Jesus once asked his followers “who do people—and who do you—say that I am?” (Mark 8:27-29.) C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, noted that our options are limited when considering the claims of Jesus Christ: either he was (or is) a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord. (Many have added a fourth option, Legend, to Lewis’ proposed trilemma.)
When Jesus claimed to be the Son of God—indeed, when he claimed to be God Himself—and when he foretold his death and resurrection beforehand, how do we respond to these claims? Was he, perhaps, lying? The problem is that nothing in Jesus’ character would lead us to believe that he was a liar. Indeed, he consistently backed up his claims by demonstrating both the character and the power of a compassionate creator. For that matter, his closest followers clearly did not think his claims were fabrications—they were all willing to die defending them!
But possibly he was a lunatic? After all, anyone who goes around today claiming to be God in the flesh, and claiming that they would rise from the dead after being crucified and buried, would most likely be assigned a free room in the nearest mental institution. Once again, though, Jesus’ claims were corroborated by his character, his deeds, and his followers.
A legend? This is the easiest to dismiss. There is more historical evidence for the life (and death; and resurrection!) of Jesus than almost any other historical figure. One must simply close one’s eyes to the evidence in order to believe that Jesus didn’t exist.
That leaves us with—Lord! If Jesus were not a made-up character; if he was not self-deluded or a deceiver; than we must seriously consider his claims, the claims of his followers, and the claims of the Christian church for 2000 years: that he really is the creator Lord who died for the sins of humanity, was buried, and rose from the dead.
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” Luke 23:46
Jesus had just given up his body to be beaten, tortured, mocked, shamed, and crucified. Hanging on the cross, he experienced separation from God and his wrath for the first time ever. He was now ready to die. If all that had happened, unfairly and unjustly to us, wouldn’t we have just a little doubt about God’s goodness, sovereignty, or very existence?
And yet Jesus, with his dying breath, maintained his trust in his heavenly Father! Notice he still called him “Father”—a title of trust, dependence, love. Second, he knew where he was headed; he knew the grave would not be his final resting place! (Jesus knew the promise contained in Psalm 16:10, 11: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption…at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This is the “hand” that Jesus trusted his spirit to!)
And his trust was full; he had delivered his body up to a cruel death; he had nothing left but his spirit—and he was still willing to deliver this up to his Father!
Have you ever felt like you were at the end of your rope? You had trusted God, but your life still seemed like it was falling apart? You had sacrificed everything, but gained nothing; indeed, felt like you had nothing else to give?
One of my favorite Psalms is 46 (in fact, I often read it to or suggest it be read by people who are undergoing intense suffering.) The Psalm starts this way (verse 1): “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Then, to conclude the Psalm, the Psalmist repeats this truth in a slightly different way: “Be still, and know that I am God…the Lord of hosts is with us.” (Verses 10,11.)
In between the verses I just shared, the Psalmist encourages us to trust God’s gracious presence even if our world seems to be falling apart! This is what Jesus did on the cross, and this is the faith that you and I must develop and maintain. Such faith during trials can only arise from a personal relationship with Jesus. Psalm 9:10 tells us that “Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” To know God’s name is to know Him personally; to know His promises, His provision, His personality. This personal knowledge and experience of God may be tested and proven in trials, but it is developed in daily life!
One more word in closing this meditation: you and I can indeed have the same fellowship with and trust in the Father that Jesus experienced. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary and said “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17). Notice that Jesus calls us his brothers (and sisters), and that he said his God is our God; his Father is our Father!
“He said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
Notice two things in this verse:
First, the obvious: whatever Jesus was meant to accomplish on the cross—he did it! As Hebrews 1:3 says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Jesus work of paying the penalty for our sins, purifying us from sin, was accomplished when God poured out his wrath on the one who became sin for us (see again 2 Corinthians 5:21, and the fourth devotional sent out, “The Word of Separation.”)
I believe there were two other times Jesus “finished” a job given him by his heavenly Father. In John 17:4 he said “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” This was before he even went to the cross; I believe he was saying his work of teaching and demonstrating the kingdom of God, as well as his training of those who would carry on this task; essentially, his work of laying the foundation of his future church, was accomplished even before he went to the cross.
The third time I believe Jesus accomplished something for all of us is when he rose from the dead—which is where all of these devotionals are leading up to.
But right now we are focusing on the one at hand: at the cross, when Jesus “took away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). What does “it is finished” effectively mean for us?
Simply put, that our sins have been paid for, and we no longer are separated from God! Indeed, we now have full access to our heavenly Father; to the throne of grace! Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
It means all of our guilt has been put away; we no longer need to fear condemnation from God. Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
And it means that, at the cross, Jesus even took our shame; we no longer need to feel guilty; we no longer need to feel ashamed. Indeed, Jesus himself is not ashamed to be called our brother (Hebrews 2:11) and God is not ashamed to be called our God (Hebrews 11:16.)
No more separation from God. No more guilt. No more shame. “It is finished!!!”
The second thing I would like to point out about the verse we are looking at is this: Jesus was fully in control, even to the very end! Notice that John 19:30 says “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Nobody—not even Satan—could take Jesus’ life before his work on the cross was finished, and nobody could prevent him from physically dying once he was ready. Notice something Jesus told his disciples shortly before he voluntarily went to the cross: “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me.” (John 14:30,31)
Jesus taught a similar truth in John 10:17,18–“I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
So, two questions to end with today: if Jesus is not ashamed to be your brother, and if he has finished the work of paying for your sins, is there anything that can ever separate you from the love of God? (Please read Romans 8:31-39.)
Second closing question: if Jesus was in control of his life, even while on the cross, can you trust him to control yours?
“I thirst.” (John 19:28)
Simple words; complex truth: Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus was fully human. In these words of his on the cross, his humanness was fully revealed.
Have you ever truly thought about this—that the eternal, creator God, who has no needs and could never suffer want—became a man, fully susceptible to all of the needs, lacks, desires, and sufferings of the humanity that he created and loves?
Yet, Jesus, as a man, experienced the same trials and temptations, needs and desires that you and I face in our daily lives. No better way to share this truth than simply by sharing Scripture:
“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” (Hebrew 2:14-18)
We have a Merciful and Faithful High Priest!
“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
So we can enter God’s presence boldly, and find graceful assistance in our own struggles!
Simply put: Jesus faced pain, hunger, thirst, temptation—everything you and I face. He not only knows what being human is like, he knows how to help those of us who are—suffering, hungry, thirsty, tempted.
“I thirst.” What suffering for our Savior; what comfort for you and me!
One more thought here: the Gospel of John frequently presents physical needs as illustrations of spiritual realities. It is, then, no accident that Jesus’ words “I thirst” follow so soon after his words basically saying “where are you Father?” His spiritual thirst was more real than his physical thirst.
(Note: to see how even these words were a fulfillment of Scripture, read Psalm 69:21, then read again John 19:28,29.)
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’“ (Matthew 27:45-46)
Jesus was here quoting Psalm 22:1 (I encourage you to read this entire Psalm; written around 1000 years before Jesus was crucified—indeed, written even before crucifixion was in use as a method of capital punishment—it actually is a very accurate description of crucifixion in general and of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death in particular.)
Many have wondered and many have tried to explain why Jesus would have cried out as he did; why did he feel forsaken or abandoned by his heavenly Father? Some say he was merely quoting Psalm 22 to show that he was fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah, and there is definitely truth in this. Others believe he was clearly demonstrating his humanity; that though he was fully God, he was also fully human. Again, there is truth in this teaching—but I don’t believe either of these explanations captures the full truth of what was happening on the cross.
I believe we get a full picture of why Jesus felt forsaken when we consider the following three verses:
“The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
From the beginning of creation, the penalty for sin has been death—spiritual death, defined in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as separation from God, the author of life.
On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the entire sins of all of humanity; in fact, according to 2 Corinthians 5:21, he actually “became” sin.
God the Father, then, punished sin; poured out his wrath on sin; removed his presence from sin—and hence, from Jesus, His Son, who became sin for us.
Why did Jesus cry out, asking his heavenly Father why he had forsaken him; why he had abandoned him?
Because he had.
As the embodiment of sin, God the Father could no longer be present with his Son; for a short time, for the first time, Jesus experienced separation from God!
Simply put, Jesus took upon himself the separation from God—the Hell!—that you and I deserved.
This is enough to meditate on. Let me close by sharing the following two verses:
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24)
“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh.” (1 Peter 3:18)
Jesus purchased our access to the very presence of God by suffering the shame and pain of separation from the Father he loved. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
“When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’ And he said to this disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from then on this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26,27)
The fifth of the Ten Commandments reads: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). This commandment is repeated in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:1-3.)
When does this responsibility end? I believe Jesus set us an example, even while he was dying on the cross. His honoring of his mother did not end when he became an adult. His honoring of his mother did not end even when he knew he was dying. His honoring of his mother was a responsibility that Jesus provided for even after his own death—by entrusting her care to “the disciple he loved” (the Apostle John.)
Let me extend this thought: for most of us, our parents will probably pass before we do. I believe that obedience to this commandment never ends; that even after their passing, we honor their memories—for example, in the manner in which we speak of them to others.
(Just in case there is any doubt that Jesus honored his earthly parents even while they were all living, or when he was growing up, note Luke 2:51—“He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” Jesus was 12 years old at this time.)
I believe there is another aspect to Jesus providing for his mother after his own death: he was demonstrating that, even in the most difficult of circumstances, obedience to God’s law was always on his mind. (In this way, he was also honoring his heavenly Father while providing for his earthly mother!)
One more word about the command to honor your parents before we take today’s meditation in a different direction: the word “honor” encompasses much more than mere obedience! It includes respect; it includes love. A grudging obedience is not fully fulfilling the intent of the injunction; children are to obey their parents, for sure—but our responsibility does not end there; we are to honor them in our very hearts.
(Please note that I am aware that in a sinful, fallen world there are some parents who do not deserve the respect of their children; I am not addressing the exceptions in this meditation, but I do realize they exist.)
I can’t leave today’s words without noting one more interesting truth contained in this passage: note that “the disciple he loved” (again, the Apostle John—the writer of the Gospel where these words of Jesus are found)—was one of those who could not stay awake and pray with Jesus during his greatest hour of need. Indeed, he was one of those who fled; who abandoned Jesus when he was being arrested. (Read Matthew 26:36-56.)
And yet—here we find him standing by Jesus’s side. He returned to Jesus; he stood by the cross, and Jesus entrusted him with an awesome responsibility.
If anyone reading this feels like they have wandered away from Jesus; have neglected or even forsaken him—let this be an encouragement to you! You can return to his side, and you will not hear a word of rebuke—you will find him ready to forgive, ready to restore; ready to entrust you once again. This is the grace of our God, even while suffering on the cross!
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:39-43
True story: while pastoring a church in St. Paul, MN, I had to undergo extensive stomach surgery (they actually removed over one-third of my stomach.) While undergoing the surgery, my heart stopped beating due to the stress of the situation; I literally almost died on the operating table. Later, after about a five hour surgery, I began to wake up in the recovery room. In the meantime, a member of our congregation, who happened to be a nurse at the hospital, walked into my room, pulled up a chair—and started asking me for marital counseling!
I had tubes in and out of my body, was hooked up to heart monitors, and was moaning and groaning in pain; I was still drugged up from the anesthesia, and I quite honestly wasn’t even sure where I was. Nobody would blame me if I didn’t feel like ministering to one of our church members at that time! In fact, what I felt like saying was “do you think maybe you are having marital problems because you can only think of yourself and your own needs?”
Now look at the above verses again. Jesus had undergone the torture of flogging, had nails driven through his hands and feet, was publicly shamed by being nailed to a cross, was thirsty, in incredible pain, and dying—and yet, with not a word of rebuke or self-pity, he extended grace to a dying sinner!
Here are some of the things this passage teaches me: First, that death-bed conversions can be real! Part of our human nature thinks it is unfair that someone could live a selfish, sinful life—and then come to believe in Jesus as they are dying, and still be saved. But let me ask this: would you rather the Savior of the world had told the thief that it was too late—that he had no hope of forgiveness? Like the prodigal son who chose sin over family, we see God’s gracious heart—wanting to forgive; willing to forgive; waiting to forgive! (See Luke 15:11-32.)
The second thing I notice in this brief exchange between the thief and our Savior, is that salvation really is—really is!—fully free. The thief had no time to prepare, to repent, to do anything deserving forgiveness. And yet—we will meet him in heaven one day! He couldn’t be baptized; he couldn’t tithe; he couldn’t even make amends to those he stole from. All he could do was to ask Jesus to remember him—and this simple act of belief; this one sign of faith, saved him! Let me preach for a second here: don’t ever, ever, ever add anything to the Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone! Jesus, the Son of God, died for our sins and rose from the dead—period! Believe this, and you are saved—period!
The third thing I note in this passage is that Jesus never stopped fulfilling his mission! He said in Luke 19:10 “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He did so—seeking and saving—even while dying! Are we as committed to the Great Commission that we have been entrusted with? (Matthew 28:18-20)
Let me conclude today’s meditation with this: do you have a friend, a relative, a loved one, that you have been praying for for years, but they still do not believe? Don’t give up hope; if they are still breathing, they are not beyond the grace of our gracious God! With their last breath (though hopefully before!) they may just call out to the Savior to remember them. And He will!
The Word of Forgiveness
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34
Imagine yourself nailed to a cross, after having been savagely beaten, mocked, shamed. Imagine further that you were innocent of all charges; indeed, the ones who deserved this death were all those who put you there.
What would your first words be? Complaining about the injustice of it all? Crying out for compassion? Cursing those who put you there?
Jesus’ first words were a prayer to his heavenly Father—that He would forgive them!
Let’s think this through from seven angles:
1) Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, not just by being on the cross, but in his High Priestly role of interceding for us (and yes, his prayer of forgiveness was for us who believe in him today, not just for those present at the crucifixion itself—John 17:20.) Hundreds of years before he was born, Isaiah prophesied concerning the coming Christ that he would “make intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). He is still doing so, my friends (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25.)
2) Jesus can forgive anything! Have you ever actually, really, committed a sin worse than nailing the Son of God to the cross? Remember, when Jesus took our sins to the cross, he didn’t miss any individual or any category of sin! See 1 John 1:9 and John 1:29.
3) Jesus lived and exemplified what he taught. “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
4) Their sin was one of ignorance—Jesus said “they know not what they do”—and this was echoed by Peter in Acts 3:17: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” However, let’s be honest—oftentimes the sin that we desperately seek forgiveness for is willful; we know exactly what we are doing. Grace covers even these; for a perfect example, read David’s prayer of penitence after he committed adultery and arranged for a murder to cover it up (Psalm 51; see also Psalm 32.)
5) Remember that, though Jesus was fully God, he was also a full human. Consider what it would be like to be abandoned by your friends, accused by the religious leaders, condemned by the fickle crowd, and handed over to those who hate you by the governing authorities. As a man, Jesus must have sought comfort or understanding from someone; from anyone! In fact, Psalm 69 (a Psalm predicting the life and death of the future King) has Jesus saying in verse 20 “I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.”
6) We have noted—and it is true—that Jesus did not deserve to die as he did—indeed, he did not deserve to die at all, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23—and Jesus never sinned.) There is one often forgotten truth, however—Jesus did deserve to die; to suffer the wrath of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that Jesus actually became sin—he actually somehow, mysteriously, became all of the sins of all of the world and of all time! In this sense, as the embodiment of every sin ever committed, Jesus at that time did deserve to die; he was, for that time on the cross, actually not just identifying with sinners, but was sin itself!
7) You Are Forgiven! We need to end on this note; your sin has been paid for; it will never need to be paid for again. Remember, once you accept the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for you on the cross, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1.)