Everlasting Arms

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Jesus called out with a loud voice,
 “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
When he had said this, he breathed his last”
(Luke 23:45-46)

Reflection:
The curtain of the Temple was torn in two – from top to bottom. This was the curtain that hid from view and entrance the Holy of Holies – the place where the presence of God dwelt. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Now, finally, the barrier had been removed through the birth, life and death of the Lord Jesus. The way to God was opened for anyone who would enter through faith in Christ.

Jesus then died with the loveliest of prayers on His lips.  Barclay tells us that this prayer from Psalm 31 was taught by Jewish mothers to their children for them to say as they prepared for sleep. Jesus added just one word to it, the word ‘Father.’ And as He sang it out so He sank gratefully into ‘the everlasting arms.’

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus had died.

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I Thirst!

“Later, knowing that all was now completed,
and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it,
put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant,
and lifted it to Jesus’ lips”
(John 19:28-29)

Reflection:
There are three things that stand out in this great passage.

The first is the very real humanity of Jesus. The pain and suffering that He went through was very real. After the hours of hanging on the cross and the terrible exertions of trying to ease the pain and the sense of suffocation His throat would have been parched – and there was still one more thing to do and say.

The next is His aching spiritual thirst. His sense of abandonment by God would have struck Him to the very depths of His spirit – as the waters of Life flowed away from Him and the waters of death rose up inside of Him. He would have longed for the thirst-quenching return of the Holy Spirit whose presence He had enjoyed through His years of ministry.

Finally He still had to drink the cup of suffering down to the very dregs. This was the cup about which He had prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now He thirsted for the last few sips so that everything might finally be completed.

“My Father,
if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away
unless I drink it, may your will be done”
(Matthew 26:42)

In body, spirit and will Jesus cried out for relief – not for the suffering to be taken away but that it might be completed. For right to the end He never lost sight of His purpose which was to glorify God by being obedient to and completing His will.

And when you and I twist and turn in an agony of spirit, yearning for the living waters of the Lord to come and wash us, cleanse us, revive us, liberate us and bring new and fulfilling life, remember that there is One who fully knows and understands our pain. At such moments, as we long to shed the old and embrace the new, He is very close to us.

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A moment’s care

“The soldiers also came up and mocked him.
They offered him wine vinegar and said,
“If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself”
(Luke 23:36-37)

Reflection:
Again and again the mockery flowed over the Lord. The crowds, the religious leaders and now the soldiers. They had probably seen other kings fall away beneath the onslaught of the Roman legions. Now as the occupying power they had little interest in this so-called king rejected by his people and their religious leaders.

Matthew tells us that “sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.” (Matthew 27:36) There was nothing else for them to do except watch these three suffer and die and ensure that no one attempted to interfere or try to release them.

They would have watched the crowd as well. Perhaps they wondered at the triumphal scorn of the religious leaders, at the group of women huddled together and supporting each other – and particularly the older person in their midst. They would have noticed the cluster of men watching in haggard silence, devastated by some inner agony that may have puzzled them. But after all these were just another three criminals unfortunate enough to have been captured and then dismissed from life.

But these things happen. And as long as they don’t happen to us it doesn’t really matter ……….

However, one of them did give Jesus some of their cheap wine to ease His thirst. And that, much to his surprise, has never been forgotten. It never will be.

Such a strange group of people who reached out to bless Jesus. The woman who bathed His feet with her tears, the woman who poured her precious perfume onto His head and a soldier who gave Him a drink on the cross. Each one doing ‘a beautiful thing’ to Him – and always to be remembered.

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(Picture: James Tissot, 1886-94)

Mocking Jesus

“In the same way the chief priests,
the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.
“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!
He’s the King of Israel!
Let him come down now from the cross,
and we will believe in him.
He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him,
 for he said, `I am the Son of God.'”
(Matthew 27:41-43)

Reflection:
Nobody likes being mocked. It is even worse when one is at ones weakest and most vulnerable. And these were terrible taunts.

“He saved others but He can’t save Himself.” Here was an acknowledgement of Jesus great power and authority in healing the sick, casting out demons and even raising the dead. Some of them may have both seen and heard of his raising Lazarus who had already been dead for four days. And they still would not accept the implications of these great acts. And of course Jesus could have saved Himself – but in obedience He chose not to.

“He is the King of Israel.” They knew who He was said to be but they would not look at the possibility of it being true. They just did not want Him or a King like Him. And of course they saw that they had so much to lose in terms of status and privilege and power.

“Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him.” ‘If He wants Him”- This may have been the cruellest barb of them all. It was directed at a pain-wracked man hanging naked and bleeding on the cross – a man who was soon to cry out as He felt Himself forsaken by the very God whom He trusted and served. And of course the religious leaders were trying to justify themselves to each other even then.

Did the religious leaders recognise that they were quoting the prophetic words of Scripture? They should have – which would have made their mockery even more biting and tragic.

“He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
(Psalm 22:8)

How easy it is to mock others and in particular the weak and the helpless – and to twist the knives of our sarcasm and scorn with the intention to cause the most pain and rejection. We imagine that somehow it makes us more important and secure.

May God forgive us too.

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Prove Yourself

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him,
shaking their heads and saying,
“You who are going to destroy the temple
and build it in three days,
save yourself! Come down from the cross,
if you are the Son of God!”
(Matthew 27:39-40)

Reflection:
How quickly praise has changed to insults. A few days before the crowds had shouted “Hosanna”. Then it was “Crucify!” Now they threw His words back at Him and ridiculed Him.

Notice how similar this challenge is to the one issued by the devil as he began the temptations in the desert.

  • “The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)
  • “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

Both challenged Him to prove His identity as the Son of God by performing a miracle. Both challenges were also focussed on His physical need. Both were rejected by the Lord whose vision and purpose where far greater.

We all face challenges and temptations in our lives – including those that will establish us as significant in the eyes of others. We would be mortified if we were to lose our reputation and be discarded as worthless – particularly if it happened in such a public and humiliating way.

Jesus suffered this as a part of His sacrifice of Himself on our behalf. There was no glory involved at the time.

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Every Moment of Pain

“They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall;
but after tasting it, he refused to drink it”
(Matthew 27:34)

Reflection:
One of the greatest blessings of medical research is the advancement made in the area of pain-killers. Having had a number of surgical procedures in the last two years I have been made very aware of the benefits of being unconscious during the operations and relieved of pain after them.

Jesus did not have that blessing. In fact He refused the best that was on offer – the wine mixed with gall. William Barclay tells us that this drug was made-up by a group of wealthy women in Jerusalem as an act of mercy. It was a way of deadening the senses.

However, Jesus was not going to pass through His hours on the cross in a drugged state of semi-consciousness. In dying there for our sins ‘He was determined to accept the suffering and death at its bitterest and at its grimmest and to avoid no particle of pain.’ His calling was to be a living sacrifice and not a senseless offering. So He suffered in our place the punishment and death that we deserved.

We cannot begin to imagine the searing pain in every part of His body over those long hours, and the spiritual torment that He suffered in the process. But He hung there and accepted and absorbed it for every moment of my life and living – the past, the present and the future – and for the eternity that was His to offer.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed”
(Isaiah 53:4-5)

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There is a Purpose

2017-02-22

“But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold”
(Psalm 106:13)

Reflection:
Again and again the Israelites were criticised for grumbling and complaining when their lives became uncomfortable. Forgetting the great acts of the Lord in setting them free from the brutal bondage of Egypt and miraculously providing for them they drove Moses to distraction. He acted rashly and in consequence was banned from leading them into the Promised Land.

We may find it easy to be critical of them as we read these accounts. Yet so often we can fall into the same trap. Forgetting the great salvation of God in Jesus Christ, overlooking His promises and His history of faithfulness, compassion and love we find it easy to despair and complain when our own lives become uncomfortable.

God did not promise us comfort. However He did promise to be with us. And the peace that He offers us, the peace that passes understanding, is a spiritual peace that is a comfort to our minds and hearts even in the midst of personal and social pressures. It is the peace of God and not the peace of the fallen world. It comes from a trust in God and not a hope in the world.

God has an overall purpose and plan. He will work it out and accomplish it in His power and in His time.

  • “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:9-11)

He also has a plan and a purpose for each person and group.

  • “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)

We do not have faith in what is but in the God who is. He knows where He is going and will take us with Him.  Our calling is to put our hope and trust in Him and to get on with what He has given us to do in our contexts. It is often a challenge but then faith is a challenge for it is needed when it is needed.

Response:

  • “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Prayer:

Father God help me to trust You for today and tomorrow and to seek to do Your will in my spot of earth. Amen.

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