WHY THE CROSS? – PART 3

Bible Reading: John 19:17-30; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Ephesians 2:1-8

Over the past two days we have seen two reasons why the cross is so important. These reasons were, firstly, because Jesus bore our sin on the cross as our substitute, and secondly, because through the blood of the cross we can be reconciled to God.

Thirdly, on the cross Jesus redeemed us and bought us back from Satan and his hold on our life. According to the Book of Revelation, a song that will be sung in heaven is about redemption. “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every people.” [Revelation 5:9].

The word “redeem” means to pay a price to buy something back. In modern usage this word is used in the context of something that is pawned. When someone desperately needs money they can take an item of value to a pawnbroker and exchange it for cash. The pawnbroker will then hold the valued item for a period of time, and then return the item to its owner on the payment of the cash. The act of buying the item back is known as redemption.

Perhaps more culturally fitting with the New Testament times is the picture of the slave market. In our case that owner was Satan. Paul writes in Ephesians that we were under the control of the prince of the power of the air. We were prisoners of Satan and enslaved by sin.  We were totally lost, but God reached down to save us, raised us up to new life, and gave us a hope and a future [Ephesians 2:1-8]. He did this through the cross, and paying the price to redeem us back from Satan and his control. Then having bought us, Jesus made us His possession, adopted us into His family and set us free. Jesus paid the price on the cross to set us free from Satan and sin!

 

Peter wrote, “For you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. Paul also wrote, “In Him [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace [Ephesians 1:7].

In the Old Testament a slave who was bought by a good master would commit himself to serve that master for the rest of His life if he loved his master [Exodus 21:5-6]. Jesus has bought us with His blood, and now we choose to serve Him. We don’t serve Him to be accepted, but we choose to serve Him because we love Him and are accepted. This is the basis of Paul often saying that he is a bondservant of Jesus Christ.

Questions:

In what way did Satan control and enslave us, before God in His grace, sent Jesus to redeem us by His blood [see Ephesians 2:1-8]?

The hymn writer wrote, “Ransomed [redeemed], healed, restored, forgiven.” What should our response be to all that Jesus did for us on the cross? What does it mean to be a bondservant of Jesus Christ [e.g. Romans 1:1]?

WHY THE CROSS? – PART 2

Bible Reading: John 19:17-30; 2 Corinthians 5:12-21

Yesterday we considered the first reason why the cross is so important – it is because Jesus became our substitution and sin-bearer, satisfying God’s justice and making it possible for us to come to God.

Secondly, the reason why the cross is so important is that Jesus made reconciliation for us on the cross, so that we could be fully reconciled to God.

Another word for what Jesus did on the cross is atonement – this word looks like at-one-ment! Reconciliation is the joining together of two parties who have been in dispute; it is to make compatible; It is to restore a broken relationship, and in this case the relationship between God and man!

Our relationship with God had been damaged by sin – we were alienated from God. Isaiah writes, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” [Isaiah 59:2]. The Bible says that outside of Christ a person is dead toward God!

There was nothing that we could do about this BUT God took the initiative to reconcile man to Himself [see Ephesians 2:1-4].

There are three verses in the New Testament that specifically use the word reconciliation in the context of our being reconciled to God. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” [2 Cor. 5:19]. “We have reconciliation and peace through the blood of His cross” [Colossians 1:19-23]; Writing to the Romans, Paul says, “We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” [Romans 5:10]. Clearly it was on God’s heart to be reconciled with sinful man, and that reconciliation originated with God. Through the cross and by the shedding of Jesus’ blood it is possible for us now to be reconciled to God and live a life that pleases Him. Although God has made reconciliation possible through the cross, we now have to accept His offer to be reconciled.

When I was a young Christian I enjoyed reading the sermons of D.L. Moody, who was a great evangelist. One of his illustrations was the story of a father who, through the death of his wife, was reconciled to his son. The father and son had fallen out many years earlier. The son left home and hadn’t seen his parents for many years. As the mother was dying her husband asked if she had a dying wish. It was to see her son one more time. He was called to the bedside. The father and son sat on opposite sides of the bed, and her last dying act was to take her husband and her son’s hands and join them together. That illustrates what Jesus did in reconciling us to God on the cross.

Questions:

How should we respond to God when He has taken the first step to be reconciled to us?

Read 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. What is the meaning of “God has given us a ministry of reconciliation” and “committed to us the word of reconciliation”?

WHY THE CROSS? – PART 1

Bible Reading: John 19:17-30; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness [absurd and illogical] to those who are perishing and spiritually dead [because they reject it], but to us who are being saved [by God’s grace] it is [the manifestation of] the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:18 Amplified Bible]

It was Paul who said that he preached Christ crucified [1 Corinthians 1:23] and would only boast in the cross of Christ [Galatians 6:14]. Over the next four days I want to explain why is the cross so important.

Firstly, Christ died in our place. He was our substitute. Christ died, the just for the unjust” [1 Peter 3:18]. The principle of substitution is found throughout the Bible. In the story of Abraham offering Isaac, God provided a lamb as a replacement for Isaac. Before the exodus from Egypt every Israelite family placed the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts and lintel of their home.

God said, “When I see the blood I will Passover you” [Exodus 12:13].

Throughout the Old Testament animals were sacrificed as the penalty of sin so that men could come into God’s presence. That was under the old law and dispensation, and the writer of Hebrews calls these things a shadow of things to come [Hebrews 10:1]. John the Baptist, at the end of the old dispensation points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” [John 1:29].

God who is holy wants to fellowship with us, but cannot because of our sin. His justice must be satisfied and the penalty for sin must be paid. Only when the penalty of sin is paid can we be free from the consequences of sin, and have a relationship with God. On the cross Jesus bore our sin, took our punishment, and satisfied God’s holiness and justice. Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” [1 Peter 3:18]

Jesus is our sin-bearer who makes it possible to come into the presence of God. The hymn writer, Philip P. Bliss put it so well when he wrote,

“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”

Questions:

In our Bible reading today we read that the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks [1Corinthians 1:23]. Why is this the case?

What does it mean to you personally that Jesus bore all your sins on the cross? Why should this be an incentive to live a life as free from sin as possible?

How would you explain to someone else that in bearing our sins, Jesus satisfied God’s holiness and need for justice? Why is it important to God that wrong must be punished?

JESUS AND HIS MOTHER

Bible Reading: John 19:25-27

Honour (respect, obey, care for) your father and your mother, so that your days may be prolonged in the land the Lord your God gives you” [Exodus 20:12 Amplified Bible]

As we read through the four Gospels we find seven statements of Jesus from the cross. One concerned His mother.

It must have been very difficult for Mary at that time. The miracle birth of Jesus, and the accusations that went with it was one thing, but Jesus being very different from other men must have been difficult too. When Jesus was twelve years old, Mary and Joseph lost Him in the crowd, and returned to the Temple in Jerusalem to find Him. He was listening to the Jewish teachers and asking them questions. When they found Him they were amazed but could not understand when Jesus said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” [Luke 2:48-49] It must have been confusing when the Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus or on another occasion, when Jesus said in the presence of Mary, “Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother” [Matthew 12:46-50].

Despite all the struggles that Mary must have had, Jesus honoured her and on the cross was concerned that she was cared for [John 12:25-27].

I recently read this beautiful quotation from Elizabeth Elliot’s book, Passion and Purity, She wrote, “I was 18 years old when I got my first fulltime job, and I learned an important lesson about the discipline of saving money. I worked hard and saved until I had enough money for a year of school. Then my mom had emergency surgery, and I realised I had the money in the bank to pay for her operation. My love for my mother suddenly took precedence over my plans for the future.” A wonderful picture of honouring your mother!

Recently, God has been speaking to me about my own attitude to my Stepfather and my Mother. Many times I have spoken from the pulpit in giving testimony, of the difficulties of my childhood. That is an undeniable fact, but do I show my parents up in a bad light? I have had to confess this as wrong before the Lord. Although there were negative issues, there were some positives as well. One of the most wonderful days in my life was when my mother and I were deeply reconciled and forgiveness flowed. In the latter years of her life we became very close, and it was a privilege to spend much time with her through the sickness of the last year of her life.

One of the keys to living a long and fruitful life is to honour your father and mother. This is the first of the Ten Commandments that has a promised attached to it.

Questions:

However wrong our parents might have been, it is still important that we honour them. Do you honour your parents? How do you honour them? Is there anything that you can do to honour them more than you do at present?

WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH JESUS?

Bible Reading: John 18:28-19:16

Pontius Pilate came face to face with Jesus Christ and had to make the decision of what he would do with Him. Like Pilate, we all have to make important decisions in life, but none is more important than the decision of what we will do with Jesus. Let’s look at the some of the facts concerning Pilate’s confrontation with Jesus.

Firstly, Pilate had never encountered a prisoner like Jesus before. The Bible says that Pilate marveled at Jesus because He did not answer even a word [Matthew 27:14]. Every other prisoner desperately pleaded their innocence and tried to sway his judgment, but not Jesus. He remained silent. The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled, that Jesus was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not His mouth [Isaiah 53:7].

Secondly, Pilate recognised that Jesus was innocent. Twice he said, “I find no fault in this man” [John 18:38; 19:4]. He even knew that Jesus had been brought to him on a false accusation. He knew that Jews wanted Jesus killed because of envy [Matthew 27:16]. Pilate even asked the crowd when they demanded that Jesus be crucified, “Why, what evil has he done?” [Matthew 27:23].

Thirdly, recognising that Jesus was innocent, Pilate tried to find an excuse to release Jesus by using the custom that one prisoner would be released at the Passover [John 18:39]. Pilate really was trying to get out of having to make a decision about what to do with Jesus.

Fourthly, Pilate’s wife sent him a message saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him” [Matthew 27:19].

Fifthly, seeing that he could not prevail against the crowd, Pilate washed his hands in front of them, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person” [Matthew 27:24]. What did Pilate do with Jesus? He had scourged and delivered Him to be crucified [John 19:26; Matthew 27:26]. Finally, Pilate insisted that Jesus be given the title, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” [John 19:19-22]. Not Pilate’s King, but a King!

Jesus was very gracious to Pilate, and told him that he had no power over Jesus except it was given to Him from above, and in that sense the sin of the Jews was greater than that of Pilate [John 19:11]. That might even have appeared to Pilate as a get out clause, but sin, either lesser or greater is still sin and will be judged.

In the final analysis Pilate chose to reject Jesus. Perhaps he did not recognise Jesus as the Redeemer and Saviour of the world. Ultimately there was no compassion, recognition of personal sin, or denial of self. Instead his decision was one based on the fear of men’s opinions of him, and of losing his political power. He lost it anyway, was recalled to Rome, and died an untimely death.

Questions:

What are some of the reasons why people might reject Jesus today?

Would you take time to study in depth, with an open heart and mind, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and make your own decision about what you will do with Him?

AVOID RELIGION LIKE THE PLAGUE

Bible Reading: John 18:12-14, 19-28; Matthew 11:28-30

Have you noticed that it was the religious leaders who wanted Jesus crucified, because His actions and teaching had cut across what they believed and made Him more popular. Two of those leaders are specifically mentioned in John’s Gospel. One was Annas, Israel’s high priest, who was deposed by the Romans, and the other, his son, Caiaphas, whom Romans made high priest in the place of Annas. They were religious but they were corrupt. Jesus stood before Caiaphas, at night, in secrecy, in a hearing that was full of illegalities and made a mockery of justice [Matthew 26:57-68].

Can you imagine that the religious leaders didn’t want to go into Pilate’s palace, so that they would not be defiled and therefore be unable to eat the Passover! Pilate had to come out to them [John 18:28]. Religious rules, regulations, and ordinances had taken the place of grace. Religion had led the people of Israel into a bondage that was far worse than the bondage they experienced in Egypt. Someone has said, “I think it’s about time we gave up on religion and got back to God”

Religion has a fundamentally warped vision of God. I sometimes think that it is little wonder that the world fails to understand the message of God’s grace because it has seen so much of man made religion and the mess it has caused. Religion is man’s attempt to reach God in his own way and strength. Religion makes rules and regulations that are intolerable and burdensome, and then tells you that if you keep these rules God will accept you. It is through this religious lie that people have been controlled, and wars fought in the name of God. Religion is more concerned with outward appearances and not the heart. Obeying religious rules will never change a person from the inside out. All our efforts to make ourselves righteous by attending church, and trying to live a good moral life will basically end in failure, because the Bible says, “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6].

Jesus saw the bondage that religion had created for the people of Israel, and He passionately called them to a different way of life. He said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” [Matthew 11:28-30 The Message]. It is a life of freedom to be the people God made us to be where the indwelling Holy Spirit leads us, and not the pressures from outside of us that we feel that we must obey. It is grace not rules; freedom not bondage; growing not stagnating!

Questions:

Why do you think it is that religion has had such a hold upon people?

What do the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28 mean to you personally? What do you think it means to be ‘yoked’ to Him?  What do you think is the meaning of the phrase, “the unforced rhythms of grace?

WHAT IS TRUTH?

Bible Reading: John 18:19-38

Jesus made a profound statement when He said to Pilate, “I have come into the world, to testify to the truth” [John 18:37]. Pilate responded with cynicism [the Amplified Bible uses the word scornfully, asking, “What is truth?” Although spoken with cynicism by Pilate, it is nevertheless, a vital question, and the subject of men’s searching for centuries.

God’s truth is neither abstract nor relative. It consists of absolute. For many people in a postmodern society this is uncomfortable and regarded as divisive, because it separates between right and wrong. But that is exactly what truth does! Truth is not necessarily what the majority of people believe. In a postmodern society the general view of truth is that it is relative and dependent on a given situation or circumstance. This totally unbiblical view would make truth to be without absolutes. The irony is that people who say this hold an absolute – because the only absolute that they then hold is that there are no absolutes. To view truth in this way is to remove the basis of right and wrong and leaves us in moral danger.

Absolute truth is essential for righteousness. By absolute we mean that which remains the same whatever the circumstances. God is unchanging! Truth is a fundamental characteristic of God. His Word is truth, both in its written form and in Jesus whom the Bible describes as the Word [John 1:1-4].

We are to seek for truth and in finding truth we will gain everything else that is good. It is in the knowing of truth that we find true freedom [John 8:36]. When you face Jesus the Truth, you must make a decision. In that sense He is divisive, and actually said so. He said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” [Matthew 10:34]. Truth does divide people, but as we daily face different situations we need to continually fortify ourselves with the truth. God’s Word is truth! Read it! Speak it! Memorize it! Believe it! Use it when the enemy attacks your mind!

Writing about truth, C. S. Lewis said, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair” [http://www.brainyquote.com]

Sadly Pilate asked the question, “What is truth,” but did not embrace or support Jesus, the Truth. As far we know Pilate never came to know the truth. The historian Eusebius records the fact that Pilate ultimately committed suicide during the reign of the emperor Caligula. A sad ending and a reminder for everyone that ignoring the truth always leads to undesired consequences.

Questions:

How would you answer a person who asked you the question, “What is truth”?

Are you facing a difficult situation today? Why not ask God to give you a word or a truth from His Word? Then keep speaking it out until the truth of His Word becomes a part of your spirit.

THE SIN OF INDIFFERENCE

Bible Reading: John 18:18 ; Matthew 25:34-40

Over the past few days I have thought a lot about the picture of Simon Peter warming himself in front of the fire whilst unrighteous men were abusing and mistreating Jesus, who was totally innocent of the charges against Him.

Whilst we need to be careful that we fight the battles that God wants us to fight, there can surely be no excuse for sitting back and relaxing whilst innocent people are abused and mistreated by unrighteous men. If our Christianity does nothing except bring us personal comfort, then our relationship with God and his heart for humanity have to be questioned.

The Old Testament prophets spoke God’s Word and heart powerfully into the social evils of their day. He came as Judge because of their indifference and hardness of heart. Isaiah exhorted the people of Judah to, “Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” [Isaiah 1:17]. The people of Judah had thought that their sacrifices to God were sufficient and acceptable, but they were not.

One of the most powerful examples of someone fighting injustice is the story of William Wilberforce and his fight against the slave trade, so remarkably portrayed in the film Amazing Grace. Wilberforce could have had an easy and profitable life as a Member of Parliament but chose instead to fight for the abused and mistreated slaves. We have similar kinds of oppression in our society today, and like Judah we will be judged if we simply sit warming ourselves by the fire. I would like to conclude today’s devotional word with a poem, entitled Indifference, by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

Questions:

Why do you think that religious sacrifices of Judah were unacceptable to God?

What are the main reasons why people might be indifferent to the needs of others? In what way do you think that God might ask you to be active in the fight against social justice? What did Jesus say about it in Matthew 25:34-40?

A KINGDOM NOT OF THIS WORLD

Bible Reading: John 18:28-38

Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world [nor does it have its origin in this world]. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would be fighting [hard] to keep Me from being handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world” [John 18:36 Amplified Bible]

When Pilate asked Jesus the question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” he was asking a highly charged political question. Any thought of a rival king or rebellion against the Roman Empire and its rule would have been dealt with instantly and very severely. Jesus’ reply, “My kingdom is not of this world,” would have satisfied Pilate that He was not a political threat.

Apart from allaying Pilate’s fears, what exactly did Jesus mean when He said,

“My Kingdom is not of this world”? Firstly, it does not have its origin in this world. Each person who belongs to Christ’s kingdom has, without exception, been born again from above by the Holy Spirit [John 3:1-8]. Secondly, those who belong to Christ’s kingdom do not fight in a carnal way, as the world fights, because it is a spiritual kingdom. Spiritual victories are never won using mankind’s destructive weapons. Jesus did not allow the Jews to come and take Him by force to make Him king [John 6:15]. Thirdly, Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and shall never be destroyed [Daniel 2:44; 7:14]. Finally, Christ’s kingdom belongs to the saints of the Most High [Daniel 7:27].

Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” [Matthew 6:10], and yet when asked about the kingdom of God by the Pharisees said, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the kingdom of God is already among you” [Luke 17:20-21]. What does it mean that the kingdom of God is already among us, and yet we should pray for it to come? The kingdom has already come in the hearts of King Jesus’ loyal subject, who love Him and submit to His rule in their lives. Those who have not submitted themselves to the rule of Jesus as King are not yet a part of God’s kingdom, and we are to pray that His kingdom will come to them.

Matthew’s Gospel is known as the Gospel of the kingdom, and is full of parables of the kingdom. Moses went up a mountain to receive God’s Law, and Jesus went up a mountain to interpret it in terms of the kingdom [Matthew 5:1]. The first and last beatitude contain the words, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:3,10]. In conclusion, one of the great promises of Jesus is, “Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” [Matthew 6:33 NLT].

Questions:

In what way do you think Jesus had tremendous wisdom in the way that he answered Pilate?

Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. Why should we not depend upon fleshly or carnal means to bring about spiritual ends? In what way should citizens of God’s kingdom be different to others in their thinking?

WHEN IT IS MORE COMFORTABLE TO LIE

Bible Reading: John 18:15-27

My wife and I were recently sitting chatting about Peter and his denial of Jesus when she made the statement. He told lies! That set me thinking. Why did Peter tell an out and out lie! He twice said that he was not one of Jesus’ disciples [John 18:17, 25], and then denied that he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus [John 18:26-27].

The Bible speaks very strongly about telling lies. It says that the devil is the father of lies [John 8:44]. God’s character is such that it is impossible for Him to lie [Hebrews 6:18]. God hates a lying tongue [Proverbs 6:16-17]. The Bible says that, “he who speaks lies shall perish” [Proverbs 19:9].

Some people are habitual and compulsive liars. It can be as much an addiction as to alcohol or drugs, but Peter was not an habitual liar. It is more likely that sitting warming himself at the fire, and lying about his relationship with Jesus was an issue of fear and cowardiceness. We know that later Peter wept bitterly over his denial of Jesus [Luke 22:62].

There is no such thing in the Bible as a white lie – a lie of convenience. A lie is a lie in the sight of God. I have often heard staff say that they were expected to tell lies by their superiors. “Just tell him that I am not in the office today!” For a Christian it is wrong to tell a lie, even when told to do so. This is where the cost of following Jesus has to be counted. There is a price to pay for Holiness. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul said, “Put away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour’” [Ephesians 4:25]. I have a friend who works in the financial sector who was asked by his boss to tell a lie to cover a huge illegal financial payment. As a Christian, my friend refused on principle to lie, and was told to resign or be sacked. With no work my friend went through some difficult months, but God has honoured and blessed him, but his boss will now spend a long time in prison for fraud.

God is very gracious and if we confess that we have told lies, then He will forgive us. If you don’t believe that then look at how Jesus restored Peter. Abraham, Isaac, David, and Jacob all lied. Jacob lied to his almost blind father and told him that he was Esau, his brother, in order to steal his brother’s inheritance. Twenty-five years later God met with Jacob and asked him a question, “What is your name? He said, ‘Jacob’” [Genesis 27:18-19; 32:27].

He may have lied to his father, but he could not deceive God! You can neither lie to God who knows everything, nor expect the fullness of His blessing if you lie to others. Oh, and by the way, lying includes exaggeration!

Questions:

Why do you think that God speaks so strongly against telling lies?

Read Exodus 20:1-17. Which of the Ten Commandments speaks specifically about telling lies?

Why not ask the Holy Spirit to show you if you have told lies? If He shows you that you have told lies, then ask God to forgive you.