The message of Easter is that Jesus’ resurrection sets us free from sin and grants us life eternal. Who doesn’t want that? Yet many of us place barriers in the way. The big question in this message, based on 1 Corinthians 15.35-39, 50-58 is this: What has to die in you so that Jesus can come alive? Listen here:
It’s Good Friday, the day the church marks the crucifixion of Jesus. Among people, there are various reactions to this reality.
Some turn their faces away because they can’t face the gory nature of death by crucifixion. It was the most heinous way to kill someone in the first century, because the person who hung on the cross was dying not from blood loss, but from asphyxiation. Often, it took a long time for someone to die that way, and the suffering was unspeakable.
Others run away because they can’t wrap their heads around the idea that a loving God would sentence his own Son to die so gruesomely through no fault of his own. Some have this notion that Jesus’ death was a form of “divine child abuse”. Since they can’t fit that into their theology, they stay home.
Still others stand and mourn because this is a memorial service for a good man who got caught in a political revolution. Yet if Jesus were merely a ‘good man’, his death was in vain, because only a perfect sacrifice would atone for human sin. There would be no sense building a movement around a good man who died.
Still others, again, stand and behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, words John the Baptist proclaimed when he announced the coming of Jesus early in the gospels. Yet we stand at the foot of the cross not as those unable to look, not as those who can’t fit death into our theology, not as those who remember a good man. We stand at the foot of the cross as those who live in hope, because we know that on the third day, Jesus conquered death by rising from the grave.
Good Friday should be a sombre day, but it should be a day of anticipation, too, for we know how the story ends.
Still, the resurrection cannot be truly appreciated unless we have walked with Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death. Make sure you go to worship today so you can appreciate the joy of Sunday!
“Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again” (Luke 18.31-33, NLT).
This Sunday, the church marks the beginning of Jesus’ last week before his crucifixion and glorious resurrection with what we call “the triumphal entry” amid the waving of palms – thus the term “Palm Sunday”. Today, take a moment and ponder this passage. Ask what the Lord is saying to you in it, and how your “Hosannas” can avoid being transformed into shouts of “Crucify him!”
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. (Mark 11.1-11, NIV)
“Hosanna” means “Save us!”
Let that be the cry of your heart to the Lord today.
Where I live, we’re on the cusp of March Break. School children everywhere (to say nothing of the teachers) are giddy with excitement at at week without having to rise early and sit in classrooms for a whole week.
Why does this matter? Because rest matters.
God did not design us to go at it hard every day, world without end. He established a rhythm of work and rest in creation: one day in seven would be a day of rest.
There’s been a lot written over the years of what constitutes “rest”, of what one is “allowed” to do on a day set aside for Sabbath. I remember being chastised, as a student, for buying and reading a newspaper one Sunday afternoon. I’ve known others who were not allowed to play outside as children, others who were forbidden from watching television.
Sadly, less has been written and said about what should be celebrated on Sabbath than what is prohibited. As a result, what God intended as a gift to his people became just another law to abide. Dare I say it? I wonder if some families’ rigorous attempts to honour God with a day of rest actually may have driven some people from the church.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are some people who feel that they are sufficiently indispensable that they feel they must work on a day of rest. There is an illness of spirit in that mind set, and among the worst offenders are clergy. I have some colleagues who boast that they can’t remember the last time they took a day off. That doesn’t honour God. Working well honours God, yes, but so too does rest.
God invites us to work from our Sabbath rest – on whatever day we are able to take it (heaven knows pastors can’t take it on Sunday!) – not to work so hard that we collapse into a heap one day and find ourselves physically sick because we have failed to pace ourselves at a rate that enables our bodies and souls to keep in sync with each other.
So if March Break affords you the opportunity to find time to carve out some rest, take it! If not, be sure to take some other time in the year, as well as in the week, to enjoy the gift of time away from your daily labours. Take time to rest, take time to worship, take time to enjoy recreation in its literal sense, where you find re-creation taking place through the abandonment of work for a few days.
“So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[a] from all his work” (Genesis 2.1-2, NLT).
We never realize how much we rely on our technology until something goes wrong with it. I spent a good chunk of yesterday morning trying to figure out why my computer would work perfectly well at home, but would not connect to the Internet at the church. A good friend tried to help, to no avail. Our Internet Service Provider tried to help, to no avail. And the maker of my computer tried to help…and we’re not sure yet if that worked. We’ll see what happens next.
The experience was both frustrating and time-consuming, but that sometimes happens. But it made me wonder: when I pray, and I don’t necessarily feel like my ‘connection’ with God is happening, how hard do I work to restore it.
Many people of faith have these periodic ‘connection problems’ in their prayer lives. Some of them occur for lengthy periods of time – even years. And though we attempt to resolve them, when that doesn’t work on the first or second try, sometimes we are inclined to walk away. However, when we do that, nobody wins. Why? Because God longs to have fellowship with us, and we need to have fellowship with God. Walking away from the ‘connection’ – the relationship – means that both we and God lose out.
Even in what is deemed “the dark night of the soul” (to coin a phrase from the mediaeval Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross), we can continue to pray in faith. Though we may not hear from God, God still hears from us, and our faith is practised – even when we think it may be doing no good at all.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced decades of silence in her relationship with God, yet she continued to pray, continued to serve, because she knew it was making a difference. You and I can do the same. Though our conversations with God may seem one sided, as though there were nobody on the other end of the line, our faith enables us to carry on because we believe that God hears us, God sees us, God knows that we are engaging with him.
Even when my Internet connection fails, I can keep working on documents and planning and writing and leading, because I believe my connection will be restored. Even when I feel as though my prayers may be going no farther than the ceiling of my study, I believe the Lord hears them and continues to act.
Do you sometimes feel like your prayers aren’t going anywhere? Trust that God hears them, and cry out to him that he will make himself known to you again. God is faithful.
“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” (Psalm 116.1-2, NLT)