Why’d He Do It? Our Salvation (Part Two)

(Please read Colossians 1:13-23 in your Bible.  I’ve prepared these remarks using the NIV.)

Jesus gave up His life so we might live eternally.

“The actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster The Passion of the Christ says he has been shunned by Hollywood since taking the role.

“Jim Caviezel was a regular name on cinema hoardings before agreeing to take the lead in the controversial, bloody retelling of Christ’s final days. He headlined the 2002 remake of The Count of Monte Cristo and starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in the 2001 romantic drama Angel Eyes. However, Caviezel told an audience of churchgoers in Orlando, Florida on Saturday that he had ‘been rejected by my own industry’ after choosing to join Gibson’s cast.

“Gibson, he said, had initially offered him the role, only to call him back 20 minutes later and beg him not to take it. ‘He said, ‘You’ll never work in this town again.’ I told him, ‘We all have to embrace our crosses,’’ said Caviezel. He added: ‘Jesus is as controversial now as he has ever been. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.’

“A passionate Christian, Caviezel told the audience at the First Baptist Church of Orlando he had learned to accept that the destruction of his acting career was a price worth paying. “We have to give up our names, our reputations, our lives to speak the truth,” he said.

“The Passion of the Christ was an enormous box office hit in 2004, taking more than $600m worldwide after attracting huge numbers of religious filmgoers.”

<Ben Child, writing for the Guardian, in 2011. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/may/03/jim-caviezel-passion-of-the-christ on 4/1/16.>

I did a little follow-up research and found that his acting career moved from the big screen to the small screen where he has worked steadily since making these comments in 2011.  While I was there, I also found out some interesting facts about Caviezel and the filming of The Passion of the Christ.

  • Dislocated his shoulder during the filming of The Passion of the Christ (2004).
  • Was struck by lightning during the filming of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004). Assistant director Jan Michelini was also hit (for the second time during the shoot). A crew member said “I’m about a hundred feet away from them when I glance over and see smoke coming out of Caviezel’s ears.”
  • Shortly after accepting the role of Jesus Christ in the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ (2004), he realized his initials were the same as that of Jesus (J.C.) and that he was the same age most religious scholars claim Jesus was when he was killed (33).
  • While filming the whipping scene in The Passion of the Christ (2004), one of the whips missed the steel board on Jim’s back and cut a 13-inch gash into his back.
  • Portrayed Jesus Christ a second time in the Word of Promise audio bible.
  • Republican.
  • During the filming he had pneumonia and suffered hypothermia.

<Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001029/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm on 4/1/16.>

As tempting as it is to comment on “Jesus” being a Republican, I believe I’ll just let it pass.  Instead, I want to remind you what we learned in part one.  Jesus Christ is the icon (“image”) revealing God the Father to us.  We who believe are, in turn, to be the icon of Jesus.  You’ve just read about how difficult it was for Jim Caviezel to be the on-screen icon of Jesus.  Do you imagine that your day-to-day walk of faith should be easy?  Have you heard Jesus describe the life of faith as taking up your own cross, enduring suffering in order to portray Jesus where you are?  The vast majority of us will never see our portrayal of Jesus on the “silver screen,” but that’s not why we’re doing it anyway.  We’re not acting.  We are the reality of Jesus in the world around us.  Relish your part.  Realize you’re part of an ensemble.  Make your portrayal of Jesus as real as the Spirit gives you grace to make it.

<Review: 1. Jesus is supreme (15-19).>

<NEW>

  1. What Jesus has done for us (13-14, 20).

First, as indicated in verse thirteen, He has RESCUED US.  The Greek word for RESCUE means just what you’d expect: “to liberate, save, or deliver someone or something.”

In this case, Jesus liberated, saved, and delivered us FROM THE DOMINION OF DARKNESS.  In the Bible, DARKNESS is symbolic of ignorance, falsehood, sin, and evil.  To be rescued, then, means that Jesus has informed us of the truth and forgiven our sins.  He’s done everything needed for us to start over.

The second thing is also revealed in verse thirteen: He has transferred our citizenship from this world to heaven; He BROUGHT us from the DOMINION OF DARKNESS to the KINGDOM OF THE SON.  The word translated as BROUGHT refers to people who are “reestablished” in a new place.  In civil documents of the day, this word was used to refer to transfer of citizenship from one country to another.  A military strategy of the time was to take away as captive members of a conquered nation; they would serve their conquerors as slaves.  In either case – civil or military – the word pictures a large group of people migrating from one place to another.

Paul is using it in the military sense in verse thirteen; we were captives to sin.  But Jesus conquered sin and has taken us back from our place of slavery.  He

has BROUGHT us to our true home. The DOMINION OF DARKNESS is in sharp contrast to the KINGDOM OF LIGHT which all SAINTS inherit, according to verse twelve.

Third, in verse fourteen we read that He has redeemed us from slavery to sin (IN WHOM WE HAVE REDEMPTION).  In their legal system, slaves could be released from bondage in two ways.  One: if they were purchased and set free by their new owner.  That would be called REDEMPTION.  Two: if they were won as prizes in a war or offered as tribute by a conquered nation, the conqueror could set them free.  This was called EMANCIPATION.  Again, I think Paul prefers the military imagery in this passage.  Jesus emancipated us by conquering our enemies of sin, Satan, and death.

A fourth saving act is found in verse fourteen; Jesus has forgiven our sins. The word translated as FORGIVENESS literally means “to send away.” When God forgives our sins, He sends them away.  He forgives and forgets. We are to do t same; forgive as we have been forgiven.

The fifth act mentioned in this passage is that He has reconciled us to God (v. 20).  The word RECONCILE means “to change.”  This passage is full of changes by Jesus.  Notice the scope of this: ALL THINGS are reconciled to God the Father.  The salvation Jesus provided has universal scope, but of course, not all persons will receive it..

From DARKNESS to light (13).

From slave to free (14).

From guilty to forgiven (14).

From God’s enemies who are alien to His purpose, to His family who prove useful for His kingdom (21).

From unholy to holy (22).

There is no middle ground here. We were utterly hopeless and He saved us to the uttermost.

  1. How Jesus did it (21-23).

In verse twenty-two we learn that  He did it IN HIS FLESHLY BODY THROUGH DEATH.  It sounds morbid, but the shadow of the cross extends all the way back to the baby in the manger.  Christmas is not worth celebrating without observing Good Friday.  Jesus was born to die.  God’s plan called for a human body because the sacrifice of a human life, the shedding of human blood was the only way to reconcile God and man.

But not any human life would do.  Jesus lived as the only and ever God and Man in one.  We must always defend the dual nature of Jesus as if our lives depended on it, for that is literally true.  If Jesus is not who the Bible says He is then we are not saved.

Look again at verse twenty-two.  There it states that He did it TO PRESENT YOU HOLY AND BLAMELESS AND IRREPROACHABLE BEFORE HIM.  HOLY means separate from the godless aspects of the world in which we live and morally pure. BLAMELESS means that we are no longer guilty of sin.  Only our God who forgives and forgets can make His children BLAMELESS.  IRREPROACHABLE is a legal term referring to a person who cannot be charged with a crime.

In other words, this is a moral, emotional, and spiritual state which we have no means of achieving on our own.  It is a state of grace.  In His grace God the Father chooses to clean us up, to mend our ways, and make us an acceptable “bride” for God the Son.  It is God the Spirit who lives in us and with us and accomplishes this transformation.  It is a metamorphosis that makes a caterpillar flush with envy.

And finally, in verse twenty-three we learn that He did it FROM THE HOPE HELD OUT IN THE GOSPEL…PROCLAIMED TO EVERY CREATURE UNDER HEAVEN. HOPE is a biblical term for a thing God has promised.  Because God has promised it, the thing is certain; it will come to pass.  Though you do not hold it fully in your hand now, you can be certain that one day you will.  It is not the same as a wish or a desire.

That is the basis for the Good News – the GOSPEL to which the Apostle Paul and every breathing believer gives a life of service.  That is the basis for a message that deserves to be taken TO EVERY CREATURE UNDER HEAVEN.  This is another nod to the universal nature of the Gospel

Don’t miss the condition on which our receipt of the Good News is based: IF YOU CONTINUE IN YOUR FAITH, ESTABLISHED AND FIRM.  Genuine faith, the kind that allows us to participate in the glorious Resurrection, is a life-long commitment.  It is real when it lasts.

I want to conclude with a quote from John Maxwell’s book, Think on These Things –What Does Hope Do For Mankind?

Hope shines brightest when the hour is darkest. Hope motivates when discouragement comes. Hope energizes when the body is tired. Hope sweetens while bitterness bites. Hope sings when all melodies are gone. Hope believes when evidence is eliminated. Hope listens for answers when no one is talking. Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping. Hope endures hardship when no one is caring. Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing. Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking. Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging. Hope dares to give when no one is sharing. Hope brings the victory when no one is winning.
<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-david-dewitt-quotes-encouragement-victory-livinghope-845.asp on 4/1/.16.>

May your most endearing hope be to accurately reveal Jesus by living as He lived.

 

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Why’d He Do It? Our Salvation (Part One)

(Please read Colossians 1:13-23 in your Bible.  I have cited the NIV below.)

Jesus surrendered His life on the cross so we might live eternally.

One of the errors that threatened the first century Church, one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter, sounds very familiar to our ears as it is a growing error of our age as well.  It is the failure to understand who Jesus Christ is.  The understanding that is part of true and saving faith is that Jesus Christ is both God and Man.  Anything else is false.

One of the oft-repeated things said about our youngest generation especially is that they want Jesus but they don’t want the Church.  That’s error enough, but what really matters is the Jesus they want is one who’s been watered down to the level of political correctness, a Jesus that avoids offense at all costs.  Anything other than the biblical view of Jesus is a false, worldly creation, impotent to save and not worth worshiping.  Easter is robbed of its meaning and is a superstitious celebration of Spring.

I’ve learned a new word this week: “glurge.”  Dictionary.com defines glurge as “stories, often sent by email, that are supposed to be true and uplifting, but which are often fabricated and sentimental.”

(Retrieved at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/glurge on 3/24/16.)

I learned this word because I almost shared a glurge with you to introduce this morning’s message.  It seems that a story has been circulating around the Internet since 2001 that tells how Dr. Robert Schuller’s teenage daughter Carol (NOT Cindy), was in a motorcycle accident having a leg amputated. As the story goes this accident lead to an exchange of letters between Carol and actor John Wayne. Allegedly, Carol’s letter lead to “the Duke” receiving Jesus as his Savior three weeks before his death.

(To see this used as a sermon illustration by Jimmy Haile, (“Hope for the Hopeless,” 7/16/2011), go to http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-christianwitness-79891.asp to see it largely refuted, go to http://www.snopes.com/glurge/duke.asp or https://www.truthorfiction.com/johnwayne-schuller/.)

Unfortunately, the only parts of the story that can be confirmed as true are Carol’s accident and John Wayne’s death.  If the rest of the story were true, you’d assume that Dr. Schuller would have told such an inspiring story in his own pulpit, but he never did.             Too many people have decided that the Bible and the view of Jesus it presents are a “glurge.”  They deny the truth of Easter and some go so far as to deny that Jesus existed.

And with these denials, they forfeit their only hope for life.  Only the true Jesus offers any hope for a life of meaning in this world and eternal life after death.

You may not have known it before now, but part of the reason we’re here this morning is to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is NOT a glurge and that just as He lives, so shall all who – by faith – put their complete trust in Him.

  1. Jesus is supreme (15-19).

Verse fifteen states that He is the IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD.  The word IMAGE has two meanings in the biblical Greek language.

The first is “likeness.”  As you might expect, this refers to a reproduction of appearance such in a mirror or other reflective surface, or a portrait intended to be as realistic a depiction as possible.  One way the ancients honored their rulers and heroes was to put their eikon, their portrait, on a coin.  Wait.  We do the same thing, don’t we?  On a physical, scientific level, this sounds like nonsense: how do you reflect someone who is invisible?

The second is “Manifestation.”  This is not a physical reproduction, but an emotional/personal/spiritual one.  It can truly be said that Jesus reflected God the Father in thinking, feeling, morality, and spirituality.  This is the meaning Paul intended.

The Greek word in question is eikon, from which we get an English word familiar to computer users and Orthodox Christians: “icon.”  In computer usage, an icon is not a program, file, or website, but a picture that you associate with a program, file, or website, and the means of accessing them.

According to Genesis 1:26-27, God created humanity in his IMAGE; to be an “icon” that points back to him.  A problem arose when our parents Adam and Eve sinned against God.  The stopped being an accurate representation of God.  Sin marred them and they were no longer a manifestation of God’s presence.

William Barclay commented on this word, “’Look at this Jesus.  He shows you not only what God is; he also shows you what man was meant to be.  Here is manhood as God designed it.  Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God and the perfect manifestation of man.’” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)

Also in verse fifteen, He is the FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION.  In their culture, the firstborn son enjoyed privileges and rights that none of the other offspring held.  He was his father’s representative and primary heir.  In the Old Testament, this title is reserved for the Messiah.  But here FIRSTBORN is a title of honor and rank more than a statement of birth order.  Paul’s use of the term is not to imply that Jesus was created, but that He existed before creation and holds authority over creation.

That is why Paul wrote OVER ALL CREATION. God the Son played an active role in creation, as Paul makes clear in vs. 16+17: it is stated so plainly and forcefully, no comment is needed.

We need to appreciate this point because it makes the Incarnation so much more powerful; it gauges the depth of His sacrifice.  Think of it: the Creator made Himself subject to creation!

In verse eighteen it is written that He is the HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH.  In this Greek, the word HEAD has these two meanings.

The first is what we’d expect from our own use of the English term.  A person who is “head” of an organization is its leader, its chief executive officer.

The second is unfamiliar to us; Greek scientists considered the head to be the source of the body.  In intercourse, the man supplied the head and in gestation, the limbs and body descended from the head.  So they thought of Jesus as the source of the Church’s existence.

In Hebrews 12:2, Paul identifies Jesus as the AUTHOR of our FAITH.  Jesus is the Writer, the Originator of the story of the Church.  Whether or not we’ve taken the story in the direction the Author intended, well, that’s a discussion for another day.

One of Paul’s frequently used metaphors for the Church is THE human BODY.  In this physical life, the head guides the body.  The function of all the organs and life itself depends on the brain inside the head.  The Church is called the Body of Christ so that we never forget from whom we came and always maintain the greatest possible reflection and imitation of the life of our HEAD, Jesus Christ.

Also in verse eighteen, He is THE BEGINNING, THE FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD.  These phrases sound like repeats or restatements of what we’ve already learned.  But the details of the Bible are important, so we know this is not just repetition.  Instead, it reveals a new truth and looks ahead to the resurrection of the faithful to eternal life.

By virtue of His death and resurrection, Jesus is the BEGINNING of the resurrection that puts God’s people in heaven.  The Resurrection of Jesus set into motion a series of events that have been playing out in human history ever since, events that will culminate in His Second Coming and our being raised to eternal life.

Here the word FIRSTBORN does mean first in the sense of order.  Jesus is the first person to be resurrected from death to life.  This means our resurrection will be similar to His.

In vs. 19 we read that IN HIM ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL.  The focus here is on the word FULLNESS.  It means that the entirety of what it means to be God could be found in Jesus.  He is not a “second rate” version of God, but God in flesh.  Picking up the picture of an “icon” again, we can say that Jesus is not just a sketch of God, but he is a full and personal testimony to all that God is.

I like the part that says THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL in Jesus.  Remember that on more than one occasion in His ministry years, God the Father expressed His pleasure with Jesus by means of a supernatural voice that came from heaven itself!  In the Greek the word DWELL suggests a permanent residence, not a temporary one.  The divine side of Jesus’ nature is permanent; He always has been God and He always will be God.

In verse nineteen Paul wrote that He has FIRST PLACE IN EVERYTHING.  The phrase FIRST PLACE is a description of authority.  Having a divine nature, Jesus also exerts divine authority over EVERYTHING.

This is what Paul wrote to the Philippian believers; in response to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, God the Father recognized His ultimate authority: THEREFORE GOD ALSO HIGHLY EXALTED HIM AND GAVE HIM THE NAME THAT IS ABOVE EVERY NAME, SO THAT AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD BEND, IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH AND UNDER THE EARTH, AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Let’s look one last time at that Greek word eikon which is so important to our understanding of why Jesus was born into the human family in the first place; why He ministered, then was killed and raised to life.  Jesus is the means by which God became personal to His people, a revelation of man’s ideal and God’s eternal nature.

Here’s what William Barclay wrote, “Eikon…was the word which was used for portrait in Greek.  But this word had still another use.  When a legal document was drawn up, such as a receipt or IOU, it always included a description of the chief characteristics and distinguishing marks of the contracting parties, so that there could be no mistake.” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)

One of God’s purposes in this text is to remove all doubt about the person and nature of Jesus Christ.  He was and is God.  It’s mind-boggling to think that God would choose to become part of His creation; that He would suffer insult, pain, and death at the hands of people He created.

What grand motive would compel such a choice?  We’ve spent the last seven weeks examining several motives.  Today we’ve begun to look at the effect of Jesus’ choice:  our salvation.  Jesus did it to save us.

Primarily, this was to save us from eternal death, to bring us to life just as He had been brought to life.  Jesus wants to share His life with us.

But it isn’t just eternal life Jesus wants to share.  It is, secondarily, abundant life in this world.  Abundant life is found in choosing to be like Jesus.  It is experienced when we act as icons of Jesus, personal manifestations of His character, acting in obedience to His will.

Why’d He Do It? To End Division.

(Please read HEBREWS 10:19-25.  I have cited the NIV below.)

Jesus’ sacrifice brought to an end division between humanity & God and between one another.

During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the pastor with an unusual offer. “Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to the part where I’m supposed to promise to ‘love, honor, and obey’ and ‘be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that out.” He passes the minister a $100 bill and walks away satisfied.

On the day of the wedding, when it came time for the groom’s vows, the pastor looked the young man in the eye and said, “Will you promise to bow down before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life, and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?”

The groom gulps, looks around, and says in a tiny voice, “Yes.”  Then he leaned toward the pastor and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.”

The pastor puts a $100 bill into the groom’s hand and whispers, “She made me a better offer.”

<Retrieved from http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/relationship-jokes/5 on 3/11/16.>

The roadblocks in relationships are the ones we put up.  The barriers to love are walls we create because of ignorance and sin.

Today we’re going to see that one of the reasons Jesus gave His life on the cross was to tear down those barriers.  At His death, something supernatural happened that gave us access to God and to His love.

  1. THE CURTAIN is a symbol of division. (HBS 10:19-21).

This curtain hung in the tabernacle and later in the temple; it divided the Holy and Most Holy parts of the temple.  The instructions for this CURTAIN are found in Exodus 26.  It was to be made of fine linen and decorated with blue, purple, and scarlet threads which depicted angelic beings called “cherubim.”  I’ll tell you why that’s important a little later on.

The most important CURTAIN in all Judah was the one that covered the Most Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant within.  Only the high priest stepped around that CURTAIN and then only once a year to cover the sins of the people.

Part of holiness is separation; that is a virtue.  When the Bible uses the word HOLY, it refers to something that is set apart for God’s glory and His exclusive use.  It has no everyday usage.

All this was done at God’s command.  The Ark was referred to as the “seat” of God and was the physical symbol of God’s presence with His people.  In this way, God was seen as present and distant at the same time.  He was to be approached by the priests, who acted as mediators for the people.

But taken too far, even well-intentioned separation becomes division.  The worst division is that between God and His people. There must be some separation because God is holy in the sense of being pure.  We are not yet perfected, so full fellowship is not possible in this life.

But people who make excuses say God is so separate from us He doesn’t see what we do or care; that He doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.  In cases like that, separation from God is self-inflicted and shows a lack of faith.

Divisions between people are also serious.  Divisions arise between people when our desires are in competition.  Divisions arise when we emphasize our differences and ignore our similarities.  Divisions arise when one or more of us refuse to heed the voice of God and love each other. (Sin creates divisions, love repairs them.)

  1. At Jesus’ crucifixion, THE CURTAIN was torn in half

(see Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51 and Mark 15:38).

His crucifixion was a supernatural event with symbolic meaning.  Both Matthew and Mark’s Gospels report that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the CURTAIN at the center of the temple – the most significant piece of cloth in the land – was suddenly torn from top to bottom.

It was not done by any hand of man – no one would dare to do such a thing.  Instead, it was done by the hand of God and designed to send this message – the Old Covenant, the former agreement, is nullified; TOP TO BOTTOM!  This detail is included to convey to us that the old system of separation was made obsolete and a new system, a new means of access to God, was provided.

It provided access to God, removing the barrier.  The CURTAIN that had once signified separation was now torn and a new way opened.  This symbolized an access to God for all people.  Instead of a CURTAIN separating us, the text informs us that Jesus opened up a NEW AND LIVING WAY into the presence of God.

  1. The tearing of THE CURTAIN represents removal of divisions (HBS 10:22-25).

The torn curtain is a potent symbol we might miss because it is given scant attention in the Gospels.  Here in Hebrews its significance is explained to us. Regarding our relationship with God, the passage indicates three different ways the death of Jesus on the cross was God’s plan to end this most essential division.

First, we DRAW NEAR TO GOD with sincere faith.  You can be sure God knows a sincere heart when He sees one.  One of the ways in which we can gauge our sincerity is to note whether or not we feel FULL ASSURANCE that our faith is not in vain; our trust in God will be vindicated.  We can be emotionally secure about this.

Second, we can be forgiven; cleansed from all guilt.  A benefit to faith is being morally cleansed; our GUILTY CONSCIENCE is removed by God’s complete forgiveness.  It is written, OUR BODIES WASHED WITH PURE WATER as a symbol of baptism and also of the totality of God’s forgiveness from our selfish heads to our wayward feet, sin and guilt are wiped away!

Third, our restored relationship with God gives us reason to HOPE and HOPE steadies us in life’s storms.  Elsewhere in Hebrews (6:19), the author describes hope as AN ANCHOR FOR OUR SOULS.  The purpose of an anchor is to steady a boat and hold it in position.  Hope does the same thing.  If we hold UNSWERVINGLY to our faith we are anchored and we will avoid the wandering that adversity can cause.

The passage does not end here, it gives us direction regarding our relationships with each other, how they are restored by the cross.  We must realize all creation has been affected by Jesus’ victory.

Firstly, loving one another sometimes requires some assertive action; taking responsibility for one another may require us to CONSIDER how we might SPUR each other on to LOVE & GOOD DEEDS.  SPUR is an interesting word in the original language. Paroxsysmos means to “stir up, provoke, irritate.”  It is generally used in the New Testament in a negative sense.  (See 1 Corinthians 13:5.)

Even though the experience may be bitter, our motive in using the spurs is not to irritate, but to initiate an experience that leads to spiritual maturity: to LOVE AND GOOD DEEDS.  This is very difficult.  It requires love and maturity to do the right thing at the right time in the right way with the right motive.

We have to confess that we’re more likely to pamper or procrastinate when we need to provoke, or we attempt to SPUR one another from wrong motives to do the wrong thing.  The best kind of love knows the difference.

Secondly, we meet together for encouragement.  This is the opposite kind of experience from the “spurs.”  Christian, if you don’t generally leave somebody smiling, you need to take a sincere inventory of your spiritual life.  The maturing Christian can be characterized as positive, optimistic, and gracious.

We can’t resort to the “spurs” or give encouragement if we don’t meet together and regularly.  Being in church doesn’t make anyone a Christian, but no one can be a Christian without being in church.  What’s more, we can’t know one another well enough to SPUR or ENCOURAGE each other unless we spent enough time together to have got to know one another.  You should quote this verse to the person who claims they can worship God as effectively holding a fishing pole or at the mall.  But be gentle.

Our efforts at this love need to be intensifying, not slackening.  ALL THE MORE AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.  The word DAY in that sentence is capitalized because it refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In a sermon entitled “The Message Sewn into the Veil,” Pastor James Groce made an inspired insight into the matter of the torn curtain. He drew a line back to the book of Genesis to find a wonderful coincidence:

“What is the message in Cherubims embroidered in the veil that ripped when Christ died?

“We saw so much in the Word of God about the Tabernacle, how it ties in with the Garden of Eden. And how the whole plan of salvation is getting back into the Garden again.

“Notice that Cherubims were sewn into the veil, the barrier, that stood before the Holiest of Holies. And we find that this veil ripped open when Jesus Christ died. The barrier was removed.

“And of course this lines up with access to the tree of Life as found in Genesis. Genesis 3:24: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-message-sewn-into-the-veil-james-groce-sermon-on-gods-forgiveness-37960.asp on 3/11/16.>

Do you see? From virtually the beginning of the creation of our race, sin has kept us from full fellowship with God.  Angelic beings stood guard at the garden and before the Most Holy Place.  But when Jesus died on the cross, the guards were dismissed.  The gate was thrown open, and access to God was made possible.

That’s one reason Jesus died on the cross.  He gave up His life so we could be reunited with God the Father.  The effect of sin that distances us from Him has been nullified.

In our relationships with each other and our relationship with God, there is no longer any need for division.  Any barriers we find are the ones we put there.

Faces Around the Cross – #2 – The Women and John

Read MARK 15:33-47.

          For various reasons, The Bible has a bad rap among some women.  Feminists believe it encourages a masculine culture that oppresses women.  The fact is, it was written in a masculine culture without approving it at all.  Those who know history can see that the Bible practices a much more respectful attitude toward women than was in use among the cultures of the day.

          Even so, there’s no pleasing some people.

          Consider the husband who         was advised by his psychiatrist to assert himself.  “You don’t have to let your wife henpeck you.  Go home and show her you are the boss,” the good doctor suggested.

          The husband took this advice to heart.  He hopped in his car and rushed home.  There he slammed the door, shook his fist in his wife’s face, and growled, “Woman, from now on, you’re taking orders from me.  I want my supper right now, and when you get it on the table, go upstairs and lay out my best clothes.  I’m going out with my friends and you are going to stay home where you belong.  And here’s another thing.  Do you know who’s going to comb my hair, adjust my pants and tie my bow tie?”

          “I certainly do,” the wife said calmly, “the undertaker.”

(Joke from Healing through Humor, Charles & Frances Hunter, Creation House, 2003, p. 21.)

          As we continue our look at the faces around the cross, we will see a group of women and one man standing at a distance. Their presence is significant and instructive for us today.

Who were these women?

          Mary the mother of Jesus (see John 19:25).

          Jesus’ care for His mother, even while dying, shows His love for her. Her caring for Jesus is demonstrated in being present at this awful moment. This is a moment of tenderness in an otherwise brutal and violent scene.

          An entire book could be written about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and several have!  Sufficient for our purpose is to note that Mary’s presence at Jesus’ crucifixion is the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy 33 years earlier that a “sword” would pierce her heart.

          Mary Magdalene (aka “Mary of Magdala”).  (See Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25.)

          Magdala was a fishing village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, named from the Hebrew word for “watchtower;” migdol.

          Luke 8:2 tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her.  For that reason and because Mary Magdalene is often identified with the unnamed woman in Luke 7, a woman described as “A SINNER,” people assume Mary Magdalene had an unsavory reputation, but it isn’t really justified.

          Mary, mother of James (aka “the Younger”) & Joseph (aka “Joses”). (See Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40.)

          Matthew 13:55 lists the half-brothers of Jesus as being James, Joseph, Simon and Judas.  Because two of the four names are the same as these verses, some suppose this Mary is the mother of Jesus. 

          This is what I believe, but I am more convinced by another reason.  If this is not Jesus’ mother, then, according to Matthew and Mark, Mary did not witness her son’s crucifixion.

          The mother of Zebedee’s sons (aka James and John).  (See Matthew 27:56.) This is the woman who approached Jesus and asked Him to grant that James and John sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when He came into His kingdom, the ultimate “stage mom” in  Matthew 20:20-28.

          Salome in Mark 15:40.

          Some believe Salome is the name of the mother of James and John.  This seems like the most reasonable explanation as it harmonizes Mark with Matthew and John.

          Salome was also the name of the daughter of Herodias.  It was her dancing that got her mother’s wish for the head of John the Baptist.  I doubt this was her, but wouldn’t it be interesting if it were?

          The Gospels have only this one reference to Salome, but she becomes a major figure in later documents that were not included in the Bible.

          Mary the wife of Clopas in John 19:25.

          The language here is unclear (it literally says “Mary of Clopas”). Is this Mary is the wife or daughter of Clopas?

          Many assume this Mary is the third Mary on our list, the mother of James and Joseph. Others identify her as Mary’s sister, which would make James and Joseph His cousins.

          Mary’s sister/Jesus’ aunt in John 19:25.  Bible commentators identify this woman with Salome and/or the mother of James and John.  Which, if the latter were the case, John would have been Jesus’ cousin.

          Luke names 3 of Jesus’ female followers in 8:2-3; all of those named had been cleansed from demons. In his crucifixion narrative, Luke only notes that the women witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion from a distance; he does not name them there.  Matthew and Mark point this out too. The reason for this may have been modesty, safety, and/or custom.  John wrote that they stood near the cross.

          The women thus named were clearly not the limit of Jesus’ entourage.  He travelled with more men than the Twelve and more women than these seven.  These women were last to leave T cross & T first to arrive at the tomb; both honorable demonstrations of courage & devotion to Jesus.

         

Where were these women during Jesus’ ministry?

          Mark 15:41 = IN GALILEE THESE WOMEN HAD FOLLOWED [Jesus] AND CARED FOR HIS NEEDS.  MANY OTHER WOMEN WHO HAD COME UP WITH HIM TO JERUSALEM WERE ALSO THERE.

          Luke 8:2-3 names 3 of these women as part of a larger group and explains; THESE WOMEN WERE HELPING TO SUPPORT [Jesus and the Twelve] OUT OF THEIR OWN MEANS.

 

Why was John there?

          He is the only one of the Twelve courageous enough to be present at the crucifixion. Referred to here as THE DISCIPLE WHOM [Jesus] LOVED, his presence may indicate one of the qualities Jesus loved about John; his loyalty.

          Another book could be written about John – and several have! For our purpose, it is enough to note John received Mary INTO HIS HOME.  This phrase literally means “the things one owns.”  John provided comprehensive care for the mother of Jesus.  She became part of his household.

          It seems clear that Jesus’ adoptive father Joseph has died before this time.  As eldest son, the responsibility for His mother’s care would traditionally belong to Jesus, the male head of the household.  He saw to this responsibility before surrendering His life.

 

What happened later?

          Mark 15:47 names two of these women as following behind to see where Jesus was buried.

          Four of the seven were identified as going to the tomb on Resurrection Day.  I believe these four women need to be distilled from the previous list of seven as the four women who were named as attending the crucifixion of Jesus. Mary Magdalene in Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1. “The OTHER MARY” in MTW 28:1. I doubt Mary, the mother of our Lord would be referred to in this flippant-sounding way.  This makes me think that this is “Mary of Clopas.” Mary the mother of James is mentioned in Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10.  This is a guarded way of referring to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Salome in Mark 16:1. as I stated earlier, this is the mother of James and John.

          On Pentecost, the birth of the Church. ACS 1:14 names only Mary the mother of Jesus among the women followers of Jesus.

 

How can we follow the example of these women?

          We can show our devotion to Christ.

          Though we call it “Good Friday,” there’s no doubt this was the worst day in history.  It was gory, violent, brutal, frightening and heart-breaking.  BUT – these women and John SHOWED UP. Showing up is always the first step, isn’t it?  It was devotion to Jesus that motivated these women and John to show up.

          We can have courage in spite of opposition.

          Crucifixion was the worst  opposition to Jesus’ teaching. It took courage to face that. Thankfully, you and I will never have to face anything this bad.  But we do live in a time when the Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant and in a culture openly hostile to the Christian message.

 

When opposition comes, are you going to be faithful and courageous?

          No one knows how they’ll do when the heat is on. BUT, it is unwise to wait until that moment to find out.  It is wise to prepare today; work in advance to strengthen your faith before opposition arises.

          1 John 4:18 = THERE IS NO FEAR IN LOVE. BUT PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR, BECAUSE FEAR HAS TO DO WITH PUNISHMENT. THE MAN WHO FEARS IS NOT MADE PERFECT IN LOVE. SO – if you want to increase your courage, start by loving more.  Love banishes fear because fear is excited self-interest while love is exalted interest in others.

 

          Courage and devotion can be manifest in a variety of ways.  If they appear when you need them or expect them, that doesn’t make them any less real.

          For example, courage was demanded of my wife and I on one occasion when we were on a sabbatical in England.  We decided to visit Harlech castle, a medieval castle on the northern coast of Wales.  Little remained of the place except the outer walls and four towers.  The keep, the inner part of the castle, was overgrown with grass.  Honestly, it looked like a garden with impossibly high fences.

          We climbed one of the towers to the top of the wall, because the travel guide said it was a great view. They did not exaggerate.  The wall was situated at the top of a cliff that dropped 250 to 3000 feet to the rocky shore below.

          Of course, I was scared witless.  I briefly contemplated saying, “Yeah, what a view! “ and then hurry down the way we came, down the winding stone stair case within the tower. But one of my mottos is “Never backtrack.” 

          So we walked along the top of this wall without any railings to the next tower, only to find that the stairs down were gone – the tower was basically hollow!

          With my motto still influencing me, I led my family to the third tower.  My four year-old daughter complained I was holding her had too tight, but I explained it was only out of concern for her safety.

          Both of the walls on which we walked tumbled down to the sea.  We discovered that the third tower was in a similar state of disrepair – no stairs here either.

          I couldn’t believe the British people would be so inconsiderate as to have only one means of getting up and down from these terrible high walls, so we proceeded on to the fourth tower.  Fortunately, this wall ended in only sixty feet in good solid ground.

          You guessed it.  The fourth tower had no stairs either.  My opinion of England suffered immensely.

          We had to go back the way we came!  To this day, about all I remember of Harlech castle is how far down it was to the pounding surf.

          Courage was needed and God provided it.

          On a much greater level, the same could be said of the women and John standing near the cross of Jesus. And, I trust, of you and I when our faith is needed.