Good Friday was the darkest Friday

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Matthew 22:46

Taken from Psalm 22, Jesus’s cry on the cross had to ring strangely in Jewish ears. Jesus hanging their likely naked in full sight of all, actually at ground level just outside the city, and with the suffering, and immense agony of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to this, we have to try to appreciate the sufferings of our Savior.

Our Evangelical Christian tradition often emphasizes the truth of Christ’s finished work through his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins spoken of in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere. And echoed in Jesus’s words on the cross recorded in John’s gospel, “It is finished”, if his words there are interpreted to mean or include that. That is all well and good and true.

But we need to take some time to dwell some on Christ’s sufferings. We have a glimpse of them in the gospel accounts, echoes from the psalms. And the spiritual darkness evident here was apparent in the darkness when either an eclipse of the sun occurred with heavy clouds, or at least a dark overcast sky.

Yes Good Friday was the darkest Friday of all. But through that day, all the hosts of spiritual darkness are put in their place, to be ultimately vanquished. A terrible day, yes. And we should hold that note and pause. But ultimately a glorious day, proven some hours later.

 

 

victory in the stress and strain

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

There is no end to stress in this life. And at times it’s heightened, so that we call it “distress.”

Our help always and forever is in God. When we’re in over our heads and can’t see our way forward, that’s when God’s salvation is needed. We are unfit ourselves. Our only qualification and ability is received indeed as a gift in and through Jesus, God’s anointed one. We who are in Christ are part of God’s victory in Christ.

It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we receive this gift. God helps us desire what is really good: God’s will. And answers our prayers to that end. We have to hold on to faith in him through all of that.

Does that mean that all will go perfectly in this life? No. What it does mean is that through the stress and strain of it all, God will give us victory, and enable us to be part of that. Again, not in our own strength and ability. But only in and through Jesus.

 

 

the end of the last enemy

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Savior!
He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,
who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me.
Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.

He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing love to his anointed,
to David and to his descendants forever.

Psalm 18:46-50

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:25-26

God is going to take care of all the enemies of humankind: the basics of that being sin and death. We see proof of that in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ, along with his ascension and the promise of his return.

None of us look forward to death, unless one is quite sick. We don’t. But it’s a fact of life, and the sooner we can reconcile with that, the better. At the same time we don’t have to fear, because Christ has taken the sting out of death, and made it the gateway into life, eternal life, by his death on the cross.

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

We win, included in that victory, the last enemy to be destroyed: death itself, in and through Jesus.

 

 

holding on to one’s crown

Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

Revelation 3:11b

I am not presumptuous enough to think or assume that a crown awaits me in heaven. Not at all. But I do know that any seeming progress made in the Christian life, any breakthroughs will always be challenged.

That is the point the Lord was making to the faithful church and believers of Philadelphia in the province of Asia in the Revelation. We are to keep growing, yes, but also hold on to what we have.

I do agree with Chuck Swindoll’s thought, even a title of one of his books, Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back. We need to remember that we’re ever in need of grace, not only to progress and grow in the first place, but because we will at times lapse into old ways, even if and hopefully so, only a short time, or moment.

As we see in this short letter (click link above), this is an essential for us, in and through Jesus.

knowing what we’re up against

Yesterday in a helpful message on giving money (1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8, 9), Jeff Manion pointed out that it’s important for us to know what we’re up against especially in our own tendencies, as well as simply living in a world with values which might run contrary to our own so that we might feel pressure to conform. Know and grow were maybe the two big words in these two message on giving money in The Grace Effect series.

Yes, and so important, a really good opening up and application of those passages for us today. And I have to think along with that, this is a good word to us in general. We need to know and grow. Know where we’re at, what our goal is in Christ through the word, and what opposition we have. Of course we learn all of this from the word, from scripture, as well as simply from living in life, both. Scripture is the basis for our thinking and action, and life confirms it in various ways.

It’s all ongoing. Don’t we all wish we could simply step into the full and complete victory of God in Jesus? And it’s not like we never do, or in a sense already have in our salvation in Jesus, because that most certainly is the case. But from that we grow, because we’re left in this present existence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And make no mistake, the going is not always easy, sometimes brutally hard. And that is in large part to our own tendencies. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who insisted that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, and that we would find rest in that yoke with him (Matthew 11:28-30)?

But we know that we’re also up against an enemy which knows our weakness, and seeks to exploit it just at certain times. I definitely, and at times frequently experience that. As we’re told in scripture, we are in a spiritual battle, no doubt (Ephesians 6:10-20).

To be forewarned it to be forearmed, they say. To know does seem to be half the battle. Although in this case, knowing ends up being even more, since we have to understand our struggle, as well as what God’s will in Jesus actually is for us. Too many of us, and too often, as well as too long in our lives, settle into something far less that what God has for us in Jesus. We need to become more and more aware of that, as well as more and more aware of God’s victory in Jesus which is for us now. And how this need never ends in this present existence of the world, the flesh and the devil. But is overcome by the gospel, the good news in Jesus, through the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And incrementally through growth, but a growth which helps us to live fully, more and more in that salvation for us, present now in Jesus.

in Jesus we are invited to intimacy and enthronement with him

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire,so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3:14-22

We may live in a Laodicean kind of age, not at all related to any dispensational scheme, but with something of the kind of Christianity we see in the Laodicean church of old. They were well off and satisfied with their lives, even as they named the name of Christ. But Jesus told them that there was something vitally missing. It wasn’t necessarily that they lacked a personal relationship with Jesus altogether, though it does seem weak at best. They are told that they are loved by God, and therefore being disciplined, at least that is intimated.

About a personal relationship with Jesus. I know that is bashed in some quarters of the church, but even if it might be overemphasized by some, while other matters of importance which are also central to the faith are largely ignored, it still, I say, is important. We have to keep reading scripture to really see if that’s the case, but I think a fair reading of the Final, New Testament will amply bring that out.

Yes, Jesus is on the outside knocking, so to speak. He wants a close fellowship, or communion with us. That is among other things which is at the heart of the faith, and in a way, we might say, at the heartbeat of it all.

And the idea that we’re not in a battle, and that it should all go easy if we’re in the Spirit is simply not a matter of fact either in reality, or in the pages of the Bible, including the New Testament. We are, and to realize that, we can say, is half the battle. Of course being “in the Spirit” will help us deal with the hard places, but it is no less a battle, of course spiritual in nature.

And what we’re promised if we’re victorious in and through Jesus is shocking and mind boggling. We are told that we’ll end up sitting with Jesus on his throne, even as Jesus after his victory sat with his Father on his throne. I can just imagine millions upon millions upon millions getting to take their turn seated with Jesus on his throne, and in the Spirit somehow always seated with Jesus on his throne. It’s interesting that even now we are seated with the ascended Christ, who is at the right hand of God, enthroned with the Father; that we are seated with him positionally, and perhaps by the Spirit there (Ephesians 1-2).

And so a close intimacy in knowing Jesus seems tied to being victorious in him in this life, so that in the end we are honored with him in and through him. As long as we’re in this present life, both are of vital importance.

…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8

 

the one word we in Jesus witness to

The Lord announces the word,
    and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng

The Lord gives the command;
    great is the company of those who bore the tidings

Psalm 68 NIV; NRSV

A big part of what I do on this blog and hopefully elsewhere is to attempt to share the word that has come to me allegedly from God: the word of God. I try not to get in the way of that word, but simply to proclaim, or communicate it, as it is. What I say is of no ultimate and final importance; it is only what God says that will ultimately take and last forever.

I don’t have time to look at the Hebrew (as if that would matter- lol), but here is an explanation of trying to determine from the Hebrew who is proclaiming this word, whether women or not. I like the rendering of the NIV and HCSB (and even the ESV as well) which makes it out to be women. I am tired of the charge from some that the church is being or has been feminized. In place of that, there seems to be some sort of rugged American masculinity which would replace it. I am prone to think that the biblical text and story come up with something else which doesn’t equate with anything from our American narrative. Most directly, one needs to read and take in this fascinating psalm, Psalm 68.

Handel’s glorious Messiah, the same verse from the KJV, and our friend, Mark Simpson’s new classic rock album both are examples of faithfully proclaiming God’s word from different mediums. Of course most would see them as a far cry apart, but even though the genre is markedly different, I hear the same voice coming through from both: the word of God in testimony through response and proclamation. Well worth a listen, and more listens.

That is what we do, that is what we’re about. Not some lesser word. I don’t care what the best word from Washington D. C., or any other such place in the world is, even though it does have it’s provisional place, so that I actually do care. But not in comparison to God’s word; there is no comparison at all, none. What we seek to hear and be a witness to in the world is no less than the word of God from scripture, the transforming good news in and through Jesus.

we in Jesus are meant to be victorious

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Revelation 2:12-17

In an existence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we are not only pummelled with this and that, sometimes real, legitimate concerns, but also at other times real temptations and sins, both in our own lives, and in those around us. I added the first, not germane to the text above, but certainly addressed by our Lord, as well as elsewhere in scripture. This text has to do with actual sin.

The way of victory as translated by the NIV (see also, the NLT and the CEB in the link above) is to be victorious. It is translated as if this is something which is true of us in Jesus, perhaps in keeping with the grammar of the original Greek. We do have it from Romans 8:37 that in all the troubles of this life, particularly because of that which would challenge, undermine and even destroy our faith, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In other words, it’s because of our standing in Jesus that we can indeed emerge victorious. By and in God’s grace in Jesus we can overcome, and in fact we simply are more than conquerors.

There is much opposition to faith and the faith in this life. But even greater than that is the reality that is ours in Jesus, and through his death and resurrection, along with his ascension. We are victorious in him, and we simply need to live out what is true of us already, a recurrent theme in the New Testament concerning our new identity in Jesus. What is his through his person and work is given to us to live out in this world individually and together, to show to the world the power of the gospel and the salvation that is in and through Jesus.

knowing Satan’s schemes

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes.

2 Corinthians 2

Whether we like it or not, we in Jesus are in a spiritual battle. And the more serious we are about our walk in the Lord, the more real that warfare will become.

Yes, Satan and his hosts are defeated through the risen Christ’s death (Colossians 2:15). We in Christ have the victory, and can live in that by faith. But living within that is not automatic.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5

The world, the flesh, and the devil have aptly been called the unholy trinity, not that such is actually analgous with the Blessed Trinity, but because in scripture these three though distinct, are in sync with each other. The world refers to the world system set against God either subtely, or not so subtely. The flesh refers to humankind under the power of sin, manifest individually and systemically. And the devil is Satan, or evil personified, actually in a person which in their evil loses what is good of personhood, and disguises evil as good.

We in Christ by the Spirit and in the communion of the church need discernment from God to understand the enemy’s working, what they’re up to, and how they trip us up. There is no question that they do. And we need to be not only aware of that, but to learn to recognize it when it is happening, and know what to do to resist and overcome it. And we have to remember that in this present life this spiritual warfare will continue on (Ephesians 6:10-18) until the Lord returns.*

To be aware of this we might well say is half the battle, but we need to know what to do, as well. We certainly need to resist and stand firm, holding on to the gospel as the power of God to overcome sin, death, and evil. While seeking to remain responsible, our final hope and confidence lies only in the good news of God who is Jesus, with all the meaning that comes with that in God’s revelation found in scripture and taught by the church. There is no easy formula. It involves our entire life, and all of God’s revelation to us in Jesus, received not only once, but over and over again. Through a once for all salvation, which involves a process in growth in grace into increasing conformity to God’s will in Jesus. So that even though we through Jesus can do better and overcome some things, we must be ready for more. Hopefully getting better and better at it, as we look forward to our Lord’s return when evil will be vanquised forever and this spiritual warfare done.

*See C. S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters for a most interesting, informative look at this, told in an imaginative, true to life story.

courage

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 Joshua 1

 Although there may be some residual resistance for good and not so good reasons, most things in life are not that hard to do. We do them out of necessity, and because they are the best we can do. But there are certain matters that we naturally shrink back from to the point of putting them off, and perhaps failing to do them at all. In significant part, because we lack courage.

Courage might be defined or described as proceeding with a task, or remaining in a position, in spite of perceived or real dangers. Of course wisdom would dictate that one proceed with due caution. But at times, there’s no escape from the possibility of an injury of some sort, the kind we’re thinking of would ordinarily be something less than physical, even though for some Christians in the world, just to meet together might incur physical risk, even just to be a Christian, period.

I am one myself who probably am a bit contradictory in that I face and complete tasks I have to do usually with some fear and trepidation, or at least an anticipation for what might go wrong. So that I ordinarily do well enough in what I have to do. There are some things not part of the normal routine of life, which though still needing to be done, I can easily shelve for as long as possible, this of course being procrastination. Some of these matters, I put off because of the fear of failure. But as often as not, probably more so, failure is much more likely if I put it off too long. In fact the window of opportunity for some things can end up coming and going, and we’re left out in the cold, so to speak.

We need to see our responsibilities in the light of God’s will and call for us in Jesus, for that matter, we need to process all of life that way. We need to see it in terms of God’s good will for us in Jesus, made known to us in scripture, including the difficult book of Joshua, which along with the rest of scripture receives its fulfillment in Jesus himself, in his coming, declaration and demonstration of the kingdom of God, and death and resurrection. Now ascended at the right hand of God in the place of ultimate authority, and to return to bring in the final judgment and salvation.

We need to take courage in Jesus, because in him is the victory of God over all that is in opposition to God and God’s good will. The courage we need is in the face of trouble no less, but with the promise that we are part of that victory of God in and through Jesus, regardless of what is happening here.