Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: Dying for Life

Sometime this morning, very early this morning when most people should still be sleeping, I woke up with a profound thought: Today we celebrate the death of Jesus.  Today we gather together to remember Jesus' suffering and death, two things we are prone to forget.

All week long I've been aware this is Passion Week, but until that moment this morning, I didn't think about the ramifications of this fact.  Early this morning, the awareness overwhelmed me.

I pictured Jesus on the cross, bleeding, in pain, the skin shredded on his body from beatings, his face in anguish, his chest rising and falling as he struggled to breathe.  And I knew.  He died for me.

And I mourned that I frequently, mostly, take this so lightly.

Most of the time, I think about Jesus' life, not his death.  I marvel at the way he interacted with the despised people his day, lepers, tax collectors, women.  I read his stories.  I meditate on his words.  I thank God that Jesus shows us the character of God.

I receive his love.  But I don't think about his death.  The thing is, without his death, we don't receive the promise of God, the promise of life.

This morning though, in the middle of the night, I thought about Jesus on the cross, and my heart filled with sorrow, and at the same time, thanksgiving.  And then I went back to sleep.

I remembered these emotions when I woke up again several hours later.  And I thought of some verses I memorized a long, long time ago:  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners [not righteous OR good], Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:7-8)

He loved us that much.

I looked up the passage, so that I could type it correctly, and then I read it in context.  I'm going to paraphrase it here.  Sometimes, when we read Scripture, we get caught up in the formal sentences and we fail to think about what God's word is actual saying.  Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I take time to rewrite passages in my own words.

Romans 5:1-11 (ERV - Erin's Revised Version)
When we put your faith completely in Jesus, when that faith begins to define our lives, God sees us as if our lives are completely without sin.  He sees Christ's righteousness--his goodness--in you, even though we're still pretty messy.  And that means that we can enter into God's presence, his holy, magnificent, awesome, glorious presence.  Our faith in Christ, our belief in his deity and his power and his love, brings us into this place that we totally don't deserve.  It's an incredible, totally unearned privilege, and it is a privilege to occupy this place, confidently, joyfully, expectantly looking forward to sharing God's glory. .  What an amazing thing!  And it's all because of what Jesus did on the cross. 
As we begin living in God's presence, we can find joy when we run into problems and difficulties, whether death, illness, financial struggles, job losses, relationship problems--all of these help us develop the ability to endure all kinds of things.  And that endurance develops strength of character.  I know I need that--I don't like living without patience, angry, short-tempered, anxious.  And strong character strengthens our confident hope in the promises of God.  And hope never disappoints.  In other words, strong character increases my faith in God.  And because God is Truth, my faith--or hope, if you will--leads to reality.  I know this type of thinking seems like wishful thinking, but it's not wishful thinking if it's true.   
One thing I know, I can't live life on my own.  I can't control the circumstances around me.  And neither can you.  We absolutely cannot fix or control anything in our lives.  And when we're done trying, we realize we need God.  The problem?  God's holiness separates him from sin, and we are all sinners, and the punishment for sin is death.  The good news?  Jesus took the punishment for our sin.  He died for us.   
I don't really understand why.  I mean, most people don't die for other people, even if those people are "nice" or "good."  I will note that soldiers, police officers, firemen, etc. do actually risk their lives for us, and many actually end up dying, but death isn't usually the goal.  They fully intend to stay alive.  Jesus, on the other hand, died on purpose.  No one survives crucifixion.
In that act, God showed the enormity of his love for us.  He sent Jesus to die.  This was the plan all along.  And he created this plan while we still rebelled against him.  We were basically enemies of God and his plans, and that's hard to imagine.  But God desired restoration with us. He loved us that much.   
We are made right in the sight of God because of the blood of Jesus.  And no, this doesn't make sense to me either.  I want to ask God, "Isn't there another way, a less messy way?"  But there are a lot of things I don't understand.  Like how do airplanes stay up in the sky.  And how does electricity work.  And Internet.  Ultimately, I stop thinking about the things I don't understand and I accept them.  Embrace them.  Welcome them. 
This is like that.  The blood of Jesus frees me from God's condemnation, the condemnation I deserve because of my sin.  
Jesus' death restores my friendship with God.  I don't earn friendship with God.  God gives it to me because of Jesus.  And so we rejoice in this our new relationship with God.  We treasure it.  We honor it.  We give our lives in thanksgiving.  We thank God for the death of Jesus.  And we worship the one who gave his life for us.  
We live because Jesus died.

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