What a Savior!

Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Wednesday of Holy Week means we are one day closer to Jesus’ arrest, flogging, trial, crucifixion and death.  Centuries before Holy Week, Isaiah tells us about the servant of God who will be humiliated and vindicated.  Now, almost two millennia after Holy Week, we continue to realize all the servant of God went through.  This prophecy shows how the servant of God did not turn back.

We know this servant of the Lord to be Jesus the Christ.  Yes, he was a teacher.  But he is so much more than that!  Yes, he was obedient to the Lord God.  But he did not turn back when he was abused.  Yes, he had his face set like flint.  But no one could contend with him.

The determination of Jesus the Christ leads us onward.  His willingness to suffer for us is forgotten when we fail to receive the Lord’s Supper.  We can not do any better than our Savior, Jesus the Christ! 

Will we contend with Jesus?  Will we confront Jesus?  Will we declare Jesus guilty?  We are not capable of doing these tasks.  Our life is but a breath.  We will wear out.  The truth about Jesus the Christ will contend with us.  The truth about Jesus will confront us.  The truth about our guilt is known by Jesus the Christ.  When we decide for Jesus in our lives, then there is no condemnation for us! 

What a Savior!  Jesus withstands much abuse (50:6).  Yet, he willingly does so.  Why?  First, because the Lord God vindicates him.  Second, because we need a savior.  We will find as we believe and follow the Savior that God will stand by us as well. 

Holy Spirit, aid us in setting our faces like flint so we may see the goodness of our Savior.  Strengthen our resolve to cling to the Lord God through Jesus the Christ.  As we find the shame of our sin removed through Jesus’ blood, may we have life with Jesus eternally.  In the powerful name of Jesus the Christ, we pray.  Amen.

On a Sunday Morning Sidewalk

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

By Chuck Griffin

As we make our way through Holy Week, I’m struck by how often I’ve returned to a theme in my preaching during Lent. I have hoped that we are all reflecting on how well we fulfill the Great Commission, that basic duty all Christians have.

It’s always important that we find winsome ways to tell people about Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Every new generation needs to hear this truth from a previous generation. The task seems especially relevant now, as we begin to consider how a post-pandemic Christian life should look.

Most of the folks who read these LifeTalk devotions on Methodist Life are traditional Methodists, and right now, these people are probably at least a little interested in a big change that is coming, the launch of a new Methodist denomination that will adhere to traditional Christian doctrines. The preservation of these basic Christian concepts is important.

I will make a prediction, however. If we don’t resume fulfilling the Great Commission in a powerful way, a new denomination will prove to be irrelevant! All it does is give us a solid foundation as we begin to fix our biggest problem, which is the unwillingness of most American Christians to find ways to share their faith with others. A huge shift in our attitudes still has to occur.

It is my sense that a lot of us simply don’t know where to start. Having existed with Christianity as our cultural baseline for so long, even elderly Christians have lived most of their lives without having to think much about what it means to share the gospel—to evangelize. Up into the late 20th century, you could build a church building, and people tended to come. Talking about Jesus Christ as Savior was the province of the preacher and a few talented Sunday school teachers.

I want to offer Christians a simple target audience for our message of love and hope. These people are unlikely to enter our buildings on their own. But they are lost, spiritually crushed and confused, and thanks to God’s unrelenting grace, they are beginning to sense they need a change.

We can find them in all sorts of places. It helps to have a guide to go by, however, a way to imagine them so they are easier to see when we are out in the world. I think I’ve found such a guide in an old song.

Back in the late 1960s, Kris Kristofferson wrote a song called “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” A lot of people have recorded it over the years, but Johnny Cash took it to No. 1 in 1970, winning the Country Music Association’s award for Song of the Year.

I’ll simply offer you a chance to listen to it:

It’s raw, of course, and in it I hear the cry of a person who feels the stirring of a vague memory of what is righteous, along with a poorly understood desire to return to it. In a sermon a few weeks ago, I compared the moment to the pigpen revelation the wayward boy has in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Hurting people today may be in superficially different situations than they were in 1970, but I’m guessing their unspoken desire for caring people to come out on the sidewalk and lead them home hasn’t changed.

Let’s learn to be those caring people again.

Lord, as we pray so often, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. We also could use a dose of courage, the kind that allows us to leave our comfortable circles and go to the places where we can offer hope to those in need. Amen.

Scapegoats

By Chuck Griffin

Few Christians think much about the Jewish Day of Atonement, when the ancient Israelites would fast and reflect on their sins as the priests worked to expunge those sins through animal sacrifices.

The season of Lent preceding Easter may be the closest similar experience Christians now have. (Many Jews, of course, still observe the Day of Atonement, or “Yom Kippur,” but without the associated animal sacrifices.) During Lent, and especially Holy Week, we are similarly called to reflect and repent so that we may better appreciate and accept the forgiveness offered to us by Jesus Christ via the cross.

One unusual aspect of the Day of Atonement is recorded in Leviticus 16:20-26. Here, the high priest symbolically placed the people’s sins on a live goat, which was then led into the wilderness and set loose.

This “scapegoat” was one of two goats involved in the ritual. The other goat was sacrificed.

The goats, of course, were a foreshadowing of Christ. Jesus is the one who came as the final sacrifice for our sins. He is the one who bears away our sins forever.

And yet, despite the coming of Christ, people continue to lay the burden of their sins on other creatures. In modern times, we seem to prefer to use people instead of goats.

For example, troubled families often feel better if they can single out one person to label as particularly “bad.” Focus on the scapegoat, and no one has to examine his or her own problems too closely.

Of course, the scapegoat suffers much damage in such a family, particularly if the scapegoat tag is attached in childhood. These people often grow up to be what some call “volunteer victims,” deliberately entering relationships where they wind up the recipients of abuse, the role to which they’ve grown accustomed.

The search for sin is primarily an inward search, and we all have sin from which we should repent. Fortunately, Jesus is big enough and strong enough to bear all our sins away. He’s a very different goat than what we were expecting, though. He’s the Greatest of All Time.

No other scapegoats are needed. In fact, even modern-day scapegoats can find peace through Christ.

Lord, thank you for relieving us of the burden of sin in an eternal way. Help us to surrender more and more of ourselves to you each day. Amen.

Staying So We Can Love

John 13:31b-35 (NRSV)

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now, I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


By John Grimm

Holy Week is that season of the year in which we re-learn a new commandment from Jesus.  The final instructions before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion are vital to our life here on earth.  As we recognize Jesus being glorified through his willingness to love us here on earth, we come to terms with how we can live as his disciples.

What are we to do?  This new commandment is how we live the eternal life we have from Jesus.  Because of Jesus drawing us to himself, we get to live here and now.  This eternal life is evident by our consistently, faithfully and persistently loving one another.  

As Jesus’ disciples, we recognize that Jesus has been glorified by his willingness to suffer and die.  We are cognizant of Jesus’ love because God came to dwell among us, in the flesh.  This truth is how we live the eternal life we have through Jesus.  It is in our flesh that we love one another.  The Son of Man walked among the unlovable, the intolerant and those ashamed of themselves.  How else are we to live our eternal life but by walking among the unlovable, the intolerant and those ashamed of themselves, even as we love those who are disciples?

Jesus, your instructions are hard.  We face the truth that we get to love one another for our eternal life here on earth.  In our own past, we have failed to love.  Yet, you still have been glorified!  Your Spirit is with us now so that can live this new commandment. Work in us the ability and desire to love one another so we may once again be known as your disciples.  May we be found loving one another when you return to reign on earth.  Amen.

That Terrible Step to Come

We continue to walk with Jesus this Holy Week toward Good Friday and the cross.

John 12:20-36 (NRSV)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.


By Chuck Griffin

During the week that culminated in Jesus’ crucifixion, signs of what was about to happen were everywhere. At the time, only Jesus could see them.

Note how oddly Jesus acted when Greeks arrived seeking him. Rather than welcoming them, he began to speak of obedience, service and death. Eventually, he hid from the crowds for a while.

Jesus knew that while his earthly ministry was designed to bring salvation to the whole world, it mostly was to occur among his own Jewish people. It would be the role of the post-resurrection, Holy Spirit-empowered church to reach the world beyond Judaism. The arrival of Gentiles from a distant place made it clear crucifixion was unavoidably near. 

Jesus’ cryptic talk of being “lifted up” also triggered questions among the common people, who were expecting an invulnerable warrior king to take charge.

How could one anointed and glorified by God, the one we now understand to be God in flesh, die such a horrible, humiliating death? Over time, Christians have gotten used to the idea of the bloodied Jesus hanging on a cross, but we have to admit the image is strange, particularly to people not raised in the faith.

To answer the question raised by the crowd, it is necessary to explore the design of salvation, and that means we delve into a mystery too complex for us to understand in full, at least in this life. Jesus’ answer, rooted in “light” and “darkness,” gives us insight, however.

For all practical purposes, the Son of Man mounted a rescue mission. Because of our sins, we were trapped in darkness—a place that the Holy God, who is light, had every right to disregard. Out of love, however, he chose not to forget us or destroy us.

Instead, the light entered the darkness to find us, taking on flesh. The title “Son of God” reminds us of his divinity; the title “Son of Man” reminds us of his blessed humanity.

To break the grip sin and death had on us, Jesus had to bear our punishment for sin. Or we might say he had to ransom us from sin. Or we might say he carried our shame. Or we might say he became the one perfect sacrifice for sin, simultaneously priest and slain lamb. These and other descriptions of how atonement works mark the point where the mystery becomes almost unfathomable. We use metaphors to understand what can be grasped in full only by the mind of God.

What’s important is that we believe Christ’s death on the cross is effective, that the divine machinery works even if we cannot comprehend all its cogs and pulleys.

Lord, on this Holy Tuesday we reaffirm our belief that the Son of Man died on the cross, knowing our belief is enough to pull us from darkness into light.

Worshiping with Abandon

Welcome to Holy Week! We will walk with Jesus this week toward Good Friday and the cross.

John 12:1-8 (NRSV)

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”


By Chuck Griffin

It’s not difficult to discern that Mary—the sister-of-Lazarus Mary—did something strange and even shocking when she used a small fortune in perfume on Jesus’ feet.

If you see Christianity as a strait-laced, rules-oriented faith, and you would rather hold on to that view, you might want to avoid a story like this one altogether. The characters in this story had been swelling with emotion for days, and Mary finally exploded in an act of love that defied logic and propriety. The only speaker of earthly logic in this story was Judas, who was a few days from falling under Satan’s complete control.

Siblings and Friends

Bible readers will remember Mary and her siblings Martha and Lazarus. There is a story in the tenth chapter of Luke where Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as Martha worked in the kitchen. When Martha complained, Jesus said Mary had “the better part.”

John tells us all three were Jesus’ friends. It’s likely their home in Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, was where Jesus stayed when he drew near to the heart of Judaism. They also may have been wealthy, and because the sisters are described as living with their brother, they either were young and unmarried or widowed.

The described volume of nard, probably spikenard from India, was worth about a year’s wages to a common laborer. It is unclear why Mary had it. In a world without secure bank accounts, it might have been a compact way for her to maintain some financial security. She may have intended it for her wedding night—the Song of Solomon demonstrates that nard’s warm, musky, intense smell was associated with sex. And, as is clear from the story, it could be used to prepare a loved one for burial.

For whatever reason Mary owned it, the nard represented her concern for the future.

Statements of Faith

At this dinner, Mary, Martha and Lazarus must have felt overwhelmed. Just a few days earlier, Jesus had performed his most astounding miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

As you may recall, Jesus deliberately dallied in going to his friends despite knowing Lazarus was sick, telling his disciples this event was occurring so “the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb four days. In the exchange that occurred between the sisters and Jesus, we see they believed in Jesus fully. Martha went so far as to call Jesus “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Jesus, moved by Mary and Martha’s pain, then proved he has power over life and death by calling Lazarus out of the tomb.

We need to keep those events in mind to understand Mary’s seemingly wasteful activity. She was riding an emotional epiphany—she and Martha had a deep understanding of what it means to be friends with someone who has power over life and death. Their beloved brother had been restored. They had experienced the pain and stench of death, and Jesus had replaced all of that with hope and joy.

An Act of Worship

When Mary poured out that overpowering nard and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, she worshiped. There really is no other word adequate to describe her actions. And in her actions, we are reminded why we worship.

I think this woman who had sat at Jesus’ feet to hear his teaching knew in some way that salvation for everyone—ever-present death transformed to everlasting life—was in the works. And knowing this, Mary dropped to her knees before our savior and worshiped, abandoning any concerns or cares she had for this world. She poured out her future on Jesus’ feet, knowing the work he would do as Messiah provided the greatest security.

As we draw nearer to Good Friday and Easter, can we learn to abandon ourselves so? Can we learn to trust so completely?

Those who do so will find true worship, and the scent of eternity will be on them and all who gather around.

Lord, on this Monday of Holy Week, we recommit ourselves to worshiping you as the one with power over life and death. Amen.