Dear fellow Ponderers…
I have been dragging my feet in writing this for some time.
Not because I didn’t want to write this edition to Pastorsponderings, but rather because I want to be careful in how I broach this conversation. I do not wish to offend and upset you – the reader. Some will no doubt become offended anyway, and I have come to terms with the fact that I will not always make everyone happy – that’s a fool’s errand anyway.
Perhaps in light of this Holy Week that we are all entering into we might also reflect on the Passover feast that Jesus participated in with His disciples…what we now call “The Last Supper”.
Thus, I write this with the utmost sensitivity and respect.
Is Communion Considered Taboo in our Army?
Within The Salvation Army, even the conversation of the Lord’s Table/Supper/Communion has become a taboo topic. It is almost as if we are forbidden to talk about it, let alone partake in this ceremony. Some have postulated that despite not participating in this ceremony, we have created our own sacred ceremonies in place of it, thus making the argument that we are non-sacramental in practice null and void.
I fear that failure to discuss such topics within our Army can lead to a polarization of our theological perspective, and variants of our doctrine might splinter and break off (as in some locations, it already has).
Some within our Army would treat the topic of communion with deep disdain to the point that the practice of it is almost treated as an organizational sin. It is my estimation that too much focus on such a topic in this light is a waste of time and not conducive to unity within our Army. There should be more open dialogue on this topic as I believe there should be on the topic of baptism. -Someone will inevitably lambaste me for that, but that would just prove my point that we treat such innocent conversations on the topic as complete taboo and even sinful to even mention, which is ludicrous.
Is Communion Misunderstood In The Universal Church?
In Luke 22 it is recorded the celebration of Passover that Jesus and His disciples were partaking of. This has now been dubbed “the Last Supper”, where Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to fulfill the final act of Salvation in His false trial, torture, and death by crucifixion. Thus, Jesus reclines with His disciples and takes in these final private moments with those He is closest with:
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:14-19)
Could it be that over the centuries the emphasis (or fixation) upon the bread and wine have been misplaced? Didn’t Jesus preach in parable and often teach as Rabbis of His day taught? With questions and metaphor? When Jesus spoke of doing “this” in remembrance of me, is it not possible that it wasn’t just the bread and wine He was talking about, but rather the entire dinner together, the fellowship and unity of disciples? Is it possible that instead of coming together just to contemplate the bread and the wine, the whole ceremony of remembrance is just as vital? Coupled with the remembrance, the unifying love of Christ that binds it all together is the common denominator. So much so, that when the disciples gathered in another upper room together in perfect unity, they encountered the second blessing an the day of Pentecost? (Acts 2:1-31)
Perhaps, it is in the very practice of gathering in unity and prayer that we find the proper practice of Communion to be viable and appropriate – even commanded by Christ Himself. After all, didn’t Jesus also pray for unity of the believers when we said, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
Dear Salvation Army,
Let me ask you a question: When are our Soldiers unified with the love of Christ?
When is it that we remember Jesus as our Savior and source of resurrection power?
Would you suggest that it is when we gather in times of confession, of worship, of fellowship? When does the mission of Christ within our Army become the most galvanized and evident in the body of believers?
Is there a time for ceremony and formal recognition? Of course!
What do those intentionally consecrated moments look like?
Could it be that Communion has been vilified in our Army? (Perhaps that is too strong a word)…
Is it possible that what Communion truly is – is the coming together of His disciples in fellowship and unity instead of mere ceremony? Can we do this over a meal together?
Perhaps instead on the over emphasis of the elements we have lost sight of the One who broke the bread and poured the wine?
What do YOU think?
Post your comments below and let’s continue this pondering together.
*Disclaimer: The views expressed here are of the author’s views and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Salvation Army. Reader desecration is advised. *
I always have fond memories of the Easter season.
Growing up in the church, I don’t recall a time when I didn’t go to church. Many times I sat through that dreaded (at least in the eyes of a child) 3 hours of the cross Good Friday service. I also remember not being all that fond of early Sun-rise services either. Waking up at the crack of dawn, even before the rooster would even begin to crow…the lights would twinkle in windows down the street as some rustled about in the early dawn. Then we would hustle to a public outdoor service of some kind where the cold wind would always bite at my nose and send me to shivering later. But there was always the reward of the warm glow of the Sunrise when it crested the mountain at the Eastern horizon. Perhaps, in some way, that is why Easter sun-rise service has always been special to me. I would shiver in the cold morning air UNTIL the Sun began to shine and cast its warming rays upon us once more. It would remind me of the state I was in before knowing Christ – that cold and lonely place. It was a place devoid of the Son, filled with selfishness and hurt…but when Christ’s love broke into my life and I accepted His forgiveness and grace – I could feel the warmth of His love. It almost felt as I was wrapped in His warm embrace, and all was right with the world again.
Perhaps, as I reminisce of my many visits to those cold mornings of Easter Sunday, where we would sing “Up from the grave He arose“, I too find myself being resurrected again. I too identify with the empty tomb, for God’s glory has warmly shone into my life. And when the glow of the rising Sun appears again, I see the hope of eternity once more in its rising. No, not in the Sun itself, but in the Son-rise, a Messiah conquering death, a Savior delivering me once more from my sin-sick heart.
“Death cannot keep his prey— Jesus, my Savior! He tore the bars away— Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave He arose, With a mighty triumph o’er His foes He arose a Victor from the dark domain, And He lives forever with His saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Something more to Ponder.
What are you Easter memories? Comment below and let the conversation continue!
The Theme is – How to be Strong, Prayer & Lenten/Easter
We all face temptations in life, but how and where do we find the inner strength to say ‘no’ to what is harmful and instead choose what is best? How do we decide what is dangerous, especially if something looks ‘right’?
Christians believe that God’s words in the Bible can help us know the right path to take and that God promises through Jesus to make us strong enough to choose the way. Jesus faced temptation about the best way to rescue the world during his 40 days in the desert. He also prayed in the garden of Gathsemane in a moment of true temptation and sorrow, just before he suffered an illegal trial, beating, humiliation and death on the cross – all for the purpose of our salvation. Jesus used God’s words from the Bible to help him know the right thing to do. Peter, at the same time faced the temptation of denying Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted. How would we fair when the pressure mounted?
Activities: Each Station should last 10 minutes. (Items Needed) Station 1 Items needed: Large Jenga Blocks (or small ones if you can’t find the larger versions) Station 2 Items needed: Construction paper, sand, glue, cotton balls, markers, sticks Station 3 Items needed: Pre-make cupcakes stacked and ready, get some colored frosting or add food dye to vanilla frosting for extra colors. Add sprinkles and other toppings. Station 4 Items needed: Large puzzle (with perhaps large sized pieces) Station 5 Items needed: strips of construction paper of the following colors –
Red = Sorry
Yellow = Thanks
Pink = Please
Blue = Other People
Green = Our Community
Purple = Our World
And a strip of paper for each participant with the scripture passage printed on it.
Tape, Markers, pencils, crayons.
Station 1 – Build a Tower (10 Minutes)
Use Giant Jenga Blocks, to construct the tallest tower that they can in 7 minutes or less (give time at the end to discuss the questions below). Scripture Verse: “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down…” Matthew 4:5-6
Talk About: How do you decide what is risky to do and what is safe?
(Say) Jesus was tempted by Satan before His ministry began and one of the temptations, Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem and stood on the highest place (probably the top of a tower) and he told Jesus to throw himself off. What do you think Jesus did? Answer: He resisted the devil and told him “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”
It is important to know what is risky and what is safe in life, and it is also very important to resist temptations when they come. God will give you the strength if you ask Him for His help!
Station 2 – Sand Art:(10 Minutes)
Create a collage of a desert scene involving sand, glue, small cotton balls for stones and maybe some dead twigs if you can find enough for your groups. Scripture Verse: “The Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matthew 4:1,2)
Talk About: What gives you strength to survive hard times?
When is life like a dry desert? Is it always easy to pray? When is it hard to pray?
(Say) Even in the desert times of our lives, God promises to never leave us or forsake us. It might be hard to believe sometimes, but it’s true. When we call out to God, He hears us and He is very near. So where are some places that we can pray? Do we have to be on our knees to pray?
Station 3 – Cup Cake Decoration table: (10 Minutes) Decorate cup cakes with various colors of frosting and sprinkles (the more toppings the better) Leader Ask: “what temptations do you find hard to resist?” Say – just like these tasty looking cupcakes that we are lathering on frosting, temptations can often appeal to us. We might hear one of our parents tell us not to eat that cookie, but we feel the temptation and maybe sometimes we act on that temptation by taking the cookie we were told not to take.
Ask: Jesus was led into the desert where he was tempted by the devil, do you think Jesus gave into those temptations? (No).
How can we avoid the traps of temptation? Who do you think will give us the strength to resist temptation in our Life? (God) Scripture Verse:“Jesus said to him (the devil), “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ Matthew 4:7
Station 4 – Puzzle Table: (10 Minutes) Have a large piece puzzle (something that might be accomplished in under 10 minutes) out for the group to put together. As the puzzle is being put together Ask: How do you know which puzzle pieces fit in the right place on this puzzle? What happens when they don’t fit? How would you go about rescuing the world from the mess it sometimes gets itself into? Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He took His disciples with Him. He was about to put the world back together again. Because of sin, the world was broken like this puzzle, and no one else could save us except for Jesus. But he struggled with this life and death decision, because it would mean that He would have to ACTUALLY suffer and die. So all night long Jesus prayed to the Father to help Him with these important pieces of the puzzle of sin. Scripture Verse:“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray”…and He began to be sorrowful and troubled.” Matthew 26:36-37
Ask: Why did you think it was so hard for Jesus?
Do you think any other puzzle piece (besides Jesus) would have fit into this story of Salvation for the world? Say: John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the World that He gave His one and only Son (Jesus) that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (The puzzle is complete!!)
Station 5 – “Prayer Chains”: (10 Minutes) Create prayer chains with multi-colored strips of paper.
Red = Sorry
Yellow = Thanks
Pink = Please
Blue = Other People
Green = Our Community
Purple = Our World
Write or draw your prayers on the corresponding colored paper strips, then add them together using tape to make a prayer chain that each person will take home with them.
Leader: While the prayer chains are being created, ask – “Who do you want to ask God to give strength to at the moment? Are there times when you need that strength in your own life?
Say: Peter was very afraid when Jesus was arrested. People came up to him on that night and kept asking him if he was one of the disciples of Jesus…and because Peter was really afraid and lacked the courage, he denied even knowing Jesus.
Ask: Are there times when we are afraid to admit that we are followers of Jesus too? How does God giving strength help us through difficult moments in life? Do you believe that God hears our prayers? Are there special words that we are required to use in order to get God’s attention? (No!)
Say: God knows what we need before we ask Him, but He wants us to talk to Him. We can talk to Him about our troubles and fears as well as asking Him to help with the troubles and fears of other people we know, like our parents, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, school friends, teachers and so on. God hears us when we pray to Him!
Scripture Verse: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7 (Message Version)
(Include this passage on a piece of paper for every person to attach to their prayer chain).
Devotions: (5-10 minutes)
Recap the Scripture passages and the theme of temptation and God’s strength helping us overcome the lures of temptation. Close with a chorus (we did “The Joy of the Lord is my strength”)
Where did the human race come from? Did we evolve out of space dust and starlight? Or were we designed for a specific purpose? That is the ultimate question. But even if we were to say evolution is true, which is a stretch, where did the material for the universe come from? A big bang can’t explode from nothing. That doesn’t make sense. So it’s logical to believe then, that the best explanation for our universe, our planet, and ourselves, is that an intelligent creative eternal being made the universe, and made us.
Therefore, God does exist. But who is God? I believe God has revealed himself through something we call, “The Bible.” The Bible has been criticized a great deal, many say it’s just a book full of stories, it’s just myths, it has contradictions, all of these attacks are levied, and Christians are criticized, and are said to be bigoted and hypocritical.
But is this really true? I believe that we can trust the Bible. In fact the biblical documents we have today have been trusted by billions of people through history that believed God really came to Earth, as the person of Jesus Christ. Thousands of archaeological discoveries have been made by using the Bible. And the Bible matches with history, we see countries like Syria, Babylon, and the Roman empire, real civilizations interacting with biblical history. The truth is we can trust the Bible.
And if we’ve been hurt by Christians who have not lived up to the standard of Christ, we should remember, that we are not called to follow other Christians, we’re called to follow Jesus Christ alone. I’d encourage you today, as you eat your meal, think about these things. Think about how everything in the universe fits together so well, that the food on your plates is designed just right to nourish your body. And remember that the hands that serve this food say without a doubt that they do so because Jesus has saved them, and they feel called to serve others.
Jesus Christ, the God-man come to Earth, came on a rescue mission to save all of us from sin. Sin are those things in our lives that separate us from God: things that cause us pain, that hurt our relationships, things we’ve done wrong, things like selfishness, self-seeking, and pride. Jesus came to save us from all of that.
And he saved me from all of that. At one point in my life I had lost all hope. I was addicted to drugs for years, and my family had given up on me. My soul had turned grey, and everything seemed dark, and hopeless in my life. I had given up on ever having a better life, on ever being ok again. Can you relate? But then someone told me about one name, the name, Jesus Christ. There is power in that name. And I went on my knees and cried out, “Jesus help me, Jesus save me.” And He swept into my life, changed me internally into a new person, and put me to work for his kingdom.
Seek Him in your life. Fall on your knees and cry out to Him. Now is the time of salvation. Keep this in your mind: When you are at the bottom, cry out to Jesus: Cry out Jesus save me! Jesus help me! He will answer. Trust in Him. Reaffirm your trust in Him. Make certain He is the center of your life. He is our real, living Savior.
-Justin Steckbauer is a first year Cadet in the Central Territory USA.
As we enter into the Lenten season, let us remember that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. On the third day He was raised from the dead, defeating the dark forces of sin and death. As we contemplate the sacrifice of Christ, we should also ponder our willingness to sacrifice for Him. God calls us out of the world and into the life He has planned for us, knowing our daily struggles. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, we hear Jesus state to Paul concerning a personal struggle, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” As believers our joy is not grounded in our circumstances. We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ has won the victory and our earthly home is not our forever home, but at times it seems impossible for us to sacrifice everything in order for us to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. These are the times we need to remember that it is not by anything that we have done that we are saved, but by God’s grace and mercy. Each day we should count it a blessing that we have been called apart from the rest of the world to be a living sacrifice for Jesus Christ. The act of submitting to the will of God, just as Jesus submitted to the will of His Father, is the reason we were created. God desires a relationship with us, giving strength to face each obstacles in God’s power.
Today, take time to listen to the Holy Spirit’s calling on your life. Is there something in which you need to relinquish control? Ask God to grant you His power to sacrifice the things in your life which do not lead to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. In the end, you may find that giving up the things which you so greedily hold on to, was the easiest thing you’ve ever done in light of Christ’s sacrifice for His children.
Cadet Aaron Johnson is a second year Cadet in the Central Territory USA.
Success coaches make a big deal about the importance of having a personal mission statement. It’s a good thing to know (and write down) your purpose and the calling on your life.
However, there is another statement that is far more important — a statement that clears the air of self-deception and denial — an admission statement. So, what do we need to admit?
The season of Lent focuses on that. It is a time for humility, for self-examination, for acknowledging our sin (and sins), and for genuine repentance. Lent reminds us of an unpopular truth, that we human beings are all sinners before the perfect and holy God.
The mass of humanity (including Christians) objects to that fact. People say and believe things like: “I’m a good person,” or “I’m not a sinner.” But are those statements accurate about you and me and the rest of humanity? They aren’t according to the Bible.
Jesus said: “There is none good but the Father.” Romans states, “There is none righteous, no not one,” and “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Numerous Bible characters agreed with God’s assessment of their sinful nature and evil thoughts, words, and actions; by making bold admission statements. The prophet Isaiah said this about himself; “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” And Apostle Paul, wrote: “I am the chief of sinners,” and “I know that within me, that is within my flesh, dwells no good thing,” and “O wretched man that I am!”
The tax collector in the temple made a bold admission statement, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Meanwhile, the very religious Pharisee, trying very hard to be a good person, refused to make a sin admission statement. Instead the Pharisee prayed this self-congratulatory prayer; “God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
As long as we, like the Pharisee, believe that we are good people, we’ll never fully know the incredible depths of God’s grace toward us. Jesus put it this way, “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” If we think that we only needed a little bit of forgiveness, we will only have a little bit of love. However, when we realize that because of our personal sin, we need infinite forgiveness (that cost God the death of His Son), we’ll follow and obey the living God with glorious gratitude, passionate praise, and lavish love!
So how can we ever know the depths of our sin and the incredible cost to the Father to give us His grace? We can sincerely pray this prayer of King David. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me.” As we do we can allow God to show us our sin nature and the sins we have committed.
As we behold our wicked ways and see what an incredible degree of forgiveness that God lavishes on us, we will be undone like Isaiah. We will be overcome with thankfulness for Gods awesome mercy and forgiveness — grace greater than all our sin! Then, like the tax collector, we’ll began to make admission statements: “God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Lent is a wonderful time to write your own, personal admission statement. 1 John 1:8-10 can help you with that. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
Steve Simms is a Soldier in The Salvation Army in Nashville TN, a Speaker and Author of the Book:
“The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.” -Psalm 51:17
I have never been much of a lent observer. You know, the part where people give up certain things for the entirety of Lent. I understand the meaning behind it, and why people do this, but it never appealed to me. As I get ready to graduate from seminary in a few months, God has been revealing His word to me in a new and exciting ways. So, this year, for the first time ever, I gave up sugar. Anyone who knows me knows how difficult this really is. The first day was awful. It is all I thought about all day. I thought about it in class, when I was at home with my family, and even in the middle of the night. All I wanted to do was give up.
As a young teenager, I often felt this way about Jesus. I felt that following Him was too difficult. I thought about all of the things that I would have to give up. I even felt like the Israelites at times. The forgiveness of sins required too much. I would never be able to live a holy life, and I was tired of disappointing God. Giving up on my faith seemed like the right thing to do.
Even though I had all of these feelings of failure and frustration, I pressed on. I did not give up. Just like I am doing in this season of lent. A little over a week into it, and it has gotten much easier. I still think about the things I am giving up, but it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. There are cupcakes, and cookies, and ice cream that I miss, but these are the times when I turn to him in prayer. This is what lent is all about, isn’t it? What is the thing that I need to give up that will draw me closer to the heart of Jesus?
This verse from Psalms is the verse I have been claiming this past year. David has just been confronted by Nathan about his transgression with Bathsheba. David is in deep anguish. He is crying out to God for forgiveness. Even though David needs to sacrifice burnt offerings, he knows that what God really wants is our heart. What God really wants from is our broken heart. A broken heart because we have broken His. He wants us to come before Him with a contrite spirit, a spirit that is deeply remorseful and affected by our guilt. God wants us to bring this to his feet. Lent reminds me to draw close to Him. It reminds me of the sacrifice He made for me on the cross. All He wants is me. All of me. Rest in the promise today that “God will not despise the sacrifices of our broken heart and contrite spirit.”
-Cadet Bobby Key is a second year Cadet in the Central Territory USA, soon to be commissioned.-
The title of our devotional today bears a similar title of the 2004 Mel Gibson Biblical drama of the final 12 hours of Christ’s life, through the crucifixion with a brief glimpse of the resurrection. You’ll recall it was very controversial for its brutal description of the crucifixion scenes and brave for filming the entire film in Aramaic at the same time. The film grossed over $612 Million during its release and received three academy award nominations. And we’re still talking about it today as probably one of the best depictions of this day in history.
It never ceases to amaze me, and I have said this before and will probably say it many more times before the Lord calls me home, we, as the church, continue to recreate these significant days in our church history. In fact millions of Christians already have retraced the steps of the Via Delarosa this day, both in Jerusalem and in various other parts of the world. It is sad to say but there probably some Christians who have followed the cross today and have lost their lives for doing so.
So that I do not assume too much, when using the term passion – I am talking about the extreme suffering, originally referred to as the last agonies of Christ. This is the supreme act of Agape’ love from God to mankind.
4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation
The key thought in Isaiah’s prophetic word, (Isaiah 53:4-6), deals with the sweet exchange – Our weakness/He carried – our sorrows/that weighed him down –He is pierced/for our rebellion –He is crushed/for our sins – He is beaten/so we could be whole – He is whipped/so we can be healed.
So for the few minutes that I have your attention, I challenge you to consider two things during this dark moment in our church history…
LET’S TRY TO UNDERSTAND CHRIST’S SUFFERING
William Barclay writes about the common criminal customs amongst the Roman government: “It was custom that he, the criminal, should carry the cross beam of his own cross; the other part was already waiting for him at the place designated for crucifixion. The charge for which he was being executed was written on a board; it was either hung around his own neck or carried by an officer in front of the procession, and was later affixed to the cross itself. The criminal was led to the scene of the crucifixion as long a route as possible, so that as many as possible might see him, and take warning from the grim sight.”
We know, from reading the passion story, that the procession to the cross only happened after three illegal trials, with Christ being subjected to insults and allegations, all while refusing to defend himself. He was passed from soldier to soldier, humiliated, stripped, beaten, spat upon and new being dragged down the main street of Jerusalem.
This treatment of Christ did not fit into the neat concept, dream and hope of the majority of Jews when it came to the coming of the great Divine, The Messiah.
I loved the picture that Matthew and Luke paint for us in their narrative of the Triumphal Entry. Can you imagine the likes of Judas or Simon the Zealot mumbling under their breath…? “The colt of a donkey? Never! Messiah should be galloping into the city of God and Kings on the back of a Stallion, signifying his coming as the triumphant victor.” But that is not the way he came, which warns us of our own preconceived ideas of who Christ is and what his desired outcome should be.
See him struggle under the weight of the cross/beam, falling to his knees, looking up into the face of crowds of people, some of whom are compassionate, while others are shouting condemnation. Hear, if you can, one Simon of Cyrene being conscripted into service by the harsh voice of the Roman soldier in Luke 23:26.
There is a series of very beautiful pictures in the cathedral at Antwerp, which represent Christ hearing His cross from the Praetorian to Calvary. These pictures embody the popular idea of Christ’s weakness and exhaustion. In one He stands calm and erect, in another He is bending under the weight of the cross, and in another He has fallen beneath the load that was laid upon Him. It is at this stage of the proceedings that Simon, who is passing by, is arrested, and compelled to bear the cross after Christ.
I suspect Simon had no idea what he was about to be called on to do…likewise, bearing the cross of Christ today could come out of surprise. Please be aware that all you may endure in this life should not necessarily be considered as bearing the cross of Christ. Many of the issues we face may be as a result of our own poor, selfish decision making and does not deserve the high honor of bearing Christ’s cross. Bearing His cross brings him glory and honor to the church. Living with the consequence of our own sin does not. So be careful of misusing the noble term of “Cross-Bearer.”
We need no commentary to explain the suffering of Christ, Lamb of God, We simply paint the background and that is descriptive enough.
Vernon McGee would say, “The pain will attract the people.”
Church history records the following regarding Clovis King of the Gaul’s from 481 – 511, “When Clovis Leader of the Franks, was told about the crucifixion of Christ. He leaped to his feet, drew his sword and exclaimed, ‘If I had only been there with my Franks.” But Jesus didn’t need the Gaul Army or any army for that matter. As the old song says, “He could have called ten thousand Angels to destroy the world and set him free, He could have called ten thousand Angels, but he died alone for you and me.”
As he hung on the cross, the voyeurs standing watch challenged Jesus to show them his power. Another way we might put it is, “we would just believe if you would just show us you can Houdini your way off that cross.” Listen to them using the glory of Christ to mock him…
39 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. 40 “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”41 The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. 42 “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! 43 He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”
Holy Bible, New Living Translation
William Booth is recorded as saying, “It is precisely because he would not come down that we believe in him.”
No amount of descriptive words will ever do justice in describing the horrible humiliation and suffering our Savior endured for you and me.
O sacred head once wounded,
With grief and pain weighed down,
How scornfully surrounded
With thorns, thine only crown!
How pale art thou with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn! Paulus Gerhardt
LET’S TRY TO COMPREHEND GOD’S SUBSTITUTION PLAN
I don’t know about you, but I get chills up and down my spine when I see or read about those times when the team, as they were, could not win the prize or accomplish the goal. The coach then calls on the one person, the person that no one expects to accomplish the seemingly impossible. When the substitute enters the arena and accomplishes what seemed all but lost, we rise to our feet and stretch out our arms and cheer for all we, and they, are worth. The substitute is worthy of the team’s acknowledgement and praise.
John Stott, author and theologian writes: “The concept of substitution lies at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.”
We see the picture of Christ, the substitute, implied and explicit, all the way through Scriptures.
We see an act of redemptive bloodshed in Genesis 3:21, as an animal sacrifices its life and coat to cover the nakedness of mankind.
We are witnesses to the attempted sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, along with the surprise substitution that arrives through a ram caught in the thickets (Gen. 22:13).
In Exodus 12:21 we note the instruction of the preparation of a Passover lamb whose shed blood will serve as an act of Salvation for God’s chosen. Interesting that the substitute is always a willing participant in the Divine transaction.
As one moves to the New Testament we hear John the Baptizer declare upon seeing Jesus, his cousin, coming to be baptized, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
The transformation of Peter should amaze us, it does me. You hardly recognize the impulsive, blustering Peter at the end of his life compared to his first baby-steps with Jesus. That’s the way it should be in all our lives I suspect. Listen to the Holy Spirit-filled wisdom of the more mature Peter helping us understand that God’s plan of substitution was no accident and that it all began way before the creation of the world.
1 Peter 1:18-21
18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days. 21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation
And this brings us back to our text from Isaiah 53, verse 7 & 8; perhaps one of the most descriptive portions that help us note God’s plan for this substitute for your sin and mine.
What we deserve is death but we need not experience it all because of God’s amazing grace.
Hear Isaiah’s voice clearly state…
7 He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 Unjustly condemned, he was led away.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation
…led away to die in our place. God went out of his way to redeem mankind by the substitution of his only begotten.
25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation
A story is told about a farmer named Blake who was drafted as a soldier during the War Between the States. He was deeply troubled about leaving his family because his wife had died and there would be no one to support and take care of his children in his absence. The day before he was to leave for the army, his neighbor Charlie Durham came to visit him. “Blake,” he said, “I’ve been thinking. You’re needed here at home, so I’ve decided to go in your place.” The farmer was so overwhelmed that for a few moments he was speechless. The offer seemed too good to be true. He grasped the hand of the young man and praised God for this one who was willing to go as his substitute. Sadly, Charlie was shot and killed in the first battle. When the farmer heard the bad news, he immediately saddled his horse and rode out to the battlefield. He found the body of his friend and arranged to have it buried in the churchyard near the spot where they had often stopped to talk after the services. On a piece of marble he carved the inscription with his own hands. It was roughly done, but with every blow of the hammer on the chisel, tears fell from his eyes. He placed the marker on the grave of his devoted substitute. Many villagers wept as they read the brief but touching inscription: He died for me.
Isaiah finishes his prophetic word this way…
10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation
The outcome of his Suffering and Substitution allows you and me the privilege of being His descendant and being counted as righteous. Please, do not let His death be in vain…
25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
Monday after Easter, and the Easter dress is on the floor in the laundry room, as are the Easter suits and carelessly tossed ties and shoes. Easter is over. The Celebration party had its curtain call. Everyone went home. So…what now?
What impact does the Resurrection have on us the day after? The week after? The month after? Understandably we can say “Well there’s always next year…” or “I go to church every Sunday anyway.” These are all valid points, but what kind of impact does Christ’s resurrection have on you and me in our daily lives?
All too often we want to put Jesus back.
We put Him back into those boxes for next year.
We put Him back on the hanger as we hang up that Easter dress or suit.
We close our Bibles to that story until next year rolls back around.
We put Jesus back into our preconceived, compartmentalized places.
But should we put it all back like that?
Is there a trace of Him in our work places, social events, friendships, relationships, families? Or does He get put away just like the seasonal stuff in our closets?
I have to wonder what the answer is even for me sometimes.
I can accept a risen Savior, but what does it mean in my habits, and in my faith walk and my desire to become more and more like Him? How does this Resurrected Christ fit into my overly complicated life? Am I secretly compartmentalizing Jesus? Am I packing Him away for another year? Am I checking that season off on my calendar and moving on without Him there?
What a tragedy it would be for any of us to progress past the cross and the empty tomb without it affecting the entirety of who we are as His creation! Essentially when we put Him back on the shelf, in the box, on a hanger – we are selectively accepting who He is and who He can be in our lives. We are, subconsciously putting limits on the Almighty…we are also putting limits on our own spiritual growth.
A New Creation:
A friend of mine on Facebook posted this comment that sparked my heart and ignited some intrinsic truth deep within me. Have you ever had one of those “A-ha” moments? Where the light bulb flickers on, and it’s bright and it shines on truth. Perhaps this will spark something within you too in terms of re-framing who Jesus is, which will undoubtedly make us second guess putting Jesus back…here it is:
“One could suggest that the ‘tetelestai’ (it is finished) saying refers not to atonement but to creation; it is the creation that is completed on the cross. On the cross, the true human is created, creation is now complete.” (Cameron Horsburgh/Michael Hardin)
-Mind. Blown. –
How can you ever go back to putting Jesus on the shelf?
How can you not have a life changing event take place in your heart when you consider ALL of creation is now complete in this Messiah atonement? That we can’t put God in a box and only bring Him out once a year in light of creation becoming complete in Him. There’s nowhere else to move besides forward in our relationship to the One who has made EVERYTHING complete!
It’s like buying a new suit, wearing it only one time just to put it on a hanger and stare at it while wearing the same old dingy ripped up, dirty outfit you’ve always worn. It just doesn’t make any sense. So…why do we do this sometimes with Jesus?
Take Jesus off the shelf.
Throw the old outfit away – you have a new suit to wear!
Throw away the old title for yourself – “Sinner”
Because you’ve been saved by this amazing grace found only in Jesus, and you’ve been given a new title – “Child of God.”
You can’t compartmentalize Jesus.
You can’t “seasonalize” Him either.
He can’t be contained.
He wants to transform you!
He has already completed creation – which can include YOU!
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20
May you find an ever present Christ with you today!
May our hearts be compelled to live for Him and reside with Him every moment of every day! May we experience this new creation every time we utter His name on our breath.
May this transformation of the new, complete creation be in us EVERY day.
Something more to Ponder today.
To God be the glory!
(Scene opens with Roman guard, gazing at the end of his spear in stunned disbelief. He is standing, centre stage, quarter turn right as play begins. Spear is held to display its end before the audience)
My most useful tool….my best friend…..my help in times of trouble….my spear. That is what they told me when I chose to become a soldier……always be aware of the power of your spear.
And, oh, I was aware….how I learned to accurately throw you in battle, how I clinged to you as we defended our legion against Jewish zealots, bent on their preposterous notion that they could defeat the Roman army. We crushed them with our spears, our swords, our shields, and our might.
Our army was one of the mightiest ever seen! Men from all over Italy, armed and always ready for battle! The Roman empire had hold on vast areas of land…..the Meditteranean, North Africa, Europe, Syria, the middle east….all through the power of our weaponry.
I…..well, I was sent to this squalid refuse of a place known as Jerusalem. My orders were to protect Roman interests. “Squash any rebellion against our authority”, they told me, “Maintain control of the people, make them know that Rome still has power here”…….power.
So yes, I knew the kind of bone-crushing power that these weapons held…..but now, I wonder…and, I am confused. You see, they had me stand by to witness someone called Jesus of Nazareth executed. They nailed him to a cross on that hill behind me to make an example of him. They called this Jesus ‘king of the Jews’ to mock him. He was hung on that cross for 3 hours and I watched, oh I watched…..3 hours of excruciating pain for this man, the nails digging into his flesh, the whip marks exposing gashes on his skin, the crown of thorns they had battered down onto his head, making fresh blood drip onto his face. He was in incredible agony, and believe me I have seen agony before….but this sort of agony was not normal. This agony he had, well, it was actually a sorrow….a sorrow for those who were executing him. He cried out to His God saying “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”, He hung there, and did not yell at people for spitting at him, or for tormenting him…he said “father, forgive them.”
After he died, I was told by my commander to thrust this spear into his side to make sure He was dead. I-I hesitated at first, but then as I had always been taught to do, I followed the command. As I thrust this spear into him, blood came out, then water. Blood and water came gushing out of Jesus’ side! It was, dare I say it! It was as if this spear, covered in blood was being cleansed by Jesus on the cross. This spear which was used to keep order and discipline…this spear which was used to make others bow to it….this spear was being cleansed by Jesus, who had called on His God to forgive us. This….this spear (lay down the spear….fade to black)
Thank you Major Gallop for allowing me to share this today!
Something more to ponder today!