Seven Things Jesus Accomplished on the Cross

There were seven things Jesus needed to accomplish while he was on the Cross. Dying was only one of them, and you or I could do that assuming we were crucified. What Jesus had to do was to complete, in perfection, some other tasks only he could do as the only begotten Son of his Father. What he needed to do before he died is reflected in words he said while on the cross. There are seven of these given below in chronological order.

Number One: Jesus forgave his executioners.

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”  (Luke 23:34)

From our perspective, it would not be easy to forgive people who were putting us to death. To make it worse for Jesus, his executioners were gambling to determine who would get his clothes, including a seamless robe of presumably significant value. It was necessary, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to forgive them.  This was to demonstrate that anyone could receive forgiveness from him, though not everybody would. Jesus extended grace to the soldiers and not to some other people. In doing so he showed he had no anger or hate for those who tortured him. That was undoubtedly not easy in the circumstances.

We remember there was in Jerusalem that day many people as guilty of Jesus’ death as the soldiers who actually carried out the crucifixion. Perhaps there was no forgiveness for them for they did know what they had done and thought they had done it for the best of reasons.

Number Two: Jesus ministered to someone in the most excruciating of circumstances.

“And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)

Would you or I be willing to offer the priceless gift of salvation to someone who minutes before had been taunting us about our faith. Would we even have such a conversation while dying a tortuous death? Jesus had to provide a conversion experience to the repentant thief because he had said no one would be condemned who came to him believing in who he was (John 3:18). He needed to prove the truth of that assertion in the worst situation anyone has ever been in.

Number Three: Jesus remembered his mother’s needs.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

Why did Jesus have to make provision for his mother’s future welfare while he was dying? One answer would be that his obedience to his heavenly Father would leave her without her eldest son who would normally have taken care of her. Another way of looking at it is that Jesus foresaw that his brother James and all the apostles except John would be martyred. Jesus must have known that John was the only one who could fulfill his obligation to his mother.

Number Four: Jesus endured separation from God his Father.

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34)

Some Christians have experienced what is sometimes called “a dark night of the soul.” This, as you might imagine, causes them great anguish. Perhaps Jesus had to have this experience to know what some of his brothers and sisters would go through when calling out in desperation for a feeling or sign that someone cared for them and getting nothing back in response. This seeming absence of God apparently is always temporary, otherwise there would not be books written by faithful Christians describing the trauma of their hurting souls.

Just as Jesus’ death was of immeasurably greater importance than ours will be, so was the temporal withdrawal of the Father from Jesus of greater significance. Jerusalem was darkened for three hours.

Number Five: Jesus fulfilled Scripture.

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28)

A drink of sour wine was God’s provision, and it was given to him by an act of human mercy. It is hard to see how Jesus’ expression of his thirst was a fulfillment of Scripture. Perhaps it is connected with the surprisingly early death of Jesus (Mark 15:44). Possibly, the wine somehow allowed Jesus’ life to end so he would avoid the breaking of his legs to ensure his more rapid death. Thus the Scripture was fulfilled that said “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36).

Number Six: Jesus surrendered his human spirit to death.

“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)

Jesus, because of his divine nature as the Son of God, was able to do what we cannot. As an act of his will, Jesus separated his human spirit and his divinity from his physical body and thus denied death a final victory over him. When Sunday morning came, his body, spirit, and deity were reunited, and then we arrive at the Easter story. Jesus, in some manner after that, stayed on earth for forty days and then ascended into heaven.

Number Seven: Jesus trusted God fully at his last breath.

“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 23:46)

Although the Father had departed from Jesus for three hours while he was on the cross, when it came time for Jesus to die their relationship was restored. This was consistent with Jesus’ total obedience to the Father’s will. He was ready to do what we should do when our time of death comes and that is to entrust God with the keeping of our spirit.

Faithfull obedience to his Father’s will was Jesus’ desire  in all he did while he was on earth, and it also was the motive of his creative work before the Incarnation, and it drives what he now does as the risen Son of God.

Scripture from the English Standard Version

Electronic Christianity Three

My most humble apologies to any who may have read my post “Electronic Christianity Two” and thought I was trying to base eChristianity on the Nicene Creed. That was not my purpose at all. What I was trying to accomplish was to show there was something solid at the core of Christianity. What I wanted to point out was that just as there is a reality underlying mathematics, physics, and all other kinds of science so there is a reality to Christianity that cannot be ignored. Please forgive me if I was unclear.

Perhaps I should have used the concept of “mere Christianity” that was used by C.S. Lewis to describe his idea of the root reality of Christianity. In any case, at the heart of our belief is the actual reality of a new life that will endure forever. This is the sure promise and the ultimate certainty yet it is not all there is for us in Christianity. Although most of us have probably had our lives greatly changed through the work of the Godhead in us, what also matters is that we are a part of the body of Christ and the body needs all of us parts to be truly whole. This is why I thought up eChristianity. It is conceived as a way to bring together the many of us who are one-person churches; people who have never found their “fit” in conventional churches and provide us a unity with each other.

I am not sure how eChristianity will work but I think it can use what the Internet has made possible. It is meant to enable the coming together of many parts of the body of Christ so Christianity can better withstand the forces operating to reduce its influence in the world and in people’s lives.

Please let me know what you think.

Electronic Christianity Two

I think that eChristianity needs a solid foundation to build on. After all, Jesus told us we were to build on rock and not sand. The Nicene Creed is possibly the rock we should build on. It has stood as a basic statement of Christian belief for about fifteen centuries and during that time has withstood the assaults of many, many alternative opinions. A version from a contemporary prayer book follows.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

It is appropriate that the majority of the creed focuses on the person of Jesus Christ since he should be the center of all Christian expressions. In addition to giving due respect to the person of the Son of God, there are other things about the creed that we should note. It is meant to be a creed for all of Christianity. This, I think, includes eChristianity. It is sufficient. It is all we need to believe to count ourselves Christians.

We should also think some about what is not there. It speaks of one baptism for the forgiveness of sins but says nothing about how, when or for whom. The Lord’s Supper/Communion/Holy Eucharist (for this sacrament we do not have a common name and yet we all, presumably, participate) is not mentioned.

The creed also says nothing about our human attributes. What counts in the creed is our “We believe” so we can be part of the eternal world to come. It is good it is this way because just as none of us are in the same place physically, none of us are in the same place spiritually. Each of us has our own spiritual “About” yet we can be united in a common faith as presented in the creed.

The Woman at the Well

Amazing isn’t it. You know from the title what person I am going to write about. So did the Bible Gateway search engine, although the woman is not identified that way in the Bible. Further astounding is the fact that there were thousands of women in Palestine at wells on the day Jesus talked to a woman from the Samaritan village of Sychar but this is the only one we know about.

There is something else about Sychar that we should know. Jesus did not have to go there. When the Pharisees increased their opposition to his ministry in Judea Jesus decided to return to Galilee.  Now note this, John 4:4 (NIV) informs us, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” It is true that Samaria lies on a straight line between Judea and Galilee but that did not make it necessary for Jesus go through Samaria.  There was a route east of the Jordan River that Jesus used at other times to travel between the Jewish areas of Galilee and Judea and that was the preferred way to travel precisely because it avoided going through Samaria. The necessity for Jesus to travel as he did was that he would meet a woman at Jacob’s well.

The encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well was not related to the fact that the well was thought to have been dug by the patriarch Jacob. Jesus had to meet the woman at a well because he was going to tell her of a metaphorical spring of water that would come to her though her faith in him and bring her to eternal life (John 4:10-15). We all know that water is essential for our physical life and that we have to drink it daily to maintain our bodies. Jesus was connecting our spiritual lives with what he called living water. This is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. When we are filled by this living water we no longer thirst for the presence of God but experience it as a certainty.

Much is made in the retelling by preachers and Sunday school teachers of the story that the woman was at the well in midday. And there is no reason to doubt the woman was of ill repute in the village. After all, she had been through a bunch of husbands and now had not even bothered to go through the formalities of marriage with her present mate.

It is even not too surprising that Jesus revealed to her he was the Messiah and gave her to believe that she had been forgiven of her sins. Other people, like Matthew, who were pariahs in their own towns received the same kind of blessings from their encounter with their Savior. What seems so remarkable to me was that the people of the village listened to her and believed her when she told them of her experience.  They, too, became believers in Jesus and “said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (John 4:42, NIV).

Perhaps it takes people to whom God has personally spoken to have such a certainty of their encounter with him that they are able to open others to the reality that Jesus is the Savior for whom they have been seeking. Then these people go on to read the “book” and have their own personal experience of the fact that Christ is Lord of all.

Jesus Weeps

It was a sad day in the village of Bethany. Four days earlier a popular young man named Lazarus died an untimely death and had been placed in his tomb. The mourning for him was still continuing, including even Jews from Jerusalem who had come to comfort Mary and Martha.

When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived at Bethany, she went out to meet him. This was not to invite him to come to the wake at her home but to find out why he had not come sooner when he could have healed Lazarus. At this point in the story we should stop and consider Martha’s faith in Jesus. Personally, I find it mind boggling considering the probable limits to her understanding of who Jesus was.

First, she believed that Jesus could have healed her brother had he been there. Second, she knew that Jesus would receive whatever he asked of God. Third, she believed her brother would come to life again at the resurrection that would take place on the last day. Finally, she said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world” (John 11:27, English Standard Version).

After this conversation, Martha went to tell Mary that Jesus was there. When Martha returned to Jesus with Mary, she said what Martha had said about Jesus not being there to heal Lazarus and then fell at his feet weeping. It was then that Jesus wept, being deeply touched by their grief and that of the other mourners. In addition to his sympathy for the sisters, there was another reason Jesus experienced deep sorrow.

Martha and Mary were right. Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death. However, Lazarus’ death had to happen so Jesus would be glorified by his return to life (11:4). Another reason for the event was that the disciples might learn that someone could rise from the dead (11:15). Last, it would, as Thomas rightly understood, lead to Jesus’ death (11:16).

There are several reasons for Jesus’ grief. Perhaps the deepest motivation for Jesus’ tears was the understanding that doing his Father’s will would hurt the friends he loved. Jesus also had to foresee that his agony at Gethsemane and his death on the Cross would cause enormous pain to him and to those who had believed in him. However, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, his grief then turned into great joy.

In order to obey what God has intended for us to do, it may also be required of us to hurt the people we love. If that happens, let us remember Jesus weeping with his friends and then rejoicing with them, and so be able to both obey and then find hope in the larger purposes of God. Like Jesus, we too must place the Father’s will above all personal desires and yet remember, as we are faithful, the short term may be hard but the long term is eternal glory.

 

How Does the Holy Spirit Come to Live In Us?

How does the Holy Spirit come to live in us? This question comes from our adult Sunday school class discussion of Romans 8. It is based on Romans 8:11 (NIV) “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” You will probably not be surprised that the class was more eager to talk about Romans 8:28 “…in all things God works for the good… .”

The verse begins with a seemingly conditional statement “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” but ends on a positive note “give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” In addition to the difficulty concerning the Holy Spirit coming to live in us, we have a further problem in how the Holy Spirit can give life to mortal bodies. The word mortal means subject to death.

A long time ago my wife and I attended the volunteer training for a Billy Graham crusade. I remember the instructor saying that it was fairly common for volunteers to discover that they were not “saved.” How could this be? They were all people from churches. They were eager to do something good. They all intended to help in the evangelizing of the unsaved. They were like the many other people who have been told they were Christians yet they had not received the Holy Spirit within them. This was evidenced by the fact they realized they lacked something in their Christian experience.

I think that had they asked their church leaders about the presence of the Holy Spirit in them, they would have been told that the Spirit had come to them as a “tag-a-long” to some other aspect of Christianity. They event mentioned might have been “believing in Jesus,” baptism, living a good life or something else. What they most likely would not be told was, as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:7-8), that the Holy Spirit moves as it will. It acts outside of the control of people or churches. So how does it happen that it comes to certain people?

For the answer to that I think we have to go to the difficult subject of the election of believers. Some people do not like election because it removes from individuals the ability to control their own spiritual understanding and destiny. Others, often unbelievers, think it is unjust that some should be chosen for salvation and others rejected. Personally, I like election because it is the only reasonable explanation as to why I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I have no personal goodness to offer God and for many years I tried to live without God. However, since the Holy Spirit “did a number” on me I have become more and more dedicated to living for Jesus.

The Holy Spirit lives in those in whom it is the Father’s purpose that the Spirit does so. These are people chosen, on some basis we do not understand, before the creation of the universe. The life the Spirit gives to our mortal bodies is such that we can be redeemed from slavery to our flesh and put on the path to our glorification, which will be finalized in heaven. Without this spiritual coming to life there is, I think, nothing of our bodies that can endure beyond the earth so in this way the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies.

What Did the Disciples Doubt?

Matthew 28:16-20 tells us of Jesus giving the eleven disciples what we call the Great Commission. It is a familiar and much cited passage and yet there is something in it that our adult Sunday school discussion class skipped over that seemed to me of interest. This was the phrase in verse 17 “but some doubted.”

The complete verse 17 (NIV) reads “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Apparently Matthew was the only gospel writer to make this statement as no cross references are given in the NIV for this verse nor does the Oxford Study Bible provide any. As far as commenting on it, the Life Application Study Bible does not refer to it. This is not an extensive survey of possible aids to understanding what Matthew had in mind but it seems our class was not the only people willing to just let it sit there without attempting to understand how it could be true.

Another Matthew, Matthew Henry did not omit a comment on this verse. He writes “All that see the Lord Jesus with an eye of faith will worship him. Yet the faith of the sincere may be very weak and wavering. But Christ gave such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as made their faith to triumph over doubts.” What Henry writes is true in the large view but does not deal with why there were doubts among the disciples, on that mountain, on that day, with the risen Jesus present with them.

The doubt may have arisen from the fact that it was evident by then that the messianic kingdom of Jewish anticipation was not what Jesus had described when he spoke to them in his prior teaching of the kingdom of God/heaven. What was it to be and what was their role in it going to be? This seems to me at the root of their uncertainty and why it can be said that some doubted.

Jesus, as always, was aware of their concerns and, as was typical, gave them a task they had not foreseen. They were to use his kingly authority on earth to make disciples from all nations. They were to make them citizens of the kingdom of God by baptizing them in the names of the Trinity. Then they were to teach them be good subjects of their Lord, that is they would be shown how to obey the commandments Jesus had taught the disciples, love God and love your neighbor.

The disciples were only the first of many Christians who have had uncertainty about the nature of the kingdom of God and their participation in it. These doubts have often been resolved by placing the kingdom in another time or place and envisioning Christians as reigning in it. This is another version of the Jewish expectation and not at all what Jesus taught the eleven disciples gathered that day on a mountain.

Christians have also been distracted from the focus on the kingdom of God that was central the Christ’s teaching by confusing the church with the kingdom. It is clear, though, that the kingdom of God exists both on earth and in heaven while the church is an institution whose purpose is to support the spread of the kingdom and the growth in maturity of all believers. The church is both flawed and temporary, as are all the things of earth. At the end of time it will cease to exist while the kingdom of heaven, and those who belong to it, will endure forever.