ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’…Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.” (Mark 15:34, 37 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 159: Crucifixion. I am a huge fan of and collect films portraying the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I own the of the original black and white Cecil B. DeMille 1927 silent film, King of Kings. I own many of the films following that from the 60’s such as The Greatest Story Ever Told starring Max Von Sydow through the latest one, Son of God starring Diogo Morgado. In fact, I not only own and love it, but the very first Jesus film I can remember watching was the 1961 remake of the King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter on TV with my family on Easter Sunday.
Honestly, up until the late 90s and early 2000s, most of the films really toned down the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I certainly understand why. Crucifixion is not a good way to have to die and with the heavy censorship of films and music that was in place prior to the late 90s, no one wanted to risk making the crucifixion more realistic. That and many producers knew that Christian audiences would not appreciate it either. They wanted wholesome films with little to no violence and sterile language. So, there was no way that they were going to gore up the crucifixion.
Rather, those films focused more on Jesus’ life and teachings, and they toned down and almost sterilized the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While these films are all great films in their own right, the unfortunate consequence of censoring the suffering and crucifixion of Christ is that it takes away from the real sacrifice that Christ made.
Thankfully, that began to change with the 1999 Jesus miniseries starring Jeremy Sisto. While that film did not lay it thick with the gore, when Jesus was crucified he can be heard screaming in agonizing pain and blood can be seen splattered on the cross and dripping from his wrists. Again, not too much…but enough for you to cringe at the thought of what was happening. Then, by 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ and went to town on showing Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. The film was so hard to watch, and so powerful, that people left the theater with the same full bucket of popcorn they went in with. It was the film that brought me back to my faith in Jesus, because it made me truly and deeply reflect on why Jesus would go through with that.
Without belaboring this, crucifixion was a terrible way to die. First, before one ever made it to the cross, they victim of crucifixion would be punished for the crimes they had committed. They would we whipped and beaten. The Jews had a law that a person should be whipped no more than 40 times minus one. Whether the Romans adhered to that or not is unlcear, but by the time Jesus would have had to carry his cross, he would have been severely beaten, bruised, bloody, and his flesh torn from the shards of glass and rock that hung from the flagella at the end of the whip.
Then there was the crucifixion itself. The criminal would have had to carry the cross beam up to his/her place of crucifixion. He then would have been laid down and his arms would have been tied to the beam, followed by the hands/wrists being crucified. The cross beam would then be raised up, with the body intact, onto the vertical beam which is already erect. Once the cross beam was in place nails would have been driven through each of the ankle bones into the sides of the cross, and a sentence would be placed above the head of the crucified. In Jesus case, it read in Latin (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum), in Greek (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων), in Hebrew read right to left (יֵשׁוּעַ מִנַּצְּרַת, מתי כז 3‡מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים), and in English (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).
The crucified would spend hours, if not days, lifting his/her body up to breathe out and lowering his/her body to breathe in. Eventually, due to exhaustion, the crucified’s own body weight would crush his/her lungs and they would suffocate to death. It was a slow, laborious death that no decent person would ever wish upon anyone. This is how Jesus died.
In the modern Western world, we have been privileged to not have to witness such executions. Even when we execute criminals, we do so in a way that is judged to be the most “humane” way possible. When reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and death, let us be challenged to NOT succumb to our privilege; rather, let us truly reflect on what he went through and let us come to the foot of the cross and lay our sins and shortcomings bare to the one who gave it all, and suffered the worst death imaginable, for our sake.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle in Galatians 2:20 NLT
Lord, as we approach Lent, help me to have the strength to be honest with myself and you regarding my sin so that my sins may be once and for all crucified with Christ and I may be free of their burdensome weight. Redeem me, for I am yours Lord. Amen.
Let this virtual journey through the stations of the cross be a point of reflection for you on this Good Friday.
Read Mark 1:29-34
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know You are the Holy One of God. ” (John 6:68-69 NLT)
The danger with reading stories, or even watching them on the television or in the movies, is that we tend to turn the people those stories into two-dimensional caricatures at best. This is especially true when we look at historical figures in true stories. Take Abraham Lincoln, for instance. There is so much to that particular president for us to read on and learn about. We can learn about all of his failures, his chronic depression, his doubts regarding his faith, his troubled childhood, his tumultuous marriage, his lack of self-confidence. We can learn about his courage, his rising up out of the bare-bones frontier life to become a lawyer, a politician and one of the most beloved presidents. We could read about how vastly unpopular his presidency was, how scrutinized he was, and all of the resistance he met as he led a country through a bloody civil war.
And that wouldn’t cover even a fracture of the man. Yet, even so, when we think of Abraham Lincoln, we only think of a fraction of what I just mentioned. In essence, we see good old Abe as a fraction of a fraction of who he actually is. We think of him being tall, lanky, with a weird beard. We call him “honest” abe, and mythologize him as the single man who saved the union and brought an end to slavery. That would sum up our common understanding of him is but a mere caricature.
We do the same with the people in the Bible. For instance, take Jesus’ disciple Simon. We see him as bold and brash fisherman, who may or may not have been illiterate, who often put his foot in his mouth, and who Jesus renamed Peter and is the “rock” upon which the church is built. If we add anything else to that, it is usually Peter’s fear on the water and his denial before the crowing of the rooster on Good Friday morning. In fact, we caricaturize Peter and the other Apostles so much that we think, “Well of course they followed Jesus and did nothing else. They had nothing else going for them anyway, besides fishing and collecting taxes.”
Yet, there was so much more to the disciples than that. In fact, if we look at today’s suggested Scripture reading, we find out that Peter was married and was responsible for not only supporting his wife, but also his mother-in-law. Though it isn’t mentioned, he more than likely also had children. When he said yes to follow Jesus, and through down his nets, he wasn’t just leaving fishing behind; rather, he was leaving his ENTIRE FAMILY behind. He was leaving his wife, his mother-in-law, and his children to fend for themselves. He was leaving them without any source of income, and without any means of getting food. What’s more, what happens when taxes are due and they have no means of paying those taxes.
In other words, Peter was leaving behind HIS ENTIRE LIFE because Jesus’ claim on his life was THAT IMPORTANT. Peter devotion to Christ, albeit flawed and wavering at times, was rooted deep. Jesus wasn’t just the next best prophet to him, he wasn’t just Peter’s teacher, he wasn’t just the messiah come to liberate Israel, or any such thing. JESUS WAS LORD TO PETER, and Peter submitted his life to his Lord at all costs. Ultimately, many years later, Peter ended up giving that life up literally as he was, by tradition, crucified upside down in Rome.
Today’s reflection is this: what are you leaving behind to follow Jesus? What are you willing to give up, to part ways with, to sacrifice in order to follow THE ONE WHO HAS CALLED YOU? Do you see Jesus as neat and nice guy? Do you see Jesus as a wise, sagely teacher? Do you see Jesus as a warm and fuzzy “pick-me-up” at the beginning of your week? Or do you see Jesus as YOUR LORD and SAVIOR, the one you would cross land and sea to follow at all costs? Today’s challenge is to evaluate yourself, to evaluate your faith, and to move toward more fully devoting yourself to Jesus, who is Lord of all Creation.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:24a NLT)
Lord, work in my heart that I may devote myself wholly to you. Amen.
Wow, can you believe Holy Week is here already? Lent has flown right on by and we now find ourselves in the midst of the holiest week in the Christian calendar. Take this time to reflect on this day within holy week as you read through a devotion I wrote during holy week a few years ago. Click here to begin today’s deovtion.
Read Mark 8:34-38
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
If you are Christian you have, no doubt, come across today’s scripture reading before. In one fashion, or another, you have heard that following Jesus means that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Part of the problem of being a Christian is that, all of these centuries later, we hear Jesus’ words in ways that I believe he never intendeded them. For instance, when we come across today’s Scirpture passage we often interpret it in ways that both trivialize the cross and demonize ourselves into something less than valuable in the eyes of God.
An unhealthy understanding of Bible passages such as these can lead to an unhealthy, and perhaps damning perception of self, of neighbor and, ultimately, of God. So let me begin by stressing what this passage is NOT saying. First, this passage is NOT saying you should hate yourself or deny yourself your basic needs. It is not saying that at all! God created you and God does not create junk or rubbish. God created you, and all, with a divine and holy purpose in mind. Thus, Jesus is not telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to hate ourselves, look down upon ourselves, or neglect to take care of ourselves. To do such would be sinful and would not be in line with God’s will for us. After all, God calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation (in which we are included) and to go against that would be to go against God’s call.
Second, this passage is not intended to trivialize the cross. There is a TobyMac song called Irene, in which TobyMac sings “Pick up your cross and where it everyday.” This is both a reference to Luke’s parallel passage (Luke 9:22-25) and to the trinket people often where on a necklace fastened around their necks. But this is not what the passage is referring to at all. It’s not referring to a necklace, nor is it referring to a lamented obligation, or a personal challenge one has been going through; rather, Jesus is referring to the instrument of capital punishment he would be affixed to as a means of painfully and humiliatingly exterminating his life.
What Jesus is ultimately saying in this passage is that, if anyone wishes to be his follower, we must deny any part of us that would hold us back from following him. Regardless of what those things are (e.g. our sins, our hangups, our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, etc.) we must be willing to put them aside and be willing to pay all costs for being associated with Jesus. Even if the cost is our very lives, we must be willing to give it all to follow Christ. It has nothing to do with self-loathing, though. It has to do with one’s identity! If one truly identifies as a Christians, and sees him/herself as belonging to Christ, then that will be the most important thing to him/her over and above anything else, including his/her own life.
There are numerous examples of people who saw Christ as being at the core of their identity. This week it behooves us to look at the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a disciple of Christ who denied the fears and things that held him back from following Christ. Dr. King certainly picked up his cross, the burden of fighting for equality and freedom for all people regardless of their skin color, and ended up paying the ultimate price for doing so. When we look at Dr. King we see a man who certainly denied himself, picked up his cross and followed Jesus.
The question for us today is this, will we let our fears and our desires keep us from accepting Christ as our Lord? Will we refuse to pick up our cross because of the possible consequences? Will we deny Christ, or deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from accepting Christ? Will we be ashamed of Christ, Christ’s message, and the way of the Cross because it is more convenient for us to do so? Or will we deny our own convenience for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s Kingdom? The choice is ultimately yours and I pray that your response is one of affirmation rather than one of denial and embarrassment. The world could use more disciples of Christ and the hope, healing and wholeness that such disciples bring in Christ’s name.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. – Jacqueline Novogratz
Lord, I give me the strength to deny the things that hold me back from you, to pick up my cross, and to follow you at all costs. Amen.
Read Luke 20:9-19
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’” (Matthew Luke 20:9-19 CEB)
If I were to walk into any given church, or up to any random person, and ask them what the heart of the Gospel message is, I would more than like receive something like the following: “The Gospel message is that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because Jesus was perfect and without sin, he became the spotless lamb led to the slaughter in order that he may die the death we deserve in order that those who believe in him might be atoned to God and saved.” This is the, in essence, the modern, popular Christian understanding of the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus came to die so that we might live.
Yet, when you read the Gospels themselves, we find that Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins is just a part of the Gospel story. It is not the whole of it. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection are vitally important to Christian theology, Christology, and the Gospel message; however, only so when it is told in the context of the other components that we find in the Gospel. When those components are missing, what we end up is with a skewed, inaccurate portrait of the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a skewed and inaccurate portrait of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the Christ.
While it is certainly true that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought about salvific and transformative atonement from our sins, to only tell that part of the story does an injustice to the life and the teachings of the Christ. In fact, it not only does a disservice, but it completely ignores Jesus’ life and teachings altogether, as if they are simply secondary and/or non-important. Yet, was Jesus’ life and teachings trivial? Was his life and teachings secondary, just a necessary back-story to his ultimate death and resurrection? If that is the case, if Jesus’ teachings are trivial and secondary to the work of salvation in the world, then why go down the route of teaching and preaching at all. The Gospel writers could have simply just had Jesus proclaim that his the messiah and the son of God, have people reject that, have him crucified, died, buried, resurrected and be done with it.
But that is not what the Gospel writers did. Rather, they included the whole of Jesus’ life and they dedicated most of their time on Jesus’ teachings. For them, the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings were both as integral to God’s salvation plan as his death and resurrection were. Jesus came, not to die, but to bring TRUE LIFE into the world. To show them what God means by LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR. Jesus came to set the example and to personally deliver the beginnings of God’s reign in the world. But, like Jesus’ own parable of the wicked tenants suggests, some of those in the world to whom the father sent the son (e.g. the Romans, the politicians, some of the religious leaders, etc.), rejected his identity, as well as his authority, and tried to eliminate him.
That plot, though, ultimately failed; rather, what happened was that God made the greatest good EVER come out of both the life and the death of Jesus. Instead of remaining dead, Jesus resurrected and now sits in power and authority in a complete union with God. Those who believe in him have found the power of redemption, as well as the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit and the perfecting grace of God in their lives. They are not saved, but are transformed and are living out their FAITH in real and tangible ways.
The challenge for us is this, don’t be misled by a lopsided and misguided Gospel. Jesus wasn’t born merely to die. What kind of God would scheme up that kind of plan? Rather, Jesus was born so the he might LIVE in the world and that through him we might attain TRUE LIFE. Even in the face of evil, and even when finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus perservered and triumphed over death because in him was a presence greater than death…the very presence of GOD. Through our belief in Christ, through our following his example as detailed in the Gospel, and through his death and resurrection, we have found REDEMPTION and have been placed on the narrow path that leads to life. Let’s start walking it.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We cannot have the fruits of the gospel without its roots.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
Lord, I open my heart to the truth of your Gospel. Perfect me in it and set me a part a witness to its power. Amen.
Read John 19
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
When the Roman officer who stood facing Him [heard His cry and] saw how He had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 NLT)
Up until now, it might not be clear why I entitled this series of Holy Week devotions, “Son of God.” I mean, sure, I am writing about Jesus of Nazareth who is known by billions of Christians to be the “Son of God.” That much is self-evident; and sure, I am writing about the activities, suffering and death of “the Son of God” because it is Holy Week and that is when billions of Christians celebrate the last days of Christ. But, other than that, why entitle this SON OF GOD?
What most people don’t realize is that the title, “Son of God”, was not held exclusively by Jesus during his lifetime. There was another person who was known to the world at the time as son of god and his name was Tiberius Caesar, just as Augustus Caesar was before him. Because Julius Caesar was divinized following his assassination, Augustus (whose birth name was Octavian) took on the title divi filius, aka son of the divine one, aka son of god. When Tiberius succeeded Augustus, he took on the same title, as did the Caesars that followed him. And, honestly, who was going to argue with them. They were truly the most powerful men in the known world and to argue their divinity with them was to order your own death.
When Jesus’ followers, and later the Gospel writers, started hailing the peasant carpenter from Nazareth as “the Son of God,” this instantly put him in immediate competition with Caesar, who did not take kindly to such competition. What’s more, Jesus wasn’t being called the equivalent of divi filius; rather, he was being called the equivalent of Dei Filius, which put him above the son of a deified mortal and made him the Son of the immortal God. Also, this Jesus claimed that being the Son of God meant conquering people with love and truth, as opposed to Caesar’s way of conquering people with fear and force. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that this peasant Nazarene came face to face with the Roman Empire. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that the Son of God challenged another son of god. It was on this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, that LOVE and brute force crossed paths in such a dramatic way that the world would never forget it. While brute force may have won the battle, three days later it totally lost the war!
On this Good Friday, we are being called by the Son of God to reflect on the ways we oppose walking the path of LOVE. How often have we tried to force our way on others? How often have we put ourselves above the Son of God through our thoughts and through our actions? Christ is calling us to search our hearts and our souls. The Son of God is calling us to acknowledge his Sonship, his divinity, and his Lordship over our lives. The Son of God is calling us to abandon our ways for his ways, and he is calling us, at all costs, to return to the pathway of LOVE. While this is not always easy, it is what the Son of God calls us to do and his death on the cross is a reminder to us all of the extent to which he was willing to go in order to see that pathway through. The Christ on the cross is waiting for us to join him in his mission.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 10:45 NLT)
Lord, precious Son of God, thank you for your sacrifice. Stir up in me a sacrificial love that reaches far and wide to those in need around me. Amen.