The Cross to the Grave, Part III – Forsaken

The fourth time Jesus spoke from the cross he cried in a loud voice “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (See Matthew 27:45-46 and Mark 15:33-34)

Forsaken. It means totally abandoned, deserted. His cry was as alarming as the darkness blanketing the land. Many standing nearby misunderstood his words. But a Jew would know Jesus was quoting the beginning of Psalm 22 written by David. 

The psalm begins with a cry of anguish, but quickly turns to a proclamation of trust in God. Then David’s words become prophetic. Similarities to the sufferings of Jesus are found throughout. Towards the end of the psalm David praises the Lord and speaks of a future when all will worship Christ the Lord.

Psalm 22 may help us imagine how Christ suffered. Being both fully God and fully human, he suffered physically, as a man, and also emotionally from false accusations, ridicule, and betrayal. But the forsakenness He experienced is unique to Him alone; a type of spiritual agony which human hearts cannot comprehend. Our Lord and Savior surrendered to God’s wrath against all human sin, for all time (2 Corinthians 5:21). Creation manifested the burden placed on our creator God – the sun failed (Luke 23:45) and the earth shuddered (Matthew 27:51).

Did God truly forsake Jesus on the cross, even for a few hours? Was the abandonment physical or spiritual or both? The answer seems beyond the reach of human understanding, but the prayers of Jesus shortly before His death assure us the bond between the Father and the Son was never broken. 

Next Post: The Cross to the Grave, Part IV – Prayers to the Father

The Cross to the Grave, Part II

“Mother’s Day.” Photo Capture by Julie Anne. ©️Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

Mary, surrounded by family, stood near the cross of Jesus. If only she could rescue him, or at least ease his pain. How could it be that her son would suffer in this manner, sentenced to death by the people he came to redeem? She uttered no words. Was she mute by the horror of her son’s condition or silent in reverence for the Son of God? Did the words of Simeon, spoken shortly after she gave birth to Jesus, come to mind?

“. . . a sword will pierce even your own soul — to the end that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:35

Jesus looked at his mother as she watched his execution. He understood her pain and grief. In his third selfless act from the cross Jesus showed his love for her, his words prompting John to take Mary away from the horror of watching her son suffer and die. 

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then Jesus spoke to John and bestowed the honor of caring for Mary. “. . . Behold thy mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. John 19:26-27

As Simeon had prophesied, the condition of many hearts were revealed that day, from the most evil to the most pure. Jesus revealed His heart of empathy and perfect love. Out of love for God the Father Jesus restrained his own deity and surrendered to physical death. His act of submission vanquished the power of sin over humanity, and secured a way for all those who believe in His death and resurrection to be reconciled with the Father. 

“. . . God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their sins unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:19

NEXT: The Cross to the Grave, Part III – Forsaken

The Cross to the Grave, Part I – Forgiven

In His first few hours on earth Jesus rested in a manger. In His last few He agonized on a cross. From humble birth to humiliating death. His birth was private and His arrival met with awe and wonder by a chosen few. The angels and the shepherds praised God for the Savior, Christ the Lord. His death by crucifixion was public and His execution at Calvary met with ridicule and scorn by many people whom Jesus came to save. “He came to His own {people} and those who were His own did not receive Him.” John 1:11

How did Jesus respond? He SPOKE.

First, to God the Father: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34a
Jesus asked forgiveness for the Roman soldiers who where carrying out His death sentence. Hours later they recognized Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47).

Next, Jesus spoke to a criminal who was being crucified next to him. Jesus assured him: “. . . Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43 While suffering excruciating pain, this man asked Jesus to remember him. He admitted his guilt and recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and the one who could grant him entrance into the kingdom of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13

Neither the soldiers or the thief asked for forgiveness but Jesus offered it, a gift none of them deserved. For the soldiers it meant forgiveness for their actions (sins) against God. For the thief it meant a new sentence after his death; his soul would be with Jesus.

These two events aid in our understanding of reconciliation with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

First, we all need forgiveness for our sins, even if we are not aware of our need. “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Second, understand that forgiveness is a gift. “Being justified freely {as a gift} by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God displayed publicly as a propitiatory sacrifice in His blood through faith.” Romans 3: 24-25a

Third, believe in Jesus – He is the Son of God. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.Romans 10:9-10

Fourth, admit your sins against God (committed by your inherent sin nature and also by sinful thoughts and actions) and ask God for forgiveness. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

NEXT: The Cross to the Grave, Part II

It’s A Good Day

“It’s a good day.” Image Capture by Lon M Helmick. ©Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

Several years ago I read the book “Same Kind of Different As Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. This true story is rich with lessons in service, humility, love, and thanksgiving learned in the fires of intense suffering and loss. A thought from their book stuck with me. Ron and Deborah Hall meet a homeless man at the shelter where they serve. He always arrives with a smile. They ask why. He responds, “It’s a good day, I woke up.” When faced with her terminal illness, Ron and Debbie remember his words and grasp the truth that every day is a gift from God.

How would our lives change if we started every day with the same thought and really believed it? Would the sunrise seem remarkable? Could we be thankful for the cold, the heat, the wind, the rain, the ice, and the snow? Would a cloudy day be as welcome as a sun-filled day? Could the first person we spoke to that day, whether family or friend or stranger, be greeted with the realization God placed them in our lives or path for a reason? For our families, a life-long commitment. For our friends, perhaps a season. And for the stranger, perhaps only a single encounter.  It might be for their good, or ours, or both.

Jesus is our role model. Remember the times he fed the hungry, calmed the frightened, healed the sick, led the lost, forgave the sinner, and prayed for those around him. Our job as a Christ-follower is to watch and act and pray. Watch for signs someone near you has a need. Then act. Perhaps with a word of encouragement, or compassion, or loving confrontation. Perhaps with a physical gesture – a simple touch or embrace. Investing time can be meaningful – a coffee date, a shopping trip, a hospital visit – or providing for a physical need. Pray for the person to seek God for comfort and strength.

I am struck by the lives we live on this earth, the human condition – so much joy alongside so much heartache. I don’t know how anyone survives the heartache if they can’t find the joy. Within each heartache is an opportunity – to meet God, to know God, and to praise God – and experience true joy. And the opportunity isn’t for us alone. It’s an opportunity to draw others closer to God.

“It’s a good day.”

Pondering Mary

“But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and

kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.” (Luke 1:29)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, would be labeled a child-bride by today’s standards in many parts of the world; however, her response to motherhood shows maturity and wisdom beyond her years. Her life changes dramatically starting with a visit from the angel Gabriel, who proclaims she has found favor with God. Her first response is alarm. Gabriel reassures her, then explains her role in the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. The favor bestowed on her is undeserved, an act of grace by God. How does Mary respond? She submits herself completely to the words of the angel and the will of the Lord.

Soon after Gabriel’s visit, Mary receives a blessing from her cousin Elizabeth, a blessing prompted by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41-45). Elizabeth proclaims Mary blessed among women for being chosen by God and blessed to be carrying the Christ-child (Luke 1:42). The Greek word eulogeo, translated in verse 42 as blessed, means to speak well of or praise. Mary will be praised by others who will recognize she is chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) In verse 45, Elizabeth again declares Mary blessed, but blessed in a different way. In this verse the Greek word translated as blessed is makarios. It implies to be indwelt by God. Two witnesses, the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit speaking through Elizabeth, have now proclaimed that Mary is chosen by God and indwelt by God. How does Mary respond? She composes a song, filled with praise for what God has done for her and for the nation of Israel (Luke 1:46-55). As unique as the call of the Lord God on her life, is her response to His calling.

Mary delivers her first-born in Bethlehem and they name him Jesus. Shortly after the birth, she and her husband Joseph are visited by a group of shepherds. The shepherds describe an appearance of angels earlier that night and share the angel’s message about the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord; then they return to their flock, “. . . glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen . . .” (Luke 2:20).

The similarities between the angelic visits to Mary and to the shepherds are noteworthy (compare Luke 1:26-38 and Luke 2:8-16). In both situations, the angelic appearance is alarming and the angels offer reassurance; i.e., “do not be afraid.” The message is personal and encouraging. Mary is told she is favored and the Lord is with her. The shepherds are told the angels bring “good news of great joy.” David, former king of Israel, is spoken of in both accounts: (1) David, an ancestor of Joseph, (2) the throne of David which will be given to Jesus, and (3) Bethlehem, the city of David.

The response to the angelic visits is also remarkable. Both Mary and the group of shepherds believe the messages and receive them with joy. In each account they learn of the fulfillment of prophecies regarding the Jewish Messiah. How do the shepherds respond? They go directly to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. No hesitation, no discussion, no doubt. Then after seeing him, they declare (certify) the message to those whom they meet. Their words have impact. Those who hear it wonder or marvel at the message, with a sense of admiration (Luke 2:17-20).

How does Mary respond to the visit from the shepherds and the message they bring? “But Mary treasured all  these  things , pondering  them in her heart .” (Luke 2:19) What is meant by the words treasured and pondering? The Greek word suntereo, translated in verse 19 as treasured, occurs three times in the New Testament. Jesus used it in a parable in the context of preserving something valuable (Mat 9:17; Luke 5:38{KJV}). Mark tells us how Herod protected John the Baptist, using the same word translated as “kept him safe” (Mark 6:20). The word suntereo implies to keep something close and/or to keep something in mind, so that it is not forgotten.

What were “all these things” that Mary treasured and pondered? Was it only the message brought by the shepherds? Perhaps she pondered the circumstances of her pregnancy. Instead of being shamed and shunned by Joseph, her family, and her community for being with child before her marriage to Joseph was consummated, she was praised. To Mary the angel reveals the deity of her son and the fulfillment of prophecy both current and future. The angel states that her son Jesus will be great, Son of the most High, the Son of God, who will reign over the house of David forever, and will have a kingdom without end. The angelic visit to the shepherds reveals the mission of her son. He is a savior, born for them; his birth is “good news of a great joy for all the people.” He is the Messiah, Christ the Lord. The surreal visit by the Angel Gabriel was now confirmed by a living, breathing child held to her breast, and the angel’s message expanded by the witness of the shepherds. Mary treasured and pondered and praised “all these things.”

A Life of Purpose

“Why was I born? What’s my PURPOSE?” Have you searched for meaning, as a youth or later in life? Or do you occupy your mind with rituals in a crowd of many so that you don’t have time to even wonder why you exist?

Perhaps you view purpose as your vocation. Did you follow your parents’ example and become a teacher, welder, doctor, carpenter, nurse, or fill-in-the-blank? Or did you find your own path? Perhaps you think purpose is found in religion. Did you follow your families’ beliefs? Or explore different worldviews? Maybe you found one religion you liked, or created your own – a custom blend of ideas from the minds of many.

“For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, . . .”

A bold statement. The one who made this claim never followed the crowd. The crowds followed him. He never doubted, never wondered, never took a wrong path. From the beginning, Jesus of Nazareth knew his purpose.

“. . . for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth . . . .”

Jesus came to fulfill a specific mission, assigned by God the Father. What is the mission? Part of it is to bring the message of truth – not any truth, but THE TRUTH.

“What is truth?” Many have pondered this question, in days past and present. Truth is not relative, truth is based on reality. I could share my understanding based on the Word of God, but you should learn it from the one who came to testify. Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6 NASB). The perfect man has the perfect answer – read him, study him, follow him. His ways are perfect. His mind is perfect. His life is perfect.

God’s word is truth. If you understand the mission of Jesus, and believe in him and in God’s word, then your life on this earth has meaning and purpose as a child of God. Are you a musician? Your music can reflect God’s glory. Writer? Your words can bring hope and healing. Builder? You can provide shelter for many. Teacher? You can show others how to recognize truth. Whatever your gift or talent or passion, your vocation or calling, if you first humble yourself to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then your purpose is fulfilled daily by loving and honoring God and loving and serving others.

Words of Jesus:  . . . “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37c-d NASB)

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To learn more about the mission of Jesus, and to understand the context of his words as quoted in this post, please read the Book of John.

In the next 5 posts I’ll share a few reflections on the birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return of Jesus, The Son of God, Messiah.  I hope you’ll join me.

If Voices Were Colors

Phaleanopsis Orchid ©2012. Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

 

On a Sunday evening in 2011, I sat in church waiting for the offering; not the usual pass-the-plate offering of money, but the pure offering of a young girl who loves the Lord and sings from her heart. As she sang, ideas and phrases popped into my mind. I quickly jotted them down on a piece of scrap paper. After a bit of editing I had a simple poem to give Natalie as a thank you for her offering of music.

If Voices Were Colors

If voices were colors yours would be pink,

            so soft and gentle and pretty I think.

You sing each note so clear and bright,

            and phrase each word with care and delight.

Your voice is a gift from our Savior above,

            and singing for Jesus shows Him your love.

For each time you sing of His infinite grace,

            your voice reaches heaven that wonderful place,

Where Jesus is waiting to welcome you home,

            Imagine the colors that sing at His throne.

A few months later, Natalie’s mother told me that the poem encouraged her daughter. I was touched and thankful that I had acted on the prompting of the Holy Spirit to write what came to mind and share the words with the one who inspired them. Natalie still sings in church – her voice now mature – a rich magenta.

Pay It Forward

“How much?” you ask as the barista sets your latte on the counter.

“Nothing. It’s been paid by the customer before you.”

“Then pass this on for me,” you reply, smiling, handing him a ten-dollar bill. “I’ll pay it forward.”

Paying it forward is popular in our culture – showing good will, usually to a stranger, with an act of kindness or grace. The recipient expresses gratitude by giving to someone else. Have you received grace from another? Did you respond?

A man named Paul experienced a different kind of grace; divine grace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In an act of unmerited grace, Christ exerted His holy influence upon Paul’s soul and in a dramatic way turned Paul’s heart and mind to God. Instead of being condemned by Christ for persecuting Christ-followers, Paul was redeemed and forgiven. Rather than living in regret for past actions, Paul served Christ in a ministry of hope and healing.

After encountering the living God, Paul traveled extensively sharing the truth about Christ. When he found others who believed Jesus was the Son of God and long-awaited Messiah and Savior, Paul often remained with these men and women for months or years, to teach and mentor them in the faith. If he couldn’t teach in person he appointed someone to instruct them, mentoring through his letters. Paul paid it forward.

Have you been touched by God’s grace? Are you faithful in sharing the blessings received? Are you paying it forward?

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“But to each  one  of us grace was given  according  to the measure  of Christ’s gift.”         

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4, Verse 7

NOTE:  To learn more about Paul’s first encounter with Christ, read The Book of Acts, Chapter 9, Verses 1-31.