REDEEMED: The Thief & The Garden

Holy week is about to be upon us. This is the final week of Jesus’ earthly life right before the cross on Good Friday. People seem to approach Holy Week in different ways. Some like to dwell in the darkness and focus solely on the gruesome cross. Others take the time to go through this week recounting the last days of Christ. Still others seem to skip or avoid Holy Week altogether and go straight to Easter Sunday and the celebration that Christ has risen.

Yes, the Christian faith is based upon the risen and living Christ. When we take the time to study and go through the final days of Jesus Christ, we remember the resurrection could not have happened without the crucifixion. Everything toward the end of the week is built on top of the events that happened at the end of the week. I invite you to take time to remember and go through Holy Week events, activities, worship services, etc. As you do, I hope the power of Christ’s resurrection means so much more than it may have before.

The scripture I would like you to look at this week is found in the Gospel of Luke. Click here to read Luke 23:32-43. Jesus is lifted up on the cross and is placed between two other criminals. This is an incredible passage that shows the hearts of the two criminals hanging there with Jesus.

(Brief side note: When you think about the cross, try not to image it as a tall structure. The cross would not have been as tall as we might try to think. Think of the cross as actually about eye level. Bystanders would have been able to see the agony and details in the faces of those hanging. Spoken words would have been heard easily.)

One of the criminals was taunting Jesus, right there with the crowd who made sure Jesus was crucified. The other was attempting to show mercy to Jesus, who had the same fate as the other two yet did nothing to deserve the cross.

When I read this I think about our daily conversations. How often do we avoid talking to Christ (through prayer) or about Christ when we are in mixed company because of the reactions people might have? One person boldly proclaiming Christ or praying to Christ in public will have a better chance of hearing from Jesus Christ then a person who refuses to speak. Now, this is not saying that we have to force conversations to happen. Instead, like the thief who spoke mercifully, we speak when it comes naturally in the conversation.

Because one thief heard God’s promises spoken to him before he died, he was able to die with his soul being at peace. We do not have anything in scripture that Christ spoke to the criminal who went with the jeering and taunting of the crowd. I believe the same is true for us today. When we take the time to talk mercifully to and about Jesus, we experience a peace in this life that doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. When the world is in turmoil, we can have a supernatural peace.

This peace reminds us we have been redeemed from the curse and slavery of Sin and death. Jesus speaks of bringing the criminal into paradise. The Greek word used for paradise is describing a garden. This could mean the Garden of Eden: God’s garden.

Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).

Jesus came to redeem the world. His life, death, and resurrection redeemed you. You and I are able to come into the presence of God and experience paradise in a broken world. Jesus came to redeem and to restore creation back to it’s original state of perfection.

One day the Kingdom of God will be known fully here on earth. For now, trust that Jesus Christ has redeemed (paid the cost for) the world, which includes you.

This is why it is important to go through Holy Week and allow yourself to experience and meditate on the events that lead up to the cross. Jesus Christ’s actions on the cross and his victorious resurrection are revealed to us in a more powerful way than when we skip the activities of Holy Week.

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

I Believe in the Victory of God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 3

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time.  I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, “There’s no resurrection of the dead”? If there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless. We are found to be false witnesses about God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, when he didn’t raise him if it’s the case that the dead aren’t raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end.  It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet. Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end, since he has brought everything under control under his feet. When it says that everything has been brought under his control, this clearly means everything except for the one who placed everything under his control. But when all things have been brought under his control, then the Son himself will also be under the control of the one who gave him control over everything so that God may be all in all.

 Psalm 110:1

What the Lord says to my master: “Sit right beside me until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet!”

Suppose I ask you to describe your life with one of these words, which would you choose? Victorious, Defeated, So-so.

So many of us are living lives that simply do not reflect the victory of Jesus Christ. Look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed:

“the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

What do you experience when you read these words? I invite you to read them again, and then read the Scriptures above and see what God may be telling you.

If we look at the words from the Apostle’s Creed, we can see at least three things:

  1. “I have a risen Lord because Jesus rose from the dead.”
  2. “I have a reigning King because Jesus ascended into heaven.”
  3. “I have a righteous Judge because Jesus is coming again to judge.”

If nothing else, when we look at this, we can see how much we have even when we hear the lies our life isn’t worth anything. We have a risen Lord who has defeated our ultimate enemy, death, so we can live life everlasting here and now and in the life to come. We have a reigning King who sits in heaven who makes sure we can have everything we need. We have a righteous Judge who is able to discern and see the truth and bring true justice and reconciliation in the world.

We have so much because of the power and person of Jesus Christ that we should be the most joyful, confident, hopeful people who don’t let the circumstance of our life bring us down. Who don’t become envious of others because they have more or their life seems smoother. We have everything we need and we can live victoriously through the power of Jesus Christ.

The verse we all know, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” should really be thought of in this way, “I can endure all these things through the POWER of the ONE who gives me STRENGTH.” See the difference?

How can you live your life in such a way that people know you have the victorious power of Jesus Christ shining through everything you do? We get to live as people of the resurrection; and as such, show the awesomeness of Jesus Christ daily.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

Peace of God

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season will bring even the best of us to out wits end. We hear the story of Christ being born; yet we go about our busy lives as if nothing has changed. There are so many things to worry about. The media doesn’t help. God is with us and yet we still get frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, irritated, etc.

The letter to the Philippians is a great book to read, especially in this time of year. The Apostle Paul wrote this short letter. In it, he proclaims the simple message of finding joy and peace in God through Jesus Christ.

Click here to read Philippians 4:4-7.

There are many things we worry about; but do we really have to? Lifting up our concerns, our anxiousness, our worry, etc. doesn’t change our circumstances; but it does change our perspective. This is so much more than just changing our attitude. This is about complete trust in God through Jesus Christ.

When we share our burdens with Him, is it He who makes our load light. We do not have to carry it, because He carries our burdens for us and with us.

God coming down to earth as Jesus Christ tangibly shows God is with us and understands our lives. This year, allow peace to enter fully in our hearts, a peace beyond understanding, to make Christmas really come alive.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is one of my favorite biblical characters because he definitely stands out and people take notice of him. He is memorable, not only of his message, but of his clothing and food choices.

Though the Gospel of Luke does not mention him wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, Matthew and Mark do. This is still the image we can have of John as we read his proclamation to “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Mark Twain said, “the two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I imagine John felt excitement when his time had come to deliver God’s message to the people the Messiah is coming.

What joy! What exhilaration! He was finally able to go and do what he was born to do! He went out to preach a sermon that no one really wanted to hear; but needed to hear: prepare for the Lord’s Messiah, seek forgiveness and repent. I would imagine the people did not want to hear they have to change their hearts, their lives, their will. I imagine the people only wanted to hear their lives will be better and that God will com in to take care of the “real” problem: the Romans.

What message is it you want to hear at Christmas? The sweet story of a baby being born and the angels and shepherds giving God glory and praise? Or, are we preparing ourselves fully for the complete gift of God through Jesus Christ and realize His life, His death, AND His resurrection are the reason we are reconciled to God.

To fully see the beautiful picture of Christ at Christmas, we have to be different from our culture and see the gruesome death that is coming.

How do you stand out to show the full meaning of Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Yes They Said That

Mark 10:35-37 “James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They said, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.”

So. Jesus just plainly told His disciples what is going to happen to Him when they make it to Jerusalem. Then comes this request. We first have to wonder why they had the audacity to ask this and then wonder why they did ask.

James and John were two brothers who left their father’s fishing business, along with the hire help, to follow Jesus. These were the only disciples to really have come from a background of having a decent amount of income/money. It is possible they thought higher of themselves then the others. Maybe they did have a sense of entitlement based upon their background and who they were in society.

It is also easy to forget that many Jewish people back then , and today, had a different concept of who the Messiah would be and what He would do. Many thought the Messiah would be a conquering war hero who would kick the Romans out of power and usher in a new age of prosperity for Israel. They did not expect God in flesh to be the Messiah.

It does seem odd that Jesus would talk about His dying and they would come up with a request to have special positions and authority. This shows they were not really paying attention. But the truth is, none of the disciples were paying close attention when Jesus talked about His death. Are we any different?

When someone talks to us about the incredible God we serve, what is our response? “That’s cool. What’s for lunch?” We can become so engrossed in our own thinking, or even become apathetic toward the message, we miss the significance about what is going on.

It is easier, at times, to think about what we want and go for it than it is to be present in the moment and pay attention. Jesus was telling about something important that was about to happen and the disciples wanted to have a place at the table.

We will see this week that Jesus offers grace. Grace is something that is available if we accept it and apply it to our daily lives.