When Heaven Looked Away

And at 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 27:46)

Scripture records seven statements Jesus made from the cross. All of them speak volumes about the character of Christ. But of the seven, one of the most mind-blowing to me is Jesus’ statement recorded in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, God abandoned Jesus as He bore the wrath for sin. Isaiah 53:10 tells us that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him”. Wouldn’t it seem like God the Father might choose a way of salvation different than that? What Father would give His Son for undeserving sinners such as us? What Son would agree to submit to the Father’s will and die for those same people? But that’s what God willed and that’s what Jesus did.

Though it may seem confounding in many ways, the fact that Jesus willingly bore the weight of our sin teaches us a great deal. It teaches us about the holiness of God, the just judgment sin deserves and the payment it requires. It teaches us that our sin runs deep, but that God’s grace runs deeper.

There’s a worship song written and sung by Kari Jobe called Forever. In fact, the title of this devotion was taken from a portion the lyrics. The song’s flow takes the listener from the humiliation of Christ on the cross, to His defeat over sin and death, to the worship that will one day take place in heaven— from the crucifixion and resurrection account recorded in the Gospels to the worship described in Revelation. It’s a great song. We sing it from time to time at church. One of the things I’ve learned being in choir is that whenever there’s a break in our singing during a song, it’s there for a purpose. Its purpose is to allow time to reflect on what we have been singing and to respond accordingly. The times we have sung Forever at church, there has been such a time, a time to reflect on the words of this song and respond to all God has done on our behalf, to respond to the love He has shown us.

Thankfully, Jesus’ abandonment by the Father as He bore the wrath for sin was only temporary. When Jesus said “It is finished” it signified sin’s payment was complete (John 19:30). Three days later the stoned was rolled away from the tomb. Death had been defeated. Jesus was no longer in the grave. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf. What a great truth told in a song. The mercy and grace God has shown in order to save us is amazing. And that the Son would willingly pay the price to secure that salvation is a love unparalleled. Our only response, not just today, but one day in an even greater way, is for us to sing “Hallelujah”. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).

Obedience from the Heart

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17)

Part of the Apostle Paul’s ministry was to ensure believers had a proper perspective about the gospel of grace. There were converts to the Christian faith that held on to the Law, believing salvation required something more than the blood of Christ. On the other hand, there were some who thought the gospel Paul preached (the gospel of grace) meant that obedience was optional. Paul addressed both of these issues in Romans. In Romans 7, he addressed those who thought they needed to add to what Christ had done on the cross. In Romans 6, he addressed those who thought grace was a license to sin. Before Christ we were all slaves to sin, but with Christ in us, we are now slaves to righteousness, committed to a new lifestyle that grace produces and the Holy Spirit enables.

Obedience to God’s will is our “thank you” for His grace. It’s not how we earn salvation or make God love us more, it’s a genuine desire of the heart that results from salvation. Though we never obey perfectly, obedience to the will of God should be our greatest goal. God’s will is laid out in His Word. It’s through the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit speaks it into our lives. The Bible doesn’t hide the fact that we still sin, but it also doesn’t hide the truth that the essence of genuine belief is a pattern of life that desires to obey God in all things. Let us seek God in His Word each day. And let us pray that His will would always be our hearts desire.

God Knew Me When

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’” (Genesis 1:26). Is there really anything left to be said? As Christians, I don’t suppose we should expect those who do not believe in God or the creation account to accept the authority of Genesis 1:26, but we should expect more from ourselves. Psalm 139 is a powerful passage of Scripture that speaks to the issue of human life. Specifically, verse 13 speaks of God’s involvement in the development of an unborn child. “In the beginning…” Humanity began because of God, and of all that He created, His creation of man was the crowning jewel. Because God created everything, including humans, everything belongs and is subject to Him. But of all that God created, His relationship to humans is a special one, as it is only human beings that bear His image.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” David recognized that God’s interest in him came even before he was born. Psalm 139:13 is certainly not the only verse of Scripture that recognizes the personhood of a fetus. David also wrote, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Luke records that John the Baptist, while still in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb, “leaped for joy” when Mary greeted her (Luke 1:44). God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God’s activities in our lives don’t just begin at birth. I know as Christians, most of us realize that, but consider where the abortion debate has gone in recent years. While there are certainly Christians who have spoken out and held firmly to God’s Word regarding this issue, others have not, allowing this debate to be parsed around the issue of rape or incest. Admittedly, these are difficult circumstances, but far more often, convenience is what dictates the decision to have an abortion. Since when does rape or incest change the authority and the truth of Genesis 1:26? It doesn’t. Just because a child is conceived in sin doesn’t change whether or not that child is made in the image of God. The unborn child deserves the same right to life as anyone else. Believe that God can bring about “good” even in those things that we’re incapable of seeing how anything “good” might come. God will bless our honoring Him on the matter of abortion. We just have to be willing to stand up and testify to the truth of His Word. If we as Christians refuse to, then who will? Our belief in the absolute authority of Scripture is a must. Not doing so only widens the divide between our will and God’s. For those who have thought or think differently on this matter, like all sin, God’s grace covers this one. Look to God’s Word for clarity, open your heart to His. His will is clear. And then ask yourself, “Do I want to be at odds with that”? I pray you’ll answer, “No”.

Gracious and Seasoned with Salt

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6) 

It’s no secret as to how Christians are to engage an unbelieving world. Having received grace, grace should always be the manner in which we approach anyone with the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was a staunch defender of the gospel. As a result, he had plenty of opposition. There were many false teachers who tried to corrupt, even in very subtle ways, the true gospel. Not falling prey to this false teaching was a primary emphasis of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. His desire was for them to “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and to walk in a manner worthy of the call of Christ (Colossians 1:9-10). Ultimately, Paul’s goal was for them to know that to be accepted by God, all they needed was Christ.

Our goal in Christian ministry should always be to have people run to Christ, not from Him. Christians are to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). How we approach and engage an unbelieving world matters. It’s not that we have to deviate from the truth of the gospel or lessen the discussion around the issue of sin. Sin is what separates us from God, and no matter how much our culture might try to redefine it, sin is what God says it is. But as we do engage, we must first and foremost extend to others the grace God extended to us. You and I can’t know what someone else may going through or what may be causing their resistance to the gospel. We are simply called to lovingly share the message of Jesus. We’re to meet people where they are and interact with them in a way that would commend the gospel to them. We’re to be a vessel that God uses to draw people to Himself.

Always remember, those around you are watching. Do they know your story? Do they see Christ in you? You never know where people might be at a particular time. And you never know if your actions in a moment will be what God uses to extend His saving arms to those in need of His grace. That’s why you must make sure to always let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt.

Deathbed Conversions

“And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43)

Sometimes we hear of conversions at the end of a person’s life and question their validity. This is particularly the case when that person has done horrible things and are now facing the consequences of their actions. We think that perhaps they’re looking for sympathy for having to suffer those consequences, maybe even hoping with enough sympathy they may even avoid the ultimate consequence, death itself. I guess it’s hard to know for sure if to claim Christ in that moment was genuine or not. Quite frankly, I find myself a little skeptical when I hear stories like this. Perhaps I shouldn’t because the truth is, we have no idea what means God may use to save a soul. And the story of the thief on the cross, I believe, illustrates that very point.

The gospel of Luke gives us the greatest detail about the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also the only gospel account that specifically tells of His interaction with the thief that hung beside Him. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. As people passed by, they mocked and railed against Jesus. One of the criminals joined in “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Jesus didn’t respond, but the other criminal 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” (Luke 23:40-41). He then turned to Jesus and said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ responded saying “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

What an amazing story of God’s grace. There’s so much we can learn from the story of the thief on the cross. The first is how gracious God is in spite of our sin. In the case of the thief on the cross, most likely, a lifetime of sin. Salvation for this man was Jesus’ gracious gift to him. It was free. His sins were forgiven because the One hanging next to him was bearing the penalty for it at that very moment. The second lesson is that we don’t have to have lived a perfect life to be saved. We can’t. For the thief on the cross, it was nothing more than a simple expression of faith at the end of his life. A final lesson from the story of the thief on the cross is that we should never give up on sharing the gospel. Just as God has ordained who will be saved, He has also ordained the means and the time of salvation. It was the reality of impending death that proved to be the event God used to save the thief on the cross. God’s timing is always perfect. Let’s not presume to know who is beyond His grace. Just be thankful that Christ has paid the penalty for your sin. Salvation doesn’t rest on a lifetime of goodness, but comes only by grace through faith in Christ. Let this be an encouragement to share that truth with those whose lives seem contrary to deserving the grace our God gives.

Eternally Secure

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)

The lyrics go, “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand; Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” I love the song In Christ Alone. Not just these words, but the whole song is so rich with the truth of the gospel. It was Christ alone who paid the full penalty for our sin in order to make us right with God. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atoned for the sin that separated us from God. As a result, there’s nothing that can ever separate us from the love of Christ. No passage in Scripture makes this truth more clear than does Romans 8:38-39.

There will always be aspects of God and His work in salvation that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and inscrutable (beyond finding out) His ways” (Romans 11:33). When people think of salvation, sometimes they have in their mind that God does His part and we do ours, but that’s not the testimony of Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It’s good for us that salvation is God’s gift and that it doesn’t depend on us, because if it did, we would surely lose it. Think about it, if we could earn salvation what would make us think we couldn’t lose it.

There’s another reason it’s beneficial that salvation comes by faith alone. Let’s face it; no matter our level of spiritual maturity, there are times in all of our lives when we don’t feel saved, times when we don’t feel like God is present. But just as feelings aren’t the basis of God’s truth, they aren’t the basis of our salvation either. Salvation is based solely on the objective reality of what God has done for us in Christ. To believe Jesus paid less than the fully penalty for sin for all time is to deny the truth of the gospel. There is no joy in that, there is no security in that, and lastly, there’s no God in that!

No Hope, Without God…But Now

“But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13)                                                                                                                                                  

In April, I began reading Ephesians. My plan has been to read the whole book every day for the month. The idea came from a friend who told me about an article written by John MacArthur on the topic of how to read the Bible for a deeper level of understanding. As I’ve been reading, Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:12-13 has been particularly meaningful. What the apostle is teaching in these verses is the unity and peace that exists in Christ. In context, he is teaching that the Jews and Gentiles are no longer two distinct groups, but are one “new man” in Christ. This is a pretty amazing considering the social and spiritual disadvantages the Gentiles had relative to the Jews. You see, the Gentiles weren’t part of the covenant community. They weren’t given a divine promise. They didn’t even recognize the true God. So, in fact, they were without hope and without God. But you know what, so were we.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a casual approach to reading God’s Word. It’s like we treat it as if it’s part of our “to do” list as opposed to an opportunity to meet with our heavenly Father. I believe this is particularly the case if we’ve studied the book or passage before. We assume there’s nothing more to be gained from it. It is true that a verse says and means only one thing, and it’s true that it says and means the same thing every time we read it. But it is equally true that the Holy Spirit is capable of taking God’s Word and impressing it upon our hearts in different ways at different times. That’s what’s happened as I’ve been reading through Ephesians this month. I’ve read Ephesians many times, but what has really struck me this time is that the Gentiles story is my story. And it’s also your story. All of us were without hope and without God. The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But then God intervened, and because of His mercy and grace, even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Christ’s substitutionary death was not only for the Jew, but also for the Gentiles. It was for us as well. Christ’s death for us is the greatest expression of love ever known. It brought near those who were once far off. I believe the “But now” in each of our lives means even more when we realize our desperate condition apart from Christ. How can we truly appreciate grace if we’re oblivious to the degree with which we need it? God doesn’t love us because we’re lovable. He chooses to love us simply out of His own free will. The cross is the proof. Let us respond by loving Him in return.