“So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God” (Romans 5:11, NLT).
There’s nothing like a good friend. If you have one really good one, you’re blessed and if you have more than one, you’re especially blessed. Our instant messaging, online social networking culture has made it easier in some ways to keep in contact, but more difficult to be close to someone in the old fashioned “if you need me, I’m there for you” way. Real, deep friendship still needs face to face nurturing.
Paul knew what having a new relationship with God meant as he had been a law keeper to the max in his former life. His relationship, if you could call it that, was all about the physical stuff—his background (who he was), obedience, staying ceremonially clean, even persecution of Christians. After his encounter with Jesus, it was all about who God is. It was all about a close, intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe, one that caused Paul to fall on his knees in absolute awe. Jesus opened up for us and let us in on the most amazing friendship ever, of Father, Son and Spirit. All we have to do is join in, nurture it and enjoy.
“Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25, NLT).
Now that everyone has colored eggs for the kids, been to church, had the family over for Easter dinner, cleaned up and put everything away, life goes on just as before. Easter is over. For those who had been at the cross and then saw Jesus back from the dead, life would never be the same. How could it, after witnessing the most amazing event in human history?
Martha’s head must have been spinning, as she remembered her own dead brother, raised back to life by Jesus. And now she had seen Jesus killed and then raised back to life by himself! His words, I am the resurrection, must have hit home like a lightning bolt. May it also have the same effect on us today as we let this sink into our minds and hearts: Jesus wasn’t just resurrected from the dead, he is the resurrection. Our day to day lives can’t be same—when he died, we died and when he rose, we rose, to a new life in Christ, the resurrection and the life.
“He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen” (Matthew 28:6a, NLT).
At various times, Hollywood has been fascinated with movies depicting bringing people back from the dead: Frankenstein, zombies, vampires all took their turn at center stage. They never quite got it right, as the creatures were mangled, grotesque or perverted in their humanity.
Only one man has ever truly come back from the dead and when he did, it was not with a mangled, grotesque body, but a wonderfully transformed, glorified one. The resurrection of Christ is still the most exciting and pivotal event in all of human history. No movie could ever do it justice. It’s even more amazing because Jesus was God at the same time as being human and it was his power as God that raised him from the dead. As we celebrate this incredible and essential-to-our-salvation event, let’s remember he’s right here with us, participating in our lives as we participate in his life with the Father and the Spirit.
“At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'” (Matthew 27:46, NLT).
When we read through familiar verses we think we understand, do we ever stop to wonder, perhaps it doesn’t mean what I think it means? Yes, Princess Bride fans, I’ve been waiting to say that! Sometimes we dig deeper, but for the most part, I think many of us take verses like these for granted. Even though Jesus asked this question, did he really feel his Father had abandoned him?
Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 which begins with the question people have asked for centuries—where is God when I need him? The Jews who heard him say this knew the whole psalm, so they knew how it ended: with praises to God who has the power to save us from any trouble. When he quoted the prophetic psalm, he was showing them and us who he was and how they should read the scriptures—they all point to Jesus.
God didn’t turn his back on his son any more than a loving parent would turn away from a suffering child. Jesus took our sin, our fallen human nature, upon himself. But God isn’t so “pure” he couldn’t look at his son at that moment. The perfect God of the universe can handle sin and he loved his son every minute of his life on earth, including the last seconds of his life when he conquered sin and death.
“When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’ And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27, NLT).
Some societies are better than others at taking care of aging parents. The cultures that fall short treat parents as useless and unimportant, thinking their time has passed. Children often don’t realize older folks are the same on the inside, it’s just their bodies that have changed.
In this third statement from the cross, Jesus showed he wasn’t just thinking of his own agony, the people involved in his execution or even how his plan for the world was being accomplished. As he looked at Mary, his heart was for his mother, whose face showed not only her pain but his as well. She may have understood by this time he was the Messiah, but she was also still his mother, the one who cradled and cuddled him. This tender, touching moment shows us deep into the heart of our God who doesn’t miss anything and doesn’t take our pain lightly. He didn’t forget his humanity then and he doesn’t forget ours now.
“And Jesus replied, ‘I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43, NLT).
From time to time, I hear of someone on their deathbed who cheers up the visitors, rather than the other way around. The sick person is so calm and at peace, he or she becomes an encouragement to the friends and family members who feel awkward and afraid in the face of the inevitable.
Two thieves, deserving of their punishment, hung on either side of Jesus. One mocked, telling him to prove he was the Messiah by saving himself and the two of them. The other defended Jesus and then asked to be remembered when he took his kingdom. Jesus forgave him and welcomed him into the life of Father, Son and Spirit, with no further action required. From the cross, as he was dying, Jesus loved the thief and all of us sinners, showing grace and mercy to the very end. He gave life even as he gave his life.
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice” (Luke 23:34, NLT).
Normally when we read this verse (and a lot of verses) we think of how to apply it to ourselves. But what does this say about God? About Jesus who would ask his Father to forgive the very ones who were mocking him and gambling for his clothes, oblivious to his pain and to who he was? About the Father who answered this prayer of his only son who hung on the cross dying?
We casually, unknowingly and even willfully sin and often ignore and/or participate in the suffering of others. We lack understanding of the magnitude of sin, the consequences and ramifications—what the totality of it looks like to God who sees all from the beginning to the end. God takes sin seriously. Because he is the God of love and forgiveness and understands the human heart, he became a human and died to save us from sin and death. In Christ’s death and resurrection, God answered this short prayer that reveals how much he loves us—he forgave the whole human race for the enormous blight that hurts us all. His prayer now is that we will turn to him and accept his freely given forgiveness.
“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise” (Hebrews 10:23, NLT).
We’ve all had our hopes dashed in one way or another, starting when we’re children and we didn’t receive a toy or treat we hoped for. I don’t have to describe the unfulfilled hopes we experience as we grow to young adulthood and beyond—we all have our tales of woe, some more painful than others.
Can we really trust God or will he break our hearts too? We can. He is the only one who can be trusted to keep his promises and not let us down. He’s given us his word, the assurance of the Holy Spirit, answered prayer, fresh hope with each morning, new life in each spring flower and most of all, his Son, who overcame death by resurrecting himself. Our hope is sure and his promises are ironclad in Christ our Savior.
“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT).
This verse intrigues and inspires me, to think God planted eternity in our hearts. Being a Star Trek fan, images of the vast, unexplored universe come to mind, including all the strange, powerful “brain” beings in the earlier episodes. I also imagine living forever, free from the heavy physical shackles of this life.
Because God is love and wants to share his love with his creation, he made us in his image, which includes a bit of eternity. God is the only one who is eternal and who has eternity within himself. He wanted us to have a little taste of it, to imagine eternity and want it. This desire has led to some strange schemes, such as searching for the fountain of youth, cryogenics and of course, plastic surgery. Wanting to live forever is a God-given desire and it will be satisfied by God himself. He planted the seed of eternity and the Holy Spirit, also in our hearts, makes it grow. In the words of Spock, we will live long (forever) and prosper!
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11, NLT).
Grief and mourning are part of life. We experience it personally when tragedy hits our lives and empathetically with others. This world has enough pain and sadness that if we focused on it all the time, we might never stop crying. A friend once told me humans can only handle so much grief before going numb. I think he was right.
It might appear as though God set us for grief, pain and suffering, when in fact, it’s our own doing. We suffer the consequences of bad choices—a kind of yours, mine and ours situation. God neither set it up nor does he enjoy it, like some cruel puppet master. What he has set up is the solution to the pain, in Jesus our Savior, who entered our pain on the cross. Just as he anointed Jesus with the oil of joy, he will pour out that oil on all who turn to him. Our glimpses of joy will be fully seen in eternity. We mourn and cry today, knowing what joyful dancing awaits.