What Was Purchased on Good Friday

March 29, 2013

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert (1593-1633)

They All Left Him and Fled

March 22, 2013

And they all left him and fled (Mark 14:50).

Jesus fed thousands. So many gathered to hear Him, He had to leave the lakeshore and get in a boat to teach. A multitude welcomed Him to Jerusalem, shouting “Hosanna,” proclaiming Him as the fulfillment of the promise of a coming Son of David.

But now, after a show of force by the authorities, Jesus is alone. “They all left Him and fled.” All abandon Him. Not just the crowds. Not just those who saw miracles. But even those who have spent years at his side. Even those who have shared His bread. Even those He loved to the end. Even Peter, who only hours before proclaimed his faithfulness to Jesus until death. That faithfulness lasts only until a servant girl says she saw him with Jesus.

Only Jesus is faithful until death.

Something in us desires to be the hero. We all are tempted to say with Peter and the other disciples, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you” (Mark 14:31).

And whenever we try to be the hero, we fall flat on our faces – months or years later, if not (like Peter) that very day.

Only Jesus is the hero.

The Gospel is not the story of great men who do great deeds for God. The Gospel is not the story of heros of the Christian religion who, through tenacity, boldness, and strength conquer kingdoms and overcome evil. The Gospel is not the story of women of great insight and cleverness who outsmart evil oppressors.

The Gospel is the story of a holy and loving and faithful Trinitarian God: The Gospel is the story of God the Father planning and orchestrating all affairs of this world to display His character, His glory. The Gospel is the story of God the Son leaving His throne to become incarnate as Man, living the life God always intended for mankind, and then suffering and dying on the cross so that He might rise to be the first among many brothers. The Gospel is the story of God the Holy Spirit making alive hell-deserving sinners, opening their eyes to treasure God the Son, and empowering them to accomplish good works by faith for God’s glory.

By faith. That is, by looking away from their own abilities and limitations, by looking away from their strengths and their weaknesses, by looking away from themselves and their organizations, and leaning on God and His power to accomplish His purposes.

The Gospel is the story of man’s dependence and God’s independence, of man’s failures and God’s successes, of man’s moral bankruptcy and God’s moral integrity. The Gospel is about Jesus, not us; He must increase, and we must decrease.

Yet as we decrease in our egotistical self-confidence, something marvelous happens. His increase does not result in our fading into obscurity. As we walk by faith and not by sight, He increases, while we revel in our dependence. As we become poor in spirit and meek, we become heirs of the Kingdom; as we delight in His greatness and our weakness, we become the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

So as we consider over the next several days Jesus’ triumphal entry, His arrest, trial, beatings, and crucifixion, and as we rejoice in His resurrection, remember: The Gospel is all about Him. He is the center. Faith is a looking away from ourselves and what we have to offer. He paid the penalty. He rose from the dead. He is at the right hand of the Father. He always lives to make intercession for us. He sent the Holy Spirit to empower us. The Gospel is all about Him.

We must decrease. Praise God! We are dependent. Praise Jesus! We are children. Praise the Spirit! We are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. Amazing grace! Amazing love!

 

“We Want God!”

March 15, 2013

What are people longing for?

Consider the attention paid this week to the conclave of cardinals in Vatican City. Roman Catholics, of course, followed events closely. But interest in the selection of a new pope crosses Catholic/Protestant divisions, crosses secular/religious divisions. NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post highlighted the news from Rome; the Times of London and the Times of India headlined Pope Francis.

Why such interest?

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal this week, suggests this interest reflects a longing:

After all the strains and scandals they still came running. A pope was being picked. The smoke came out and the crowd was there in St Peter’s Square. They stood in the darkness, cold and damp, and they waited and cheered and the square filled up. As the cameras panned the crowd there was joy on their faces, and the joy felt like renewal.

People come for many reasons. To show love and loyalty, to be part of something, to see history. But maybe we don’t fully know why they run, or why we turn when the first reports come of white smoke, and put on the TV or the computer. Maybe it comes down to this: “We want God.” Which is what millions of people shouted when John Paul II first went home to Poland. This is something in the human heart, and no strains or scandals will prevail against it.

“We want God.” Yes, and more: “We want to see people who have a real relationship with God. We want to encounter those who are not going through life amassing the greatest number of toys. We want to know that there are those who are neither hypocritical nor power-hungry. We want God – and we want to know those who truly follow Him.”

That longing exists among those around you: in Charlotte, in Concord, in Matthews, in Fort Mill, in Cornelius, in Davidson. That longing exists among your relatives, your friends, your colleagues.

So: When those with such a longing look at you, what do they see?

Do you look like you are pursuing comfort and ease? Do you look like someone who just goes through the motions of some religion to make good contacts and assuage your conscience?

Or do you look like – rather, are you truly – poor in spirit, mourning over sin and its effects, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, and pure in heart?

Jesus says those who follow Him are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Again and again He says, “You must not be like the hypocrites.” Rather, those around us are to see our good works, and give glory to our Father – for they see Him in and through us.

This longing – “We want God!” – is all around us. In many it is suppressed and hidden. In some it is on the surface and obvious. In others it may not be present at all. But as our Lord told the Apostle Paul about Corinth: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10).

He has many people in this city also. They have the longing. They don’t know the Savior. They have abandoned what they saw as a hypocritical church; or they have been hurt by overbearing pastors. They have seen that money and success don’t lead to joy; or they have seen that alcohol and drugs destroy their joy. They find their relationships crumbling; or they have spent decades in loneliness and isolation. They have seen the dead end of amusing themselves to death; or they have found that even good health and a big family and close friends don’t ultimately satisfy. From deep within they cry out, “We want God!” – but they don’t know where to find Him. They don’t know how to know Him.

So will you be salt and light? You have the answer! Jesus says the harvest is plentiful. Do you believe it?

Ask those around you about Good Friday, about Easter; ask about the selection of the new pope – if they were interested, and if so, why?  Ask if God were to do a miracle in their life, what would they like it to be? Offer to open up God’s Word in their home. Take the church to them – and see what God does.

Will you be rejected? Surely yes, by some. Will you be mocked, or even reviled? Our Savior says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

Will you see the longing? Will you witness tears of repentance? Will you be present as God’s Spirit works to bring another into His Kingdom?

Step out. God will work. “We want God!” May they find Him through you.