Famous Last Words: Complete

We always enjoy having guests over to our house. The fresh faces and conversation are a welcome change of pace, and this past weekend was no exception. So, of course, the days before their arrival were filled with preparation and much needed cleaning. In an attempt to spread out the workload, I gave each of the kids their assignments, but before they got very far, previously scheduled activities interrupted the completion of their tasks. As you might expect, their chores were eventually added to my strike-list. But while I was tidying up the last few details before our guests arrived, Ryan wandered through the now spotless kitchen and asked if I needed help with anything. I thanked my son for the offer, but told him that I was finished, and there was nothing more to be done.

As I wiped the counter for the last time, I thought about Christ’s declaration from the cross recorded John 19:30.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said,
“It is finished.” 

it-is-finishedThere are a myriad of theological and foundational implications contained in those three English words, ‘it is finished’, but it’s noteworthy to point out that in the original language, Christ’s statement was actually just the single Greek word, tetelestaiThis common accounting term is one that a merchant would have used when a debt owed to him was ‘paid in full’ by the borrower. It’s a wonderfully accurate parallel for what was taking place behind the veil of Heaven in these crucial moments. In his final breaths, Christ was declaring that the sin debt for the entire world was paid, and His work to atone for the sin of mankind was finished. 

But, don’t miss the tangential – and very simple – truth that jumped out at me in my exchange with Ryan… When something is finished, there’s nothing more to do. No help is needed, no effort has to be expended, and no assistant is required. It’s all done. Complete.

There’s definitely something inside of us that yearns to ‘help out’ when it comes to our salvation. It makes us feel better about ourselves to join in the process of attaining righteousness. We want a list to check off… our own strike-list of things to do to make us feel acceptable before the Lord.

But the good news contained in Christ’s statement is this: God doesn’t need our assistance!

His relationship with us (and ours with Him) never depends on our conduct. He declares us righteous based solely on our faith in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross… and nothing else. No amount of good behavior on our part can bring us to Him. And once we are His, no poor behavior pushes Him away. We are fully “accepted in the beloved” (Eph 1:6 KJV) and “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” (Is 61:10) From the vantage point of Heaven’s throne, we stand in the purity of Christ, perfected by His finished work on our behalf!

So, if you are working hard to try to be good enough for God to love you, or to feel worthy of salvation, stop your striving.  Rest in this simple fact:

It is finished!  There’s nothing left for you to do!

 

Famous Last Words: Diligent

Spring is at the door and here in Atlanta, it has come with wonderfully moderate temperatures. A most welcome change after what seemed to be a particularly cold and dreary winter. But as anyone this far south knows, it won’t be long until oppressive heat envelopes the region in a thick steamy blanket as spring morphs all too quickly into summer. Here in my native region, the heat and humidity can be so oppressive that if you spend much time outdoors, you must be very mindful to stay well-hydrated.

While most of us have experienced relatively mild thirst on hot summer days, true clinical dehydration carries dangers that are far more serious than many realize and requires more than a tall glass of water to alleviate. The Mayo Clinic’s list of symptoms for the most severe cases of dehydration includes extreme headache, shriveled skin, dizziness and confusion.

So, when we read about the crucifixion of Jesus in John 19, it’s easy to read verse 28 and imagine that when He said “I am thirsty,” His words were solely motivated out of the physical need of his flesh.  (And perhaps His desire was simply to wet his mouth enough to utter with His dying breath what were likely the most important words of His Earthly ministry! <more on that next week>) While we can clearly see the reality of Christ’s humanity in His parched request, there is also a significant lesson to learn from the often overlooked introductory portion of the verse that precedes His statement.

“Later, knowing that all was now completed and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

That scene-setting verse unequivocally lets us know that Jesus was in complete control of what was coming to pass. While certainly his human body was wracked in every possible way by the physical agony He was enduring, it’s worth noting that He wasn’t confused, or disoriented by His suffering. I believe that the statement He made was motivated out of more than physical need since He wasn’t just hanging passively until His life drained away. Even in this final moment when His death was imminent, He remained at work, ‘at His post’ if you will, fulfilling prophecy so that nothing that needed to be accomplished would be left undone. And in so doing, He insured that throughout the centuries to come, Scripture itself would testify indisputably that He is the “Holy One of God.” (John 6:69)

These are much more than trivial details. They stand as clear reminders to each of us that Our Savior is always in control of every circumstance. Even in what seemed to be the weakest and most vulnerable moment of His time on earth, Jesus was carefully, purposefully, and deliberately carrying out the work He’d been sent to earth to do.

So, when you look at your life and feel like you’ll never be what you want to be or that there’s too much work yet to be done for you to be of any use to God, remember that you are a masterpiece in God’s eyes… one that is yet to be completed! Let today’s verse be your assurance that  your Lord is always at work and never gets distracted from His task of conforming you into His image.  (Romans 8:29)

Rest in the confidence of knowing that, in the Apostle’s words,  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

 

 

cross-and-crown-of-thorns

Famous Last Words: Abandon

My God, My God Why have you forsaken Me?  (Matthew 27:46)

Anyone who’s ever attended a church service on Good Friday or read the Gospel of Matthew would recognize these anguished words from our Lord as He hung on the cross. But while they may be familiar, they aren’t so easily understood.

For most of my adult life, I’ve heard many excellent preachers explain this passage as a cry of desperation  at the moment God the Father turned His back on His dying Son as He was bearing the sin of the entire world. Most go on to say that since 2 Corinthians 5:21 says Jesus became sin for us, God had to look away because He’s too holy to gaze upon sin.

But the more I think about that explanation, the harder it is for me to comprehend how the Father could ever be separated from His Son… ever.  Without going into complex theology, simple logic seems to argue otherwise.

First, if God cannot look on sin, then does that mean that while Jesus was on the cross, He wasn’t God?  Is He not “in very nature” God?  (Phil. 2:6) And isn’t it a prerequisite for Him to be God in order to overcome sin in the first place?  If at some time, Christ wasn’t God, then there’s a bigger problem to solve. Like, when did this alteration in His foundational nature take place? And, what are the ramifications to our understanding of Malachi 3:6 which unequivocally declares that the Almighty never changes?

There’s another dilemma the traditional understanding of this verse presents:  If God the Father is too holy to look on sin, would that not also mean He can’t be in the presence of any sort of wrongdoing? Then, does that mean that He turns His back on brothels, crack houses and corporate swindlers? Does God also flee from those who lie, cheat and steal?

The answer is, obviously, no. (Eph. 2:12-13) (see also Job 1:6-12 where God allows Satan directly into His throne room!) There are also many instances in the Gospels where Jesus entertains the company of sinners, prostitutes and crooks. And in Matthew 4, we’re told that the Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan where He endured the enemy’s presence for some length of time.  (Matt. 4:1-11)

Doesn’t the scripture paint a picture of the Father as a God Who calls sinners to Him rather than running away! So if God can be with us even in the presence of our sinful choices, why cannot He also be in the presence of the sin of all mankind at the moment Christ bore it on the cross?

I don’t want to disagree with great Bible scholars, but maybe there was something else going on that pulled the anguished lament from our Lord. Maybe, at this moment, when it required all the power of the Godhead to bear the entirety of of humanity’s sin, the full anguish of the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain taxed Christ’s humanity to the breaking point as well.

Anyone who’s felt guilt, sorrow or been lost in the confusion of sin knows that emotion can overwhelm us and cause us to feel things that aren’t based in reality. What if in the last moments of His passion, Jesus felt the same thing? Could His emotions have been so clouded by suffering and spiritual darkness that He could only cry out to His Father who, at that moment, no doubt seemed so very far away? I personally believe that…

Christ wasn’t abandoned by the Father, but instead, He abandoned Himself TO the Father.

In spite of His inability to sense the Father’s presence through this unimaginable anguish, He still trusted enough to lay His life into the Almighty’s hands. (more on Luke 23:46 later) Viewed in this way, Jesus’ words which were rooted in deep torment teach a profound lesson… They graphically remind us that trusting God is possible even when we can’t feel anything but agony and sorrow.

So, no matter what kind of pain or loss you feel, strive to model Christ’s attitude in His most desperate hour.  Trust your Heavenly Father… and know you are never deserted by Him! The  ultimate gift of His Son proves that He loves you.  So, abandon yourself to Him knowing confidently  He will never abandon you!

 Be strong and courageous …  for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:6

Famous Last Words: Family

Haitian Orphans

My friend, Michelle, is about to add two new members to her family. No, she’s not having twins. She and her husband are adopting two orphaned children from Haiti. Knowing a little about the complexities of their experience with foreign adoption, I know she would be quick to say that bringing a baby into a family the natural way is considerably quicker and far less painful than the birth pangs of adoption! But when these precious children finally (very soon) step into their new household, they will arrive as full members. While they won’t bear much of a family resemblance, their appearance has no bearing at all on the truth that they are -and will forever be- 100% part of my friend’s family.

You know, something similar happens to us when we become followers of Jesus Christ. Through His sacrifice and our faith in Him, God adopts us into His family and makes us His own forever. That means that we, not only gain a heavenly Father, but also a legion of new spiritual brothers and sisters too!

I think that’s part of what Jesus helped His disciples understand when He uttered his third statement from the cross.

 “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” ~ John 19:26-27.

Of course, His words were full of compassion for his grieving mom, but there was likely more to it than that since this wasn’t the first time that Christ broadened the definition of what it means to be a ‘blood relative.’ In Mark 3, He made it clear that He considered “those who do God’s will” (vs 34) to be members of His family.

So, while His followers stood at the foot of a cross staring up at Him, Jesus joined John and Mary together as perhaps the very first spiritual relatives to be sealed together by His precious blood.

I love this picture, because after all, what are believers today but followers who also stand at the foot of His cross, forever changed by our relationship to Him, and forever bound together with the host of other believers as new relatives! Lines of race, nationality, gender, and ethnicity dissolve and fade as we are redefined forever as spiritual ‘blood relatives.’

In today’s world of prejudice, fear and mistrust, Jesus calls His people to think differently… to live differently. We must learn to look beyond our personal inner circles… beyond the comfort of the familiar … and to take Christ words to heart… and endeavor to love, care for, and accept other believers, treating them as our own precious family.