Friday, April 19, 2013

I'll Take More, Please

I confessed in my last blog that I always chose to skim over, and even avoid, the gory, disturbing details of the Easter story.  Jesus' death on the cross was just too much reality for me.  I didn't want to think about bad stuff.  There's enough of that going on in the hear and now, if you know what I'm sayin'.  I wanted to focus on the good; and the promise of new life in Christ is definitely a happier thought than the crucifixion of an innocent man.  I think we can all agree on that.  The problem is, if I selectively read and hear God's word in that way, how will I know what God wants me to do when the going gets really tough, when I am taking up my own cross?  It's not a matter of IF I face some Good Friday kind of days, but WHEN I do, what can I learn from Jesus in His weakest moments?

I have spent weeks trying to figure out how to break down the Easter story and put it back together in a way that is helpful for growing my faith and maybe yours.  And you know what I have come up with?  Sometimes simple is better.  The big take-home message for me from reading Matthew 26-28 is that faith can be messy, and inconvenient by our worldly standards, whether you are the Messiah or a normal, ordinary person like me.  The good news is that no matter who I am or who you are, if we accept Christ and choose to follow Him, God is with us working miracles in my life and yours.  He is the one who transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

If you don't believe me, just look at all Jesus went through for us as he died on the cross.  Through Jesus, God gives us encouragement, hope, and salvation.  Life in Him is life to the full.  From Jesus, we learn how to hang on to our faith when life hurts more than we thought humanly possible.  Jesus faced the harsh reality that 

"the Passover is two days away-and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."

And even with His perfect, sinless, divine nature, the road to live out his God given purpose was not easy.  Jesus was not spared from disappointment and discouragement.  Look what happened to him.  Jesus hand-picked His original 12 disciples, investing much of His time and energy in their lives.  Yet, Judas sold him out to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver.  And if that wasn't bad enough, Judas signaled Jesus' unjustifiable arrest with a kiss (Matthew 26: 48-50).  

And Judas wasn't the only disciple to turn away from all he knew to be true in Jesus.  Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times (Matthew 26: 69-75), keeping his distance because he was afraid of what claiming his faith publicly would mean for his own life.  The rest of the disciples, afraid too, flew the coop when following Jesus meant relying on things they did not understand, things they could not see, things that were complicated and scary (Matthew 26: 56).  Talk about heartbreaking!

After reading these verses in Matthew, I started thinking.  If it was that easy for Jesus' original disciples to doubt him when they got to see and hear His divine power and majesty first-hand, witnessing the miracles of our Lord's hands in the flesh, how much more susceptible am I to being lead astray and becoming lost?  

Jesus knew this about His disciples, even me, and He left explicit directions for these kind of defining moments when we have to make hard choices in order to follow God, encouraging us to hold on to our faith,

"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"
Jesus not only talked the talk, He walked the walk for us.  One of the most poignant scenes in the Easter story is after Jesus shared the Last Supper with his closest friends, His chosen
12.  His heart was obviously heavy.  I think the weight of the world was literally on His shoulders as He thought about what was to come. 

Have you ever been there? 

Look at what Jesus did, though.  Jesus deliberately surrounded himself with His close friends in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed His heart out, allowing God to comfort and guide Him both physically and spiritually.

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death...My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Jesus shows us that friends and prayer are inseparable and essential, especially during difficult times.  Jesus certainly had cause to doubt God and run for the hills or at least crawl up in a hole and shut everyone out so He could die.  I think that would be my first inclination, anyway.  He knew He was about to be betrayed, tortured, and killed. 

But, in faith and trust, Jesus faced His harsh reality and pain by crying out to God, His Father.  Matthew said Jesus "fell with his face to the ground."  After the most heartfelt, most genuine prayer, Jesus explains to those who have doubts about His story,

"Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?"

Jesus' prayers confirmed God's will for His life, telling a bigger story, making a covenant, a lasting promise, with His disciples, including you and me.  This is not picture perfect in my logical mind, but it is purpose perfect in God's plan,

"Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the
 forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now until that day 
when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

In fact, the picture we get from reading the story of the crucifixion is disgusting.  Despite being an innocent man and the son of God, Jesus was mocked, spit on, flogged, taunted, beaten, tortured, and nailed to the cross between two criminals.  He didn't deserve to be in the place in which He found himself.  But even in the middle of the worst day of His life, God worked miracles, far beyond our comprehension and high above our knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong. 

Jesus forgave and saved the convicted criminal dying beside Him without question (Luke 23:38-43).  It doesn't make sense, but just like that, He performs an unpredictable, undeserved, saving miracle, making God's love plain and simple, not about good works.  In His blessing, Jesus foreshadows the power and majesty of the mercy and grace God makes available to all of us in Christ.

So the bottom line- Jesus died a horrible, sacrificial death, so that we can take God for his Word.  In Christ, we live, now, with hope.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Thank heavens for Jesus.  We are not limited by our own sin, stuck in the results of our own efforts, bound to the predictable, or confined to those things which our minds completely understand and our eyes are able to envision.  No, the new life we have in Christ, is so much more.  I don't know what more necessarily means for my life, but I know God does.

A prayer for today-
Dear Heavenly Father,
I thank you for giving your Son for the forgiveness of my sins.  Thank you for loving me so much that my life is blessed by your mercy and grace.  I pray you will strengthen my faith and trust in you, helping me live a life of "more in Christ."  I also pray, especially today, for those who are feeling overwhelmed by the pain of their reality.  May they find your open arms and feel the comfort, peace, and guidance of your unconditional love.
In Christ's Holy Name I pray,
May God bless you today and always,

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