The crucifixion of Jesus, according to John, demonstrates some important aspects of our Saviour that we do well to understand. Watch or listen below to this message based on John 19.16b-42.
For this Good Friday, simply allow the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux to wash over you. Respond with gratitude, and a rededicated life to the One who gave his life for you.
O sacred head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred head, what glory!
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.
O noblest brow, and dearest!
In other days the world
All feared, when Thou appeared’st,
What shame on Thee is hurled!
How art Thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn;
How does that visage anguish,
When once was bright as morn.
The blushes late residing
Upon that holy cheek,
The roses once abiding
Upon those lips so meek,
Alas! they have departed;
Wan Death has rifled all!
For weak and broken hearted,
I see Thy body fall.
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
Receive me, my Redeemer,
My Shepherd, make me Thine;
Of every good the fountain,
Thou art the spring of mine.
Thy lips with love distilling,
And milk of truth sincere,
With Heaven’s bliss are filling
The soul that trembles here.
Beside Thee, Lord, I’ve taken
My place—forbid me not!
Hence will I ne’er be shaken,
Though Thou to death be brought,
If pain’s last paleness hold Thee,
In agony oppressed,
Then, then will I enfold Thee
Within this arm and breast!
The joy can ne’er be spoken,
Above all joys beside;
When in Thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
My Lord of life, desiring
Thy glory now to see,
Beside the cross expiring,
I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
What language shall I borrow,
To thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh! make me Thine forever,
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee.
And when I am departing,
Oh! part not Thou from me;
When mortal pangs are darting,
Come, Lord, and set me free;
And when my heart must languish
Amidst the final throe,
Release me from mine anguish,
By Thine own pain and woe!
Be near me when I am dying,
Oh! show Thy cross to me;
And for my succor flying,
Come, Lord, and set me free!
These eyes new faith receiving,
From Jesus shall not move,
For he who dies believing,
Dies safely through Thy love.
“Sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts.” So read a meme I saw on social media last week that piqued my interest – not because it is heartwarming (which it was intended to be), but because it contains so much baloney. (Sorry for using such a heavy theological term…I couldn’t help myself.)
We want to believe this is true, don’t we? And we want to believe it for a couple of reasons. First, we want to believe it because we want to believe in the inherent goodness of people; and second, we want to believe it because we would like some sort of logical explanation for the inexplicable.
In an empirical world, we want to be able to explain everything that happens. But in all humility, even the smartest physicians and scientists in the world cannot explain every little thing that occurs. While some are reluctant to use the term ‘miracle’, others will use it, whether defined as something that can’t be explained, or as a supernatural act of the sovereign God.
Without a doubt, each of us has encountered people whom we see to be good, having kind hearts. They certainly do good toward us, and we are the recipients of their kindness. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But when we begin to believe that our goodness and kindness is inherent, or that it is efficacious (that is, effective in earning our salvation), we tread on thin ice.
Let’s face it, when we don’t believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, we’re kind of seen as killjoys, aren’t we? Yet, a cursory glance at the news will tell you that if humanity is inherently good, there’s an awful lot of inhumanity out there. What’s more, the Bible is pretty clear: “No one is righteous – not even one…. No one does good, not a single one” (Romans 3.10-12, NLT). And this wasn’t an invention of the apostle Paul, who wrote Romans; he was quoting the Psalms. What’s more, the prophet Jeremiah said, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17.9, NLT).
That seems awfully bleak. The bad news is that it is awfully bleak when we live outside of God’s grace. But within God’s grace, there is good news, for in Jesus Christ he redeems our deceitful hearts, and imputes his righteousness on us by the cross, making it possible for us to do good, all for his glory. And some of that good we do will appear as a miracle to another person. Some will call it a coincidence, but we all know that under the care of a sovereign God, there’s no such thing as a coincidence!
So be encouraged: behind the baloney there is rock-solid theological truth that won’t let you down! We can’t trust in our own righteousness or rely on our own hearts. But we can trust in Jesus’ righteousness and rely on his pure heart. As we enter holy week, keep in mind what he has done for us.
Most of us, from time to time, get a song stuck in our heads. I don’t know about you, but for me, this is an almost daily occurrence, and sometimes, it persists beyond the day. Since Tuesday evening this week, I have had the same song in my head. So today, I thought I’d put it in your head, too!
It is a hymn, a piece of poetry put to music, that dates back to the 1730s. The accompanying tune is called SAGINA, which is the name of a spring plant common in the Roman Empire; it can also mean “nourishment”. It was written in 1825. But the text and the tune were not put together popularly until well into the twentieth century.
The text was written by the great Methodist leader Charles Wesley (1707-1788). No one knows for sure, but it is thought that this text came to him at the point of his conversion.
Wesley had been trained for ministry and had attempted to serve in ministry, failing miserably as a missionary (alongside his brother, John) in the new-found colony of Georgia, now part of the United States. It was only following his return to Britain that he experienced new birth, at which time he is thought to have written these words:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
These lyrics certainly allude to the story of the earthquake that occurred when Paul and Silas were in prison: “All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!” (Acts 16.26b, NLT). But Wesley had experienced this in his own heart, too.
The good news is that any of us can have the same experience. By God’s grace, our chains can fall off, too. If you feel as though your spirit is lying in some sort of prison – enslaved to sin, locked in old ways, tied down by guilt – then Jesus longs to free you.
If you’ve not been set free from sin, think of what song might come from your mouth when your chains fall off!
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40.1-3, NLT)
Someone wise once said, “Faith is not a pill you swallow, but a muscle you use.”
It’s possible that we might go to church once in a while, perhaps to get a ‘dose of Jesus’ to keep us going for a little while, in much the same way we might take a couple of Tylenol® to keep us going and mitigate the throbbing pain of a headache. But, of course, the medicine wears off, eventually, since it’s designed to deal with symptoms, but not root problems. After all, if your headache is caused by having had a whittling knife stuck in your temple, Tylenol® isn’t going to solve that problem – it’s only going to take the pain away for a while.
Faith is not something designed to take the pain away for a while. Faith is a gift given to us through God’s grace that enables us to deal with the root of the pain – and so much more. If we just show up to worship once in a while, there might be a temporary ‘high’ we receive that encourages us for a short time, but that’s not what the Christian lifestyle is about.
Faith is, as the wise person once said, a muscle you use.
One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that my muscle mass is declining. I see it especially in my arms, which are not called upon to do a lot of heavy lifting. Periodically, I look at the dumbbells that I have and think, “I ought to start using those.” Even just a few minutes every day could make a significant difference.
The same is true with faith: even just a few minutes every day could make a significant difference. When we read the Bible and pray at home and in small groups, and when we gather regularly with the community for worship and fellowship, we’re using our faith muscle in ways that will strengthen it – something a periodic ‘dose of Jesus’ just can’t do.
Let me encourage you today to make your faith a lifestyle choice. Engage daily with the basic disciplines of prayer, Bible study and worship. Engage weekly with the basic disciplines of corporate worship and community. Use that faith muscle. As you exercise it, it grows.
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.[a]
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation. – Psalm 100, NLT
What’s your ministry?
A lot of church people would say, “Ministry? That’s the minister’s job.” We pay professionals to teach our children piano lessons, or to bark at us at the gym, so we often assume that ministry is to be left to the “professionals”. But is that really a biblical model?
The noted Quaker theologian, D. Elton Trueblood, once said, “If you are a Christian, then you are a minister. A non-ministering Christian is a contradiction in terms.”
Each person who has received the grace to follow Jesus possesses at least one special ability to serve God and build up the church – to minister. And the word ‘minister’ simply means ‘serve’. Do you know your spiritual gifts?
Lots of people keep busy in the church, and sometimes, they burn out – not because the work they are doing is not in some way valuable, but because these people may be serving outside of their gifting. Do you feel burned out? It could be that you are serving in an area that is not working for the way God wired you up.
If you’re serving in the church and are experiencing the joy of the Lord, as well as seeing spiritual fruit borne, congratulations; you’re serving according to your gifting. If not, it may be time for a change. Take a spiritual gift inventory, learn how God has equipped you to serve, and adjust your ministry.
If you’re not doing ministry, though, why not? It’s not enough to come to church and “be fed”, if you’re not making practical what you’re being fed! (To get a blunt take on this theme, listen to this clip of one of Amy Grant’s lesser-known songs.)
Do you love Jesus? Then understand that he has given you abilities to serve him in the church, to minister. Discern those abilities, those gifts, and put them to work. Every local church has all the spiritual gifts among its people that are necessary to undertake the work God has planned for that church; we just need to unwrap those gifts!
“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4.16, NLT).