The ant

When I was a child, the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a blockbuster.  There was one scene, though, I couldn’t watch.  It was the fight between the children’s gentle ant and a vicious scorpion.

The children (after being shrunk to pea-size) befriend an ant.  The ant escorts them across their backyard safely.  But, all of a sudden, a scorpion appears flashing its pincers.

The scorpion wants the children.

The ant faces the scorpion head-on in battle.  They fight fiercely, and they fight to the death.  The scorpion kills the ant.  He drags his prize away, leaving the children alone.

I couldn’t understand it.  Tears rolled down my cheeks.  Why had the sweet ant died for the children?  Why hadn’t he fled and left the children to die?  And why did he have to die, after he was so brave?

All around us, again and again, is the melody of the Gospel, sometimes faint, sometimes piercing.  But if you listen, you will hear shadows of redemption’s story in the heartbeat of what moves us most . . even in a children’s movie.

Why did the ant die?  He didn’t have to.  He could have fled.  But he loved the children more than his own life.  In a beautiful puzzle–one in which we can never lay down the final piece–is the heroism of the ant, that he would give his life on behalf of the lives of the children.  That he would treasure the children who had done no great service to him, regard them so precious that he would be willing to undergo torture and death for them.  And in this symbolism is the mystery of God’s love.  For us.

Jesus Christ didn’t have to die for us.  He had far less reason to die for us than the ant had to die for the children.  The children didn’t do anything to deserve the scorpion’s wrath, but we turned to our enemy for protection from goodness in the most grave error in mankind’s history.  It would be as if the children ran to the scorpion for protection from the ant.  We became enslaved to the enemy, sure to be stung by his poison.

But Christ still defended us.  When we didn’t want to be defended by Him, when we didn’t even realize what serious trouble we were in, when we thought He was the enemy . . even then, Christ died for us (see Romans 5:6, 5:8, 5:10).

The ant and the scorpion . . are only a faint retelling of the love Christ holds for you and I.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9, NIV)

 

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The cup

Have you ever seen a reality TV episode where a contestant had to drink something gross to win a prize?

I remember one episode where the host was blending all kinds of weird things into smoothies. The contestants would have to drink the liquid to the dregs if their team wanted points. There was such a relief in getting the last swallow down.

In the Bible, God’s wrath is sometimes described as a cup. People forced to drink from His wrath had to experience the consequences of their wrongful actions and God’s reaction to them.

Yellow broken cup on wooden backgroundWhen Jesus came to earth, He came for a unique purpose: to drink God’s wrath dry. The night He was betrayed, He prayed that He could avoid drinking the cup set before Him, if it was at all possible. But He was willing to yield to what the Father wanted, and not His own will.

Jesus chose to go ahead and drink that cup of wrath, because there was no other way for humanity to be saved. He drank to the dregs every last punishment for our sin and every bit of God’s just anger towards us.

On the reality TV show I saw, some contestants who finished the requirement of the drink would slam the cup on the table proudly, showcasing its emptiness to the world.

Just before Jesus took His last breath, it was as if He slammed the cup on the table and shattered it. The curtain the separated God from man was torn in two from God’s side to our side (top to bottom). An earthquake brought attention to the finality of Christ’s act. Best of all, Jesus Himself announced the beautiful words,

“It is finished.” (from John 19:30)

There is no reason for any of us to taste God’s wrath. We can be totally free because Jesus drank the cup we so fear. And He drank it to the very dregs.

Pulling

I’ve never appeared in a theme park commercial for a reason.  Rides make me motion sick and/or scared out of my wits.  My stomach doesn’t handle carnival food, and I don’t particularly enjoy standing at the bottom of rides waiting for my friends to finish.  Ergo, I’m not much for theme parks.

One time at a theme park, as I was waiting at the bottom of a ride, a friend suggested I try a smaller ride off to the side.  The ride was all self-propelled.  You sat down in a buckled seat and pulled one of two ropes to either go up or back down.

I sat down and began pulling myself up.  Since I’m terrified of heights, I was comforted to know I could stop at any time and come back down.  No one was expecting me to make it to the top.  I could go halfway and slide back down and no one would care.

The verse for the day in my inbox reminded me of this ride.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24, NLT)

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Jesus’ trip to the cross was totally self-driven.  He had to, every moment, pull the rope to take Him toward suffering, shame, condemnation, guilt, and death–none of which belonged to Him.  He had, every moment, to resist pulling the rope to take Him back toward joy, exaltation, freedom, peace, and life.

He personally carried

As no one expected me to make it to the top that day, no one expected God the Son to overcome the cross.  If at any point He had given up and simply chosen to die early (He could release His Spirit at any time), no one would have noticed.  Not even His most ardent followers expected that anything good would come from a cross.

He personally carried our sins

It was comforting to me that no one expected anything from me, because my task didn’t matter.  But can you imagine how agonizing it was for Jesus to have NO support from His own closest friends and family?

He personally carried our sins in his body

No one knew how to support Him, because no one knew it was possible to do what He was doing–to pull oneself into the responsibility of paying for the whole world.  Only God in His love could shoulder the infinite grief He was taking upon Himself.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross

The cross looks like a stationary object.  But, we should see the spiritual cross Jesus took on in motion, swaying as He pulled Himself up inch by inch.  As though ropes were attached, Christ with perfect resolve pulled Himself closer and closer until, at last, He had arrived at the place of worst human agony and defeat.

And there, all of us who believe find life.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24, NLT)

Published in: on April 11, 2014 at 6:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Finished

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, ESV)

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-46, ESV)

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (from Hebrews 12:2).

Finish on streamer

The reality here is incredible to try to realize.  Jesus writes our faith onto our hearts.  Without the cross, without the final act of Jesus taking away sin once and for all by His death, there is no author of our faith.  Without His sacrifice, we are like any other religion or belief system.  We simply have ‘faith in faith’.

But with Christ Jesus, we have infinitely more.  We can have faith in Christ.  The public display of God’s love for us through Jesus reveals His desire for us to have faith in Him.  He could have died for us in a jail cell where we couldn’t have seen what happened.  But as the prophets foretold, He chose to die for us in a public place that could not be ignored–on a hill outside the busiest city in His nation.

If people could somehow ignore Jesus on the cross at Golgotha, they could not ignore the earthquake or the darkness in the sky.  God was showing as clearly as possible that, once and for all, Jesus was dying for the sin of the world.  The Gospel of Matthew even tells us that the tombs broke open during the earthquake (see Matt. 27:52).  When Jesus rose again, many who had trusted God rose, too, further announcing the resurrection life Jesus was offering by His death.

When Jesus said, “It is finished”, He knew every penny of our sin was totally paid, every drop of blood spilled to pay the price, every good work fully accomplished.  Every Word of Scripture was fulfilled, every thought of His Father carried through.  It was all completed, and the infinite grief and agony He had experienced in becoming sin for us (see 2 Cor. 5:21) was over.

There is no greater encouragement during our struggles in this life than to realize that everything important, everything good, and everything beautiful has already been fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

As we run the race to serve Him, we recognize that He has already authored our faith (written the story of His love on our hearts), and He has already finished His trials that give us perseverance of that faith.  Faith begins and ends with Christ and, when we remember that, we can hold on, no matter how tough times get.

The race has already been won.  And now we who believe in Jesus Christ get to follow Him to the finish line.  Amen!!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sunlight

Weather has an uncanny way of reflecting on the outside feelings we have on the inside.

We can describe depression so well as a rainy, gray day . . nostalgia by autumn leaves . . a troubled spirit by a blizzard. There are all kinds of feelings weather evokes, but my favorite, my very favorite is sunlight.

Sunlight is like the start of an adventure.

Country road in the mountains

When the hobbits set out for Rivendale in The Fellowship of the Ring movie, it was sunny. And that is exactly how I think of adventures. Sunny. Full of promise. Bold.

I wouldn’t much want to go on an adventure where it was raining and lightning, and I sure wouldn’t go if it was hailing and ten below zero. But on a perfect sunny day, ahh . . adventure awaits.

Jesus did the opposite of what I would do.

Jesus went out for His adventure on a day when hail was pummeling the earth, ice and snow were blowing in faster than dandelion petals on a spring day, a sharp wind cut through the air, and there wasn’t a ray of sunshine in the sky.

No, I don’t mean it was storming the night He came to Earth as a baby. It could have been, but that isn’t the point. The point is, Jesus left Heaven-a place without a drop of cloud or a breath of chill-to come to Earth. That was how He came by His adventure.

He came backwards how we want to go. He came from Heaven to Earth, not from earth to Heaven. And Scripture tells us He even tasted Death. So He went from Heaven to Earth to Death-not the order we want for our adventures.

Can you imagine going from somewhere without sin, without death, without suffering to come to a place with all those things?

I can’t.

One thing Jesus did have in common with the Hobbits, the “there and back again” part.

Jesus has been to the depths of sin and pain, grief and anguish, guilt and terror, and He has come back. And He did it so that you and I could travel in the opposite direction He did, away from sin and towards the Son.

Now that’s the kind of God I want to serve.

. . let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. (Hebrews 12:1b-3, NLT)

Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bronze serpent, Golden Healer

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9, ESV)

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:13-18, ESV)

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Veil

About three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?”, which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, ISV)

Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice again and died. Suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook, rocks were split open, tombs were opened, and many saints who had died were brought back to life. After his resurrection, they came out of their tombs, went into the Holy City, and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things that were taking place, they were terrified and said, “This man certainly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54, ISV)

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Mark 15:33-34, ISV)

It was already about noon, and the whole land became dark until three in the afternoon because the sun had stopped shining, and the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two. Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice and said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” After he said this, he breathed his last.

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “This man certainly was righteous!” When all the crowds who had come together for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they beat their chests and left. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, were standing at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:44-49, ISV)

The veil . . torn.

The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from view:

TORN.

The veil that separated God from man.

TORN!

The veil that only the high priest could enter through, only once a year, and only with a sacrifice of animal blood . . TORN by the High Priest who entered with His own blood as the sacrifice.  That is who Jesus Christ is.

The Tearer of the Separation between God and Man.

In a mystery we do not understand, God was denied access to God.

As Jesus carried the sins of the world to become sin for us,  He lost his relationship with His Father.  God lost relationship with God.  He Himself gave Himself to be the blood.

Innocent animal blood made it permissible for the high priest to visit God once a year in fear and trembling, but God’s blood, offered to God, by God, made it possible for God Himself to rip the curtain in two.

As Christ was separated from His Father by the unbearable burden of sin He carried . . God departed from God for the first time in history.

One infinite Person of God, the Father, was just to condemn sin . . and another infinite Person of God, Jesus the Son, stood in our place to be condemned.

The penalty of sin demanded that the Judge require payment in full . . and the Judge Himself was the payment.

God the Father ripped the veil with His own hands to make way for God the Son–the Sacrifice and the High Priest–to come through.

Jesus was exactly right.

It was finished.  Right then.

The veil in the temple, separating the Presence of God from us, ripped from top to bottom, torn by the Father as the nail-scarred Son stepped right through.

The way from God to man . . opened.

OPENED.

Not since Eden had it been opened.

And now, the Son stepped through, introducing the Father to us.

The Holiest of Holies . . wants to adopt you and me.

And now nothing stood, and still nothing stands, in God’s way to reach us.

But millions die without entering through the veil.

Why?

We have our own veils we place up to block the Light of God out of our lives.

These veils serve as idols, woven by Satan, to prevent us from seeing our salvation.

These veils and not our sin keep us from Christ.  That is, these unholy veils are sin, but it is active use of them as an obstruction that keeps us from Him.

Even that obstruction, that sin of a blocked heart, can be forgiven when the heart repents.  You must actively, persistently hold the veil up with all your might if it is to remain.

To keep yourself separated from God, you must willfully hold your sin up as the veil to prevent His Light from coming through.

The most important question you can ask yourself is, Will you?  Will you allow your veil–whatever it is, Satan isn’t particular on the threads you use–to block the light of God from reaching your soul?

Or will you drop your sin-reeking, self-made veil to let the love of Christ through?

For when you drop your dark veil, what you see is the Light coming through the real torn veil.

And then you see that nothing, absolutely nothing, separates you from God.

I choose the Light.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:16-21, NLT)

Barabbas

The name Barabbas means, “Father’s son” in Aramaic. It’s interesting to me that the crowd called for Pilate to release “Father’s son” instead of the Father’s Son.

I have read or watched that scene many times, and recently participated in a reenactment of it. Mostly I was struck with how awful it was that they called for a murderer over the Prince of Peace. Then again, he had led an attempted rebellion (Mark 15:7) – he was a hero of the people. But the recent miniseries “The Bible” showed me a new perspective: Barabbas’s.

He was a murderer, condemned to execution. He was on death row, knowing today was the day he would be lead off to die a most horrific death. What was he thinking of in his last hours? His family? Those who fought alongside him? Those who were too afraid to? His failed plans? Shattered dreams? Regrets? Was he sorrowful for what he’d done? Ashamed his revolt had failed? Angry at those who had captured him, or those who failed to join him? Expectant that others would rise up against Rome after he was gone? Did he remember the Passover custom? Was he hopeful he’d be the one released?

The time came. Soldiers led him from the cell and brought him before an angry crowd. Did he yet understand? Also before the crowd stood a man so badly beaten He hardly looked human. Did he know Who it was? Then he must have heard them shouting his name. Was he filled with pride that they wanted him? Or sorrow for this Man, condemned to die in his place? Did he understand the only innocent man was giving up His life, so Barabbas could go free? Did he later become a follower? Did he live for Jesus now that Jesus had died for him?

Whatever this did in Barabbas’s life, the questions are the same for us. I was a criminal, justly condemned to death for my crimes. Where do my thoughts turn? Regrets and failures? Shame and sorrow? Anger? Hope? But I go free because an innocent man took my place. He died for me. I’ll live for Him.

“Then [Pilate] released Barabbas to them. But after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified.” – Matt 27:26

Then God released me. But after the sin of the world was poured out on Him, Jesus faced the full wrath of God in my place.

–From Ben’s Pen

Passion for God

All the passion I have for God comes from the realization of what He’s done for me.

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!

The Lord has made me strong.

Now I have an answer for my enemies;

I rejoice because you rescued me.” (1 Samuel 2:1b, NLT)

Honor and Humility, Introduction

Jesus says,

He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:18, NIV)

Jesus did not come to earth to gain honor for Himself, but for His Father who sent Him.

Here is something astonishing about Jesus.

Not once could anyone honestly accuse Jesus of getting glory for Himself.

In other words, not once could anyone honestly observe the Son of God of coming for His own honor, even though He had every right to do so.

From the manger to the cross to the ascension, Jesus had a humble heart, seeking honor for His Father and not for Himself.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)