Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Contentment of the Cross

There’s an old story about a King who was suffering from a painful ailment.  His astrologer told him that the only cure was to find a contented man, get his shirt, and wear it day and night.  So messengers were sent throughout his kingdom to find a man who was content and order that he surrender his shirt so it could be brought back to the King to wear.
Months passed, and after a thorough search, the messengers returned, but without the shirt.  “Did you find a contented man?” the King asked.  “Yes, your Highness, we found one man who was content.”  “Well, where’s his shirt?” the King demanded.  The messengers looked at each other and said, “Master, the man had no shirt.”
Last week, after preaching on Jesus’ sixth word from the cross – “It is finished” – and the finality of the cross, a person came up to me harboring a burning issue.  I know it was “burning” because it had been festering for seven weeks.  For seven straight Sundays this person had been waiting to express utter contempt for our new member process.

The problem?  Friends joined Hebron seven weeks ago and this person was not asked to be their sponsor.  Never mind that one of the principle goals of sponsorship is to widen the friendship circle for new members by specifically asking those that they may not already know to sponsor them.  For this person, the selection of someone else as a sponsor was an egregious act of discrimination.  And the reason I know that is because no matter what I said, it didn’t begin to atone for the perceived slight!

Now I can understand being miffed.  I can understand feeling depreciated.  But what was most striking to me was the timing of the diatribe.  Seven weeks had elapsed in which seven messages on the total sufficiency of the cross had been preached.  Moreover, the spewing discontent came on the heels of one whole hour of focusing on the finality of the cross and gathering around the communion table.  I walked away thinking, “Really?”

Not too long afterwards I heard the Lord say, “You’re a lot like that so many times.”  And I confess that I am.  If you are anything like me, you find that your discontent can surface at any time, even after a worship service, even after worshipping a Lord who repeatedly laid down His own interests.

As we have said from the start of this series, there’s only one place where our deepest needs are met and that’s at the cross. The cross isn’t a place to go once – it’s a place to go every day.  The cross is our Lord’s office. The cross is the place where He chisels off the corners of our self-interest and self-righteousness.  The cross is the place where He breaks the tyranny of our felt needs by meeting our deepest need for love and worth.

This Sunday we will end our nine-week series “The Wondrous Cross” with a message entitled, “The Contentment of the Cross.” We will focus on the seventh and last statement of Jesus on the cross as recorded in Luke’s gospel, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’” (Luke 23:46)  It’s in this final statement that we find the ground of true contentment – now and forever.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      Read Galatians 6:11-16 and Luke 23:44-46.

2.      Read Luther’s commentary on Galatians 2:20 in the section 2:15-21.

3.      What do you make of Jesus’ address of God in verse 46?  How often is God addressed as “Father” in the Old Testament?

4.      How does “Father” differ from the One He addresses in His fourth word, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

5.      What is the significance of Jesus committing His spirit into His Father’s hands?

6.      What is the relevance of such a commitment for you as a Christian?

7.      What else does Jesus say about His Father’s hands in the Gospel of John?

8.      What does it mean to “commit” His spirit to His Father?

9.      What significance is there for you in Jesus’ enduring judgment before His commitment?

10.  What is the relevance of what’s referenced in Luke 23:45 preceding verse 46?

11.  Why is Jesus’ seventh statement from the cross the absolute ground of a Christian’s contentment?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Finality of the Cross

Brennan Manning writes, “There is a myth flourishing in the church today that has caused incalculable harm – once saved, fully saved.  In other words, I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior; an irreversible, sinless future beckons.  Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken upward spiral toward holiness…Often I have been asked, ‘Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?’  It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure, because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus.  Because the Christ encounter didn’t transfigure me into an angel.  Because justification by grace through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.’”

That is exactly why the cross of Christ is not simply the starting line of the spiritual race set before us (to borrow from Paul); it is the finish line as well!  Years ago I read an imaginary account of a man who found trips to the cross to be a daily necessity.  He writes, “A humble woman seeks me out because of my vaunted reputation as a spiritual guide.  She is simple and direct: ‘Please teach me how to pray, sir.’  Tersely I inquire, ‘Tell me about your prayer life at this point in your life.’  She lowers her eyes and says contritely, ‘There’s not much to tell.  I say grace before meals.’  Haughtily I reply, ‘You say grace before meals!  Isn’t that nice, Madam.  I say grace upon waking and before retiring, and grace again before reading the newspaper and turning on the television.  I say grace before ambulating and meditating, before the theater and the opera, before jogging, swimming, biking, dining, lecturing, and writing.  I even say grace before I say grace.’  That night, saggy with self-approval I go before the Lord.  And He whispers to me, ‘You ungrateful turd.  Even the desire to say grace is itself my gift.’”

There’s an ancient Christian legend that goes like this:  “When the Son of God was nailed to the cross and gave up His spirit, He went straight to hell from the cross and set free all the sinners who were in torment there.  And the devil wept for he thought he would never get any more sinners for hell.  Then God said to him, ‘Do not weep, for I shall send you all those holy people who have become self-complacent in the consciousnesses of their own goodness and self-righteousness in their condemnation of sinners.  And hell shall be filled up once more for generations until I come again.’”

No wonder Martin Luther repeatedly admonished his student pastors saying, “We must preach the Gospel to ourselves, every day, lest we grow discouraged.”  For what is the heart of this Gospel?  It is the finality of the cross!  Think of it.  What does it mean when Jesus utters His penultimate word from the cross – tetelestai:  “It is finished”?  Have you considered that lately?    It’s a mistake to find in those words only a message that His suffering is over.  His word has far more to do with your suffering and mine, than His.  What is finished for you in these words?   That’s the question that will possess us this communion Sunday as we come together to worship and dig into the wondrous cross again.  So far, I believe the case has been made – the cross is the place to which every growing, mature Christian must return again and again.  It’s not simply a starting point – it’s the touchstone, the acid test, the place where self-approval is swept away by an avalanche of grace.
In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1.      Where did Martin Luther come to appreciate the words of Habakkuk 2:2-4? 

2.      How did the blood of God meet the word of God?  What was its impact?

3.      A few weeks ago we read of the thief on the cross.  How did he experience a “Luther” moment on the cross?

4.      How did the Galatians get “bewitched”?  (See Galatians 3:1f.)

5.      How does Paul’s statement in Galatians 6:14 speak of the finality of the cross?

6.      If the fourth word of Jesus on the cross is the heart of the cross, how is the sixth word the soul of the cross?

7.      What does it mean to say that through the cross all of the requirements of the Law are ended for the believer?

8.      How is Christ’s active and passive obedience the beginning of grateful obedience for the believer?

9.      How does the word “tetelestai” separate Christianity from every other religious system?

10.  How does Jesus’ sixth word from the cross mean that Satan’s power has been broken?

11.  How does the sixth word overwhelm every doubt, every failure, every worry a believer might have?

12.  How does the sixth word make the Gospel the Good News?

See you Sunday as we gather at the table and remember that the cross is Jesus’ “office”.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Love of the Cross

When we think of Jesus on the cross, we are drawn to think:  “What are the reasons for what He has done for us, why did some make fun of Him while others cried, and what was it like for Him on that Good Friday?”  Our text from Matthew speaks of a darkness which “came over all the land,” and what follows that description is a quote from Psalm 22.  These are fairly familiar words to many of us.  We think of He who loved us before we loved Him, and we should never forget this.   But this Sunday, I would like us to spend some time focusing on the responsibilities that we, who receive this love, have.  For this perspective, we look at John chapter 6:25-40.  I would encourage you to read all of John 6 before Sunday morning, and then as you read Matthew 27:45-50, ask yourself: what is my responsibility in receiving Christ’s love. 

·         The Old Testament speaks of “darkness” several times.  Look up Amos 8:9 and Joel 2:31 to get some idea of what the theme of “darkness” is in these passages and ponder if there is any similarity to what we read in Matthew 27.

·         When reading through John 6, look for the perspective which the people of that day had, and the perspective Jesus had.  What was the perspective from the side of man and his responsibility to receive what God offers, and from the perspective of God and His sovereignty to accomplish His saving purposes?  Were they the same perspectives?

·         Do we see any similarities in John 4:15 (the woman at the well) to what we read in John 6?

·         In John 6:35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  What type of hunger and thirst was he talking about, and does this mean we will never hunger and thirst again?  And if we do hunger and thirst, does this mean we have failed to understand our responsibilities in receiving Christ’s love?

I would appreciate your prayers for me as I finish my thoughts this week seeking to find God’s Word, and I thank you for the invitation to be with you.  See you Sunday.