I love Lenten hymns. Of all the church seasons, something strikes me about the penitential season of Lent. The hymns are poignant and the melodies are often beautiful. But sometimes it’s easy to sing through the words without really thinking about the meaning. So with Holy Week upon us, let’s take a look at one such example.
I’m glad I wasn’t there when Jesus was crucified. Whether I would have believed in Him or not, His cry to God is absolutely heart-wrenching. I can’t even make it through the scene in Saving Private Ryan where the dying soldier is blubbering for his mother. It breaks my heart. How much more so does Jesus’ cry pierce your soul, when He cries, “’Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46) Jesus is crying out to His heavenly Father, asking why He has abandoned Him. Jesus quoted this directly from Psalm 22, which is the plainest prophecy of Jesus’ suffering and death in the entire Bible. Even in this poignant appeal, Jesus is quoting and fulfilling Scripture.
Have you paid off your mortgage? Okay, maybe that’s a bit too ambitious a thing to ask, but how about a car? Perhaps a student loan? How does it feel when you’re finally done with the payments; when you know you don’t have to pay that monthly fee anymore? You’re free to use that money for other things, and you actually own that house or car outright. The bank can’t take it from you if you miss a few payments. It’s a liberating feeling, a feeling of accomplishment. Your bill has been paid in full. If you lived in New Testament times, the Greek word tetelestai would have been written on business documents or receipts to indicate that very thing- your bill had been paid in full. And that’s the last word Jesus utters from the cross. “Tetelestai!” The price for sin has been “paid in full.”
Have you ever been truly parched? This goes way beyond a simple thirst or the thought, “Hmm, a nice cold lemonade sounds good about now.” If you’ve ever experienced intense thirst, you know that it’s all you can think about. Your tongue feels swollen somehow, thick in your mouth. You may even get a headache. You can’t get your mind off of one thought- “Must. Have. Water.” Thoughts of getting that drink consume you until at last you are able to sip that wonderfully quenching liquid. Keep that thought in mind as we look at Jesus’ shortest word from the cross: I thirst.
Can you imagine the anguish of Jesus’ mother as she watched her son dying on the cross? As a mother myself, I can’t even bear it when one of my children gets hurt. The sight of their blood makes me queasy. Imagine, then, Mary standing there watching her innocent son beaten, mocked, and crucified for the sins of the whole world. She watched him suffer there for three long hours, blood streaming from his head, his hands, his feet, and she couldn’t do a thing to stop it or make it better. I can’t even imagine. Yet even in the midst of Jesus’ own excruciating agony, He sees His mother’s pain and takes the time to lovingly provide for her earthly future.
Have you ever been all alone? I’m not talking about that peaceful moment when the kids have all left for school and you have the house to yourself. I’m talking about a deep feeling of abandonment; a loneliness that aches. Perhaps you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, and in the days following, you felt keenly that loss, aching for the companionship again. Maybe you’ve experienced a tragedy you felt no one could understand; that there was no one who could sympathize with you. These feelings are very real, and not to be cheapened. Yet no matter how alone, how abandoned you may have felt, you have never been truly alone, for God has always been with you. God has never abandoned anyone on this earth. Well, come to think of it, He has. God the Father abandoned one Person completely, and that was His own Son, Jesus.
How did he hear about Jesus? Our Lenten services this year focus on the words from the cross, and last night we focused on the promise of Paradise given to the thief on the cross. Now, there are a number of different ways to look at this event, from the parable of the workers in the vineyard to faith like a mustard seed to a discussion on the necessity of baptism. But what struck me about last night’s service was something I’d never thought of before- how did this criminal come to saving faith in the Redeemer of the world? Continue reading →
Yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service was all about pardon. And let’s face it, we love stories about forgiveness, don’t we? Think about the beautiful accounts of forgiveness in the Bible. Joseph forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery, God forgiving David after he had committed adultery and murder, Matthew the hated tax collector who became a disciple and went on to write a Gospel account, the thief on the cross who repented in his final hours and was granted eternity with the Lord, Jesus forgiving Peter after he had denied his Lord three times, the dreaded persecutor Saul becoming the staunch apostle Paul… Continue reading →