The cross!

I don’t want to seem to be undermining the resurrection.  As the Bible shows, Jesus raising from the death shows the power, the wisdom, the sovereignty of God, etc. (Acts 2:24; Romans 4:24, 6:4; Colossians 2:12, etc.). But today, I want to talk about the cross.

When praying today, it came to my mind that the cross of Christ was not a reason to cry. Sometimes, Good Friday, the death of Christ is seen as a moment of mourning, a reason to be sad while it is a reason to rejoice and praise God.  The cross is, among other things:

  • the power a God (For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18);
  • a reason to boast (But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14);
  • the mean of reconciliation with God (and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Ephesians 2: 16);
  • our redemption (And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2: 13- 15);
  • God’s victory (Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2: 14-15).

The cross was not a weakness of God. It was a proof that He was God, the Author of life, the One who holds all things in His hands, the Master of everything. It was a demonstration of power, mercy, love and sovereignty. As Peter said, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28)

I don’t understand everything about predestination, but I know something for sure: Christ dying on the cross was not a failure, a defeat. God wasn’t sitting there, crying and waiting for Sunday morning to happen. He was reigning and victorious, totally sovereign and righteous, totally merciful and God. As the song says: “My soul does magnify the Lord and my spirit praises His name for death could not hold Him captive; even in the grave Jesus is Lord; for death could not hold him captive, even in the grave Jesus is Lord”.

Yes, even on the cross, even in the grave, even dead and buried, even nailed, and mocked, even pierced, Jesus was Lord!

Embrace what your Father has given you

Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, the few people left of the nation of Israel. I’ve carried you since your birth. I’ve taken care of you from the time you were born. Even when you’re old, I’ll take care of you. Even when your hair turns gray, I’ll support you. I made you and will continue to care for you. I’ll support you and save you. (Isaiah 46:3-4)

As I get older, I think more and more of what could have been. I had dreams, great dreams for my walk with God, for my life, for everything. And sometimes it just feels like I missed something somewhere. Sometimes, I just don’t understand what happened. Sometimes I feel it is too late, I am too old. And it is difficult to know what to do with the past, with the present and the future. Trust God, of course, but how, for what, when? And because God never changes and is always good, he hears and listens. Because He is the good Shepherd, He always leads to green pastures. Because He is light, He never leaves us in the dark. Because of Christ, because in Him we are reconciled with the Father, we will never be lost again. So, the Great Shepherd of the sheep saw me in my darkness and leads me toward the following words that John Piper said, which encouraged me and helped me to see what I could do:

“Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you.

The reason for that counsel is 1 Thessalonians 4:13, where Paul says, “We do not want you to be uninformed . . . about those who are asleep” — about those who have died — “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” So, there’s real grieving, which he expects, and there’s hope. Grieving is real, losses are real, pain is real — really felt, really expressed — and hope is real that changes it profoundly. I have in mind two kinds of losses: those who had something precious and lost it, and those who hoped for something precious and never had it. It works both ways. Sixty years go by, and forty years on you think, “I’ve come to terms with that,” and then one morning it breaks over you, and you weep about a 40-year old loss, or a 40-year “never have,” and my counsel is, yes, go ahead, embrace that moment. Weep. But then, say to your weeping after a season, “No. You will not define me, sorrow, because my God has said, ‘No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly’ (Psalm 84:11).

Therefore, even though it was good in one sense, and I miss it in one sense, I trust my God, and he has not withheld anything that is good for me.” Yes, let there be weeping in those seasons — feel the losses. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life he’s given you. “

A just God

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23 ESV)

What do we need to do to be able to follow Christ’s steps and not retaliate nor threaten? We need to be still because God is God; because He judges justly.

The Bible is clear, God judges everyone according to their deeds. He punishes who needs to be punished and avenges who need to be avenged. He is just and fair. But what about all those situations where you were abused, wronged and nothing happened? The persons involved have just kept living their lives as if nothing ever happened. From injustices to abuses, we tend to take things into our own hands. We stop entrusting ourselves to the one who judges justly and start doing what Jesus didn’t do: we retaliate, avenge ourselves or threaten.

The NLT version says that Jesus “left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” But it is difficult to leave what matters to us into the hands of someone who seems at best indifferent and at worst unjust. So to follow Jesus’ step we need to believe, to trust God when He says that He is just, and this will motivate us to be still and wait on Him, instead of retaliating. Why? Because to believe that God is just is to believe that:

  1. He cannot tolerate wrongdoing  (Habakkuk 1:13).
  2. He will punish every wrongdoing in a way or other.
  3. He will judge our own wrongdoings, even if they are done in response to evil done to you.

Peter says it clearly: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV).

On one hand, entrusting ourselves to God, putting our cases into His care or protection, is a matter of trust (trust in His justice, and of course in His love and care), and on the other hand, it is a matter of fear of the Lord (because we were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ, 1 Peter 1:17-19). Sometimes, it is easy to think that to fear the Lord means only avoiding immorality or other ‘big’ sins. But to fear the Lord means also to trust Him, because not to trust him means questioning who He is, denying His divinity, what makes Him who He is.  So, if you fear God, you trust him; if you trust  Him, you fear Him (because you believe He is who He says He is), and you let Him take care of your case, even if it means waiting until the judgment day, or

Yes, it is difficult, but remember, He is:

The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32: 4)

 

 

Without faith, we cannot please Him

 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[a] saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39-43 ESV)

This man was obviously an enemy of God and of men. We don’t know what he did to deserve that death, but we know he deserved it. He said it himself: they were receiving the due rewards of their deeds. So he is on the cross, receiving the due rewards for his sins and decided to ask for eternal life.

Did he think of it when beaten by soldiers? When did he start to be filled with remorse? When he saw Jesus enduring sufferings he did not deserve? We surely won’t know what happened and when it happened before reaching heaven, but one thing we know for sure is that somehow he got faith.

So Jesus was dying on the cross, being crucified unjustly, and he knew it. He was going through the same physical pain as Jesus so he knew better than to speak to Him at that moment, especially to ask for a favor. We don’t even like to be disturbed when we are simply busy, so to be disturbed when we are doing something important, especially something that costs us, would make most of us angry. Anyway, people won’t even try to speak to us in those circumstances, even less to ask for favors when we are in pain. But that criminal did it.

He understood and believed important things that made all the difference. First, he understood and believed that Jesus was King and had authority over everything, even over sins and hell, and eternity. He believed Jesus was the Christ. Secondly, he understood and believed that God was holy and righteous, which means there was nothing he could do to satisfy Him, nothing he could have done to save himself. Even without sin, he would only be a creature and to be with the Creator would mean a lot of grace and mercy given. So he understood and believed that all he needed was God’s mercy and grace, and asked for it. He boldly went before the throne of grace and asked for what he didn’t deserve: a place in Christ’s kingdom. But to be able to ask for mercy, he needed to repent. Which means he needed to acknowledge that he was a creature and Christ was the Creator; that Christ’s rules were the only ones to be followed; that he had broken those rules; and that only Christ could make things right.

His faith led him to Christ and Christ honored it by offering him salvation. So next time, you are trying to win God by being extremely spiritual, by doing many amazing deeds, think of this man and follow his example. Live to honor God not because you need to pay to be with Him, but because He deserved it and had proved Himself worthy of all honor and glory. And just go boldly before the throne of grace, as you are, at any time because you believe Him. Faith will always be the key.

 

 

 

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. (Micah 7:18 ESV)

The gospel can be explained this way:

  • God created us for His glory.
  • We should live for His glory.
  • We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory.
  • We all deserve eternal punishment.
  • In His great love, mercy, grace, goodness, God provided in His Only Son Jesus-Christ the way of forgiveness and eternal life.

This verse shows us how unchangingly marvelous is our God. He has always been willing to forgive and save. He has always been willing to retain His anger and to give grace instead. He has always delighted in steadfast love. This is who He is. That is what I want to think of tomorrow morning when I won’t be focused enough when praying. That is what I want to think of tomorrow after work when I realize that again I was not perfect at all. That is what I want to hold firm to when I am too tired to even move. I want to let His grace and love carry me, comfort me, give me the courage to keep going and still me. Because who is a God like my God, pardoning my iniquities every day and being patient with me? He delights in showing me steadfast, faithful and loyal love and quiets me with His love.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of God’s generous

I have been trying to see God’s generosity (Him doing more than I need) in my life. And it occurred to me that I was quick to forget His greatest act of generosity.

We needed forgiveness. We needed redemption, but surely we didn’t need to be adopted, to become children and heir. That is more than generosity. It is a crazy generosity. He gave us what we needed and didn’t deserve (we call it grace), and then give us what we would not have dreamt of.

Grace can be difficult to understand and to accept, but that kind of generosity is just impossible to understand. Some may accept it, but for me, it is not even about accepting that gift, it is about believing and standing in awe. No wonder without faith, we cannot please Him.

Doubting God’s love and grace is natural. Not doubting is faith. It is supernatural. And it is what is required from us. It is what we bring in the equation of salvation. We are saved by grace through faith because God’s holy love is beyond understanding.

In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:4-14 NIV)

What a love!

Love so high!

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5: 6-11 ESV)

What a love! It is not just about being loved without reasons, it is about being loved despite all reasons. We were sinners, unrighteous. We had no desire to be with God, no desire to do His will, no desire to glorify His name, and He decided to find a way to be with us. He decided that He would fight for us and paid the price required to save us and bring us under the canopy of His love.

That is love! I confess I don’t understand God’s love most of the time. I don’t understand why and how He does what He does. My life seems to be an example of Romans 11:33, “ Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” But when I doubt, when the ground shakes under my feet, remembering that He loved me that way, when I was against Him, quiets me.

That is what His love does. That is true love. A love despite and even if. A love that takes the initiative, always.