“Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani.” These are the profound words which draw our attention to the significance of Good Friday. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani,” that is, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me.”
Today, we take time to meditate on what is perhaps the most profound activity of God – that God the Father would forsake His Son and allow Him to die. There is no preceding event to leave us wondering what happened. There is no conclusion to be reached as to who is at work. Jesus speaks clearly, “My God, My God,” and then is forsaken by His Father. But, yet, in the midst of that horrifying moment, we find a work of such depth and significance that it cannot be grasped save by faith alone. The work is the judgment of sin and our redemption. The work is the love which God has for you and which is expressed in the death of Jesus Christ.
I can ask you if you can imagine the depth of that love but the closest that we could come is to think of those rare times in life when you have felt the awe and wonder of someone’s love for you – an engagement, the birth of a child – those moments that are filled with joy and happiness. But, all of those things pale in comparison to the gruesome picture of Jesus’ crucifixion. Nothing truly compares to it. And, then to say that we are to find this profound expression of God’s love in the midst of it is beyond our comprehension. Expressions of love come in warmth and tenderness and compassion not in torment and anguish and bloodshed. But, that is exactly what we are to find. We are to find a God who loved you so much that He was willing to take your sin and the sin of the whole world, place it on His only Son and then divorce Himself from Him so He could redeem you from death and hell.
Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani. My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me. On that Good Friday, Jesus clung in absolute trust to His Father, the Father who had said at His baptism and then again at His Transfiguration, “This is My Son, whom I love.” And, despite the cries of His Son who asked that the cup be taken from Him, God loosened His grip and let His Son go. God the Father forsook Jesus, His Son, to answer the cries of a world full of dying sinners. And, as Jesus, with His dying breath, asked why, God’s answer was so that these dying sinners – so that you and I – would know that love and be redeemed from all sin and death.
Today, we consider the miracle of God’s love – a love that brings us peace with God through the death of our Lord and a love that brings us hope through His resurrection from the dead.
Heavenly Father, words cannot express the thanks and praise that is due for the salvation You won for us by Your Son’s death on the cross. Thus, as words alone are inadequate, help us to live in such a way You are honored by all that we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The hour had come for the Passover to begin and Jesus, deviating from the normal rite, speaks of taking the bread and eating His body and of taking the cup and drinking His blood. It is different and obviously special. Then Jesus speaks of this being the last Passover that He will celebrate with the disciples go as far as saying, “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined,” referencing what Jesus has spoken plainly about before – that He will be handed over into the hands of sinful men, will suffer and be killed. All of this should have been sobering for the disciples. Yet, it wasn’t – at least whatever effect these words and actions had on the them, it didn’t last long as “a dispute also arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Really? Jesus speaks a new word, saying, “Take eat, this my body. Take drink, this is my blood.” He speaks of a new covenant. He speaks of being betrayed. He speaks of His impending Passion. And yet, all they are worried about is who among themselves should be regarded as the greatest?
Now, we could feign shock at this wondering how the disciples could be so self-absorbed as to miss the new thing Jesus was doing in their midst, but that would be rather transparent, wouldn’t it? No, we can’t even pretend to be surprised at the disciples behavior as we can relate to an “it’s all about me” attitude. Even those of us who readily point out the self-aggrandizing behaviors of others are just as guilty. The truth is that we could have easily taken the place of any of the disciples that night and fit right into the dispute detailing all the reasons that “I” should be regarded as the greatest.
Notice, though, how quickly Jesus puts an end to that dispute by reminding the disciples that the greatest should become like the youngest and the leader like the one who serves (Luke 22:26). He admonishes the disciples in this because such self-absorption cannot co-exist with faith. Referring to earlier words of Jesus in this matter, one cannot both deny himself and worry about his importance at the same time (cp. Luke 9:23). This is a First Commandment issue. Either our faith and trust is in God or it is in ourselves. And, as long as we are vainly worried about “me, myself and I” we cannot have true faith in God or love for our neighbor and we cannot fulfill either Table of the Law – the first Table which directs our love towards God and the second Table which directs our love towards our neighbor.
Luther once wrote, “We live on earth for no other purpose than to be helpful to others. Otherwise it would be best for God to take away our breath and let us die as soon as we are baptized and have begun to believe. But He lets us love here in order that we may lead other people to believe, doing for them what He has done for us.” Does this not summarize the very purpose and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ who came “to serve, not to be served and (here’s the important part) to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)? Here is service motivated by love – love towards God through submission to the Father’s will to suffer the penalty of our sin and love towards neighbor through giving Himself unto death for our forgiveness – even of our selfishness and pride.
In the new life we have through Jesus’ resurrection, we are made equals to live and serve one other, doing for each other, as Luther wrote, what God has done for us. After all, being baptized into Christ, we no longer live to ourselves but to Him who lived, died and rose again for us. Thus, abiding in Him who served us, we live to serve each other.
Heavenly Father, teach us humility, the same kind of humility Jesus expressed as He came not to be served but to serve. Teach us love, the same kind of love Jesus expressed as He served us even to death in order to save us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Why? Why did he do it? What was he thinking? What was he trying to accomplish? As we read of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, agreeing to arrange a time for the chief priests to arrest Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, these are the questions that easily come to mind. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. There are, of course, some speculations, one of the most common being that Judas was simply trying to force Jesus’ hand thinking that if He was arrested He would have to take His place as the king. As plausible as that is, though, it is still a guess.
Why? Why are we so curious as to why Judas did it? Is it, perhaps, because if we can determine Judas’ reason(s) we might be able to somehow justify our sinful actions which in their own way are acts of betrayal of our faith and of our Lord? Perhaps. But, that too is just speculation – as plausible as it might be.
Instead of trying to learn of ourselves by trying to understand Judas’ motivations, perhaps we could learn of ourselves by understanding who Judas was. He was, obviously, one of the twelve. He was the one who handled the money purse for the Apostles. He betrayed Jesus, a point that the Gospel writers make clear every time his name is mentioned – “and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:18). Have you ever noticed, though, that in referencing him the name Iscariot is added? Oh, that is just to differentiate him from Judas, the son of James, you might say. But, is that all?
The name Iscariot reveals more than just a distinction from the other Judas. It also revealed that Judas was from Kerioth-hezron, a town just east of Beersheba in southern Judea. This means that Judas Iscariot was the only Judean of the Twelve. It means that he was part of the people to whom Jesus, the promised Messiah, came and that he was part of the people who rejected Jesus. Judas’ betrayal was more than just a dastardly act, an act of cowardice as most betrayals are. The betrayal shows just how deep and complete the rejection of Jesus by His own people truly was.
When we think of the rejection of Jesus by the chief priests and other religious leaders we are able to insulate ourselves by thinking we would never do something like that. However, studying Judas (not his motivation but his person) makes us realize that the sinful rejection of Jesus was at every level. It makes us realize that even our sin, different as it might be from those who outwardly rejected Jesus, is a rejection nonetheless.
We are not, however, destined to the same fate as Judas who, upon realizing this his betrayal was a rejection at the most intimate of levels, hung himself in despair separated eternally from the Lord Jesus. Remember there were others who by their own sins of denial and abandonment rejected Jesus and they were restored through repentance and faith. We sin. Daily. In thought, word and deed. And, in that sin we reject. We reject the guidance of the Spirit who works to lead us away from our temptations. We even reject our faith and, at times, our Lord when we deliberately engage in sinful activities. But, Jesus comes just as He came to Peter who sat by a campfire despairing of his denials. Having died on the cross to win forgiveness of sin and having rose from the dead in victory over the grave, He came to Peter to restore Him. He come to the others as well who, by their abandonment, had rejected Jesus. He comes to you as well. We remember this week His death and His resurrection by which He forgives us and promises us life. And we think of how comes to us now – in a Word, in simple water, in bread and wine – to claim us as His own and to restore us. He comes to lift us out of our despair and fill us with an inexpressible hope and joy.
Heavenly Father, we confess that our sin is a betrayal of Your Son and all that He has done for us. Yet, we know that You are faithful to Your promise, forgiving the transgressions of all who call upon You. Hear my confession and, for the sake of Your Son, cleanse me of all unrighteousness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Having spent the night in Bethany, Jesus returns to the Temple to teach. Throughout the day, however, He is confronted by the chief priests and then the elders. The Pharisees then take their turn, followed by the Sadducees. After them, one of their lawyers comes to Jesus with a question. And, in the mix, the scribes come with their test. You can easily picture the scene in your mind. All of the Jewish religious leaders are in a fury. They are scared. They are angry. In their eyes, it seems that the whole world has gone after this Jesus (John 12:19). So, they huddle together in the shadows of the Temple plotting how they are going to trap Jesus with a question so they can then charge Him with… well, they hope for blasphemy but at this point any kind of falsehood would suit them. Just as long as it was something that would give them grounds to have Jesus arrested and removed from the open courts. And so they come. Small groups of them with carefully worded yet seemingly innocent questions. However, they all come back with the same message. Failure to the point that they dared not ask anything else.
Desperation. That is what is at the heart of it all. Jesus posed a threat to them – to their positions, to their influence (and their affluence), and to their authority. While they had absolutely no comprehension of Jesus’ purpose and ministry due to their failure to understand Him as the promised Messiah, they knew that if Jesus succeeded in whatever He was going to do it would be their undoing. And, they were not going to let that happen. They were not only part of the covenant people of God, they were the leaders of that covenant people. And so they came with their questions. With their schemes and traps. Hoping and longing to humiliate Jesus. In utter desperation, they clung to that which was their right and their heritage – their positions, their influence, their authority.
As we draw closer to the end of Holy Week preparing for Good Friday and our meditation on Jesus’ Passion, is there a sense of desperation that wells in us as we realize that to truly comprehend Jesus’ purpose and ministry means that we have to deny ourselves completely? To what are we clinging that hinders such self-denial? And, ultimately, are we going to be silenced as were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes, the chief priests, the elders and the lawyers?
Sadly, the religious leaders of the day saw Jesus as a threat, as One who would take something away from them should He succeed in His mission. They failed to realize that Jesus came to take away one thing – the judgment due the sin of the world. They failed to realize that in accomplishing that mission they would have instead gained something – the blessing of using their positions to lead the people in the way of faith and true righteousness, of using their influence to teach God’s Word in its truth and purity, of using their affluence to aid the poor and needy, and of using their authority to defend the covenant of God. That is true for us as well. Letting go of that to which we cling in this world is not as much about what we are losing as it is about what we gain. First and foremost, we gain the forgiveness of our sin and the sure hope of our eternal life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And, in this new life, we gain the blessings of using our vocations, that is, our positions and our possessions, to serve each other and share God’s grace. Jesus’ success is our gain. It is our life. It is our hope. It is our blessing.
Heavenly Father, help us to let go of all we are and all we have. Help us to share Your goodness and grace with others so that in losing ourselves in You we may rejoice in what we gain – forgiveness, life and peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
It was the week of Passover. Pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire had come to Jerusalem to observe this most holy of Jewish festivals and remember the deliverance of their people from their bondage in Egypt which God has powerfully accomplished. It was to be a time of sacrifice and worship, a time of prayer and reverence. Yet, when Jesus came into the Temple on that Monday of what we now call Holy Week, He didn’t find sacrifice, worship, prayer and reverence. He found distractions. He found money changers and trade booths set up in the very court of the Temple where the priests were to be making the sacrifices to the glory of God. Chances are the sacrifices were being performed and prayers were being offered. Sadly, these activities had become secondary rituals that were blindly observed while the attention of the people were focused on all of the distractions. In response to this, Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and drove out the traders.
We are familiar with those details of this event up to this point. However, the real significance of this event is not in Jesus’ righteous indignation. It is in what He did afterwards. In Matthew’s account of this event (Matthew 21:12-17), he reports that Jesus welcomed the blind and the lame and He healed them and, in so doing, restored the Temple to be used as it ought – as a place of healing and restoration. The Temple is where the people were to come to find grace, mercy, and forgiveness, to find healing and restoration from God. Through Jesus, God-with-us, the people received exactly that and praised God.
As we prepare for Holy Week, think about the distractions in our lives. This is a time of sacrifice, worship, prayer and reverence. Yet, will our meditations be blind observations as we go through the rituals of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and even Easter Sunday? Will these activities become secondary to the special meal that is being planned for all the family that will be at the house on Sunday… to the coloring of the eggs… to the decorations… to our busy week of work, household chores, keeping up with the basketball tournaments, soccer practices and games, etc.?
The healing which Jesus performed in the Temple that day reminds each of us of the healing and restoration which He offers from the cross. It reminds us of our deliverance from sin and death through His death on the cross. It reminds us of the new life that we have through His victory over the grave in His resurrection. Yes, we still have to work. Yes, laundry still needs to be done. Yes, shopping for that special meal needs to happen. And, yes, you can still track your favorite basketball team through March Madness. But, remember – those are the things that are secondary. What is important for this week is the grace and mercy which are freely offered to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection and for which we give God all praise and glory.
Heavenly Father, free my mind of all distractions during this time that I may meditate upon the passion of Your Son and receive from You the rest and peace which He offers through His death and resurrection. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
When Jesus sent out His disciples to proclaim that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” to whom were they sent? In time, after Jesus’ ascension, they were sent to the ends of the earth. But, for the time being, they were sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-7). As we consider how we join Jesus in His mission to make disciples, it is important to consider this important point. Discipling is not always about conversion. It is not always about witnessing to an unbeliever. Sometimes, it is about coming alongside a believer who is struggling in the faith. Perhaps, a person is questioning God’s presence during a particularly tough trial. Or, a person might have a faulty expectation of who Jesus is and, therefore, what He promises to do for us. Such was the case when the disciples went out to the “lost sheep of Israel.” As they engaged the people, they found that people thought Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets (Mark 8:28). It was the job of the disciples to reframe their understanding of who the Messiah was and what He was going to do. It was their job to reveal that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Sometimes, this is the kind of discipling that we have to do. As we consider the people around us – our friends and neighbors, our co-workers, or perhaps even a family member – discipling is not always about finding the person who does not believe in God. It can be about supporting someone who, because of some struggle or undue influence, sees Jesus for something or someone He is not. For those people, we can disciple them by revealing to them what the Father has revealed to us, that Jesus is the Christ, the One who took upon Himself the sin of the world to suffer and die so that we can abide in the hope of the forgiveness and life He won for us by His death and resurrection. Through the time, support and prayers we offer to such a person we can help them reframe their faith around who Jesus is as Lord and Savior. We can help them to grow stronger in their faith and to share in the joy and peace that comes when Jesus is confessed as the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).
Along Life's Way
Learning to live life as it’s meant to be. That’s what we strive to do here at Grace, to live under the cross in the new life that we have in Christ through His death and resurrection. The posts on this blog, grounded in God’s Word, will be offered as a source of encouragement, comfort and strength “along life’s way” to the end that we live lives of service in our homes, in our communities and in our congregations.
The author of this blog is the pastor of Grace, Andrew Green. He is a 2000 graduate of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and has served Grace since January 2002. He is married to Erica and has two children, Clara and John-August.