Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Message of the Cross

“Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.”  John 19:16-18  NKJV

Early this past week as I began to reflect on the sacrifice our Lord made for us which we will celebrate this weekend, I found myself considering more than just the events which took place, but more the motivation and emotions of Jesus and the Father which prompted the crucifixion and resurrection.  As I did this, I was surprised to find that I began to realize things I had overlooked in the past because my focus had always been on what occurred rather than trying to understand the feelings of my heavenly Father, and why He chose to do what He did.

I am sure many of you can relate to this, but it seems like only yesterday I was single and (reasonably) carefree.  Yet now, as I sit here with three daughters and five (and a half) grandchildren, I would have to admit I understand much better the feelings a father can have towards his children, and the lengths to which he will go to show his love towards them.  As I looked at the death of Jesus this week, and the Father’s decision to sacrifice His own Son for our sins, what became apparent to me was that there were two things I may not have fully appreciated in the past and that was the depth of God’s love for me and His willingness to forgive unconditionally.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  John 15:13  NKJV

How many people would you be willing to die for?  Now that might sound like an odd question, but considering what the Word tells us here it would appear that the ultimate expression of love would be to give your life for someone else.  Yet I am willing to bet that if you were to answer yes, it would be because you loved them.  I believe I would be willing  to die for my wife, my children, or my grandchildren because of the love I have for them, yet I would have to truthfully question whether or not I would be willing to do that for a stranger.  Yet the first message of the cross is that God loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice His own Son for all, even those who choose not to love Him.

“We love Him because He first loved us.”  1 John 4:19  NKJV

Early this past week I received a question about compassion, or rather a lack of it in a certain situation.  It did not take long to discover that the lack of compassion was the result of an unwillingness to forgive.  Why is it that even as believers, after having the forgiveness we have received from our Father as an example, we find it so hard to forgive others?  Over and over again in the Word we are told to forgive others, not just once but “seventy times seven” and even to not let the sun go down on our anger, yet we ignore what we are told and become bitter while holding on to that which we are instructed to release.

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.”  Luke 23:33-34  NKJV

Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus was willing to forgive without even being asked?  As I read this passage this week this was the thought that came to me.  No one had asked for forgiveness, but rather we are told that the crowd was mocking and making fun of Him.  What an example it is for us, that while we find it hard to forgive even those who ask for forgiveness, our Lord was willing to forgive those who were crucifying Him without ever being asked.  What a difference it would make in this world if we could only follow that example of our Lord and Savior.

As you celebrate the resurrection of our Lord this weekend, ask yourself the question “what is the message of the cross to me?”  As I asked myself that question this week, the answer seemed to me to be, love and forgiveness.

"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher)."  John 20:1-16  NKJV

God loved us enough to make the choice to save us, but it is up to us to make the choice to accept it. My prayer for you today is that if you have never made the decision to believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again for you, you would choose to do it right now. Invite Jesus to come into your life and forgive your sins, and begin to experience the joy that comes from having a relationship with a living God, and the knowledge that He has promised us eternal life with Him in Heaven if we only believe.

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