Forsaken

Baseball season is upon us. Today is Opening Day. All throughout the fall and winter months, teams have prepared for this summer. Players have trained. Coaches have strategized. Management has secured new players. Each team has worked to fill voids in their rosters. Very often, these roster bolstering moves are done through trades where one team gives another team a package of players in exchange for a different package of players. The hope is that these exchanges will fill the needs so the team can accomplish its goals.

As we make our way through the sayings of Jesus from the cross, we come to Matthew 27:45-46. There, Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46, CSB)

In this scene, we are reminded that Jesus became sin and bore its consequences.

On the cross, Jesus fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah foretold when He said the “Lord punished him for the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6, CSB). The Apostle Paul tells us that God “made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us,so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, CSB). In other words, Jesus became sin for us. He exchanged His righteousness for our unrighteousness (1 Peter 3:18).

Part of this exchange is that His righteousness has been credited to our account. He took our sin debt and credited our account with His righteousness. Imagine you are in the hole for millions and millions of dollars. Your debt is so great, you will never be able to repay it. Not even Dave Ramsey can help you. You are hopelessly in the red. But, a billionaire comes along and offers to pay off all of your debt. That would be tremendous. But, imagine he goes one step further. He is willing to take on your debt and transfer to you his account. Not only is your debt paid, but now you are flush with cash. That’s what happens at the cross. Jesus becomes our sin, pays our debt, and transfers His righteousness to our account. In Christ, when we stand before almighty God, our sin debt is not what He sees. Rather, He sees the balance transfer Jesus provided. He sees Jesus’ righteousness in our account. This is the great exchange.

Not only did Jesus become sin, but Jesus bore the penalty for sin. The text tells us that darkness covered the land for three hours. Scholars debate the cosmological causes and the scope of the darkness, but the theological meaning of the darkness is clear. Throughout Scripture, darkness is often associated with the judgment of God. As Jesus becomes sin, He bears God’s wrath.

It is significant for us to know that through His death, Jesus completely satisfied the wrath of God. His propitiatory sacrifice…His atoning sacrifice had satisfied a holy God’s demand for the payment of sin.

As He experiences this soul-crushing moment, Jesus cries out to God. Throughout His agony, Jesus gives us a model of how we can deal with our own suffering. He cries out and is honest with God. He expresses His raw emotion. But, through it all, He still clings to the fact that God is still His. He holds onto “my God.”

A.W. Pink sums this up this exchange at the cross this way: “At the Cross man did a work: he displayed his depravity by taking the perfect One and with “wicked hands” nailing Him to the tree. At the Cross Satan did a work: he manifested his insatiable enmity against the woman’s seed by bruising His heel. At the Cross the Lord Jesus did a work: He died—the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God. At the Cross God did a work: He exhibited His holiness and satisfied His justice by pouring out His wrath on the One who was made sin for us.”

Know that in Jesus, we are forgiven. He became sin for us. He bore the weight of our sin and completely satisfied the wrath of God. In this great exchange, He offers us forgiveness and restoration. He brings us into right relationship with God. Because He was willing to be forsaken, we can be forgiven. Get in on this. Look to Jesus and trust in Him today.

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Promise

I have seen and heard of a number of different kinds of promises. There is the pinky promise. There is the promise ring. There is the politicians’ promise. There are contractual promises and marital promises. Then, there are divine promises. It is this last type of promise that we see in Jesus’ conversation with the thief on the cross. And, it is the promise of Jesus that offers pardon for sin.

As Jesus hangs dying on the cross, Luke’s gospel tells us (Luke 23:35-43) that the crowd watched, the leaders scoffed, the soldiers mocked and the thieves insulted. But, then something happened in the heart of one of them. He stopped hurling insults at Jesus and began to rebuke his co-conspirator. He reminds him that his death was imminent. Judgment was coming. He was going to stand before the eternal judge who would soon render His sentence. This repentant thief acknowledges his own guilt and declares he’s deserving of the punishment he is receiving. He recognizes the innocence of Jesus and asks him to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, CSB).

The thief had nothing to offer Jesus in payment for such a request. He had no good works to give. He had no time or opportunity to engage in religious rituals or practices. He had no chance to make amends for any or all of his wrongdoing. He simply asked to be remembered when Jesus comes again. His is a plea of faith. You and I bring nothing to Jesus other than the sin that needs forgiven.

Jesus offers the thief, and everyone of us who come to him in repentance and faith, hope. He assures him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42, CSB).

Today. Jesus’ promise suggests that there is no delay for those who trust in Him. No purgatory. No soul sleep. No waiting. The moment we breathe our last breath on this earth, we take our next in the presence of Jesus.

Furthermore, Jesus promises His eternal presence. He says, “You will be with me.” All who turn from their sins and look to Jesus in trusting, saving faith will be with Jesus forever.

Finally, Jesus says the thief will join Him in paradise. The psalmist spoke of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6). That’s the hope Jesus gives here. Those who are His have an eternal home.

As Jesus hung dying on the cross, He reminds us that death is not the end. It is not our final domain. Jesus died so we don’t have to. Because of Him, we can live, even though death comes to us all.

A promise is only as good as the individual who makes it. They have to have the character and the ability to follow through on the commitment. Jesus has both. Since He is God, He is perfectly holy and trustworthy. As God, He has the ability to follow through on what He has promised. He promises pardon for sin and a restored relationship with God. May our hearts be repentant, our eyes be open, and our hearts be receptive to the hope Jesus offers. Rest in Him and Him alone today.

Forgiven

Two of the most powerful words in the human language may be the words “I’m sorry.” These words express contrition and empathy for the wrong done to someone else. But, what happens when these words don’t come from our lips or the lips of someone who has wrong us? Then, we may find that there are two even more powerful words – forgive them.

It’s these words that Jesus prayed from the cross as He hung dying for our sins. Luke 23:32-34 tells us that Jesus was led away and crucified with two other criminals. The language reminds us that Jesus was counted among us and died in our place. How appropriate is that picture? Jesus dying on a cross in the place of another being counted as a sinner among sinners, even though He was never convicted of any wrong doing. Paul sums up the theology behind this when he reminds us that Jesus died in our place and become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Luke’s account also tells us that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes as he hung dying in the morning sun. The only possession Jesus had was stripped from him and was a prize to be won by His executioners. What a rebuke of the false teaching we know as the “prosperity gospel” which teaches God wants to shower us with stuff in this life. It is fascinating that Jesus dies with nothing, yet He gives us everything. Through our faith in Jesus and His provision on the cross, we have been forgiven and restored into a right relationship with God. We have been welcomed into His family. As His adopted brothers and sisters, we are co-heirs with Jesus of everything God the Father gives to Him (Romans 8:17).

It is Jesus who opens the door to forgiveness. He prays for it to be extended to His tormentors and those who put Him on the cross. And, in case you’re wondering, you and I helped put Him there. He not only prays for it, but He also models it. Throughout His ministry, teaches commanded His followers to forgive those who have wronged them (Matthew 5:44). So, we understand that forgiveness is not an option for believers. We must forgive those who have hurt us.

As Jesus hangs on the cross praying for and modeling forgives, we see that He also offers it to us. As followers of Jesus, we have been forgiven. His forgiveness is complete and brings us into right relationship with God. And, because of His forgiveness, we in turn can forgive others. Our natural tendency is to push back against this and to hold grudges. Yet, the love of God constrains us to extend mercy and forgiveness. Jesus frees us from this sinful nature and this far too human reaction. His forgiveness compels us to forgive.

May we embrace the forgiveness Jesus offers, and as we do share it freely with others.

I Am Barabbas

gavelIn the classic movie Spartacus, Kirk Douglas plays a slave who leads a revolt against the Roman Empire. When he and his men are finally caught, the Roman authorities want the ringleader of the rebellion and they ask who is Spartacus? As Douglas stands to identify himself as the leader, man after man stands saying “I am Spartacus.”

The New Testament tells us of another insurrectionist…a man by the name of Barabbas. He too had broken Roman law and rebelled. He had revolted against the Empire, robbed, and murdered for his cause. He had now been caught, tried, and found guilty. He was condemned to death because of his transgressions. No appeal was left for him. It was only a matter of time and time was running out.

Inject into that equation, a man by the name of Jesus. He also had been arrested, but the Roman Governor Pilate found no guilt in Him. Torn between political pressure and his own investigation, Pilate attempted to placate the angry mob by offering them a choice between Barabbas and Jesus. The crowd called for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified. Many suggest that Jesus would be hung on the cross prepared for Barabbas. An innocent man died in the place of one guilty and condemned.

I am not Spartacus, but I am Barabbas. I have rebelled against the sovereign Creator of the universe. I have revolted against Him and gone my own way (Isaiah 53:6). I have taken what is His and used it for myself. I have murdered in my heart by being angry in unjust ways (Matthew 5:22). I too am guilty, and my guilt justifies my condemnation. Death is a certainty. But thankfully, Jesus died in my place. The innocent bore the punishment of the guilty.

The Bible says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV).

I am guilty. I am condemned. But, Jesus took my place. He paid the price for my sin. He died that I might be set free. I am no longer dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked (Ephesians 2:1-2). I am alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).

I am Barabbas. And so are you. We are all guilty and condemned. Yet, God in His great love for us provided a substitute. An innocent man died in our place. Our debt has been paid. Our crimes have been paid for. Justice is done and the sentence has been carried out. We have been released from the power and the penalty of sin. In Christ, we are free. In Him, we are alive. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

Nobody’s Perfect

I don’t know who first said “nobody’s perfect” (and apparently neither does Google), but he or she must have been pretty smart. Because, it does indeed seem that no one is perfect. We are all flawed in some way. Our imperfections show in so many areas of our lives. Our attitude, our choices, our behavior and our performance all speak to our imperfection in some way or another. And, almost all of us understand and accept this. Or do we?

It seems as if we all accept that no one is perfect, but we often demand that others be perfect. If nobody’s perfect, then that means there are no perfect people. And, if there are no perfect people, that means there are no perfect spouses, no perfect children, no perfect parents, no perfect teachers, no perfect athletes, no perfect neighbors, no perfect nurses, no perfect servers, so on and so forth.

Now before you think I am justifying anything and everything under the banner of “nobody’s perfect,” I’m not. And, I’d encourage you to quit excusing away your behavior under that banner as well. We may not be perfect, but we can strive to be better. Paul puts it this way, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2, ESV)

What I am trying to encourage us to do in light of all of our obvious imperfections is to show a little more grace. If God has poured His grace into our lives because we have sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23), should we not at least try to demonstrate the same kind of grace towards other imperfect people? I’m not talking about justifying someone’s misdeeds or enabling them to continuing perpetrating them. I’m simply reminding us that as imperfect recipients of God’s grace, we would do well to show grace to other imperfect people. It may make a huge difference in their lives. It definitely will make one in ours.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

The Difference

Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees.  So, be sure not to miss the point in the passage famously paraphrased this week.   In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV).

So, what’s the point?  Sin…any sin…every sin separates us from God.  And, Jesus is sufficient to forgive us and cleanse us from sin…any sin…every sin.  It is Jesus who makes the difference in our lives in our standing with God.  Jesus and Jesus alone.