This week I share an interesting article about the death of family pets, an interesting resource for how to watch the news, and then we’ll be continuing our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress.
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I’ve watched the Passion of the Christ on Good Friday almost every year since it came out in 2004. It’s not that I love the movie, or that I find it entertaining… in fact most years it’s not even convenient. If you were here on Good Friday, or perhaps in your own personal reading time this week, then you’ve been through the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a powerfully intense section of scripture to read. The movie The Passion brings out that intensity in a very meaningful way to me, and I am both repulsed by it and captivated by it at the same time.
The reason that I watch The Passion is because I am drawn to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Part of me wants to look away and never turn it on again, or read that section of scripture again, because it’s so intense. However, because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, and my understanding of His sacrifice on the cross for my behalf, I make myself read it, and watch it, and remember why He was there.
Though we all come from very different perspectives, everyone who knows the story of the crucifixion of Jesus asks the same question when they are done reading or watching it: “Why?”
Why did they hate him so much?
Why did He put Himself through that?
Why didn’t He just come down off the cross?
Why was it so violent?
Why did it have to be done that way?
Why would Jesus endure such pain and agony especially if He is the son of God?
If you understand the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you are in a personal relationship with Him, then you are probably in a place where you can answer some of those questions… at least intellectually. But even if you have a good understanding of the gospel, you still don’t have all the answers to those “why?” questions?
Especially when the question changes from “Why did it happen that way?” to “Why did Jesus do that for me?” or “Why, if I believe His agony was a payment for my sin, do I keep sinning, complaining, and wondering if God loves me?” Somehow, the simple (though right) answer of “Because He loves me” doesn’t seem good enough. When we start to comprehend what Jesus did, and the gift of salvation He made available to us, we are overwhelmed and can’t fathom a love that sacrificial, that strong, that deep. Not for us anyway.
Perhaps you have come today with a true and real understanding of the cross, the resurrection, and the cost of your sin. Perhaps you have come today because it is your tradition, but not because you really understand or believe in the Easter story. Perhaps you have a small faith, but there is something that is holding you back from really believing and exercising that faith in your daily life. Or perhaps you once believed with all your heart, but you have fallen away from that belief. Whatever reason brings you today, I’m glad you are here because I want to share with you the gospel. I believe all men and women everywhere have a hunger for truth and love. And I believe that the deepest desires of our heart are found in Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as it is told to us in the Bible.
Startled by the Love of God
I want to share the story of Jesus from a section of scripture that you may not usually associate with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Part of what amazes me about the Bible is how well it holds together, and how it all points to Jesus. The scripture I want to read with you was written about 700 years before Jesus was born – and about 100 years before crucifixion was invented, but it describes the day of Jesus crucifixion in great detail. It talks about what Jesus would go through, why He would need to, and what He would make available to the world by doing it. Fee free to open up and follow along with Isaiah 52:14. I’m going to read it from the New Living Translation, so your Bible might be a little different.
“But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. 15 And he will startle many nations. Kings will stand speechless in his presence. For they will see what they had not been told; they will understand what they had not heard about.”
It’s amazing to me that we who sit here today are some of those who are “startled” by this. We are part of the nations that are startled, surprised, and wonder at the story of Jesus. Everyone, from the King to the lowliest person, once they grasp the message of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ stand speechless in wonder. Even the most hardened atheist, the most jaded skeptic, can’t help but be moved by the story of One who would endure so much out of love for people who didn’t deserve it.
My heart breaks often for those who don’t understand that there is Someone who loves them. Perhaps even you have placed your personal value on what you have, what you can do, how you look, what you can produce. There are many who base their self-worth on things like their possessions, their education, their family status, their ego… and when it is taken away or found to be lacking, they lose their identity, their dignity, and even their self-worth.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that God finds every person in the world to be valuable and worthy of love. You, despite any sin you have ever committed, before you had been born, before you had a chance to do anything of value, were loved, created for a purpose, and given a path that would lead you to into the very presence of God. That way was paved for you at great sacrifice.
Isaiah says that people who begin to grasp this kind of love from God, they “understand what they had not heard about”. When the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus for their sins sinks deep into their souls, they are startled, speechless, standing in awe of God. It’s an amazing thing, and I hope you have experienced it.
A Different Kind of Saviour
Continue in Isaiah 53:1 and let’s read how Isaiah summarizes the life of Jesus. What brought Him to the cross? What kind of life did He have?
“Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? 2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”
Here, Isaiah tells us about the contrast between the reality of who Jesus is and how we treat Him. Jesus came to a world which was akin to a dry river bed during drought season, a land unable to produce good fruit. He came to a world that could not feed people what they need to grow closer to God, where rains had not come for a long time, and where no one was able to produce seeds of righteousness that would grow other healthy spiritual plants. Jesus defied logic. He was tender and green, despite the conditions. He was a deeply rooted, seed-bearing, fruit-bearing plant, growing in dry, cracked ground. He was different and had a source of power beyond what anyone else was able to connect to.
He is the Son of God, the creator of Heaven and Earth, the One whom angels worship, but when He came, He chose to leave that majesty behind Him. He did not come as a super-attractive, physically strong, handsome superman who would whisk the world off its feet and blast evil with his laser eyes. He didn’t come as a slick talking, well tailored, lawyer that would twist words and make people feel foolish. He didn’t come as a rich man who tricked people into following Him with grandiose promises of worldly wealth. His beauty and majesty wasn’t worn on the outside… it was inside. Those who were attracted to Jesus, were those who needed to meet love incarnate, not some kind of cheap knock-off.
Women who were deeply hurting, rejected by society, living in sin, who were used and abused by men, came to Jesus because they found Him to be loving, forgiving, gracious and safe. Rich men who were hated by all of their own people, didn’t hate Jesus, but instead wanted to be near Him. People who were despised because of their physical sickness, came to Jesus because He loved them in a way they had never experienced, and could heal them with a power they had never seen before – not just from their sickness, but from their deepest emotional hurts. Wise men sought Him out so they could be wiser. Ordinary, cowardly, fishermen were changed at the core of their being to become leaders in the most influential group of people that has ever walked the earth.
Rejected and Despised
And yet, though He spoke nothing but the truth, showed nothing but grace, conveyed passion and love at all times, wept with the hurting, performed miracles for the sick, opened up the scriptures and taught things about God that no one had ever heard before… most people rejected Him.
As the Gospel of John 1:10-12 says it:
“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”
He wept over Jerusalem, over the temple, over the world, over our sin. In the end, He was alone in Gethsemane, even His friends couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray with Him. At the cross, many people mocked Him openly while others turned their backs and walked away. There was only a handful that would stay with Him in the end.
He was despised by the world then, and even today the rejection continues. He died for us, we refuse to acknowledge His very existence He lives for us, calls to us, speaks to us, gives us scripture, gives us the church to encourage us and be served by, and yet… many live as though they could care less.
And yet. Let’s read from verse 3, but verse 4 starts with one the most powerful words in scripture: “Yet…”
“We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”
This is why I say that if you have an understanding of the Gospel, you cannot read the story of the crucifixion or watch the Passion of the Christ and walk away unmoved, unchanged.
When we see Him weak and weighed down with the cross, it was not His own weight He bore, it was ours. Mine and yours. When He is spit on, rejected, and insulted, He is bearing our insults. The rejection He is feeling from us, we should be feeling from Him. The fear we should be experiencing, the judgement we should be crushed by, the wrath we should be under… He took for our sake.
When the nails pierce His hands… I see my hand. I pray you see yours.
It is not His sin that put Him there… it is our rebellion that should have put us there… and yet there He was. Sometimes we are tempted to think that this has nothing to do with us. It was something in the past, something done for someone else. It’s not me, it couldn’t be me. But the truth is that every stripe, every part of that, was our doing. He took it for those who would believe in Him.
“He was beaten so we could be whole, whipped so we could be healed.”
What a strange picture! The word “whole” is the word SHALOM, which means “peace, safety, complete, friendship, tranquility, contentment.” He was beaten so we could be at peace. He was buying SHALOM for us. We could not experience peace and contentment with God because of the sin which separated us from Him. We could not have friendship with the Spirit because of our unrighteousness. We could not know tranquility in this world, or with the people of this world, or even with ourselves, because of how warped our souls are because of Sin. If it wasn’t for what Jesus went through, we could never know peace!
We Are Sheep
The Bible calls people “sheep”. Listen to what Jesus said in John 10:11-18.
“11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
I looked up in my commentary what it means when we are called sheep in the bible. It means “Stupid and helpless”. We have all, like sheep, wandered from our shepherd. Put ourselves in danger. Went our own way. We don’t know how to save ourselves. We get ourselves into trouble all the time. We get stuck in the most foolish places. And we are helpless to do anything other than bleat that we are in trouble! God laid out a path for us to follow, and we decided we wanted to go another way – we though the grass would be greener somewhere else and we left the safety of our Shepherd. And it’s not. It’s like we were digging a hole and then fell in our own hole – and decided that the best solution would be to keep digging!
But instead of God writing us off as stupid, helpless, troublesome sheep who He would be better off without, He is the Good Shepherd, who came and got us. John 3:16, “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.”
We were in debt far beyond our ability to pay. Jesus the good shepherd paid our debts in full. We were lost in the forest, surrounded by wolves, and Jesus, the good shepherd, fought off the wolves, and brought us back to His pasture. We left and sold ourselves into slavery, utterly rejecting who we were created to be, and Jesus didn’t leave us there but instead came and bought us back at His own expense, cleaned us up, and made us part of His family again.
It Is Finished
Skip down to Isaiah 53:11, and listen to the end of the story. After Jesus has been through the worst punishment ever conceived by humanity, He says from the cross “It is finished”, or “It is accomplished.” And Isaiah says,
“When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”
Jesus went to the cross, and came away satisfied. He made it possible for all who would believe to gain something they could have never gotten for themselves. He made it so that the unrighteous could be counted righteous. He made it so that the sinner could be called a saint. He opened up the door to eternal life for all who would believe.
And we celebrate at Easter time, the seal of this promise. The truth hangs on one event. It would be one thing to know that Jesus had done all of this and died for our sake. But there is more. Not only did Jesus die, but He rose again to new life.
How do we know the Gospel is true? How can we know that the love we’ve been talking about is available to us? How do we know that we can have new life and be reborn as a Christian? How can we trust what Jesus and the Bible says? Because of His resurrection!
The story didn’t end on Good Friday but on Easter Sunday when Jesus showed that He has the power to conquer sin, and conquer death. And by His resurrection He has opened the door for all who believe to be resurrected with Him. We need to fear judgement, sin, death, or anything else, because our Lord, our Good Shepherd, loves us, laid down His life for us, and then took it up again of His own accord. He made a way for us to experience a love beyond that which we can understand. It is through a relationship with Him that our greatest needs are met and our deepest desires are satiated.
This is what we celebrate today, and this is what has changed those of us who believe. We are radically different than before we knew this, because it has touched us at the deepest level of our self.
I urge you to investigate this truth, to investigate why Jesus did this for you, to accept that you are a sinner, tell Jesus you accept His salvation, and let Him be God to you. Today is the day of salvation. If you once believed, but have fallen away, ask forgiveness and start again with Him. He has never left you, and will never forsake you. Please, take that step today.