Who Were the “Them” in Jesus’ Prayer for Forgiveness?

Final notes from my husband’s Good Friday sermons.

Luke tells us in his Gospel that Jesus prayed from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  These words were among some of the last brief statements He made before His death.

Who exactly was He speaking to?

  • The Roman soldiers.  They were standing there gambling for His clothes at the foot of the cross as they watched Him die.  It was probably not the first crucifixion detail they had been assigned.  But this one was different.  This man claimed to be the Son of God.
  • Maybe it was the Jewish crowd that had gathered there that day.  They had seen him heal their sick, fed them on occasion and told them all types of parables and stories of God and His kingdom.  Now they had shouted:  “Crucify Him.”
  • Perhaps it was His disciples, especially the ones who had fled and were in hiding.  Only John was present at the cross with Mary, Jesus’ mother.
  • Maybe He saw ahead in time and saw the crowd that stoned Stephen to death.  That crowd was full of hate for Stephen.
  • Perhaps he looked further down in time when the early Christians were martyred in the coliseum of Rome by wild animals.  Surely their persecutors were included in His statement from the cross.
  • What about all the wars that have been fought in the name of religion, the Crusades, the Protestants against Catholics and the Catholics against Protestants?
  • Maybe he saw the barbarians throughout the world who have committed wholesale slaughter of whole groups of people simply because they were different.
  • Or, maybe he looked out to 2019 and saw us when He was there on the cross.  Was he speaking of us as He hung there?  Was it our sin that we have committed day by day, year by year without regard to our own eternity?  Do we realize the total sacrifice that was made for us that day?

Surely He was speaking of me also from the cross that day.

He’s Dead – or Is He?

This is from the message my husband gave today at Hazel Findley Assisted Living:

The Gospel of Matthew as well as other Gospel writers presents the reality of Jesus’ death as an absolute certainty.

Those standing around the cross watched as Jesus “breathed his last.” – John 19:30 tells us He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

They heard him cry with a loud voice. – Mark 15:37 tells us Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed His last.

Roman authorities, acting on instructions from Pilate, broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus to hasten their death; but coming to Jesus, they discovered He had already died – John 19:33 says “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.

Having received confirmation of death from the Roman centurion, Pilate released the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus for burial.

  • The callous Roman soldiers said “He is dead.”
  • The curious crowds, unconscious of the eternal significance, said “He is dead.’
  • Pilate got the word, “Jesus is dead.”
  • Mary, feeling the pain like a dagger in her heart, said, “My son is dead.”
  • His disciples, numb and stunned with the events of the last few hours said, “The Master is dead”

Everybody had written Jesus off – gone forever.

Dead.

Dead.

Dead.

Get on with the same routine.  He’s dead.  No one expected to see Him or hear His voice again.

It’s Friday….but Sunday’s coming.

What separates Christianity from all other religions is an empty tomb and the words of Christ who says “I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.”

 

Whatever Happened to Sin?

We seem to have done away with sin.  No one sins.  They make mistakes.  They “mess up.”

In “The Thirteen Clocks” author James Thurber has a character who states:

“We all have our weaknesses; mine just happens to be that I am evil.”

If there is no sin, only weaknesses, mistakes, character flaws, the whole point of Good Friday and Easter is meaningless.

“Why is sin sinful, not just a “little weakness”?  Who says sin is sin?  One of the words the Bible uses to refer to sin means “to miss the mark,” implying that there is a mark or target that has been missed, so the word sin itself implies a standard.  If a highway patrolman stops you for speeding, it implies that the official government has set a speed limit, and you violated it.  Similarly, the moral standard for all humanity comes right out of the holy character of God.  His glory, his holiness, is the standard we all fall short of.”

When we are enjoying our favorite foods and entertainments, it can be easy to forget the decay of sin and death all around us.  Lent helps us remember that there is only one who actually reverses decay – the God who raises the dead.”….Timothy G. Walton

For me I think I have heard the story of the cross and the resurrection so much that I just take it all for granted.  But this season of Lent, I am thankful for the price Jesus paid for us all.

 

 

Tradition in Religion – Good? Bad?

This past week I was at a women’s Bible study when our leader asked us:

What is today?

Everyone immediately called out:

It’s Valentine’s day!

valentine.png

She then asked us:

But what else is it?

Sadly, only a few realized it was the beginning of Lent, it was Ash Wednesday.

ash wed

For this week’s lesson we had been asked to read the first 15 chapters of Exodus.  Strange you might think to read in Exodus when you are studying in Mark.  Our leader used Exodus to point out to us the similarities between Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and our belief that Jesus came to lead us out of bondage to sin.

She shared with us the tradition of Passover and how the Jewish people at Passover reflect on their past deliverance from slavery and look forward to the coming of the Messiah.  She said, for the Jewish people, celebration of Passover allows them to:

experience what they do not remember and to remember what they have not experienced.

During the Passover time, the story of how God delivered the Jewish nation is recalled.  Though the present generation naturally cannot remember that event from thousands of years ago, through the special food and the retelling of the story, they take time to try to understand what their ancestors experienced that night.   They take time to remember what they did not experience and let it give them hope and encouragement as they look forward to the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy when he shared the word of God:

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

As Christians we celebrate our own time of deliverance from bondage and we look forward to the return of our Lord and Savior.  With His death and resurrection He gave us freedom from the bondage of sin.  We now celebrate this important event every year just as the Jews celebrate Passover.  We call it Easter but I think a better name would have been Resurrection Sunday.

Many churches at this time observe Lent.

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection…..from the United Methodist website

Coming from an evangelical background I never observed Ash Wednesday or Lent as a child.  To be honest (please forgive me my dear Catholic friends), my church thought the whole “ashes on the forehead” and giving up something for Lent was simply “tradition.”  And we all knew that Jesus condemned traditions of men.  Right?  We go to the Gospel of Mark and the encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees when they questioned why His disciples did not follow the traditional washing of hands before they ate.  We know Jesus said, in part,

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered:

So we have taken pride in rejecting the “tradition” of the mainline denominations.  We have felt that we were somehow more “spiritual” because we, like Jesus, rejected religious tradition.

But, in rejecting many of the traditions of the other churches, have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

This week I have continued to think of how the Jewish people still observe Passover.  It is not just a meal that they hurriedly consume and move on.  There are days of preparation as they remove all trace of yeast from their homes and prepare the special food they will eat at the Sedar.  They take time to really remember their past deliverance and look forward to their expected future.  There is a lot of thought and reflection in this time.

As I look at our evangelical Christian community, I see little time spend in real reflection on what Good Friday and Easter should mean to us.  We might attend a short Good Friday service, but for most of us Easter is one service on Sunday morning celebrating the resurrection.  Little or no time is spent reflecting on what Good Friday really meant.  We take no time to reflect on our own lives and as the Jews remove yeast from their homes, ask God to help us remove from our lives the things that hinder our walk with Him.

I feel I missed something growing up without observing Lent.  Without taking time from my busy schedule to take a closer look at my own life, to really remember the pain and suffering Jesus went through for me.

To take a long hard look at the cross

the cross

before I rush into celebrating the empty tomb.

tomb

The dictionary says a tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.  Perhaps some of the break down in our society today is the failure to pass on beliefs or behaviors that were the very foundation of our own lives.  The word is derived from the Latin tradere and literally means to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.

So, I ask myself as I reflect on Lent this year:

  • Are we missing something in rejecting some of those traditions of the church?
  • Are our children really understanding the true meaning of  Easter or Christmas when we make it basically a one-service event at church and little more?
  • Should we not take more time in celebrating the events of Good Friday and Easter?

I’m not ready to put ashes on my forehead (again forgive me my dear Catholic friends), but I’m taking time this year to observe this season of Lent and do more serious reflection on what my Savior’s death really means.  Not just an empty tomb, but pain and suffering that He took on Himself for me.

Give me some tradition!

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Natalie Grant