Monday, February 16, 2015

Part 3- What are the Seven cries of the cross?

1.Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2.6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3.Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4.9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5.I thirst
6.It is finished
7.Into thy hands I commit my Spirit

Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!

In one of the most touching cries of all seven cries from the cross, Jesus, without explanation, gives his mother’s care over to his best friend. John, perhaps the only witness of the scene of the cross, did not write his gospel until last of all, and it is not strange that no other gospel remembers this cry. Matthew may have been made on the strength of what was already written in Mark, and in any case, Luke, as the meticulous physician, does the best job of a non-witness to the cries on the cross, equaling the number of cries given to that of John. But it is not until John, writing his gospel in his old age, recalls so vividly this cry of his best friend. Indeed John seems to recall this cry with great vividness, but that is not so strange to me. An aside to his mother and best friend might well be expected. But the unasked question is strange. Why were the brothers of Jesus not given charge of their mother?

I think it may suggest a temporary split in the family over the very person of Jesus. There is not enough evidence to do more than just suggest that this might be a possibility, and on this side of heaven, we are not to know. But I will try to submit what we do know, and discuss its relevancy. We know that there is a time when the brothers of Jesus and his mother are seeking to find him, but Jesus not only seems to avoid them, but to almost insult them. Matthew (13:47 NIV) tells us that “Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” In verse 48, Jesus replies with a question asking who is my mother and who are my brothers, hardly a respectful question, and the scripture is blank about them ever meeting with Jesus. Did they meet? Or was there a reason, unstated in the gospels, for Jesus to be avoiding them at the time?

What was going on in the life of Jesus at the time? We know from the gospels that early on in the ministry of Jesus he gathered opposition to his teaching. There were men who were the religious leaders who correctly saw him as a challenge to their leadership. The seven woes of the Pharisees are a famous indictment of this leadership, but I think they probably did not have to wait for Jesus to utter the seven woes to know an enemy. I am reaching beyond the text here, but what if those leaders, or someone influential who knew them, went to the family of Jesus and explained the problem?
I can quite imagine the conversation going something like this:

Leader: Well, you know this Jesus of yours is creating a great disturbance.
Family: Yes, we can see that he is attracting great crowds wherever he goes.
Leader: He is not very respectful of our venerated religious leaders either.
Family: No, there are times when he seems to insult them.
Leader: You know we are subject to Rome, but our own leaders are quite upset, and possibly may be forced to harm Jesus, especially if all these crowds keep up. The Romans, who knows what they will do? And it is not doing our nation any good right now.
Family: We understand that.
Leader: It may come to a place where the leaders will be forced to action. And then Rome may get involved. It is better for all of us if this problem would just go away.
Family: We understand. We will try to get Jesus to pull back for a while, and perhaps we will find a place to keep him quiet.
Leader: If you are going to do anything, I suggest sooner is better than later.

Again, I do not know that such a conversation, similar or varied, ever took place, but if it did, would that not explain the behavior of his brothers and his mother? His mother, of course, had divine intervention that this child was of God, and she knew that, but I would point out that mothers who have their children’s well-being threatened might do almost anything. His brothers had only whatever family tradition had given them, and apparently it was not enough. What if his family (Joseph, being absent is probably deceased) had decided to come and put him away? I can well imagine his skeptical brothers wanting to do the right thing for their mother’s peace, for the community, and because of political pressure. They may have thought that Jesus had lost it, and that it was their duty to save him by putting him away. By the time of the cross, his mother is there weeping at the foot of the cross, and perhaps wishing that she and his brothers had managed to put him away someplace safe. She was not to have understanding of what was happening until Sunday morning, when the tomb was found vacant. Perhaps she was the first to have faith in her family in the resurrected Lord.

But what of her brothers? I am not sure about Jude, for we are not told, but with his short epistle we have evidence that somewhere sometime he came to belief. But again, perhaps not at first. We are told something about James that stands out, and in Acts 15:7 and 8, Paul tells us that, “After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” Why is James singled out here? Could it be that our Lord makes a special appearance that his own brother might believe? That James does believe is beyond dispute, and he becomes a renowned leader of the early church, but I do wonder about all the things that might have gone into the making of his belief. By the time of the beginning of Acts, both the mother of Jesus and his brothers are mentioned, and evidently by Pentecost they had all come to faith.

But enough speculation, for that is all that it is, and we need to deal with the scriptures we do have, not the ones that I may imagine. We know that Jesus gave his treasured mother to his treasured friend, both of whom watched him die, not understanding at all what was happening. Interestingly, this cry includes the last recorded words of Jesus to his mother. It is not known whether the risen Jesus ever spoke to his mother. I would assume that John faithfully told her all she needed to know, but the scripture is mostly silent on the mother of Jesus after this point.

I cannot help think that with the sovereignty of God that he may have been planning the best for his mother. John, scripture accords us, was the first to realize what the empty tomb meant, and first believed in the risen Lord. Luke does not tell us this part, but Luke does record Peter’s running to see the empty tomb. He leaves out the fact that John is also running to the tomb, and outran Peter to the tomb, stopping and looking at the grave clothes that were there. Peter charged ahead of him to the tomb itself and looked in first. John follows afterward, and records of himself (John 20:8) that he saw the tomb and believed.

I do further wonder at the Mariolatry that has been so prevalent throughout our church age, and perhaps that is why God saw fit to give no more information on the mother of God. Many sects have caused much grief to themselves through worship of Mary. As the mother of God, Mary should have the highest accord and honor, but all worship should be saved only for God himself. But is it not a marvel, that in this last of seven cries, Jesus takes care of his mother? And does anyone doubt that both Mary and John are presently before our Lord? Our God is good!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Part 2- What are the Seven cries of the cross?

1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2. 6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3. Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4. 9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5. I thirst
6. It is finished
7. Into thy hands I commit my Spirit

6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
The second cry from Jesus on the cross was made at the 6th hour. Now, when we read about the last week of Christ, we need to keep in mind that there are two time schemes going on here with the listing of chronological events. One such listing such as this one, is in Roman time. Roman time begins at 6 in the morning, and the hours are counted successively, so the sixth hour of the day would have been what we call today noon. Jewish time, however, begins at 6 in the evening. Thus, Christ had to be taken off of the cross before the Sabbath, Passover, was started. The people who were caring for the body of Jesus were unable to complete all of the necessary preparations for a proper burial, and working quickly, they did as much as they could. They came back on the first day of the week, after the Sabbaths had completed, and then they tried to further fix the body but found out that Jesus was risen instead.

Thus we know that Christ was up on the cross some time more than three hours, though probably not a lot more. We know this because the fourth cry on the cross is given at the 9th hour, or at 3 in the afternoon. At noon, he has already prayed for their forgiveness, but now he is replying to the comment of faith on the part of the thief. Verily, or truly he says, today shalt thou be with me in paradise. Is it not a marvel that the first one into heaven was naught but a thief on the cross? And what was it that saved him? It was his simple plea of faith, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And what grace it is that the Son of God should so easily bestow upon the thief! At what cost is our salvation? I would reply that it is a very heavy cost, the heaviest cost of all that God could devise, for having paid his all in giving his life for us, there is nothing more that can be done. It is always a simple childlike faith in God that will save us, and we do well to remember that there is nothing that we can add to it—often we try to add to it by our own good works, but instead we subtract from it. Luther tells us that the tree of faith comes first, “The tree comes first, and then come the fruits.”1 Always and truly we are looked at and judged first by whether we have faith or not. Those judged to have faith are kept by Christ, while those without faith are as the goats separated by the Shepherd, and are forever lost.

And what is the judgment? Is it enough to just say we believe? Read the words of Jesus (Matthew 7:22, and 23 NIV)and see, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” I can hear your confusion loudly in my ears; you are thinking that surely he would not say that to you. I believe, you say. But read the words of James (James 2:19 and 20), and what he says about belief, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Look at what Luther again said, “The tree comes first, and then come the fruits.” A deathbed confession of Christ is always acceptable to him, for does he not tell us so in the parable of the workers of the vineyard. Even those who are hired during the last hours of the day are paid the same wages—thus is plain that faith saves us. But James was speaking about what he was seeing in that some said they had faith, but showed no difference in their lives. Those people, James declares, are people without a saving faith, for their faith produces no works. He points to the demons and their beliefs, correctly saying that they do believe and tremble because of their belief, but for them there is no salvation.

Afraid we are to judge the dead, and righteously so, for judgment ought to be left in the hands of God who alone sees the heart of man. Many times I see funerals where the person who dies is assumed to be with God, but in the hearts of the mourners, if I were to ask them why, they would have no clear answer. The answer for acceptance of God is always based on faith—it is utterly impossible for any man to gain heaven without faith in what God has done. But added to that faith, over time, we should always expect to see that famous fruit that Luther talks about. We will see people becoming changed and convicted as they seek to follow their new found faith.
It is upsetting to me to see so many miss the truth of the gospel—there is forgiveness to all, no matter how heinous their sin might be—but there also is condemnation for all who have not faith producing holiness. Thus we have confusion on the part of many Christians seeking to be tolerant, and they accept everyone’s lifestyle as acceptable, when there is no lifestyle other than the lifestyle of faith that is acceptable to God. On the other side, we have confusion of the part of many Christians who know that there are many wicked lifestyles not acceptable to God, and therefore they cringe from the people whom God indeed loves and would share his truth with. Neither side is following the truth and love of the gospel.

The gospel fairly steers a middle course here, seeing something from both groups. Jude (22 NIV) tells us to “show mercy [to all], mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. Thus we can see we are to hate the sin, but love the sinner, as has indeed been written so many times. It is difficult for Christians to stay on the middle course, rejecting the sin, but embracing the sinner, but their very hope of salvation rests on nothing less. Jude tells us in the same passage that we are to “snatch others from the fire and save them.” We do no one who is bound for eternal hell a favor by accepting their lifestyle, but we likewise cannot do a favor to such unless we reach the challenge of loving them.

I have always wondered about death—Jesus plainly tells us that the thief was to be that very day in paradise with Jesus himself. But Paul tells us that the dead in Christ are awaiting their new bodies, just as we are, and that together we will be raised to forever be with him. I am altogether sure that the differences will be worked out by God, but the difficulty is to see how they might be. Randy Alcorn suggests that we are given temporary bodies as soon as we die, and that may be the answer for certainly it seems to be the probable answer.

But it ought to be enough for every Christian to know, that in the hour of his death, the living Lord is awaiting his presence. I do wonder about all the people who claim to have near death experiences, for it seems that they never get it right. And I remember that famous saying of our Lord, that there is a great gulf placed between this world and the afterworld, so that no man will ever cross it. Not Hercules, nor any other mythological character could ever cross this barrier. Only Christ has broken the march of death for us, and is it not wonderful to think about being in Paradise with our Lord?

1.Luther, Martin (2009-02-14). Christian Classics: Works of Martin Luther, in a single file, improved 9/1/2010 (Kindle Location 2469). B&R Samizdat Express. Kindle Edition.

Monday, February 09, 2015

What are the Seven cries of the cross?

1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2. 6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3. Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4. 9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5. I thirst
6. It is finished
7. Into thy hands I commit my Spirit
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Studying the seven cries of the cross is a fascinating study. The first, repeated as the first line here, was evidently uttered just after Jesus was lifted up on the cross. But how long did God intend for things to happen this way?

A study of the scriptures reveals that God has always intended to extend forgiveness to those who will believe. My pastor reminded me of a great place in Genesis where Christ is prefigured in none other than the person of Joseph. His brothers, who have made a lifelong practice of deceiving both their brother and their father, claim to have a “last word” from their father, telling Joseph to forgive them. Joseph, probably not fooled for an instant, has already forgiven his brothers, and weeps before them all, thus prefiguring the Christ who was to cry on the cross, asking for forgiveness to the very ones responsible for putting him on the cross.

What must it have been like for the Creator of the universe to take the form of flesh and become a man? Our world still marvels over the incarnation, even many who do not really believe find themselves “believing”, if only for a moment in the Christmas season. But I am thinking more of what it might have been like—to be perfect and holy and blameless—and yet become a man. He came, fully realizing from eternity past, that he would be rejected of his nation, Israel. He came, knowing his message would be mocked, his birth ridiculed, and his very personage threatened again and again. The evidence in the gospel is fairly strong that he was initially rejected even of his mother and his brothers. They could not understand something so magnificent and grand coming from the Jesus they had grown up with. Jesus, after his resurrection, made a special appearance to his brother James, last of all, probably so that his own brother might believe. James the Just indeed came to believe, leading the church of Jerusalem and leaving us with the famous epistle of James.

He came and saw so much that was wrong. We are only given a brief glimpse of one childhood adventure, that when he was 12 years old, he went into the temple and taught, amazing all those who listened. But the rest of the years are silent years, and we wonder how he coped with the world during that time. What must he have thought about all the crazy things going on the world? The Romans were little more than barbarians, his own people had nearly all wandered away from the faith, and the times were filled with evil. How it must have disquieted his soul to see all that was going on, and not to do anything about it. For the Bible says that he came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, that we might be saved.

I think of the prostitute who the religious leaders brought to him to be condemned. Jesus famously wrote in the sand after he said let him who has no sin cast the first stone. What if these leaders were men who Jesus knew personally? I do not doubt that Jesus, being God, could have known everything about these leaders, and it is suggested that Jesus, writing in the sand, was writing the names of the leaders and their secret sins next to their names. We of course, do not know what he was writing, but I want to suggest that perhaps Jesus was just using his earthly knowledge, his personal acquaintance with these men as the basis for his knowledge. He did grow up with them, and scandals, being what they are, have a way of coming out. What if he were just writing not-so-secret sins? In any case, the men were somehow convicted, and went out one by one.

I used to have a friend who despised this story, rejecting it utterly as something that Jesus would never do. (It is in a famously disputed passage, and may not have been part of the original.) But when I read the story, I always think it is exactly what Jesus would do. Until we begin to see ourselves as God sees us, we cannot have much hope of grace. It is only when we see ourselves as worse than a common prostitute that we begin to really appreciate the grace of God for its immeasurable worth. After all, we know that the first person into heaven was nothing but a common thief on the cross. Jesus has come to save the lost, but we do not even begin to realize how lost we were when we were found by him. Indeed, it is true, and could be accurately said of us, that even still, our folly is great, and we do not know what we do. Yet, Jesus prayed that the Father might forgive us, though we still do not know what that means.

The greatest among Christians tends always to have a great picture of his own ineptitude, coupled with an even greater understanding of the forgiveness of God. He understands well the meaning of grace, and is quick to point to the author of his salvation. If we are to comprehend at all the grace of God, we must see ourselves every bit as needy as that common prostitute in the eyes of God. We are not saved because of any goodness in us, and the Bible tells us that we owe salvation completely to the grace of God. It is not until we see that God’s forgiveness is offered to everyone, no matter what the offense, that we can begin to appreciate just how grand the grace of the Father is.

But it occurs to me that there is yet another plane of which we have so little understanding. I am a literalist when it comes to the Bible, and try to believe the things I find written there. We, meaning mankind, have been through many stages in the unfolding plan of God. In each stage, at every point we have been colossal failures. Even today, in the mystery age of the church, there is so much unbelief. You may think I exaggerate, but if we really believed that God is judging this world how drastically different our lives would be. We live with our amusements, our Wii games, our movies, and our favorite pastimes. We certainly do not act like judgment is coming upon the world. We most certainly do not act like Jesus is the one hope. Surely Jesus must be praying in our behalf, yet again, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Being a literalist, I must go back to the context, for heretofore I have mostly been writing about speculative applications of the prayer of Jesus when the primary context states something so plainly. The world was killing their Savior. They meted out their justice, and put to death the Savior of the world, not knowing what they were doing. The Jewish leaders were the primary force behind causing his death, but the worldly system of Rome was also used, and two of the worldly Gentile leaders were also greatly responsible for his death. Imagine being a believer prior to the cross, for Jesus does tell us of such in the gospel of John. They believed Jesus to be the son of God, and they believed that God the Father had sent him. What a deep sense of loss and bewilderment must have come over them to see the Son of God hanging on the cross, and dying. They had expected that Jesus was to be their ruler, over a kingdom set up on earth, and that the Jews would be used as a blessing to all of mankind. Instead they got a bloody and beaten corpse. What a devastation that must have been!

Who was the first to figure it out? As best I can tell, it was the disciple whom Jesus loved, John1, for John in running to the tomb early on Sunday morning, saw the empty tomb, with the grave clothes all neatly stacked, and he understood first what millions in the world have discovered since. He has risen! Read what the prophet Isaiah had to say, so long ago.
His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.
Isaiah 52:14
And again in Isaiah 53, (verses 3-6)
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Willingly he went to the cross, bearing our sins, that we might be forgiven forever, if we will but believe. While we were yet stupid and foolish, sinning against God in nailing Jesus to the cross, yet still then, he prayed to the Father, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. What wonderful grace was given to us by the Creator of the universe, who told us that he gave his life willingly, and that no man—not the Jewish leaders, not even the Roman leaders—took it from him. He said he would lay his life down, and that he would take it up again. Isaiah finishes with the picture of Jesus on the cross telling us, “for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.” Indeed, the Father has forgiven us, for we knew not what we were doing!

1. In John 20:8 it says, “Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.”