should not be forgotten by us.

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

Luke 18:31-33

This Scripture is not the only passage where Jesus predicts His death. In the gospel of Luke (as well as Matthew and Mark) we see Him predict His death in Luke 9:21-22, Luke 9:43-45, and Luke 18:31-34. In case that isn’t enough for us, Jesus also alludes to or suggests His intentional death for us in these passages as well: Luke 13:32-33; Luke 20:9-20; John 2:19-21; John 3:14-15 John 8:27-30; John 10:11&18; John 12:7-8; John 14:25-31. This makes Jesus’ teaching on His own death incredible important.

In case we wonder about why Jesus thought that He was going to die, Jesus tells us why He was going to die in John 3 and John 10. He says that He is going to die for us. Just like Moses’ bronze serpent was lifted up so that the people could believe God’s promise and be saved, so would Jesus be lifted up. Just like a good shepherd will die to save his sheep, so Jesus will die to save us.

Understanding the cross is straight forward. It is Jesus’ life for our life. It is a trade. A glorious, unimaginable trade. He traded His life for me. He traded His life for you. Let us marvel at this. Before the crucifixion the disciples struggled with it. Luke comments that, “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken… Luke 18:34

May we not struggle. May we instead marvel and glory in the cross. The cross should have been mine, but Jesus took it in my place. Theologians have used big words like propitiation and atonement. Paul said it in a way that everyone can understand:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

This means something wonderful to me. What does it mean to you?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Thinking deeply as We Head to the Cross

For us, many things happen by accident. We have flat tires that make us late for work. We have trees that lose branches and knock out windows. We forget our keys, have to call our family, and are late for an appointment. Yet, in the life of our Lord Jesus, the cross was no accident.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

What does that mean to you that Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem? Luke uses the word steadfastly. Jesus meant to go to Jerusalem. He meant to both go to Jerusalem and face the cross. Neither were accidents. They weren’t a conflagration of circumstances that He just couldn’t avoid.  Jesus went on purpose. He faced the cross for you and me on purpose.

It wasn’t something that He sought to escape or avoid. He didn’t just go because it was inevitable. He went on purpose. 

During that last week before the crucifixion Jesus begins to express His feelings about what is coming. He says, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) Notice that He feels exactly what we would feel, but that He has no desire to avoid it. He asks the disciples, “shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?'” He then says, “for this purpose I came to this hour.” He comes to what we now call holy week on purpose. Think about how wondrous this love Jesus says He has for us is! The apostle Paul prayed that the Ephesian church would understand this love of Jesus:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, …17b that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19 (emphasis: 17-19)

What does it mean to you that He would intentionally give Himself for you? Do you marvel at it? Does it blossom in your heart into praise? Does His love call you to live anew for Him and Him alone?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Mediocrity with Jesus?

Mediocrity. When you hear that word, what do you think about? When I think about mediocrity I think about not trying. I think about settling for less because it is easier. When I think about my relationships, especially my relationship with God, I don’t want to be mediocre.

Paul says, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:1-2

When you work hard, try your best, and do what you love with passion, it is never mediocre. It doesn’t matter what that thing is, if you are doing what you love with passion it is not mediocre. Do we do that with Jesus? Do we chase after Him with passion? In our church life, worship services can look like mere ritual or ceremony. They can lose their significance to us and become rote. When it comes to God, do we even know what passion looks like? Paul’s thoughts will help us here. Consider these encouragements from Colossians 3:1-2:

  1. Passion keeps seeking the things above. “Keep seeking” is a key component of passion. It doesn’t ever say, “I’ve had enough.” It always says, “I want more.” Do we still want more of Jesus?
  2. Passion zeroes in on its desire. Setting our mind on things above is that zeroing in process. Whenever someone is passionate about something (or someone) they get a little lost in it. Time becomes irrelevant. Spending time with that special someone means that we lose track of time. When was the last time you lost track of time thinking of the things of God?
  3. Passion lets go of lesser passions. Whenever we are caught up in something we pass on other opportunities. Why? We do that because our passion takes center stage. Paul says here to not [set our minds] on the things that are on the earth. That’s his pedestrian way of putting it. We are more familiar with the stronger, “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) Yet, its the same idea. A new passion has come into the Christian’s life. It is a passion for Christ and the things of Christ. When was the last time the things of Christ pushed out the things that tempt you to compromise or quit?

Is this easy? Of course not! Passion (both living in it and nurturing it) is only easy in the beginning. Sustaining it requires intentionality. It requires that we not just get caught up in excitement over Jesus, but also nurture these three qualities by continually seeking, zeroing in, and letting go of lesser passions.

Think about tag when you were a kid. Which strategy did you use? Did you tag the slower, easier runners or did you chase after the swifter, sometimes more obnoxious, runners? Which was more satisfying? We are all chasing something – even today. Which do you chase after, the easy to reach or the truly rewarding? Do you really find living in neutral satisfying? We could chase a relationship with God that is easy: soft comfort, a vague sense of purpose, ritual. The alternative is to chase a relationship with Jesus that is much more challenging but infinitely more rewarding: passion, holiness, and true communion. Which will we chase after together?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Bringing Back Graciousness

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

In our culture we hear people lament that there isn’t enough civility. Is it possible that in order to get our messages out we have chosen passion and lost graciousness? I personally think it is time to bring graciousness back.

What is graciousness? Graciousness is simply responding to people with intentional grace. Paul says, 

 5Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

Colossians 4:5-6

He says that we should act with wisdom toward outsiders. In other words, we always remember that we are being watched. People are measuring our response. In our modern world of blogging and Facebook this is even more true now than when Paul said it. So, the first part of graciousness is to always remember that people are measuring what we say. The second part of graciousness is how we respond – is it always with grace? He clarifies how grace should exist in our speech: just like salt goes throughout a dish that it is mixed in with. That is how grace should be in us.

I think I know what question we have next: what does that look like in everyday life? Let me give you some thoughts:

  1. Stop and think before you respond to anyone.
  2. Say what you mean. Don’t just say what you feel. (Consider the message your words are conveying to the other person)
  3. Remember these three questions: Is it kind? Does it edify? Is it necessary?
  4. Use words and tones that invite conversation and questions rather than win arguments.

If you lament the lack of civility in the world, start today in your own families. If you interact with people in the world, choose graciousness. When you find yourself in conflict, choose graciousness to solve the problem. If you have contact with folks on the web or Facebook, type graciously.

One final thought… I have looked far and wide for a discussion group or blog that showed Christian graciousness. It has been hard. Bloggers are not known for their tact, let alone graciousness. However, I ran across a young lady writing about body image issues (and everyday life) that truly impressed me. No, I am not usually interested in the subject she writes about, but her graciousness in her writing and her response to those who comment on her blog is truly different. So, I have become an avid reader of her blog. Consider that… we are drawn to people (even total strangers) who practice graciousness. If we really want to make a difference in the lives of people around us, shouldn’t we be pictures of grace?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Profound Grace of Jesus

Grace. There are two important questions this word should bring to our minds. 1) What is it? and 2) Why do I need it?

This week we studied the encounter Jesus had with the woman caught in the very act of adultery. This encounter is a lived out picture of grace. Jesus did not desire to condemn. Jesus longed to forgive. Jesus challenged the hypocrisy of sinners condemning without forgiveness another sinner. This grace is profound. It is so profound that several of the early church fathers (Augustine and Ambrose among them) struggled with how to balance this type of grace and God’s call to holiness.

Think about this with me for a moment… this is exactly what the profound forgiveness that the Bible calls grace should do. It should challenge us. It should challenge our preconceptions about what holiness means. It should shake our tendency toward self-righteousness. It should make us ask questions about the nature of love and the power of forgiveness. If it doesn’t, it isn’t really all that profound, is it?

Now the second question – why does God offer such profound grace? Why do I need it? This is where we enter the story of the adulterous woman. We must answer this question – which person do I resemble more: the woman or the Pharisees? In other words, am I a desperate sinner in need of being saved; or am I a deluded sinner who looks down on the failures others? I wonder how often we gravitate toward the Pharisee. I think that perhaps we are often tempted to gravitate toward self-justification and making light of our own failures while magnifying the mistakes of others.

Why do we do this? Why do we deny our need? Well, it is a simple reality: no one wants to think of themselves as bad or wicked. However, instead of receiving the grace of Jesus and letting Him declare us forgiven; we declare ourselves okay and not as bad as others.

Together, let’s stop this. If we do, we too can be amazed at the grace we receive from God in Jesus. We can be forgiven instead of holding onto our own inadequate righteousness. I really like the joy expressed in the poetic thoughts from the hymn, It is Well With My Soul:

            My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought.

My sin, not in part, but the whole

            Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.

            Praise the Lord, praise the Lord oh my soul.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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When No One is Looking

church buried in snowThere is an old saying – “Character is what you do when no one is looking.” It was popularized by the man who wrote God’s Little Instruction Book. Henry Ford used a version of it when, speaking about quality, said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” The question comes, what do I do when no one is looking?

On Sunday we had one of those rare winter mornings when the snow comes at the exact wrong time for a church. What is the exact wrong time for snow to come? The exact wrong time for snow to come is midnight to noon on Sunday morning. It’s a bad time for the church because you can’t make a decision about the parking lot until that morning. It’s an even worse time for the community because roads and driveways are horrible until the snow begins to taper off.

That was Sunday. Now, I am an old-fashioned pastor. I believe two things about the Sunday morning service – 1) We should offer it for any and all who should come, and 2) People should decide for themselves if it is unsafe to drive because church attendance is not mandatory. What does this mean? This means that if I can get to church, our church is open every Sunday morning. What did it mean this Sunday? It meant that my family was the only one at church! No one at Sunday school. No one at our fellowship time. No one at worship. Just my family.

If there is ever a test of your character, it is when the voice in your head tells you that it won’t matter if you follow through on your convictions because no one will benefit even if you do. When it’s just your family, does it really matter? Those of you who know me personally know what I did. I am “almost” irritatingly consistent in my behavior. I just can’t help it. It is who I am. So, yes, we did have worship. I let my college and high-school aged children pick a few hymns and focused my sermon on one of the supporting texts from the planned sermon on Joshua. However, I must confess that I did wonder if it was worth it. I wondered if we should all have just gone home for cocoa and a snowball fight.

1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Then it happened. I had just read the passage for our Scripture lesson when a head peaked in the door. A couple from our church had worked hard to dig out of their driveway to come and worship Jesus. They knew that they would be late, but they came anyway hoping to at least catch the sermon. They were right on time for that! It made me think… What if I had skipped worship when it was just my family? Would I have missed the opportunity to bless and be blessed Sunday?

That’s the thing about character. It’s not only what we do when no one’s looking. It is also the thing we are doing when “surprise!” we learn that someone is looking. Someone is always looking. Sometimes, that someone is the person we look at in the mirror. Sometimes, it is someone unexpected. Either way, someone is always looking.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Background of the Believer’s Life

What does it mean to you to say that God is in control? Is that something that gives you confidence, or is it something that makes you confused? In God’s Word the sovereignty of God is the underlying assumption of every act of faith. With the exception of extreme suffering, the faithful saw God’s sovereignty as the reality in which they lived and stepped out in faith. When the extreme did happen they did not abandon their view of God’s control, they ran to Him to seek the reason and the relief from their pain. Is that how we live today?

I see this as the key difference in the Bible between those who truly believe in God as God and those who want to use God for His blessings. The second group are happy with God when life gives them good things like material blessings or temporary happiness. However, when life gives them hard things like unexpected change or suffering God becomes a villain who doesn’t care about suffering or an impotent grandfather figure who just can’t do anything about it. The first group sees life differently. Their trust of God doesn’t sway in the wind of circumstance. No, for them the only thing that changes is the conversation that they have with God. When times are good, they ask God how they can use their blessing to draw others to Him. When times are hard, they ask God to come closer to them so that they can discover His purpose or His comfort. Their trust doesn’t change. Their desire to know Him only deepens. Thus Paul says –

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

Paul didn’t disregard suffering or struggle. He wasn’t happy suffering. However, Paul did believe something about that suffering. He believed that the suffering couldn’t stop what God was doing. He believed so much that God was going to accomplish His work in Paul and the Christians of his day that Paul saw those sufferings as inconsequential in comparison. The background of Paul’s life is this – since God is in control nothing, not even present sufferings, can keep God from doing what He said He will do.

That is what belief in the sovereignty of God can do in the believer’s life. It can make them willing to face each day, no matter the circumstance, with a boldness of belief. What is the belief? It is the belief that God will accomplish in this day exactly what He has planned. It is also the belief that as we stack those days together we will one day see how that work of God is for a greater glory in our lives.

This is who I want to be. I want to be the person who doesn’t look at every crisis as an attack on my faith. I want my understanding of God’s sovereignty to be the background of how I see life. Otherwise, who does that make God in my eyes? The Bible is clear. God is the all-powerful loving God who works purposefully in our lives. Since He is this type of God, how I see life needs to come through this truth. It is the background of my life. Is it the background of yours?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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