The Cost of Freedom

Finished“It is finished”
John 19:30

What feelings Joseph of Arimathea must have felt as he was taking the body of his Lord down from the cross.  The one who was supposed to come and save all, had just been killed in the most public and horrifying way possible.  Everyone must have been completely confused.  In their minds, Jesus had not done what He said he was going to do.  What were they to do now? How could this have been part of His plan? Something must have gone terribly wrong for this to happen.

The disciples had missed the point.  Jesus had told them over and over that He would die.  He said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days.” (John 2:19) But they didn’t understand what he meant.  “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31) Again, they didn’t get it.  Have you ever been told something that you really just didn’t want to believe, and then when it happens you don’t understand why?  I think this is where the disciples were.  Jesus told them what was going to happen but it was beyond anything that they wanted to believe so they put it out of their heads.  When it came true, they still didn’t understand what was going on even though Jesus had tried to explain it to them.

The truth is, Jesus had to be crucified.  He knew it and he tried to tell us.  He didn’t try to tell us so that we would be mentally prepared for His death, but so that we would understand the glory and the purpose of  it.  Jesus had to die because that was God’s purpose for his life so that we might live. “For God so loved the world that He GAVE His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  God GAVE Jesus to the world so that our sins would be forgiven.  Our sins could only be removed through the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  As you look at Jesus’ death on the cross, remember the price has been paid for your sins.  “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Originally posted April 22, 2011 as The Price on The Digital Christian.  Re-posted with updates.

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Grace Demonstrated

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
Matthew 26:34

How many times have you felt like Peter?  In the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples that soon after His betrayal, they are all going to abandon Him (Matt 26:31). It is nothing against them, it is actually a fulfillment of a prophecy (Zech 13:7).  As in conversations past however, Peter jumps right in to the conversation and says, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matt 26:33)  Peter is basically saying, “Lord, you must be talking about everyone else.  I would never leave you.”  But Jesus knows Peter better than Peter knows himself (although you would think Peter would know better by now).  He tells Peter, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matt 26:34).  I don’t think He was mean when He said it, I think He said it lovingly.  He was mad at Peter because God had a plan worked out, Peter just didn’t know it yet.

See, what we have to remember here is that God sees the big picture plan for our lives.  The advantage Peter had here is that Jesus was telling him what was going to happen, before it happened.  Jesus was giving Peter and the disciples a heads up about what was coming, trying to prepare them a little in advance.  How many times have you responded to God like Peter, thinking that you know yourself better than God knows you?  It is easy to get caught up in the moment, “Oh Lord, I would never do that!”  God won’t argue with you about what you say, He will lovingly continue on with His plan.

Jesus was right about Peter.  Peter first disowns Christ outside the courtyard of the High Priest (John 18:17, Luke 22:57).  The second denial comes while standing around the fire (John 18:25, Luke 22:58), and the third denial almost immediately after that (John 18:27, Luke 22:60).  Peter was completely unaware of what he was doing.  It wasn’t until the rooster crowed that he remembered what Christ had said.  At that moment, Peters gut sank to the floor.  He suddenly realized that Christ had been right all along, and filled with shame, he leaves the courtyard to “weep bitterly” (Luke 22:62).  Our pride can get in the way of us realizing our own weaknesses.  It was pride that made Peter say he would never deny Christ and it was pride that kept him from seeing that he was doing exactly what Christ said he would do.

  Here is the reason I think Christ told Peter about this and even let him do it.  Remember that plan for Peter?  God wanted to use Peter as a demonstration of what grace and forgiveness really mean.  After Jesus has risen from the grave, He appears to some of the disciples while fishing.  Peter does not recognize who it is at first, it is John who points out that it is Christ yelling to them from the shore.  When Peter figures realizes who it is, he does not hesitate to jump in the water, fully clothed, and swim to shore before the boats could make it.  All of his guilt, all of his shame, washed away because he had finally seen Jesus again.  This was not the first time he had appeared to the disciples, but I think Peter saw Christ differently this time.  Jesus never faulted Peter for what he did.  He knew Peter’s pride would get in his way.  He never says, “I told you so”.  He doesn’t give him that knowing look, instead He asks Peter if he loves Him.  Three times He asks and three times Peter says yes.  I don’t think the three times where for Christ’s assurance, I think they were for Peter.  Peter needed to hear himself say he loved Christ because he probably had been doubting his love since the rooster crowed.  Jesus could have very easily walked away from Peter, but through grace, he reinstates Peter, telling him to take care of the new church (John 15-19).

Have you ever felt like Peter, so ashamed of something that you have let your shame come between you and Christ?  Christ is there waiting for you.  His loving grace and forgiveness are there to take away shame and guilt.  He is waiting for you to see him waiting for you.

Worthless

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Philippians 3: 8-9

Where does your faith in your self come from?  It is common in our society to define yourself by the things you have gained in your life.  We define ourselves by our job status, our personal wealth, the number of followers we have on Twitter or friends on Facebook.  We even define ourselves by our place in the church.  The worst part about all of this, is this is how the world defines us.  The world basis respect on these worldly accomplishments.  If anyone had reason to talk about himself and how great his accomplishments were, it was Paul.  Before Paul became Paul, he was Saul.  Saul was a Pharisee of Pharisee’s, the Hebrew of Hebrew’s, the chief persecutor of Christians (Phil 3:5-6).  Paul stood by and held the coats of the people who stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:58).  As far as the world was concerned, Saul was “The Man”.

Then something amazing happened to Saul, he met Jesus and his whole outlook was changed (Acts 9: 4-19).

Paul (no longer Saul) suddenly realized what was truly important.  All of the worldly status symbols don’t really mean anything to the person who really matters, Jesus Christ.  If those status symbols and accomplishments don’t matter to Christ, then shouldn’t mean anything to us.  Our worth does not come from our accomplishments (Eph 2:8-9), it comes from the fact that God found us worthy enough to send His only Son to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16).

Place your worth in Christ today.  Consider all other things worthless and take confidence in knowing that Christ considers you worthy.

Selective Hearing

The Finger of Thomas

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.'”
John 20:27

I wonder how I would have responded had I been there the day that Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to the disciples.  Would I have been like Peter who jumped out of his boat with all of his clothes on to swim to shore and meet him (John 21:7) or would I have been Thomas, the “doubter”, who needed to place his own fingers in the wounds and see for himself (John 20:27)?

The real question is, how will I act when Jesus returns now?  It is one thing to talk about placing myself back 2000 years ago into the time of the disciples.  I can only imagine the pain and grief they were going through at that time.  They just didn’t get it.  Even though Jesus had explained what would happen over and over, they just didn’t hear it.  It is biblical selective hearing.  I think any time that Jesus spoke or even eluded to his death, the disciples tuned it out.  Even the angels remind the women at the tomb that Jesus told them this was going to happen.  They said, “Don’t you remember what Jesus said to you, The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” (Luke 24:6-7) After hearing this, then they remembered all the things Jesus had said and how it must be true.

Do you have selective hearing?  If Jesus were to stand beside you right now, in the flesh, would you suddenly remember all of the things he has said to you about His return, or would He need to explain it to you?  My prayer is that our ears are always open to the promises that God has made.  That we never forget what Jesus has done and promises He is going to do.

Well Equipped

Never deny the insignificant things.  I had an experience today that reminds me just how amazing God is.  The experience reminded me that God may use any event, even the ones we see as insignificant or inconvenient for His purpose.  Okay, so let maybe I should go back and explain a little bit more.  It’s Saturday, my wife is out of town for the weekend at a family funeral so birthday party duty fell to me today.  My 4 year old son and I went out the day before and picked out the present which is a story in itself since it is for a 5 year old girl.  We wrapped the present Saturday, got all ready to go to the party at the YMCA and headed out into the car.  About 2 miles I realize that, like the typical guy I am, I had put everything into the car except the all important present.  So, back home we headed.  As we approached the intersection about a half-a-mile from home, I watched in astonishment as a red SUV blew the stop sign, T-boning the SUV directly in front of me rolling it all the way onto the driver’s side.  It was one of those times were everything seems to suddenly slow down.  I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.  Immediately, my emergency First Responder training took over.  I told my son to stay put and headed to the overturned SUV dialing 911 on the way.  The driver of the SUV that had been hit was trapped in the car but didn’t have any injuries.  I was able to make my way into the vehicle from the back and spent about 15 minutes in the vehicle talking with the driver and trying to keep her calm while we waited for EMS to arrive.  A few other witnesses had stopped and were also doing their best to help.  At one point while in “rescue mode” I remembered that my son was still in the car and thankfully, one of the other witnesses went to check on him for me.

The reason I was so blown away by the accident was not that I had seen it happen, but the circumstances surrounding my presence there.  I could have remembered the present, headed straight to the birthday party and never even would have known the accident had taken place.  Instead, I believe God used the insignificant present as a way to place me where he would need me at that moment.  Rescue training is not something that is easily forgotten, although I haven’t been a part of a rescue team for over 10 years, it is more reflex than conscious thought.  God knew the skill set I had been trained with and knew the accident would happen.  I’m sure he could have used someone else but he needed me to learn a lesson and be able to see myself in light of this situation.  I need to remember that God has equipped me for the challenges in my life.  I need to trust in the training just the same as I trust in my rescue training.

Hebrews 13: 21 says, may Christ “equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him…” Thank you God for the skills you have equipped me with so that I can do your will here on Earth.

The Struggle

The Struggle

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Genesis 32:28

Struggling with God is something that we all do.  It is a part of being totally human.  We struggle because we don’t understand, we struggle because we are angry or ashamed, and we struggle because we are afraid.  To be honest, I don’t think God really minds when we struggle or wrestle with Him.  He knows that sometimes, the only way to work something out is to fight through it.  Jacob experienced this one night when he was alone in the desert.  He was obviously going through something major because he wrestled with God through the entire night until the sun began to rise (Gen 32:24).  He wrestled so much and with such persistence that God realized Jacob was not going to give up so He wrenched Jacob’s hip to get him to stop (Gen 32:25).  Now, at no point do I believe that God wrenched Jacob’s hip because He felt Jacob would beat Him.  He is God after all, that would be like a toddler fighting against his father, there just isn’t any possibility that it could end up coming out in favor of the toddler.  I picture it like this, God knows we need to fight through our struggles so He lets us fight.  We fight with all of our might trying to prove our point and God, He pretends along with us so we feel like we are getting somewhere.  I don’t know if you’ve ever fought for any length of time but it’s can be pretty exhausting.  The longer we fight against God, the more tired we get and God knows this.  Eventually we realize that the very thing we were fighting for just isn’t worth the constant struggle against God and we collapse.  Here’s the key though, God doesn’t let us fall to the ground after we stop fighting.  He picks us up into His arms to love us.  Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  After you have fought through your struggle and you feel like you have nothing left, remember that Jesus calls the weary to Him so that He can give you rest.

Distraction

Distractions“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”
Psalm 119:37

In this day and age, distractions are very easy to come by.  Distractions may be voluntary or involuntary.  When life gets us down, we find something to distract the mind from thinking about how things are going.  We find things to distract us when we don’t want to do something that may be too challenging, difficult, or something we just simply don’t want to do.  Work, finances, people and life in general can all distract us from the path that God wants us to walk down.  David understood the dangers of distractions.  He rights, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (Psalm 119:37)  Worthless distractions come across as being just a part of who we are and what we need to do.  As distractions consume more of our time, often the first thing to go is our time with God.  We suddenly don’t have time to read the Bible or pray as often as we did, and eventually it disappears all together.  As much as you may feel that devoting more time to the distraction will help fix the problem, the burdens of life only become heavier.  It can feel like Christ has walked away from you and left you to carry your load, when in fact it is us who have walked away from Him.  When we turn from our distraction and draw near to Him, He draws near to us (James 4:8).  Ask Christ today to help keep your eyes focused on Him and away from the things that distract you from your walk.  If you stay focused on Him, the difficult things suddenly become easier and the burden becomes lighter (Matthew 11:28).

Unexpected

Risen“He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.  Come see where his body was lying”
Matthew 28:6

After a tragedy, it is easy to go about your business lost in a haze.  Everything seems mundane and without purpose.  Major tragedies can rock us to the core of our being, shattering what faith we may have.  After seeing her Lord and Savior hanging on the cross, I’m sure that Mary Magdalene was struggling to figure out what she was going to do with her life.  Jesus had done so much for her.  He had been the one who showed her real love and forgave her sins.  She had traveled with Him and helped minister to the disciples and other people who followed Him.  She anointed his feet with perfume because she owed her life to him.  In short, the man she owed her life to had been crucified.  She had to go on with her life, so she did.  Three days after Jesus had been buried, she made the journey to see His tomb.  Maybe she was looking for answers to all of the questions swimming through her head.  I would have been.  What she finds however, changes everything.  When she arrives at the tomb, the ground shakes in a violent earthquake, an angel appears and the stone rolls back.  The angel sits on the stone and says to her, “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.  Come see where his body was lying.” (Matthew 28:6)  At a time when Mary was focused on tragedy and trying to figure out how she was going to live the rest of her life, Jesus brings the unexpected.  But look at how Mary reacts.  “Afraid yet filled with joy” (Matthew 28:8) she left the tomb to go find the disciples and tell them the news.  What a strange combination of emotions.  Afraid because she had no idea what was happening or what to expect, yet filled with joy because Jesus, her Savior was ALIVE!  This is where God wants us to live.  It is natural to be afraid when you don’t know what is going on and you are not in control.  As humans, we think logically and naturally expect things to happen in a certain order.  Jesus died, Mary expected to visit his tomb and find the stone still there.  God wants us to remember that He is in control and He works through the unexpected.  At the same time, there is joy in this.  Joy in knowing that whatever the future holds, it is going to be great because Christ is alive!  We may not know how God will use the hard times in our lives, but we can take joy in knowing that what ever it is, Christ our Savior will be right there beside us because He is risen!

The Price

Finished“It is finished”
John 19:30

What feelings Joseph of Arimathea must have felt as he was taking the body of his Lord down from the cross.  The one who was supposed to come and save all, had just been killed in the most public and horrifying way possible.  Everyone must have been completely confused.  In their minds, Jesus had not done what He said he was going to do.  What were they to do now? How could this have been part of His plan? Something must have gone terribly wrong for this to happen.

The disciples had missed the point.  Jesus had told them over and over that He would die.  He said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days.” (John 2:19) But they didn’t understand what he meant.  “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31) Again, they didn’t get it.  Have you ever been told something that you really just didn’t want to believe, and then when it happens you don’t understand why?  I think this is where the disciples were.  Jesus told them what was going to happen but it was beyond anything that they wanted to believe so they put it out of their heads.  When it came true, they still didn’t understand what was going on even though Jesus had tried to explain it to them.

The truth is, Jesus had to be crucified.  He knew it and he tried to tell us.  He didn’t try to tell us so that we would be mentally prepared for His death, but so that we would understand the glory and the purpose of  it.  Jesus had to die because that was God’s purpose for his life so that we might live. “For God so loved the world that He GAVE His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  God GAVE Jesus to the world so that our sins would be forgiven.  Our sins could only be removed through the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  As you look at Jesus’ death on the cross, remember the price has been paid for your sins.  “It is finished” (John 19:30)

The Man in the Middle

“Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:43

Luke tells us a story about three men hanging on crosses in the hot sun.  We don’t know much about the two men on the ends other than that they are criminals.  They must have done some pretty nasty things in their past in order to be sentenced to be crucified.  According to Wikipedia, “crucifixion was used for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state.  It was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion#Ancient_Rome).  The third man on the cross in the middle was Christ.  A man who was not a slave, was not a pirate, and according to Pilate who said that neither he nor Herod found any basis for sentencing him to death (Luke 23:13-16), he was not an enemy of the state.  Yet there he hung, between two criminals deserving of the fate of crucifixion.  As these three men hung on the cross, we see a glimpse into who they are in that moment.  The man on the left was angry and bitter, he hurled insults at Christ (Luke 23:39).  He showed no remorse for what he had done.  The man on the right however, is completely different.  In that moment before death, a realization occurs.  He sees Christ for who He truly is and understands what he has done in his life. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41).  In that moment we see a man broken, knowing his sins and accepting the consequences.  Seeing his life laid out before him, he looks to the only thing he has left, Christ hanging on the next to him.  Broken, desperate and ashamed, he reaches out to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)  How hard must that have been to say?  He could have continued to wallow in his own guilt, relinquishing himself to the death he knew he deserved.  Instead he reaches out in faith, knowing he has no were else left to go.  .  Because of this man’s faith, Jesus responds to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).  Imagine the weight off of his shoulders.  With those few words, Jesus changed the outlook for this man.  Before, he had nothing to look to.  There was no hope other than death.  How many times do we find our self in this same situation?  Broken, ashamed, full of self guilt and anger.  It is easy to stay there, feeling like we deserve the punishment we receive.  Jesus doesn’t feel that way.  His love for us does not depend on how we have lived our lives; it is not conditional on our good deeds or popularity.  All we have to do is reach out to Him and He will answer you, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).