Strangely, the series of events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion is when I feel like I can relate to Jesus the most, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maybe some of you all reading this blog feel the same way. I’m not even sure if I should feel like I can relate to Jesus Christ, but it is hard not to when I read His words while He is praying to God the Father. He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me…My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:38-39). I think all of us can say that we have felt like this at some point or another. I experienced feelings like this on Thursday when I got an email from my boss asking if anyone could come in and work on Thursday evening. I was the only one who could, though nothing in me wanted to work on a Thursday night when I usually spend that time with my friends, but I was available, so I worked. All that to say, as Followers of God, we will frequently be called to things we will not feel comfortable doing just like Jesus it seems. Seeing Jesus feel overwhelmed and praying to God for comfort is a perfect example for us to follow in times of distress. It is comforting to know that it is okay to feel overwhelmed at times, and to know that we have a God who will hear our cry. We have a God who does not only hear our cry, but also answers.
He answered our soul’s cry for love in a big way. I have never in my life connected the truth of being crucified with Christ to the actual crucifixion of Christ and putting myself in that death with Him. It makes so much sense though. It reminds me of when Jesus called the twelve disciples. The disciples dropped everything from their normal lives and followed Jesus for the rest of their life, except Judas. In the same way, when we follow Christ we have to leave our sinful lives behind everyday. We must accept the purpose and mission that God has for us and follow it with joy and peace. If we are following Christ, we must fight to realize that our sinful nature died with Jesus on the cross and we live in Him and He in us.
Mankind is so broken that we oppress one another on an everyday basis. Since sin entered the world, man has been corrupt. From Cain to King David to the Pharisees and especially to the present day, we are corrupt. In my opinion, the Pharisees are probably the most frustrating characters of the Bible that I have learned about. These “men of God” were suppose to be the teachers and leaders to the Israelites. Even Jesus told the crowds that “the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat” (Matt. 23:2). Instead of loving and encouraging their people, they oppressed them with excessive rules without helping them live by them. Despite the anger that burns against hypocrites like the Pharisees one fact that I heard at CBA day with the Chapel Student ministries will always amaze me: The ground is level at the foot of the cross. As pastor Travis Simone once said, “You will never come across a person in this world that Jesus did not die for.” This truth reminds me of my place in God’s Kingdom. I am no better than the beggar on street, I am no better than the Israelites who consistently turned away from God after entering the Promised Land, I am no better than the Pharisees who put their peers down. It’s very sobering to be reminded that I deserved that fate that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. I think N.T. Wright paints a beautiful and accurate image of what occurred when Jesus sacrificed himself so that we could be saved. The author of the devotional writes, “As we go through the next four chapters of Matthew’s gospel…we are watching two different scenes: God’s judgment on his rebellious people, and Jesus standing in the way, offering to take that judgment upon himself.” How awesome is that? Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Most of the time, if not all of the time, people want to take the easy way to success or whatever the goal may be. We want the grade without taking the necessary time to study. We want to quit and change direction when the path gets dark and uncertain. We want the championship without the 3-hour practices and exhausting conditioning drills. We want all the success and none of the challenges that come along with it. We want the love and security of Jesus without having to show it to Him or anyone in return. We want to be a part of the Kingdom without having to suffer for it and the King. This is a lazy and faithless mentality that I am sure many of us can relate to.
No one should expect to have a challenge, struggle-free life. Jesus, the Son of God himself, told us “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We have been warned that we will struggle in this world. But the struggle should not be the object of our attention, the love that God showed us. I love what N.T. Wright says towards the end of today’s devotional reading about forgiveness. He calls it “the name of the game.” Forgiveness is not a feature of God’s Kingdom, but it is a foundational act of God’s Kingdom. God saved us by forgiving us for all sins and taking our place on the cross. If the Almighty God has forgiven our sins, what valid reason do we have then to hold a grudge against one another? There is none. In Ephesians 4:1 the Apostle Paul writes, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you received.” We have been called to love each other as Christ loved us. That’s the name of the game.
There are so many distractions in this world that we live in. From the lure of social media to the pressure of keeping up with March Madness and the NCAA tournament- distractions are everywhere. To a certain extent, even good things become distractions in our lives such as exercise, school, and even reading the Bible. For a long time in my life I assumed that just reading the Bible was good enough to keep me in good standing with God. This was a lie. A clever lie that almost anyone would believe, a clever lie that the devil fogged my vision with. I can remember so many days in high school when I would read one verse in the morning (often forget it right after reading it) and think that I had done my Christian duty for the day. This misconception came from doing without understanding. I thought that my action had anything to do with where I was in my relationship with God. Thankfully, God has shown me that I am where I am because He has reached out to me in love since the creation of the world, and His love has brought about a response from me to pursue Him.
Jesus draws us to Him and shows us the way today, just has he drew crowds and taught them about the Kingdom of God when he was a man on this earth. Very few understood it then, and not everyone understands it today because God paints on a canvas bigger than any of us can see. He reveals the picture to us when we need it, so that He can show us what to do and where to go. Where he wants us to go has been made clear to us now. He wants us to go throughout the world and build His kingdom. There is nothing more important. This is the goal. We have to understand this if we hope to follow God. Nothing we do is about us, for us, or because of us. It is because God gave us a second chance and called us into action. If God is anything, then is everything. Therefore, His plan is all that matters.
Heaven on earth seems to be one of those terms that we throw around in everyday conversation without realizing the weight or the reality of the statement itself. Whenever I think of heaven on earth or use it in a conversation I’m usually just talking about a day of really nice weather at the beach, or the perfect glass of ice tea on a scorching hot summer day. My point is that though these wonderful things can feel pretty good, they do not compare to the experience of God’s presence- heaven on earth.
The Transfiguration provides one of the most awe-inspiring images in the Bible to me. How crazy would it have been to not only see Jesus shining like the sun, but to hear God the Father speak to you as he spoke to the prophets, the kings and Adam and Eve. I think N.T. Wright said it best when he wrote that Jesus was the ultimate place where heaven and earth come together- a place full of the presence of God. It makes sense when you think about it. Jesus is in all things, created all things, all things were created for Him, and He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. I think he has all the bases covered.
I think part I love most about this passage is Matthew 17:5,7. God tells the three disciples to listen to Him, and then Jesus tells them get up and be not afraid. Jesus, the Messiah, after transfiguring into some sight too holy for human eyes He touches his friends and tells them to not be afraid! This is awesome because it tells me that God does not want us to just hide our faces. It tells me He does not want us to miss what He’s doing, and He wants us involved in what He’s doing. Who are we that God should include us in his plans? He does not owe us anything- I mean, He already gave us life, technically He has given us life twice.
If there is anything I have learned in the past year, it is that God truly acts out of purpose. I know that any Christian should “know” that, but I feel like so many times in our society we end up preaching truths that we believe to be true, but haven’t really experienced for ourselves. After this most recent year of life, I have come to begin to really know the weight of this truth, and the full picture of the Bible further affirms that truth. During this season of Lent I have been reading N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone: Matthew (Year A). I really love what his point about how all of the ancient stories, such as the prophecies, point to the fact that Jesus is coming.
Last summer I was blessed to be able to get a copy of Dick Woodward’s Bible survey called the Mini Bible College (thanks Glenn Duff and Mr. Templeton). I am very, very slowly BUT surely working my way through the MBC, but it has already opened my eyes to so many truths and connections in the Bible and I’m only in Leviticus. Perhaps the greatest truth is that the entire Bible, especially the Old Testament, is relevant to life today. We can clearly see that the New Testament, as well as the prophecies is about Jesus Christ. What I think I along with many other Believers fail to see is that the narrative of the Old Testament can be summed up in one message: Jesus is Coming. This is the truth we hold on even still today. It is part of our anchor of hope, and we must know and have faith that we do not hope in vain.