Sunday, March 26, 2017

Characters of the Cross - Simon

"A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross."  Mark 15:21 (NIV)

The fourth week of Lent, and we are getting closer to the cross.  As we follow Jesus from the people who say, "Crucify Him", we move to the journey of Jesus carrying the cross.  It is so very hard to imagine that with all that Jesus had been through, the beatings and the crown of thorns, was not the end of his journey.  It became the beginning.  Now he needed to carry a huge wooden cross to Calvary.  That walk through town, as people were mocking him, must have felt like light years away from the palms and cheers just a few days earlier during Palm Sunday.

As Jesus was making his way to Calvary, the soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross behind Jesus.  The research I did about Simon was very interesting.  Certainly, Simon wasn't in the crowd saying, "Pick me, pick me"!  Chances were he was thinking more, "Why me, why me?"  Scripture doesn't refer to Simon "proudly" taking up the cross or "jumping at the chance."  He was selected to carry the cross to ensure Jesus got to the point of Crucifixion.  With everything Jesus had been through, the soldiers were unsure he could make the journey to Calvary, so they told Simon to carry the cross.  There is not much shared about Simon, except for one key phrase - he was the father of Alexander and Rufus.  His two sons became key Christians in Rome. 

The fact that Simon's sons had become strong Christians in Rome leads us to believe that Simon's life was forever changed by his carrying Jesus' cross.  As he carried that cross, he knew he was taking Jesus to his death.  What a truly heavy weight that must have been.  Yet, how Simon's heart must have jumped for joy when he realized who Jesus was when He rose from the dead three days later. 

Again, as we reflect this Lenten season, it is so very easy to see ourselves in Simon.  When trials and tribulations fall into our lives, we don't typically "jump to the chance" to endure difficulties.  Usually we are the ones asking God, "Why me?"  I know the times that God has asked me to carry the cross may have been so difficult without a full understanding of "why" like Simon.  Yet, days/weeks/months after, it becomes truly clear that my times of trials were used for greater faith in God or to assist others.  When those realizations occur, my heart does jump for joy - joy that God chose me to suffer in order to bring a better result.  

When life gets difficult and we think that "this cross we are bearing is too much", let's think of Simon of Cyrene.  May we better find ourselves understanding that the cross we are bearing is a bit of Jesus' cross.  At that point, I'm sure we will all try to stand a little taller, despite the heaviness of the cross, knowing that Jesus is with us - just like He was with Simon.  What do we need to do to bear that cross?  We need to have simple faith - faith that Jesus' death provided us the forgiveness of our sins and life eternal with Him.  What a joyous day that will be!

"Dearest Jesus, how our lives were changed by Simon.  As he carried your cross, Jesus, his life was changed forever - and the life of his sons.  Knowing that he carried your cross for you helps us to better understand ourselves when we feel the cross we are bearing is too much.  Help us to always go to you, Jesus, for it is in faith in you that we know you will help us to carry our cross here on Earth.  Let our lives, and those around us, forever be changed by how we carry the crosses we bear.  In your name we pray, Amen."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Characters of the Cross - Those Who Shouted "Crucify Him"

"But He was wounded for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed."  Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

This is the scene that I always find so ironic.  Just six days earlier, the people of Jerusalem were laying palms and shouting, "Hosanna in the Highest".  They were finally giving Jesus the recognition and praise that he so much deserved.  Six days later - just six days, people were shouting, "Crucify Him"!  

It is this scene that helps us to answer the question, "Who crucified Jesus?"  So many times we look to see who would do this to Jesus - who would put Jesus to death?  Sometimes, we focus on Pilate as the one we can say, "He did it!"  Other times, we focus on the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross.  Then there are other times when we focus on God, who let his Son go through all of this.  Many times, though, we look to the people in the crowd.  When Pilate brought Jesus in front of the crowd, in hopes that they would release Jesus, they shouted, "Crucify Him"!  Pilate gave the crowd many other options so that Jesus could go free, but that was not to happen.  The crowd refused to set Jesus free.  So ultimately, it was the crowd that put Jesus to death, right?

Once again, during Lent and our opportunity to reflect, I ask that we take another viewpoint.  Were the members of the crowd responsible?  I believe it was ALL of us - the crowd, me, and you.  We are all there saying, "Crucify Him"!  When we look to blame others for this horrific event, we need to look in the mirror again, knowing that we are just as guilty as those there that fateful day, wanting to send Jesus to the cross.  Jesus went there for our transgressions.  Jesus took all of our sins with him to the cross.  It is MY sins that took Jesus to the cross.  It is MY sins that called out "Crucify Him"!  

Our sinful nature can cause us great guilt and shame.  Our sins can overwhelm us, cause us to lead a dark life, knowing that there is nothing we can do to take our sins away.  Yet, on that Friday when the crowd yelled out to put our Jesus on the cross, I was there, yelling out as well.  I was yelling, knowing that our Dear Jesus was walking my sins to the cross.  So when we ask, "Who put Jesus to death", know that we can't look to others - we need to look at ourselves.

As always with Jesus, there is good news.  We may have sent Jesus to the cross, but in doing so, we live knowing that our sins are wiped clean by Jesus' blood.  We know that in repenting of our sins, we have life eternal with Jesus.  We know that Jesus loves us unconditionally, each and every day.  "We know that we are Christians by His love"!  Take the time today to recognize that we sent Jesus to the cross, but we will also see Him in Paradise.  Live in that glory.  Don't live in the darkness of sin - live in Jesus' light on the world.   

"My Dear Jesus, I know that I was the one who sent you to the cross.  I was the one who yelled, "Crucify Him"!  I also know that you, Dear Jesus, walked to the cross with my sins on your back.  You did this because you love ME!  I can't wait for the day where I will see you in Paradise.  Until then, know how very grateful I am that you took the walk for me.  Thank you Jesus.  Amen."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Characters of the Cross - Peter

"Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.  Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him:  "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times."  And he broke down and wept."  Mark 14:72 (NIV)

Peter was a disciple that Jesus held very close to him.  Jesus loved Peter as he did the other disciples.  Peter, though, was very dedicated to Jesus and his time on this earth.  As we know, Jesus shared during the Last Supper, that Peter was going to deny Jesus three times.  I'm sure, if I was Peter, that I couldn't believe what Jesus was saying.  In fact, he even responds in Mark 14:31, " . . . Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.".  Obviously, Jesus knew what was coming, in so many ways.

Here is a person, Peter, that spent many years following the Chosen One.  He gave up his career as a fisherman to learn, grow, and do with Jesus.  He gave everything for Jesus.  So what would prompt him to deny Jesus, and not just once, but three times?  Let's go back to that fateful day.  Jesus was carried off as a prisoner.  People were mocking Jesus, calling him all kinds of names.  He was being questioned by Caiaphas and although he was answering yes to being called the Christ, they said they had heard blasphemy.  Obviously the situation didn't look good for Jesus.  Did Peter really want to associate himself to Christ at that point?  Things weren't bad when people were laying palms as Jesus rode in on the donkey, but now, things had turned very dismal.  Peter was being taunted by others for his association for Jesus.  Maybe to save his reputation, maybe to save his life, certainly to fulfill prophecy, Peter denied Jesus three times.

Once again, during this Lenten season, we self reflect.  You may think, "I would NEVER deny Jesus.  I would ALWAYS share that he saved my sins."  Have you?  Would you?  Over my years, I know there have been times when I have denied Jesus.  Maybe not outwardly, but through my words and actions, I may not have been standing in the courtyard shouting, "Yes, I believe in Jesus."  When might you ask?  Over the years, it may have been in front of friends that weren't Christian.  It may have been at work, when others may not have shared my save values.  I may not have said, "I don't follow Jesus", but I may not have stood up the way I should have.

I do know one thing, any time that it has happened, I have felt like Peter.  On my way home from school or work, I wept.  I would beg for Jesus' forgiveness and when I knelt at the Lord's table, the guilt would resurface and then be taken from me.  What a gracious Lord we have.  Even when we reject him, even when we turn our back on him, even when we deny him or disown him, He doesn't disown us.  He continues to understand; he continues to teach; he continues to LOVE us - unconditionally.  Imagine if someone denied you - not just once, but three times.  How would you feel?  Me?  I would have a bunch of resentment - not sure I could get past that.  Yet, not our Lord!!  He loves us so and NEVER leaves us.  

Did Jesus ever forgive Peter?  Not only was their forgiveness, He provided Peter and the other disciples, with the Great Commission, sending them out into the world to tell others about what He had done for us.  Do you think Peter learned from this?  I'm thinking, under all accounts, that he certainly did.  Have I learned when I didn't stand up for my Lord?  I have.  I am hoping that as I get older, my courage has increased.  I no longer laugh off being a Christian, I stand up for being a Christian.   As in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old is gone, the new is here!"  

Peter reveled in his new creation.  I know that I do as well.  How about you?  Is it time, once again, to self reflect and look at what we see in the mirror?  What are you seeing?  If it isn't a new creation, then let's ask God for forgiveness, so we can walk with Him with our heads held up high.  It's simple.  We just need to have simple faith!  Prayers for a continued blessed Lenten.

Oh Dearest Jesus:  Yes, we know there have been times when we have denied you, when we have not stood on the top of the world to proclaim your name.  Please, continue the work you have started in us, so that we will never deny you, but stand up in your name with glory.  Help us to be a new creation - new in your love."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Characters of the Cross - Judas

"Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them." 
Mark 14:10  (NIV)

As we begin our series during Lent, Characters of the Cross, I wanted this to be an opportunity of self-reflection for us. I believed that starting with Judas was appropriate.  It is how we begin the walk to the Cross.  When we reflect upon the Passion Story, we tend to look with disdain upon Judas.  Yet, if we reflect close enough, will we see more than Judas?  Let's take some time to do so.

Judas' background is an interesting one.  His parents were Sadducees, and actually disowned Judas when he started following John the Baptist.  When he became a disciple, he was seen as one who was very educated.  He was actually the "treasurer" among the disciples.  Judas was always conflicted about Jesus.  While listening to Jesus, his mind saw the strength of Jesus.  He believed in Jesus, but some say they wonder if he truly loved our Savior as the other disciples did.  During times of educating the disciples, Jesus would talk to Judas directly - helping him with the understanding of Jesus' message.  Judas had difficulty with that.  There were times he resented the instruction, as he had ideas of how Jesus should be acting (showing more strength than humility).  It seemed like the last straw was when Mary used an expensive perfume while washing Jesus' feet, in honor and worship to Jesus.  When Judas objected to this, Jesus shared the good reason Mary was doing this. (John 12:6).  Judas began to look for a way to turn against Jesus.  The chief priests were the ones who would help him.  As we know, Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Later, when he fully realized what he had done, he threw the silver back to the chief priests and took his own life.

Reflecting on Judas, I can't help but take a hard look at myself.  We may look at Judas and see a traitor, one who wasn't on Jesus' side.  Yet, the more I reflected, the more I realized that I, too, have been Judas during my life.  Yes, I may have the knowledge of what Jesus has done for me, but have I "given my all" to him every day?  Have I had ideas of how Jesus should be acting, what He should be doing?  I know that I have given Jesus advice over the years.  Who am I to do this?  The more I look at who Judas was, the more I realize that I have seen myself in Judas.  Yes, it is very sad to admit, but it is the truth.  I am so very thankful that our Dear Jesus has been patient with me, has forgiven me, and doesn't hold that against me when it comes to loving me.  His unconditional love for me has seen me through the dark places and into a wonderful light.

As we reflect on Judas, let us be truthful to ourselves.  Have we seen a bit of Judas in ourselves?  Let us take the time to be honest and be repentant of that behavior.  Let us pray to our Jesus and ask Him to focus our eyes to the cross, each and every day, for each and every situation.   May the blessings of this Lenten season follow us through our lives.

"Dearest Jesus, although you knew of the betrayal long before it occurred, how difficult it must have been to know that one of your closest confidants was going to be the one to bring you to the cross.  Jesus, I know I  have fallen into Judas' character over the years.  Thank you for bringing me out of that darkness.  I pray you continue to focus me on the cross.  Amen."

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Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope we can share how God's grace has been life changing and that SIMPLE FAITH, getting back to a life that is rooted in the basics, can truly set us free to achieve so much in our lives.