How do YOU Respond to Jesus? (Luke 23:44-49)

Probably none of us have had an experience in our lives that quite matches the scene depicted in today’s readings. The events of this day were incredible – literally even earth-shaking. It is, after all, the account of the moment in time when Christ died – when he accomplished the “cross words” that we have highlighted in this series.

Beyond the cool little earth shake that we felt here on the east coast last year, I’ve never experienced an earthquake. From those who have, I gather that a major earthquake is quite a frightening experience. Coming out of seminary in 1982, I spoke as a candidate in a church in central California (Scott’s Valley to be exact), in a truly beautiful area abundant with redwoods, etc.  I said to my host family, “Having never experienced an earthquake, do you think you could conjure up a little shake for me while I’m here?”  The looks on their faces told me that I had just asked a very inappropriate question.

During that same season of life while living in Dallas, I remember one particular Spring day. April in Texas is simply a delightful season of the year – until a storm comes along. On this particular day, the sky became so dark around lunchtime that all the streetlights came on. The wind continued to crescendo into a total fury, rain and hail flew parallel to the ground, sirens began to sound, and there was no doubt that the basement of the seminary library was the place to go if one didn’t want to end up with Toto in Kansas. It was a tornado that blew just overhead without quite touching down. It was very impressive – something I’ll never ever forget.split rocks

Either of these stories may give us just a bit of a feel for the experience of those witnesses of Christ’s crucifixion. It was a day like no other. There were three hours of darkness; there was an earthquake; the temple veil ripped from top to bottom and exposed the most holy place. This veil was no little curtain or dainty drape. It was 30 feet wide, 60 feet high, and 3 inches thick with 72 woven plaits of 24 threads each! It took 300 priests to move it. If it was to rip on its own, the weight of it would cause it to tear from the bottom up. Rather, it was from the top down – signifying that God had opened the way to himself through the atonement of Christ … reconciliation had been accomplished!  This was quite a day.

But notice the varied reactions to the event. There were scoffers, particularly among the soldiers. Yet one of them – a centurion – was able to see beyond the events to grasp the undeniable hand of God directing the entire scene. The masses of the people were not sure what to think. Many were simply frightened by the whole experience. Those who had followed Christ were confused – their faith shaken along with convulsions of creation. And why should their faith have not been rattled to the core? There they stood, and in that moment they saw their belief in the Messiah plunge with his head dropping to his chest upon that Roman cross.

Which person would you be if you were standing there on Golgotha’s hill?  Well, you don’t have to answer that because you are standing where you are today some 2,000 years later. But you still do have to answer the question, “How do you respond to Jesus?”  We may put ourselves in the sandals of those witnesses in some fractional manner of imagination. But in reality, though we are not eyewitnesses to these events, we possess the written words of these and other witnesses who proclaim that Christ has risen and offers life to all who believe. We see the testimony of this reality as well in the changed lives of people who have met the Savior of the world. And our hearts tell us it is true – yearning from a God-shaped vacuum to know the filling only possible by the Lord Himself. We have the cross words; the atonement is paid; reconciliation with God is possible as we believe and trust in him. Do NOT delay to do just that if you never have before; and for those who know God through Christ, pause to give thanks today for this great gift.

(Note – along with the posted reading for today in Luke 23, I have also included a parallel passage from Matthew’s Gospel.)

Luke 23:44-49

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

From earlier in the passage:

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Matthew 27:51-56

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

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The Perfect Measurement (Colossians 1:15-23)

Over the years I have on many occasions bought cords of wood. Who knows if I got a legitimate cord or not? Some suppliers would advertise and deliver wood based upon an amount in a pick-up truck, but there are many varied sizes of truck beds. I was never really sure what I was getting, and I was never sure those guys knew really what they were selling me.

For serious commerce to be successful, there has to be a determined standard of measurement that is agreed upon.  In the early American colonies, measurements were highly diverse – even though drawn upon English origins. The colonies measured by the firkin, kilderkin, strike, hogshead, tierce, pipe, butt, and puncheon. Even when the same unit was used from colony to colony or locality to locality, it often was not assigned the same value. A bushel of oats in Connecticut weighed 28 pounds, but in New Jersey it weighed 32 pounds.

The federal government got involved with the fixation of standards for weights and measurements. Fixed object artifacts were made and sent to the states to objectify and enforce standardization. But it was still very imperfect. With the industrial age, a piston made in one location needed to be exactly right in order to work within cylinders somewhere else. Eventually a national laboratory was established to more accurately fixate exact measurements. And now, with the advance of physics, more precision is available. For example, the length of a meter is now officially established as the distance light will travel in a vacuum for 1/299,792,458th of a second as determined by iodine stabilized lasers. And physicists are still arguing about what constitutes a final measurement for volume and weight.

There is no such ambiguity when it comes to God’s perfect standard. He is perfect and holy, and the Scriptures say we must be also in order to be in eternal relationship with him. Throughout this series on the cross words we have talked about that lack of perfection (righteousness) as the problem we have … but as the problem that has been reconciled by the cross.

The reading today teaches about how Christ is the perfect Son of God. It reaches a pinnacle of definition in verse 19 where it says that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. The Greek word for fullness is one that speaks of the sum totality of something. Jesus was the sum total of God – in human form. And in that form, through the cross, Christ changed everything. And in terms of those who trust in this work, that person is reconciled to God by having a change to a new perfect status. We are no longer enemies, and we have nothing against us that can be charged to us to separate us from the Lord’s love.

The Supremacy of the Son of God – Colossians 1:15-23

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

A Very Cool Assignment from God (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

Every so often at my Rotary club, we have an ambassador from another country come as a guest speaker.  There are only a few categories of guest speakers that are afforded a standing applause welcome. Ambassadors are one of them. An ambassador is an important person. He stands in representation of the sovereign in his country, and represents all that his native kingdom values and promotes.

The Scriptures say that we are ambassadors for the King of Kings. I have always been so impressed with this concept and honored that God should so regard us in such a light as to give us this incredible title and responsibility.

The Apostle Paul understood that he was an ambassador… and not just when he was preaching in a synagogue or proclaiming Christ in the marketplace. Paul remembered his role even when he was in jail chained to a huge Roman guard. He knew his position of service was a 24/7 kind of thing…

EPH 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Being vitally related to God changes our viewpoint of both ourselves and those around us.  In today’s passage, Paul is saying that the Christian has a new way of looking at people around him. It is not the same way people of the world look at each other. We see others with Kingdom glasses. We see them either as brothers and sisters in Christ, or we see them as enslaved by an alien kingdom – in need of our services as an ambassador of the Kingdom of Light.

So there is no reason for the Christian to be insecure. You are not just an engineer, a nurse, a teacher, a mom or dad… you are an ambassador for the Creator, the One who holds it all together, the great Storyteller. That sure beats anything your unsaved neighbor is able to say he or she has membership within. You represent the sovereign of the universe as an agent of reconciliation and peace.

How well do you serve in this assignment?  Ask God to make you aware and effective as His chosen representative – it is part of your role in The Story that God is writing, along with the adventure and journey of walking in relationship with Him.

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Human Marmadukes (Romans 5:1-11)

When I was a high school kid growing up in an evangelical church with a large youth group, there was a guy who often attended named Mort. To put it kindly and simply, Mort was rather “unusual.”  To put it not so kindly, he was totally goofy, socially inappropriate, and entirely annoying to have around. At a minimum, he was ADHD – before that was known as a malady and learning challenge. Every time you turned around, there he was – right up in your face with some ridiculously goofy idea about what we should be doing. He was a sort of human Marmaduke – the Great Dane of comic strip fame. (The Wikipedia description of the mom in house is “Dottie – the housewife of the family whose daily life would probably be a lot less of a hassle if she didn’t have Marmaduke around.” )

Our youth group tolerated Mort, not because he deserved it, but because most of us truly were pretty good Christian kids trying to figure out how to live life for God. We loved him “in the Lord,” because that was the only way it would work. But Mort made our sanctification a difficult process. And of course, over time, we all graduated and went in varied directions, though we’d gather occasionally again at church as college/young adults. Mort sort of disappeared, as he was not actually from a church family. After a few years, he showed up again, and he was entirely changed. His old self had been mortified (bad pun, I know); he was a changed person. I believe he went into the military, where they probably beat the goofiness out of him! But in any event, he was now socially appropriate and even fun to have around.

In our sinful condition, to God we are human Marmadukes – though completely without any cuteness factor. We are Morts – totally self-absorbed and frankly intolerable in our sinful state. But God didn’t leave to us to figure it out; he didn’t hope we’d connect to some organization that would beat the sin out of us; he didn’t even give us a multi-step program to fix ourselves. No, God gave us his most precious Son to pay the price of our sins and bring us reconciliation.

As was noted in the sermon yesterday, the word to think of with reconciliation is “change.”  God has not been changed, but we have. We are no longer enemies; we are at peace with God. And all of this is because God chose to love us at our worst – while we were yet sinners.

This understanding does away with any notion that mankind was a breed of cute little sinners – a boys will be boys sort of thing … along with any notion that God is a type of soft-hearted elderly grandfather figure who simply can’t stop himself from doting upon his cute little creatures. Nope! We were rebels who were in outright defiance against God … but in that condition, God chose to love us and name us in Christ as our debt was paid upon that Roman cross.

Romans 5:1-11

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.