The Sermon on the Cross

When I was in seminary, I took a New Testament survey course. Like most classes, very little of the actual lecture time sticks with me to this day. There was, however, one lecture that was seared into my long term memory, and I am reminded of the lessons of that day each year we observe the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday.

In the course of teaching through the Gospel of Mark, my professor took a moment to explain a passage from a point of view brand new to me.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:33-34

For most of my life, I have looked at that cry as the ultimate example of the humanity of Christ. For the first time in eternity, the Son was experiencing separation from the Father, and, in his humanity, cried out from the feeling or emotion of abandonment. I have taken much comfort in knowing that Jesus understands how it feels to feel abandoned, even when we know Truth says we are never left nor forsaken.

I also know that this is a quotation from Psalm 22:1, and this passage in Mark has served as an example that, in our darkest times, we should lean on Scripture as a guide for how to express ourselves when we may not have our own words to use.

But my professor brought up a cultural context point that revolutionized how I read this passage, and how I viewed Christ on the cross.

At this time, people didn’t have easy access to the Scriptures. This was an oral society. Most were illiterate, and the Scripture they did know was memorized in large sections. Rabbis would begin teaching by quoting the first part of a passage to jog their listeners’ memories, and the people could most likely fall right in, quoting the passage along with the rabbi.

My professor proposed to us that, yes, Jesus is crying out in agony over His separation from the Father. He is experiencing loneliness and feelings of abandonment unlike anything He had experienced ever before.

But, like every other aspect of His time on this earth, this cry was not about Himself. It’s about more than that. More than abandonment. More than fulfilling prophecy. While He is separated from the Father, hanging on a cross, naked, exposed, in agonizing pain, physically dying, Jesus is thinking of the feelings and thoughts of those around Him.

And He begins to teach.

I had never really studied Psalm 22 before this day of New Testament class, but I went right then and read it in its entirety. It is not a Psalm of abandonment, defeat or doubt like I had assumed it would be. On this Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper, the evening of the arrest and trial of Christ, consider those few words of Christ as his last word as Rabbi. He starts the Psalm, knowing those standing at his feet will be able to quote the remainder in their hearts and minds. He is starting them on the road to Truth. He is reminding them that this is not the end.

At His lowest point, He is encouraging others.

Ponder these passages of Psalm 22 and marvel at the self-sacrificial love of our Lord:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

Jesus acknowledge His humanity; He cried out in his emotions of abandonment and loneliness, but He quickly reminds Himself that, just like God has always done with His people, He will also deliver His Son in due time. Like this, we also can acknowledge our feelings and emotions while still speaking truth to our hearts.

5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” 9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

This section of the Psalm accurately describes Jesus’ life and current situation. He reminds His followers that He has consistently fulfilled prophecy, and is continuing to do so, even in this time of mocking rejection. It’s as if Jesus is pleading with them, “Don’t forget! This has been the plan from the beginning!”

12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17 I can count all my bones– they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. 19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of  the wild oxen! 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

Again, this Psalm confirms that the life of Christ was prophesied centuries before. As He hangs on the cross, naked, thirsty, attacked, exhausted, Jesus clings to the Truth that His Father will save Him, is the only One that can save Him, from His current condition.We, too, can remember that God is our ultimate Savior, and He will save us from the worst of temporal situations, in His time and in His way.

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. 26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

This Psalm ends not in hopeless defeat, but in fulfilled prophecy and promises of future fulfillment as well. It ends not in defeat, but in glorious victory! In verse 25, it is prophesied that the Christ would fulfill His vows, He would submit to the will of the Father. His dying on the cross fulfilled that prophecy. If the end of verse 25 is fulfilled, how much more can we claim the promise of verse 26 that “the afflicted shall eat and be satisfied”? Because Jesus fulfills His vows, the rest of the Psalm can be fulfilled as well: all the kings of the earth will bow before Him, all the coming generations will hear of His great name. All the nations of the earth will be blessed because He was faithful to His vow.  What good news!

What a Gospel!

So ponder these things in your heart this weekend. Ponder the perfect humanity of Jesus, even in His weakest moment. Ponder His need to speak the Truth of Scripture to Himself in His moment of weakness to find strength and resolve.

But above all else, ponder His great love and selflessness, that He preached a word of encouragement  and victory to those who looked up Him, and to those of us who still look upon Him and believe.

A Pastor’s Heart: Guest Post

This is a post from my friend Brian Miller. He and I work together as teachers and he, like myself, is also involved in ministry work outside of our school. Brian has previously served as a Youth Pastor, and he wrote this several weeks ago while thinking about many of his students who, like nearly 90% of students raised in church, fall away from their church community when they reach adulthood. It moved me and reminded me of how we should pray for one another and encourage those who have wandered away.

It also reminded me that we, as a church, should cultivate an environment that is attractive and appealing as a safe place for community so that, when people leave, they miss the Body of Christ and long to return.

Thank you, Brian, for sharing a Pastor’s heart for his sheep.

…in Church this morning I was overcome with such Love…I started thinking about all those Loved Ones that have kinda fallen away from my life…I wrote a poem for you and am praying for you…

…you beg God to make you whole again, but I wonder if you understand? You have always been “right” before Him, but perhaps your choices have taken you out of the Peace you felt in His hand…
You decided your way was best, God begged you to wait…instead you went ahead…broken hearts you left in your wake…
…Now those who helped you fall have convinced you they’re your friends, they now counsel you 24/7, they say I’m your enemy til the end…
…Now I know in your might you’re trying to seek God’s Will, but sometimes that task is scary cuz you can’t rationalize how you would deal…
…You say you’re getting there, but yet you have no peace…you know that’s not God’s Will…please let Him take the shackles off your feet…
…I think the devil is distraught by the fact that Im not mad at God or you and I don’t complain that this isn’t fair…because God is Love, Faithful, and can Win with any card He’s dealt…whether you come back or cast your ambitions into the air…
…As for me I still Love, Pray, Forgive you and pray God’s Love is your Life’s Sealwhy do I still care? Because Loving you is God’s Will…

Some try to rationalize their sin by saying it doesn’t involve anyone else and no one else is hurt by their actions. Some say they aren’t missed when they leave a congregation to go to another or when they just leave the church altogether. I tried to justify my sin like that. I pray that this peek into the heart of someone who is called to shepherd the flock of God will remind us all that our struggles and our times of wandering impact not only our personal walk with the Father, but also those with whom we walk this journey of life.

When you miss someone who has gone away, let them know. If you know they’ve wandered because of sin, confront them in love and love them back to the congregation of Christ. But above all, love them. Love them with the Gospel.

What’s Your Legacy?

This has been an interesting week at work. Senior pranks took place the same day an old friend came to school to share with my students about a recent trip he took to Israel. There has been a lot of reflecting and remembering taking place in my heart and mind.

The end of the school year tends to do that every year. Seniors are reflecting on their four years and feeling regret and handing out words of advice over missed opportunities and wishes to be able to go back and do more with friends and family.

Today in class we were discussing the recent mischief and one student made the comment he had been thinking about a senior prank since his freshman year and that that he wanted to remembered for something good. Another remarked, “It’s high school. What we do now isn’t going to be remembered by anyone anyway, so what does it really matter what we do?”

Teachable moment. Transparent moment. What do you do if you’re Miss Mason? You tell your kids a story of one the apparently unforgettable moments of high school for yourself.

Senior trip. 1998. After a relatively unremarkable 5 years at the school from which I was a mere three months from leaving, myself and two friends who shall remain nameless decided to buy a cheap pack of Swisher Sweets and sit in the resort hot tub and smoke cigars. We were the coolest 18 year olds alive.

Problem was, we’d signed an agreement stating we would not partake of any alcohol, tobacco or drugs while on a school trip. And we got caught. By the Heads of the History and English Departments. And the High School Principal. It was AH-mazing.

Needless to say, phone calls home were made, many apologies were given, several Saturday schools were served, much repentance and remorse was expressed. The event became a running joke for a couple of years and then we all moved on with life.

Fast forward TWELVE years. I’m at the funeral of  the father of a friend with whom I had grown up and who had graduated from the same school. While standing in the cemetery, a woman who had worked at the school while I went there approached my parents and me. After the standard pleasantries, she asked, with a twinkle in her eye, “So, smoked any cigars lately?”

REALLY? Five years at the school. Multi-sport athlete. President of the Forensics Team. Beta Club Member. I was a member of the Character Committee, for goodness’ sake. “Good kid.” Left there. Received two undergraduate degrees and an M.Div. I’m a teacher, speaker, published author, women’s ministry leader. Sister to three increasingly cool younger siblings. Sister-in-law to two amazing women. Aunt to the smartest and cutest kid in the world. But I am, at least in the mind of that lady, the kid who got caught smoking cigars at Disney World.

Granted, there are worse things one could be remembered for. Much worse. But looking back, that is NOT the legacy I desired for myself at that school, or anywhere else for that matter.

What we do makes a mark on those who are watching us, whether we realize it or not. And we have no control over which choices of ours others choose to carry with them in their minds as our legacy.

So when you are making decisions, no matter how big or how small, ask yourself, “Do I want this to be a part of my legacy? If this is the ONE thing someone remembers me for, am I ok with that?” Because once a legacy is established, once a reputation is developed, changing it can be next to impossible.

Whose legacy are you more concerned with? Your own, or the legacy and reputation of Christ in you? Everyone leaves a legacy trail. Where will yours take the people who watch and follow you?

If you have a legacy or reputation that you may not be proud of, it’s ten times harder to erase that bad reputation. But are you willing to do the work needed to change it, or are you content to just let people believe what they will and conform to their opinion of you?

I pray you are strong enough to prove them all wrong. I may be the kid that smoked the Swisher Sweets at Disney World, but I refuse to allow that to be the legacy I leave on this planet. Hopefully the teachable moment of transparency inspired some of my kids to consider their legacies, too.

What’s your legacy? Would you change it if you could? What if I told you that you could? Would you be willing to put in the work needed to do so?

What do you choose to remember about those around you? Do you choose the legacy of others to be their mistakes or their moments of goodness? How do you want those around you to remember you? Remember to give others the grace legacy you wish them to extend to you.

Equal Standing, Different Roles

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has begun countless conversations in the last month or so concerning myriad topics of faith: salvation, damnation, God’s love vs. God’s wrath, Christian fellowship, heresy… the list could go on and on.

But this morning I came across a blog discussing a portion of Rob’s theology that has not been nationally dissected: his use of describing God in the feminine form. On the blog for the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Diane Montgomery addresses this portion of Rob’s work in a post entitled Our Mother Who Art in Heaven: Examining Rob Bell’s “She”.

The following paragraph is from Montgomery’s post and includes an excellent illustration of not only a classic misinterpretation of Scripture, but also a simple illustration of the biblical principle accurately portrayed in a modern comparison:
Midway through the video, Bell uses the “banner” verse of egalitarians, Gal. 3:28. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to explain what he means by saying in 4:1, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.” As believers in Christ we are equal, but that does not mean our roles are the same. In Christ, a CEO of a company is equal to one of his employees in a cubicle. However, they have different roles. The employee would not take charge of the CEO and the CEO would not do errands for the employee. They are equal in Christ, but carry out different tasks.

Scripture is clear that God is not into “Jim Crow” segregation of men and women. There is no “separate but equal” in the Kingdom of God. But at the same time, while there is equal standing and equal rights, there are different roles to be filled, much like the above CEO and “pencil pusher” illustration shows.

Along the same lines, in a recent episode of the television show Undercover Boss, the CEO of a shipping company attempted to go to work on one of his packing and assembly lines to see what really goes on in the warehouses he owns. He was fired from the job. Was he an employee of the company? Yes. Does he receive the same benefits of being an employee of that company? Yes. But was he able to equally perform a role for which he was neither suited nor trained? No.

Same thing in the body of Christ, whether that is the corporate body of the Universal church, the local church body where you attend, or your place within your own home. All believers have equal standing and rights before the Father. But all are equipped, gifted, trained and expected to perform different roles so that the overall work of the Kingdom is fulfilled. Like the CEO trying to pack and load shipments, when we attempt to fill a role which we were not meant to fill, something is left to be desired. There is no harmony and continuity to the overall workplace. When the owner botched his packing and loading job, the whole warehouse was affected. When we attempt to fill roles in the church and in the home that we are not meant to fill, the church and the home are negatively impacted as well.

THAT is the message of complementarianism. NOT that men are somehow better than women, nor that women inherently have less worth than men. The message is that we should find that role for which God created us and thrive in it instead of fighting against our Creator and His good plan.