Monday, April 28, 2014

GRADUAL ACCEPTANCE


The first step in accepting is to eliminate the options. Jesus is evaluating in prayer if there is another way for God’s will to be done. If there is, he asks that it be considered. The key words are ‘if it is possible’.





Matthew 26:
39 “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”


Before full acceptance can be reached, there is a submission to the Father’s will. Surrender of this sort requires a trust that God knows what is necessary and why it must be done.

What is the Father’s will or desire? Did the Father want to hurt and punish the Son for something He did not do? If that’s all we think this is, we are presented with a lousy picture of love.

The Father is faced with an unthinkable choice, but it will lead to something better. The crushed grape produces wine. The crushed olive produces oil. The crushed Son of God produces the salvation of humanity and the Cosmos. If we do not consider this, we are left with an angry Father God who lacks empathy and is very destructive.


Still, Jesus must drink from the cup of God’s wrath. If there is another option, he wants it. This is not about what Jesus wants, though. It is about recognizing the Father’s plan and agreeing to it. Not as I will, but as you will.


Friday, April 25, 2014

WHAT IS WORSE THAN TORTURE?

With the help of Hollywood and good preaching at Easter, we are made aware of the horrible ways Jesus suffered in his crucifixion. You cannot watch Mel Gibson’s  ‘Passion Of The Christ’[i] without wincing. 



Whips, spears and nails mix with false accusation and mockery to stir our sympathy for Jesus and anger at the injustice.

It is important that we understand the physicality of what went down. But, was Christ’s physical pain any worse than the many who were also crucified under Roman rule? Was Christ’s pain more intense than the torturous death of his followers who were boiled in oil, fed to lions or sawn in half? Did Jesus experience pain that somehow exceeds the torture and slow death that still goes on in oppressive regimes?

I think an honest comparison would say ‘No’. Jesus suffered horrible physical pain at the same level as the worst of human tortures. So what if anything distinguishes Christ’s suffering?

We find the answer in Christ’s first prayer at Gethsemane. “
  
Matthew 26:
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”


May this cup be taken from me… what cup? This is the cup of God’s wrath.

In Psalm 75 we read, ‘In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.’ (Ps. 75:8)
Isaiah, too, speaks of this "cup of the Lord's wrath" (Isa. 51:17) and Jeremiah of the "cup filled with the wine of my wrath" (Jer. 25:15). The cup that Christ asks be taken from him is the cup of God's judgment against sinners. Here is why the Son of God began to be sorrowful and troubled. Here is what caused Christ's sweat to fall like drops of blood to the ground. It is not at pain and death that Christ flinches. In Gethsemane Christ shudders before the cup of God's wrath upon sin.[ii]

Jesus prays a very human prayer wanting to escape God’s wrath. He is still wrestling with acceptance. This is the way that God’s wrath will be poured out upon sin. Jesus will become the great universal sinner upon the cross. He will experience the nastiest of human torture and simultaneously God punishing humanity through Jesus. In essence, God hurts himself to free humanity from their punishment.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS


The epitome of acceptance is demonstrated in Jesus. The Bible teaches us about the God who so completely accepts the reality of fallen Creation that He engages personally in the solution. 


From Jesus we learn that the greatest challenges are invitations to come before God. The monumental moments are not approached with the fatalism of a gambler throwing his last dice, but met face down before the Almighty.

Let us follow Jesus into his most private struggle recorded in the Scripture. This is what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  
Matthew 26:
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”


This is Jesus’ struggle to accept the final responsibility for mankind’s salvation.

When Jesus says his soul is overwhelmed, there is no exaggeration. His sadness is crushing him to the point where he feels that he could drop dead from the weight of the burden. In despair, he brings his friends along to Gethsemane. The garden took its name from the ancient olive trees and the presses used to extract oil from the olives. This is a fitting and symbolic environment for Christ’s anguish.

He is feeling the pressure of being crushed. Like the olive, the fruit of his life is being destroyed to produce something more valuable.

In Luke’s telling of the story we find additional details that show both the severity and the mercy of the moment.

Luke 22:
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

The severity of Christ’s anxiety manifests in bleeding through his sweat. This is the original blood, sweat and tears. At the same time, the mercy of God appears in the form of an angel from heaven. This friend from home comes to his side.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

LEARNING TO ACCEPT

As a pastor, I often will sit with people as they describe the difficulty they find themselves in. So much anxiety comes with experiencing great loss, unexpected change and regret from past mistakes.

My role is to listen, reflect and look for God in the difficulty. Sometimes, I ask questions that help them uncover the change they desire to have. From experience I have learned to tell people less of what they should do and more of asking what part God is playing in this challenge.

One of the most daunting hills to climb is the mountain named ‘acceptance’. Often people are not ready to accept that change has come and adjust to those things beyond their control.

Real faith does not deny the reality of its challenges; faith accepts the need for God who may or may not change the outcome of the present problem. Faith requires a measure of acceptance.

We see this kind of faith when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are sentenced to death by burning. They tell King Nebuchadnezzar that they will not violate their faith by bowing to his idol. They know that God can save them from the flames, but even if God does not, their faith remains.

We see Job say of the Almighty,

Job 13:
15a Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him…

I am much more interested in that kind of faith; not the watered down version that demands God comply with our desired outcome. Have you accepted the reality of your circumstances?

Paul Tournier said:
‘Acceptance of one's life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices.’[i]

Often, we are not ready to accept life’s limitations and conditions. We want the God of picnics and sunny days. We hope we don’t have to be His welfare recipient in times of trouble.


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