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Passion Week: Celebrate the Cruelty


1 John 4

This week my church hosted an event called the Passion Week Experience. It’s a fresh look at an ancient practice. People experience eight stations of the cross and interact with the elements and events that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. The experience is deeply personal, emotional and meaningful.

As a Believer it’s a story with which I’m very familiar. But that’s not the case for everyone. Wednesday night we have a group of English Language Learners classes for people who want to learn to better speak, read and understand English. In the class are people of about 8 different nationalities. A few of them are Chinese. This past Wednesday night our ELL leaders took their students through the Passion Week Experience. Their reaction was interesting.

As they walked through each station they said, “I thought Easter was about the bunny. I thought it was a celebration of spring.” Our leaders were able to explain that Easter is a time when we remember the betrayal, torture, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were shocked. Their next question was significant.

“But why would you celebrate such cruelty?”

It does seem strange to honor instruments of torture, to reflect on the last meal of a man doomed to death, to approach with reverence and wonder the oils and spices used to embalm a decaying corpse. But it’s only strange if you consider one side of the story. It’s the rest of the Passion Week story that gives us cause to celebrate. These were the tools God used to provide for your salvation and mine. This was the method he chose to deliver you from your sin. This was the act that would allow someone else to receive in our place the punishment we deserved. That punishment was poured out on God’s son, Jesus.

And that’s where the Passion Story gets even better. Jesus died, but he rose again. He lives today and offers forgiveness to all who believe. He wants to forgive you. Will you receive it?

There’s another passion station. It’s a representation of the Holy of Holies with a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. I’m grateful for the artist who built this Ark. It’s so well done we told people we found it in a crate in a government warehouse somewhere in Nevada! (lame movie reference).

In the Old Testament the Ark of the Covenant was in the Temple and separated from the people. It sat in the Holy of Holies and represented the place that was filled with the holy presence of God. No on could enter but the High Priest and he could only enter once per year after making atonement for his sins so that he could make atonement for the sins of a nation. Because sin can’t live in the presence of the holiness of God there are stories in the Old Testament of people who died simply because they touched the Ark of the Covenant!

It’s led to lots of speculation about what might happen if someone touched our replica. But that answer is simple. Nothing. Not because it’s a replica, but because the veil is torn. Jesus paid the price for your sin and mine. On the day he died on the cross the veil that separated man from God was torn in half from top to bottom. God opened the Holy of Holies and said, “Come in, you’re welcome here because of Jesus work on the cross.” There’s even a verse that tells us, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter the Holy of Holies because of the blood of Jesus.” That’s the real meaning of Passion Week.

Passion Week is a celebration of cruelty. The worst form of capital punishment ever conceived was used on Jesus, the blameless son of God. He willingly received it and gave up his life so that we might be forgiven of our sin. Jesus proved his passion for us. Today, through Jesus, we can have peace with God and a deep and intimate relationship with him. We can boldly enter his presence and experience his grace, love, peace, kindness and favor.

How will you celebrate this Passion Week? Will you celebrate the cruelty? Will you reflect on the sacrifice? Will you remember the end of the story? Jesus is alive! He is risen! Will you place your faith in him and trust Jesus for the forgiveness of sin?

1 John 4:9-10 say, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”

Celebrate the cruelty that brought grace. Experience his passion for you. Give your life to Jesus.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for going through the cruelty of the betrayal, torture and cross for me. Thank you that you loved me even before I loved you. Thank you for the life you have given me through your son, Jesus. Thank you that today I can boldly enter your presence, not because of my goodness, but because of your righteousness in me. I want to walk with you today. Don’t let me run ahead of your will or lag behind. But help me stay right with you where you are. Give me boldness and courage to share your story with others and allow me the privilege of seeing people come to faith in you. This Easter, let people remember, let them experience this story in a way that is deep, intimate, meaningful, personal and powerful. Thank you, Father.

I love you, in Jesus name –
Chad

Ready

Today you finished 2 Peter – let’s go to Nahum next. It only has three chapters so you can finish the entire book in three days!


2 Peter 3

SCRIPTURE

2 Peter 3:14-16 “And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” (NLT)

OBSERVATION

What are you waiting for?

Peter challenges us to remember the works and the word of God. He reminds us of the coming judgement of God. He recounts the creation of the world and God’s work to purify his creation. I don’t know how you feel about our world today. Some may say it’s worse than it’s ever been. You may look around and see how people refuse to believe, how they reject the faith, how they deny the truth. You see these things and think the times we live in are quite desperate. Then I read 2 Peter 3. Within Peter’s lifetime and only a few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus the times were no different than they are now.

People will always doubt. They will always deny. They will alway scoff at the things of God.

God delays his punishment because of his kindness, because of his desire to give all people time to repent. Not all will – but it won’t because they didn’t have a chance. It will be because they rejected that chance.

Side note – In verses 14 – 16 Peter calls the letters of Paul, ‘Scripture’. That’s a bold statement. It shows the influence of Paul and demonstrates that the most significant leader of the early church believed the words of Paul to be inspired by God. This knowledge helps us better understand the context of Paul’s writings. They aren’t simply great devotional material. They are more than letters designed to encourage his converts in their faith. They are the Word of God, profitable for reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

Back on track – What are you waiting for?

The time will come when the certain judgement of God will fall on all people. Will you be found faithful? Better question – who will be found faithful because of you? There is a coworker you’ve been waiting for just the right moment to share Christ with. You have a family member who needs to experience the love of God. That guy on your kids ball team you’ve just been introduced to – he could use a dose of grace. What are you waiting for?

Right now there’s time. Time to let the story unfold. Time to share the gospel well. Time to love all people to Christ. But someday the time for such things will end. The work will be done. Christ will come. The day will pass. The thousand years will be over and – ready, or not, – we will meet him face to face.

APPLICATION

Will you be ready? Who will be ready because of you?

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your Word and your promises. Thank you for waiting to cast your judgement on me and the rest of the world. Thank you for your patient endurance as you lovingly lead me into repentance. Forgive my sin. Remove me from temptation. Allow me to make decisions today based on your grace. Give me your wisdom. Help me be ready – to share the gospel, to live by faith, to do things your way, to follow you. Allow me to help others be ready to do the same. Like Paul was an encouragement to Peter, may I encourage others to follow you. On the day you return, may others be ready because of me.

I love you, in Jesus name –
Chad

I’ll Never Forgive

There are times in my life I’ve been hurt, disappointed or wounded by others. When compared to what’s normal for me, these hurts are bad. I get frustrated and mad at the person who hurt me. I harden my heart toward the one who caused the disappointment. I find it difficult, seemingly impossible, to forgive them.

So now let’s stop and get a dose of perspective. These wounds, compared to the rest of my life are bad. But how do they compare to the lives of others? No one is shooting at me. I’ve never really been spitefully mistreated. I’ve not experienced abuse of any kind at the hands of someone I trust. My marriage is strong. My kids are happy, healthy and, at the moment, sane. Compared to the stories of others my life is blessed.

Unlike me, some of you reading this have legitimate reasons to struggle with forgiving someone else.

At the heart of our struggle to forgive is a desire for justice. Whatever the wrong, we don’t really want to get over it. We want to get even. We don’t want to forgive. We want to avenge. That’s understandable. Some of you have been abused in ways no one should ever have to experience. You’ve been wronged. Justice demands satisfaction. The need for vengeance saturates every surface of your life. To forgive feels likes you’re letting them get away with it.

That thought reveals our basic misunderstanding about genuine forgiveness. We think forgiveness wipes the slate clean. We believe we must forgive and forget. But that’s not really true.

Biblical forgiveness is a deliberate choice to release someone into the hands of God.

Does that sound like a cop out? Does it leave your desire for vengeance unsatisfied? Consider this. In the hands of God every person who has ever wronged you will experience one of two possibilities. They will either receive God’s mercy and grace or  His judgement and justice.

What we want for those who have wronged us is His judgement and justice. We want God to ‘get ’em’. All the punishments of Scripture. All the curses of hell. We want them poured out on the one who wronged us. When we release someone into the hands of God that’s certainly a possibility. God could give them over to His judgement and justice. In Psalm 58 we see David pray that very thing, “Break their teeth in their mouth, oh God!” That’s a violent thought. It gets more descriptive, “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked…” This was a prayer of David, the man after God’s own heart. It was a prayer that reflects a kind of forgiveness, a kind of which we are unaccustomed. David released His enemies into the hands of God. He prayed, “God, get ’em.” He asked God to exert His judgement and justice, but David was satisfied to let God be the one to decide. He didn’t look to exact revenge himself. He gave the wicked over to God and said, “God, I trust you. Here’s what I want. Do with them as you will.” When we release someone into the hands of God they could receive His justice and judgement.

Or they could receive His mercy and grace. Here’s the thing about mercy and grace. It comes at a price. Mercy and grace are not free. If you are a God-follower the forgiveness you receive is a free gift to you, but it wasn’t free to God. It came at a terrible cost. The penalty for your sin and mine was paid for us by Jesus on the cross at Calvary. The Bible describes God trampling out the grapes of His wrath. The picture is clear. In His anger He crushes the guilty underneath His feet. For anyone to receive mercy and grace justice must be satisfied. Jesus took our place and received the penalty we deserved. He did the same for the person who has wronged you. If you give that person into the hands of God they only receive His mercy and grace because justice has been satisfied, the penalty of their sin paid when Christ hung cursed on that tree. When we pray, “God, get ’em.” We can be confident He will do just that. Sometimes, instead of pouring out His wrath on them He pours it out on His Son and in return gets their life and loyalty for all eternity. He ‘gets ’em’. In a way that transforms them from the inside out. When He ‘gets ’em’ the experience genuine remorse over their sin and a desire to make restitution. It’s justice that leads new life and restoration rather than justice that leads to destruction and death.

Jesus gave his life for the wrongs you have done and for the wrongs done to you. We can trust Him with those who have hurt us. Whether they receive from God judgement and justice or mercy and grace, justice is satisfied. The question is whether or not we will give up our desire for vengeance and release them into the hands of God. Will we trust God to deal justly with the one who wronged us?

This is a prayer I pray for myself and others, “God, grant me the gift of repentance and a capacity for forgiveness.” I ask for the gift of repentance because recognizing and confessing my sin doesn’t come naturally to me. I ask for the capacity for forgiveness because my desire for vengeance is strong. God can give me the courage and strength for both.

I don’t know who has wronged you. But I know you can forgive. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone get away with it. It’s about releasing someone into the hands of God and trusting that one way or another, God’s going to ‘get ’em’.

Conflict: When Expectations Don’t Match Experience

The great theologian/philosopher/poets, the Rolling Stones, once said, “You can’t always get what you want…” Isn’t that really what’s at the heart of every personal conflict we face? Whether it’s conflict with your spouse about money, sex or respect. Or conflict with your children about curfews, friends, integrity, or house rules. Conflict is what happens when our expectations don’t match our experience.

Andy Stanley says when our expectations don’t match our experience we have a limited number of choices. We can believe the best or assume the worst about one another. Our approach to the disappointment, worry, and ultimately the confrontation we face will be determined by how we answer this one question. How will you react?

Will you believe the best? Will you assume the worst?

Assume the worst. Worry increases. Anger rises. Fear, doubt, revenge and retaliation become the goal.

Believe the best. Disappointment still sets in, but with hope. Hope that a reasonable explanation can be made. Hope that the information I have is incomplete or misunderstood. Hope that an apology is imminent. Believe the best and the emotional nature of the conflict is transformed from a potentially explosive circumstance to the kind of conflict that builds strength in a relationship.

Today, you will face conflict in your relationships. Your expectations won’t match your experience. Will you believe the best or assume the worst? How you answer that question determines whether the conflict will damage or strengthen a relationship. Choose wisely.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving, even as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32