Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Micah 7:18-19

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.

He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities underfoot.

You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.

Micah 7:18-19 (ESV)


God loves His children.  Those He calls, He justifies.  Those He justifies, He will glorify.  (see Romans 8:29-30)

How do you know if you are called, if you are part of the beloved remnant of His inheritance?

If your heart has a desire for God, you are called.  
Nobody who wants to come to Him will ever be turned away.

Jesus said:
"All that the Father gives me will come to me, 
and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." 
 ~John 6:37 (ESV)

If you want Him, He is waiting for you.  
Come to Him.  
He will forgive you and cast your sins into the depths of the sea.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Suffering of Christ

I have been writing about what I believe.

But not very often.  (Although I think I have not yet fallen to less than once a month...)

I got into a "mini-series" about suffering, and found that I was over my head.

On this blog, my only aim is to share a little thought about a Bible verse (if one pops into my head), after I do my daily Bible reading.  Somehow it turned into something bigger than I had intended.  Bigger than I could adequately handle.

Instead of trying to grapple with huge thoughts, I want to get back to dealing with daily Bible verses, even if I don't quite do it on a daily basis.

But I could not end this series without writing about the most important part of all:  Jesus.

I've already written about the suffering of Joseph and the suffering of Job.  But the most important suffering that ever took place was the suffering of Jesus.

This suffering series began as a reaction against the notion that, "A good God would never allow all the awful suffering we see in the world."  This is what people say: atheists, agnostics, people.  They look at the suffering in the world, and they decide that they have invincible proof: because there is suffering, therefore there is no God, or at any rate, not a good God whom anyone would care to follow.

And they completely miss the most important aspect in all of Christianity:  Jesus is the central focus of our faith.

Jesus is the Messiah promised throughout the entire history of the Old Testament.  Jesus is the culmination of all God's promises kept (2 Corinthians 1:20).  Jesus is God's perfect provision to bridge the gap between a Holy God and hopeless, helpless, sinful humans.  Jesus is our Savior, our Redeemer, our Hope, our Friend and our Example.

And Jesus suffered.

Hebrew 12:2 says,  "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (NIV 1984)

God looked at this world, this sinful, fallen world.  He had created it perfect and beautiful, and because He graciously allowed us the freedom to make our own choices, we fundamentally ruined it.  Of course there are remnants of His beauty all over.  It's not that easy to eradicate perfect beauty entirely.  So somehow, in our sinful foolishness, we get the idea that we can take credit for the beauty and the goodness that remain.  And in our perverted minds, we wrongly pin on God the blame for the effects of sin.  This is exactly backwards.  But be that as it is, God looked down and had mercy on us, and He sent His only begotten Son to die in our place, taking the punishment we deserve, so that we could have a restored relationship with our Creator.

"For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21. ESV) ~~this must be one of the most wonderful and mysterious verses in all of the Bible.

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:24)

"Surely he took up our infirmities
    and carried our sorrows,
"yet we considered him stricken by God,
    smitten by him, and afflicted.
"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
"the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. "  (Isaiah 53:4-5) 

In bearing our sins, Jesus suffered.

Jesus suffered.

"But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering." (Hebrews 2:9-10, ESV)

Jesus suffered
  • for our sake
  • in obedience to His Father
  • for the joy set before Him.
When Jesus was praying in the garden on the night He was crucified, He prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will," (Mark 14:36).  He knew how terrible His suffering would be.  He wished there were a different way to accomplish the Father's will.  But there was not a different way.  The cross was the Father's will, and Jesus surrendered Himself in perfect obedience.

We think about the lashings, the crown of thorns, the spitting and slapping and cursing.  We think of the long walk up the hill of Golgotha, the heavy, rough-hewn cross pressing into His already excoriated shoulders.  We think of the nails pounded into His hands and feet, the suffocating pressure of being raised to hang in agony under the hot sun.  

All these things produced intense suffering.  But even so, I believe that an even greater suffering fell upon Jesus when He was crushed under all the sins of the world.  He, Jesus, the perfect, unblemished Lamb of God, the One who never sinned, even under the utmost duress from Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4, Luke 4).  He was God Himself, in human flesh, and God cannot look at sin (Habakkuk 1:13).  Yet, Jesus bore in His body the brunt of all the sins of mankind, while the Father had to turn His face away, and the Son cried out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).  This is suffering indeed.

Jesus suffered and died because He had a greater hope.  He knew that this life is just a shadow of the life to come.  He knew that God would make everything perfect and beautiful and eternally right forevermore in the age to come.  Jesus did not suffer because He was a masochist.  Heavens no!!  He suffered because He knew that He was investing in something that would totally, completely, astoundingly make up for it in the future.  He did it to accomplish the perfect, holy, magnificent will of God for the Redemption of His people.

And here is a sobering thought.  Jesus is our example.  We are to become like Him, just like Him.  Remember that "cup" about which He said, "...if it be possible, let this cup pass from me..." ?  Well, earlier, Jesus told his disciples, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with..." (Mark 10:39 NIV 1984)  

We are called to pour ourselves out, just as Jesus did.

Paul wrote, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death..." (Philippians 3:10 NIV 1984)

We are called to "complete the sufferings of Christ," (Colossians 1:24), which means that although Christ's work on the cross was perfect and complete, we are to expend our lives in this temporal world reaching out to share the good news with all who will listen and respond.  And we are to do this without holding back for our own comfort or survivial.

Just as Jesus suffered,

we are to suffer
  • for the sake of those yet to come into the Kingdom
  • in obedience to our Father
  • for the joy set before us.

As Jim Eliot wisely said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Yes, ours is a religion of suffering.  But it is suffering for a purpose: for truth, for beauty, for peace, for joy, for eternal life.  After our suffering, the full glory of God will be revealed.  Then, like a mother with her perfect newborn baby, only 100,000,000,000 times more wonderfully, we will forget the pain and bask in the splendor of the King forever.

Jesus said, "I have told you these things, 
so that in me you may have peace. 
In this world you will have trouble. 
But take heart! I have overcome the world." 
                          (John 16:33, NIV 1984)


Goodness, writing can be hard.  
This is so long, probably nobody will read the whole thing, 
and yet I feel that I left out many important points.
Nevertheless, I am leaving this "What I believe" series for now.  
And I will try to write more often and more concisely.
Would you believe it?  This was my 100th post.