Restoring the Fallen

We all know how it feels when we disappoint someone – particularly someone we are close to.  It might be our spouse.  It might be a close friend.  It might even be our boss.  We’ve let that person down.  When they needed us, we didn’t come through.  And we hate ourselves for it.

That’s how Peter felt after failing Jesus.  He boasted that he would never desert Jesus; he would never let him down, and then he denies him three times.  He’s full of shame and guilt.  He’s no use to God or anyone else now – how could he be?  I can just imagine Peter doing what we all do in those situations.  He’s replaying the tape in his mind, over and over, frame by frame – why did I do it? why did I do it?

That’s where we find Peter when we come to John chapter 21.  He’s with a handful of other disciples by the Lake of Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee).  Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”  The other disciples, say, “We’re coming with you.” 

So, you see what’s going on here.  Peter has failed Jesus – badly.  He’s no use to Jesus anymore.  There is one thing he can do however; he can fish.  But that night they catch nothing.  And the reason is because Jesus doesn’t let him catch anything.  Peter is running away.  He is running away, and Jesus is saying,

“You think you can do something without me Peter, but I want you to see you can do nothing without me.  Not even fish.”

Then at dawn, a shadowy figure is seen on the shore and it calls out, “Friends, you don’t have any fish, do you?”  Then the voice says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.”  You can imagine what these experienced fishermen are thinking: “Oh that’s just rich.  I like that.  Like, the fish know the difference between the left side and right side.”  John tells us in verse 6, “So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish.” 

As they are hauling it in, the disciple whom Jesus loved (that’s code-name for John), puts two and two together and says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Peter, without hesitation, dives into the water.  He’s swimming to shore, and he can’t get there fast enough.  He wants to be with Jesus again, in spite of his shame and guilt.  He’s messed up, but he loves Jesus all the same.

When they all get to the shore they find there a charcoal fire, bread and fish.  It’s déjà vu for the disciples.  It’s all happened before.  It’s the same miracle Jesus performed when he first met Peter back in Luke chapter 5.  It’s the same crowd, the same Peter, the same lake, and the same figure on the shore asking how many fish they had caught.  And the same thing happens, except back then, the nets did tear.

What is Jesus doing?  He’s bringing it all back for them.  He’s recalling their memory.  He’s calling them back.  The bread and the fish, recalling the miraculous feeding of the 5000 and later, the 4000.  Jesus is saying, “Do you remember?  Do you remember that we did this together?  Do you recall what I did?”  Jesus has a special way of drawing his straying ones back to himself.  He stirs their memory and touches their conscience.

So there they all are, sitting there by the fire, eating breakfast together.  Then at some point I imagine, Jesus takes Peter on a little walk.  He says to him, “Simon son of John…”  Now you may remember earlier in the book, in chapter 1 verse 42, Jesus said to Peter, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated “Peter”). 

Jesus is taking him back. He is taking him back to the beginning – back to the place where they had begun in Galilee, so he uses the name with which they had begun.  You see, Jesus is willing to start over with Peter.

Then Jesus says to him in verse 15, “Do you love Me more than these?”  Now the question here is, what does the “these” refer to?  Is Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than these boats and fish?” or “Do you love me more than these men you are working with?”  I tend to lean toward the latter.  Remember Peter’s earlier boast: he vowed to stay faithful to Jesus even if all the others fell away.  The irony is, it is Peter who denies Jesus, not the others.  I think that Jesus may be asking,

“Do you really love me more than these other men love me?  You made that pledge Peter; did you really mean it?” 

Jesus asks this not just once, not twice, but three times.  On the third time, Peter is grieved (recalling no doubt, his 3-fold denial).

I have a wonderful little book on my shelf called, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes.  In it he unpacks Isaiah 42:3 where it says (in speaking of Christ), “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not put out.”  You know what a reed is.  A reed is thin and frail and fragile.  If the wind blows too hard on a reed it often breaks.  Sibbes writes,

“God’s children are bruised reeds, before their conversion and many times after. For usually God empties men of themselves and makes them nothing before He will use them in any great service.”

A little further on Sibbes writes,

“As a mother is tenderest to her most diseased child, to her weakest child, so does Christ. Christ most mercifully inclines to the weakest and His way is first to wound and then to heal. And we see that there is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us.”

Jesus is tending to a bruised reed.  He is restoring a wounded conscience.  But the way you restore a wounded or guilty conscience is not put a band-aid on it.  You have to do heart surgery.  You need to open the wound.  It’s painful.  And that’s exactly what we see happening here.  Jesus is doing surgery on Peter’s conscience.  And it nearly brings him to tears.

Following Jesus’ 3-fold probing of Peter’s love for him is a 3-fold commission to service:

  • “Feed (basko) my lambs” (v.15)
  • “Shepherd (poimaino) my sheep” (v.16)
  • “Feed (basko) my sheep” (v.17)

This was Jesus’ call to Peter from the beginning.  He’s putting him right back into service.  He not only restoring Peter, he is reinstating him.  He’s saying,

“These sheep Peter, they are mine.  I bought them.  I died for them.  Now I want you to look after them.  Feed them.  Lead them.  Protect them.  Care for them.  And the lambs Peter, my little ones; the ones that are weak and vulnerable and prone to wander.  I’m putting them into your hands.  Look after them.”

And what would be the one thing that would hold Peter to this, that would keep him faithful?  Love for Christ.  You can see it now, can’t you.  You can see how all this fits together.  You can see what makes a good pastor – or any Christian leader for that matter, one who will give the sheep what they need, not what they want, who will faithfully feed them the Word of God and protect them from error and lay down his own life for them if necessary:

It’s not love for the flock.  It’s love for the Shepherd.  It’s love for Jesus.

I’ll leave you with two points of application:

Firstly: no matter what you have done, no matter where you have been, you can start anew; you can start afresh.  What Peter encounters in John 21 is a Saviour who is always eager and always waiting to start over.  There’s new grace.  There’s fresh mercy.

Secondly: What if you are a great failure and you are a great sinner and you can’t say with Peter, “Yes, Lord, I love you,” either because you don’t know Christ or because you do know Him but you feel like such a mixed bag?  Sometimes you love Him; sometimes you don’t love Him.  What do you do with that?  Where do you go?  You can’t cultivate it or create it or manufacture this love on your own.  If you don’t have a love for Jesus, where do you get it?

Here’s the answer.  The answer is very simple.  God gives you that love, when you completely surrender yourself to him.   The good news of the gospel is Christ grants his righteousness to us as a gift.  Salvation is by grace – free, unmerited, undeserved grace.  And God grants that grace to those who fall before him in worship and absolute surrender.  Don’t try to start acting better.  Don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to be a better person.”  Open your heart and allow Jesus to come in and change and transform you.  He will give you what you need.  All he asks is for you to trust him.

Pray, “God, change my heart and make me new,” and then hang on and see how His grace upon grace will burst into your life.

Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached from the Gospel of John.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

 

 

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Sometimes you can never win (especially if you’re a Christian)

homophobia

noun: intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality

That’s what Israel Folau is presently being accused of by the Australian and New Zealand media.  But they are wrong.

It all started with an innocent post on instagram about his disappointment with a hamstring injury.  Folau quoted from James 1:2-4 –Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance…”  Seems harmless enough so far, right?  Then, in the comments on that post, someone asks him about God’s plan for gay people.  So he tells it straight – perhaps a little too straight for some of us; but it was honest and from the heart.  Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God, they will be going to hell.  Now he’s a homophobic, a menace and a danger to society.  I think this gives a clear indication of just how far society has moved in the past few years as well as how much Christians have been marginalized.

Folau’s initial post on Instagram. Everyone went for the comment. No one considered the context.

Chris Rattue, sports writer for the New Zealand Herald writes,

“I don’t really care if Folau’s homophobic raving occurs away from official rugby duties. Free speech is free speech and the Folau family is on a roll.  His wife, Silver Ferns netball star Maria Folau, is standing with God and by her man and his views. They are no doubt mightily relieved to be enjoying such a healthy and inspirational non-same sex marriage.”

Ouch.  When Folau saw some of the media frenzy, the misrepresentation of Christianity and potential damage to Australian Rugby, he felt compelled to provide some kind of explanation.  So he wrote his own article on Players Voice.  This is some of what he wrote:

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.

I have sinned many times in my life. I take responsibility for those sins and ask for forgiveness through repentance daily.

I understand a lot of people won’t agree with some of the things I’m about to write.

That’s absolutely fine. In life, you are allowed to agree to disagree.

But I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life.

I hope this will provide some context to the discussion that started with my reply to a question asked of me on Instagram two weeks ago.

I read the Bible every day. It gives me a sense of peace I have not been able to find in any other area of my life. It gives me direction. It answers my questions.

I believe that it is a loving gesture to share passages from the Bible with others. I do it all the time when people ask me questions about my faith or things relating to their lives, whether that’s in-person or on my social media accounts.

Two weeks ago, I tore my hamstring quite badly in the opening minutes against the Brumbies. I was told I would be on the sidelines for a month. Finding out I would miss three or four games so early in the season was disappointing and frustrating, but I accepted the news and started looking ahead.

That afternoon I put up the following Instagram post, referring to James 1: 2-4:

 “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.”

In the comments section of that post, I was asked a question by somebody about what God’s plan is for gay people.

My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings, specifically 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

I do not know the person who asked the question, but that didn’t matter. I believed he was looking for guidance and I answered him honestly and from the heart. I know a lot of people will find that difficult to understand, but I believe the Bible is the truth and sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear.

I think of it this way: you see someone who is about to walk into a hole and have the chance to save him. He might be determined to maintain his course and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. But if you don’t tell him the truth, as unpopular as it might be, he is going to fall into that hole. What do you do?

In this case, we are talking about sin as the Bible describes it, not just homosexuality, which I think has been lost on a lot of people.

There are many sins outlined in that passage from 1 Corinthians and I have been guilty of committing some of them myself.

No man or woman is different from another – if you sin, which we all do, and do not repent and seek forgiveness, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.

As it is written in Acts 2:38:

“Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

I believe when Jesus died on the cross for us, it gave us all the opportunity to accept and believe in Him if we wanted to. To enter the kingdom of Heaven, though, we must try our best to follow His teachings and, when we fall short, to seek His forgiveness.

That sure throws a different light on things.  I only hope that when I’m placed in a similar jam that I will answer as clearly, honestly and truthfully as Folau.  Thank’s Israel for being faithful when many stars before you haven’t.

Dealing with Doubt

DOUBT.  Every person has struggled with it at some time or another, whether they be an atheist, agnostic or religious.  The atheist questions, “What if I’m wrong and there really is a God?”  The Christian questions, “What if I’m wrong and Christianity is not true?”  The agnostic (who maintains that no one can know whether God exists or not) lives in a perpetual state of doubt.

Now you might be one of those individuals who has never doubted God’s existence or doubted that you are truly saved.  Good for you.  But you may have doubted other things such as election and free will or whether God listens to your prayers.  Or perhaps, during a particularly difficult season in your life you have doubted God’s goodness.

That brings us to one of the most famous doubters in the bible: Thomas.  His story is told in John chapter 20.  Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to a number of his followers.  The only one not to have seen him is Thomas.  When they tell him about it, he just won’t buy it.  Maybe he thinks they have imagined it or they saw someone who looked just like Jesus.  What ever his reasons, he’s not swallowing any of it.  Finally, in exasperation he says,

“If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)

Now it is very easy from the vantage point we have, to rag on this guy for his scepticism and unbelief.  But we need to be careful that we don’t sell Thomas short.  There are two other places in John’s gospel where Thomas appears.  And what we learn about him may just surprise you.

Scene 1: John 11

Jesus is out beyond the Jordan River with His disciples – preaching and baptizing.  He then gets word that his friend Lazarus is sick – very sick.  After two days Jesus says, “Let’s go to Judea.”  Well the disciples aren’t too keen on this because the last time Jesus was there the Jews had tried to stone Him.  Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.”  They reply, “That’s great, if he’s asleep, he’s going to get well.”  Jesus replies (in a manner of words), “No you idiots, he’s dead.  He’s meant to die so you can see the power of God at work.  So, let’s go to him.”  Thomas, in response to this says, “Let’s go too so that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16)

Ok, so the disciples really don’t get it.  But what I want you to see here is Thomas’ devotion to Jesus.  He thinks that Jesus is going to join Lazarus in death.  And he is willing to go and risk his life and follow him.  He even challenges the others to come along.  So that’s our first portrait of Thomas: devoted, committed and willing to follow Jesus to death.

Scene 2: John 14

Jesus has just told the disciples that He’s leaving them.  He is returning to his Father.  Jesus says, “You know the way where I’m going” (verse 4).  Thomas asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, how do we know the way?”  That’s the question everyone else is thinking but don’t want to ask in case they look stupid.  Thomas takes the initiative.  He doesn’t mind asking the hard questions.  He’s not afraid to speak up.  That’s the Thomas we’re looking at here – devoted, committed, and unafraid to speak up and ask the hard questions.

The fact that Thomas has serious doubts that Jesus has come back to life – physically and bodily, doesn’t change any of that.  It doesn’t make him a failure.  It doesn’t mean he is spiritually weak, just like you having doubts about something doesn’t make you spiritually weak.

A week goes by, and the disciples are together again, behind locked doors.  Jesus appears to the disciples the same way he had before, out of nowhere.  This time Thomas is there.  Can you imagine his expression, when he sees Jesus with his own eyes?  Jesus heads straight to Thomas and says to him,

“Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” (John 20:27)

This is how Jesus often deals with our ignorance and our stubbornness isn’t it?  He’s gentle and accommodating.  He knows our faults; He knows what we are made of; and whatever the doubts, whatever the uncertainty Jesus accepts it, and meets us in the middle of it.  Our Saviour is big-hearted.  He loves Thomas and he wants to see him come to a fullness of faith and belief.  “Thomas, come now; don’t come unbelievingly. Come with faith; come with trust to Me.”

Take heart Christian, if this big-hearted Saviour was patient with Thomas, then he’ll be patient with us too.  He says to us,

“Come to Me.  Come with your questions.  Come to Me with your doubts. Come to me with your concerns.  Come to me even with your demands, and I will be able to answer all of them.”

There’s a wonderful verse in a hymn written by William Bright,

How oft, O Lord, Thy face hath shone
On doubting souls whose wills were true!
Thou Christ of Cephas and of John,
Thou art the Christ of Thomas, too.

Thomas’ response is just wonderful.  He says, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Thomas declares that Jesus is the God.  To look into the face of Jesus is to look into the face of God – the Almighty – the one true God.  For Thomas – there’s no doubt.  Only belief.  God has come to Him.  Whatever doubts he may have had Jesus has responded to them.  God’s truth has been revealed.  He sees now with his own eyes: Jesus is the risen Lord – victorious over sin and death.  Jesus responds in verse 29,

“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)

What an astounding statement from our Lord here.  He is looking forward, past Thomas, past the disciples to those who will believe Him in the future.  He is saying, “How blessed will be those not because they have seen me, not because they have prodded and touched me, but because they trust in the infallible, inerrant Word of God.  How blessed will be those people!”

Conclusion

And so, bringing all this to a close, it is not wrong or sinful for you to doubt.  The question is, what will you do with your doubt?  Will you push forward to faith or will you slip backwards to unbelief?  Because you can’t stay where you are.  To linger in doubt is dangerous.

Faith is sometimes difficult.  I’m the first to admit it.  It’s not always easy.  And for faith to be genuine, it will always have questions and doubts accompanying it, otherwise it isn’t real faith.

It’s not always an easy road to walk – Jesus never promised us that.  But he does promise to be with us in the middle of it.  He will meet us in our doubts.  And when he comes, he won’t come to scold, he won’t come to rebuke, but to gently and patiently work with us so that we progress through to faith.

Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached from the Gospel of John.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

 

When you don’t desire God

Every Christian has experienced it at one time or another.  Your heart feels cold, you have no desire to pray and you feel very distant from God.  You know it’s not good.  You know you should do something about it.  But you lack the will and motivation to do so.  You open your bible, looking and hoping for some spiritual light – some new truth to stimulate the mind and warm the affections, but nothing comes.  You put on some worship music, hoping that might change things.  But alas, it doesn’t.

Now there might be a number of causes for this malady: doubt, discouragement,  unconfessed sin, over-tiredness, or an attack from the enemy (who will do anything he can to keep you from seeking God).  Sometimes we just don’t know what the cause is.  It just IS.  The answer however, isn’t to try to get ourselves in a spiritually fit state to get back in touch with God.  That will never happen.  God is the only one who can get us back in touch with God.  Spiritual work can never be attained by human or fleshly means.  We should know that (if our theology is right).  But we forget.

So when I woke up the other morning and found myself struggling to pray, I knew the answer was not going to be found in myself, but in God.  I got down on my knees and went to a Psalm I frequently visit – Psalm 62.  The middle section goes like this:

Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him.
God is our refuge.                               Selah

I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time explaining what it means to pour out your heart.

Commentators often use the example of Hannah pouring out her heart to God in 1 Samuel 1:13-15.  The word used there is the Hebrew debar, which simply means to speak your heart.  But that’s not the same word David uses here.  He uses the word shapak, used to describe the pouring of water from a cup, the pouring of blood over the altar or the melting of wax to pour into a mould.  A possible translation then of Psalm 62:8 could be, “melt and pour out your heart to God.”  That puts a slightly different spin on it.

But it still doesn’t help us in our cold, indifferent state.  How do you melt a cold heart?  You ask God for help.  God is not unaware of our condition, for “he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).  He knows us.  He is aware.  And he cares and is willing to help.

So I ask God to soften my heart and quicken my spirit and create a hunger and thirst for him.  I plead earnestly for this, explaining to him that if he doesn’t, I will remain indifferent and cold and my prayers will be ineffective.  I continue to plead and entreat and beg God in this matter until he answers.  He always does.  He is a gracious and kind Saviour.  He always comes to the aid of those who call upon him, especially in cases such as this.  He will not leave us bereft and abandoned.  He will meet you in your cold-heartedness and bring refreshment to your soul.  Frosted hearts melt in His presence.  Trust him for it.

I’ll leave you with some words from Spurgeon, who puts it in a way that only Spurgeon can:

Ye people, pour out your heart before him. Ye to whom his love is revealed, reveal yourselves to him. His heart is set on you, lay bare your hearts to him. Turn the vessel of your soul upside down in his secret presence, and let your inmost thoughts, desires, sorrows, and sins be poured out like water. Hide nothing from him, for you can hide nothing. To the Lord unburden your soul; let him be your only father confessor, for he only can absolve you when he has heard your confession. To keep our griefs to ourselves is to hoard up wretchedness. The stream will swell and rage if you dam it up: give it a clear course, and it leaps along and creates no alarm. Sympathy we need, and if we unload our hearts at Jesus’ feet, we shall obtain a sympathy as practical as it is sincere, as consolatory as it is ennobling.

 God is a refuge for us. Whatever he may be to others, his own people have a peculiar heritage in him; for us he is undoubtedly a refuge: here then is the best of reasons for resorting to him whenever sorrows weigh upon our bosoms. Prayer is peculiarly the duty of those to whom the Lord has specially revealed himself as their defence.

Some other resources that might be of help to you:

 

No April Fool

This year April Fool’s Day falls on Easter, which is a rarity.  The last time that happened was 1956.  The reason is because Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover, which is always celebrated on the first full moon after the spring equinox, hence the clash.  As expected, there were plenty of Christianity-bashers out there making the most of it, posting scoffing remarks on social media about the ‘fools’ that actually believe in the resurrection.

Take this one for example from Atheist Revolution:

What does April Fool’s Day have to do with Christianity? Everything. This pseudo-holiday, recognized but not celebrated, is about gullibility. As gullibility is a vital friend to religion, it seems that Christians should recognize this as an important holiday. April Fools is about playing pranks, about telling lies, and about trying to convince someone that something is true when you know it isn’t. The parallels with Christianity are striking.

But are they, really?

In 2015, BMW put a front-page advertisement in the New Zealand Herald offering a new car to the first person who showed up on April 1 with their current vehicle and the coupon.  Now who would take that seriously?  One woman in Auckland did, turning up in her 15-year-old Nissan.  She was taken to the showroom and handed the keys of a brand spanking new Beamer with the number plate, “NoFooL.”

Now that has to be the ultimate in April-Fool’s reversal – right?  What most people thought was a cheap ruse was in fact, the real deal.  Well, the way I look at it, the resurrection of Jesus tops that.  The world threw everything they could at Jesus.  They tried him, beat him and put him on a cross, and then just to make sure he was good and truly dead, thrust a spear into his side.  Then they sealed his body in a tomb, with a very large stone.  They thought that was the end of it.  Three days later however, Jesus springs back to life.  Mary saw him, Peter and John saw him, as well as 500 of his followers.  Even ‘doubting Thomas’ couldn’t deny the facts when he saw with his own eyes the risen Christ and put his finger in the holes in his side.

The resurrection isn’t a trick or a ruse.  It’s the truth.  The facts are undeniable and the evidence irrefutable (find yourself a Bible and check it out yourself – it’s there for the world to see).  It’s not those who believe in the resurrection who are the fools, but the ones who don’t.  There’s coming a day however, when all will be brought to light; when we all, like Thomas, will see him with our own eyes, holes and all.

Guess who will be having the last laugh then?

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is Finished

Last words have always fascinated people, particularly from the lips of famous people.  Consider the last words from these individuals:

  • Frank Sinatra – “I’m losing it.”
  • Henry VIII – “All is lost”
  • Elizabeth I – “All my possessions for a moment of time.”
  • Princess Diana, after her car accident – “My God. What’s happened?”

Now compare these to the last words uttered by Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.”  They are strikingly different aren’t they?  These three words, which summarize the heart of the gospel, have brought hope and comfort to millions throughout the world. “At these words,” says F.W. Krummacher, “you hear fetters burst and prison walls falling down; barriers as high as heaven are overthrown, and gates which had been closed for thousands of years again move on their hinges.”

But what did Jesus mean by these words?  What exactly was finished?  To answer that, we need to revisit the crucifixion.

Revisiting Golgotha

Early Friday morning, a group of soldiers gathered at a place called Golgotha – the place of the skull.  It was on the north side of the city of Jerusalem, just outside the Damascus Gate.  After stripping Jesus naked, the soldiers laid the large upright beam of the cross on the ground and then placed him on it, and then drove large nails through his feet and wrists.  Above Jesus’ head they attached a sign: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”  This was Pilate’ doing.  It was his way of getting back at the Jewish Religious leaders for the way they manipulated him to hand Jesus over.

The cross, with Jesus on it was then lifted up in the air and dropped into a hole in the ground.  Jesus was now crucified.  For three hours he hung there, in agony; the open wounds on his back rubbing painfully on the rough wood as he moved up and down, gasping for air.  But that wasn’t the worst of it.  For during that time, Jesus was bearing our sin.  He was suffering in our place.  The full fury of a holy and righteous God was being hurled at his Son.  In the words of the Apostle Paul, “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

None of us could possibly imagine what Jesus was experiencing during this time.  None of us know what it is like to suffer the penalty of the sins of millions of people – sins of hate and greed, sins of anger and lust, sins of lying and cheating, sins of envy and pride – when you have never once committed any of them.  None of us know what it is like to have enjoyed perfect fellowship with the Father before time began, and then suddenly, in an instant, to have that fellowship broken and the One you love deeply and affectionately, turn his back on you.  This was the hell Jesus endured.

At exactly 12 noon, the sky went black – so black that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.  For three hours darkness fell across the land.  Then, just as suddenly as it started, the darkness lifted, disappeared, vanished, and normality returned to the earth.  The soldiers who looked at Jesus on the cross would have noticed that his breathing was slowing and his movements less pronounced.  He was nearing the end.

Then suddenly, without warning, Jesus cried out with a loud voice – “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Someone in the crowed shouted back – “He’s calling for Elijah.”  Moments passed, death drew near, then a hoarse whisper, “I thirst.”  The soldiers put some sour vinegar on a sponge and lifted it to his lips with a stalk of hyssop.  He moistened his lips and took a deep breath.  Then he spoke again.  It was a quick shout.  If you weren’t paying attention, you would have missed it in all the confusion.  It was just one word in Greek. . . Tetelestai . . . “It is finished.”

Note that Jesus did not say, “I am finished.”  This is not the cry of a helpless martyr.  He said, “IT is finished.”  He was making a pronouncement – a declaration.  The work of redemption was complete.  Full atonement for sin had been made.  Our debt was paid and it was PAID IN FULL.  That means every sin a Christian has have ever done, is presently doing and will do in the future is fully covered, fully atoned for, and completely wiped out – on that blood-stained cross.

I love how Spurgeon puts it:

“The debt was now, to the last farthing, all discharged. The atonement and propitiation were made once for all, and for ever, by the one offering made in Jesus’ body on the tree. There was the cup, hell was in it, the Saviour drank it — not a sip and then a pause; not a draught and then a ceasing, but he drained it till there is not a dreg left for any of his people. The great ten-thonged whip of the law was worn out upon his back, there is no lash left with which to smite one for whom Jesus died. The great cannonade of God’s justice has exhausted all its ammunition, there is nothing left to be hurled against a child of God. Sheathed is thy sword, O Justice! Silenced is thy thunder, O Law! There remains nothing now of all the griefs, and pains, and agonies which chosen sinners ought to have suffered for their sins, for Christ has endured all for his own beloved, and “it is finished.”

I think of all the sins I have committed over my lifetime.  There are a fair number of them.  Every year, the list just keeps growing longer.  Before I even reached the age of twenty, I could no longer live with them.  God brought conviction to my heart and I was crushed under the weight of them.  Then came the gospel, the wonderful, life-changing, liberating news that I didn’t have suffer for those sins; someone has paid the debt for me.

  • My sins of lust – PAID IN FULL
  • My sins of lying and deceiving – PAID IN FULL
  • My sins of jealousy and envy – PAID IN FULL
  • My sins of selfishness and pride – PAID IN FULL
  • My sins of drunkenness and idolatry – PAID IN FULL
  • My sins of pornography and immorality – PAID IN FULL

Do you have some sins you can add to that list?  I’m sure you do.  God must pronounce judgment of each one of them.  They cannot be excused.  They cannot be simply written off.  Either you pay for them – in hell, or Jesus pays for them on the cross.  But someone must pay.  I gratefully accepted Jesus payment.  So today I can say, “It is finished.  It is done.  My debt has been paid in full.”

If you are a believer in Christ who is troubled with doubt and despair, hear these words of Jesus:  “It is finished.”  Your sin has been paid for.  Your salvation is complete.  There is nothing left to do than receive the benefits of this work; to put your faith in the one who offered his life as a sacrifice for sin.

If you have not yet surrendered your life to Christ; if you don’t know what it is to have your sins forgiven and your conscience cleansed, your burdens lifted and your guilt taken away, why not surrender your life to him today?  He is there waiting for you, with open arms.  Believe in Him; trust in his atoning work on your behalf.

Then you too will be able to confidently say, “It is finished.  My debt is paid in full.”

Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached from the Gospel of John.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

 

 

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (A Good Friday meditation)

Last Sunday we had a special communion service at our church as a lead up to Good Friday.  It was a beautiful time of reflection, quiet singing and meditation.  As part of the service I had one of our members (who has a lovely Irish accent) read out the words of Bernard of Clairvaux’s hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”  I thought it would serve as a fitting post for the lead up to Easter.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, thine only crown:
How pale thou art with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
Which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest friend,
For this thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for thee.

There is no language, no sentence, nor words that are sufficient to express my deep gratitude and love for this wonderful man, this beautiful man, this sinless man, who suffered for sinners gain – my gain.  The words resounded in my head (especially the last stanza), with the soft  melody of the piano, playing in the background.  People were moving around me, coming forward to the communion table to take of the bread and the cup.  But right then, at that moment, I was no longer the pastor overseeing the running of a service.  I was one of Christ’s sheep, for whom he died.  I was a sinner, in need of forgiveness, once again.  I was not only hearing these words; I was feeling them, and feeling them very deeply.

There are some beautiful renditions of this on YouTube.  Here’s one by Michael Card from his album “The Hidden Face of God.”  It is combined with various depictions of Jesus from Artists throughout the ages.  Pictures of Jesus might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the soundtrack of Michael Card is worth it in itself.