Tag Archives: the cross

Fifth Sunday of Easter

A New Commandment

Abraham descendants were God’s chosen people, but they misunderstood the full meaning of their covenant. They added many human traditions to God Commandments, losing sight of how the Commandments were to impact their daily lives and conduct. Something was missing. The human traditions had watered down the Commandments to a set of rules that the religious leadership  would determine how to keep. The scribes and Pharisees imposed all of this on the people, while they, themselves, failed to follow them. Jesus continually pointed out their hypocrisy.

Jesus was the living example of keeping the Commandments of God. In his Sermon on the Mount he said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished”.   (Matthew 5:17-18)

His fulfilling the Law and the Prophets was done on a cruel cross. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus attempted to prepare his disciples of what would follow:

“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   (John 13:33-35)

This was the most important instruction that Jesus would give to his disciples before he faced the cross. “New” in the New Testament Greek Kainen (καινὴν) implies freshness, or the opposite of “outworn” rather than simply “recent” or “different.” Jesus had loved them without reservation and without limit. He wanted his disciples to do the same for others. His cross would illustrate the breath and depth of God’s love for us.

The Apostle Peter, as we see in today’s reading from Acts, gained a greater understanding of what Jesus was saying. Peter had gone to the home of Cornelius, who was centurion of the Italian regiment. Cornelius feared God, gave generous offerings to the people, and was a devout man of prayer. God was moved by Cornelius’ devotion. The Holy Spirit directed Peter to the house of Cornelius in an unusual way where a very extraordinary event took place. Peter shared the good new of the Gospel and Cornelius and his whole household believed on the Lord.

This brought repercussions, however. Reading from Acts:

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”   (Acts 11:1-3)

Judaism of the day, even in the Early Church, required Gentiles to undergo a man-made conversion ritual of circumcision, baptism, and offering a sacrifice before he could be counted as being ‘saved’. Gentiles were considered unclean and it was unlawful to enter the house of Gentiles and eat with them. This, however, was not God’s law, but Jewish tradition.

In answering the circumcised believers. Peter had to justify what he had done:

Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners, and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  (Acts 11:4-10)

Peter was unsure what the dream meant at first. The dream was not really about Jewish dietary laws. It was saying that God alone is the one who determines who or what is is clean or not. It had to do with how Jewish people looked upon Gentiles.

Peter went to the home of Cornelius. While he was preaching the Gospel, something remarkable happened. We read from Acts:

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”  (Acts 11:15-18)

By a sovereign act of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles made it clear that Gentiles were not unclean to him, even if they were not circumcised. This was radical Judaism. But it was not radical to God. This act was just a fresh understanding of God’s love for the Early Church leaders to witness. It reflected what Jesus was saying to his disciples on the night of his betrayal: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.”

God’s love must always be new to us. It is doing extraordinary things right before our eyes. In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John heard this promise from God:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”   (Revelation 21:1-5)

Can we grasp what God is telling us today, or are we stuck in the old, determining what is clean and unclean? God wants to expand our understanding of his love. Our theology and church doctrine can often stand in the way if we are not careful. Let us meditate on the new commandment that Jesus has given us.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.   (Romans 6:4)

Can we love others that way Jesus loves us? We can if we are able to let go of the old and embrace all the new that God is teaching and sharing with us.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Sheep have a tendency to go off in any direction without know the consequences. They also have little ability to protect themselves from danger. Sheep need a shepherd.

Scripture tells us that we are like sheep. Reading from Isaiah:

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Fortunately we have a shepherd. We have the Good Shepherd. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

For this shepherd to take care of us we must listen to him and follow him. The rulers of Judaism during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry were not prepard to do so. Reading from John’s Gospel:

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.   (John 10:22-28)

Jesus is able to promise eternal life because he purchased that life for us with his blood on a cruel cross:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.   (John 10:11)

The Apostle Peter, paraphrasing Isaiah, wrote this about Jesus:

When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.   (1 Peter 2:23-25)

We have been set free from sin, but we must still listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. We must still follow our shepherd. The enemy will do everything to distract us. He will tempt us with promises of worldly wealth and influence. And he is able to make good on his promises up to a point, provided we are willing to pay with our souls.

There is another aspect to our listening to the Good Shepherd. The Apostle John had a vision of a multiple people in heaven. Scholars may differ over exactly who these people are. This much we know, they have experienced a great ordeal in their lives:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.   (Revelation 7:13-14)

We may experience ordeals in our lives that not only distract us, but put our faith in Christ under a severe test. I remember interring seminary my first year. A met a graduating student who said the seminary experience had totally destroyed his faith.

The people John’s vision had one thing in common. They continued to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow his direction. They were doing so even in heaven:

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   (Revelation 7:15-17)

Jesus guides us to springs of the water of life. He promises us eternal life. He tells us that we will not want.. We will not lack anything. He leads us on the right path. He continually revives our souls. He does all of this for us, but we must stay in tune with his voice.

God allows our faith to be tested. He knows our hearts. We must must listen to the voice he has placed within us. The voice is his voice. He leads us to his glory and life eternal with the one who laid down his life for us.

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Resurrection Sunday: Principal Easter Service

A New Heaven and a New Earth

From the Gospel of John we have this wonderful account of the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus:

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.   (John 20:11-18)

It was fitting that Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, was the first witness to the resurrected. (Luke 8:2). Jesus said:

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”   (Matthew 9:13)

Mary was faithful to Jesus when many of his disciples deserted him. She had come to his tomb early in the first day of the week. She was not prepared for what she saw. She had a close relationship with Jesus. But he had changed. She did not recognize Jesus at first. When he spoke to her she wanted to reach out to him. Jesus, then said a curious thing: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

What did this mean? Something remarkable happened to change the whole world. Jesus had risen from the dead. He was not the same as before. He had a glorified body. And his mission had changed. He needed to ascend to the Father before he could meet again with his disciples.  Even his disciples would not be able to hold on to the Jesus they knew.

Jesus had changed. The whole world was about to change. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

For I am about to create new heavens
    and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
    or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
    and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
    and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
    or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
    an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.   (Isaiah 65:17-20)

This surely does not sound like the world we live in now. We will never live in any utopia in this current world. God is preparing a new world, a new earth, a new heaven. We are destined to be a part of it. But we must choose to enter.

The psalmist wrote:

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

“This is the gate of the Lord;
he who is righteous may enter.”

I will give thanks to you, for you answered me
and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord‘s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the Lord has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.   (Psalm 118:19-24)

On the day of the resurrection Jesus opened the gates of righteousness. The righteous may enter but they must enter through the gate that God has provided.

Jesus said:

 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.   (John 10:9)

Our salvation comes through faith in the saving power of the cross. The Apostle Peter preached:

 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”   (Acts 10:39-43)

The message of the resurrection of is that the lives of all who believe have been changed. Not only that, but a whole new world awaits us, the Millennial Reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must no longer live as though we are a part of this world. This world is passing away. The Apostle John wrote in his Epistle:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.   (1 John 2:15-17)

Today, like Mary Magdalene. Jesus is calling each of us by name. He is telling us not to hold on to the past. This world is passing away. Walk through the gate that leads to a whole new world.

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Good Friday

It Is Finished

What price did Jesus pay for our salvation? He paid with everything in his being. He paid it all. From Isaiah we read:

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering[a] and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces[b]
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.   (Isaiah 53:3-8)

By his own volition, Jesus allowed himself to be crushed like grapes so that we might have new wine. He was brought before Pilate by the Jewish authorities, having been authorized by the high priest Caiaphas.

From today’s Gospel we read:

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”   (John 18:28-31)

The authorities were asking Pilate for one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised. But Pilate realized that they had no real case against Jesus. He was reluctant to proceed beyond a certain point:

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”   (John 19:1-7)

As we can see, Pilate did not want to do what they asked. He suspected that the charges were trumped up. That is what lying people do to cover their own iniquity. He was shocked by the demand for crucifixion:

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”   (John 19:8-11)

The courts it Jesus’ day had become rubber stamps. They were manipulated and controlled by evil people with evil intents. Has anything changed? God, the Father, allows this to corruption to expose this great evil behind it.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.

When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;

through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;

he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.   (Isaiah 53:13-12)

The crushing had to take place. There is no redemption of our sins without the cross. Some may wish to rush to the resurrection narrative and bypass the painful passion of Christ. But there is no resurrection without the crucifixion:

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”   (John 19:16-22)

The execution was carried out only because God the Father required it and only because Jesus was obedient to the Father, even to death upon a cross. This terrible execution had to be done to atone for all of our sins:

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.   (John 19:28-30)

It was finished. The price for sin had beeb paid. The door of heaven was opened for all who would believe. Reading from Hebrews:

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”

he also adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.   (Hebrews 10:16-18)

Have we looked upon the cross today? What is our response? The psalmist wrote:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

For kingship belongs to the Lord;
he rules over the nations.

To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust fall before him.

My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him;
they shall be known as the Lord‘s for ever.

They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn
the saving deeds that he has done.   (Psalm 22:26-30)

Our response to the cross determines whether or not this Friday is good. Such a high price was paid. Unless we are willing to reap the benefits, Jesus died in vain for us. He was crushed for us so that we might also be set free from sin. We can no longer live for ourselves. Our confidence before the judgment seat of God cannot be based on anything that we are or can do.

Satan is still our accuser. Are we still defending ourselves? That is not what we are called by God to do. That is not our work. Jesus said:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”   (John 6:27-29)

If we allow Jesus to defend us, then a whole new world is opened up to us. Reading from Hebrews:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.   (Hebrews 10:10-25)

Amen! Amen! It is finished. Christ has won the victory for us. We have ben set free from the power of sin. All of Satan’s accusations have been turned on himself. By the stripes of Jesus we have been made whole.

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