John 19 vs 28 - 30
I am sitting looking out at my garden fence. Really? Yes. It needs painted. It needed painted last year when the first ‘lockdown’ started. I felt that those ‘lockdown’ days were going to be the perfect opportunity to get this job done. Appropriate fence paint was bought about the end of May. A test coat was applied to part of the fence – actually, one board – and then it was autumn! Too busy...too wet... too cold...too dark...and it’s Easter 2021. The job was not done. Time to start all over again.
Not so the job which had to do on the first Good Friday. Jesus, pinned to a cross, already beaten and humiliated, crowds shouting abuse, deserted by His followers, the sky black and heaven silent, said these words, “It is finished.” It is a single word which means ‘it is covered, satisfied, paid for.’ It indicates accomplishment. Jesus is saying, “I did it!” But what exactly did He accomplish? What did He finish? Let’s note three things at least.
Jesus “fulfilled the scripture” (John 19:28). He once told His disciples, “I have not come to abolish them [the Law and the Prophets], but to fulfil them” (Matt.5:17). The Old Testament scriptures required perfect obedience to the Law and the Law required perfect payment for sin, a perfect blood sacrifice and here was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) who did both. With not even the smallest detail left undone, He looked upon the Law and said: “It is finished... I’ve done it!”
Back in Genesis God makes this promise to the serpent and for us: “he will crush your head and you will strike his heel” (3:15). When Jesus arrived, He made it plain that He “came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8) and as the darkness appeared to be saying that the serpent had won, Jesus drove out the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). As the nails were hammered into His feet, He drove those blood-soaked feet through the serpent’s head. As the darkness ended, Jesus looked down, saw the broken skull beneath His heel and was able to say, “It is finished...I’ve done it!”
But there was a something else symbolised by those three hours of darkness. In Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me...” (Matt. 26:39) - Silence! He was a real man with a dark shadow over Him which was almost unspeakable. The “cup” of God’s wrath, the full force of God’s judgement on sin, a horror which far exceeded the nails, thorns and beatings. He is, in that moment, no longer the Blessed but the Cursed (Gal. 3:13). He drained that cup for us. There was no debt left to pay. “It is finished.” There is nothing more He can give and there is nothing we can do or add to this finished work.
On this Good Friday what do you see at the cross? Do you see Scripture completely fulfilled, the devil fatally crushed, the cup of God’s wrath drained dry? Or do you think there is something more you need to do? “It is finished.” Just reach out the hand of faith and receive this finished work and be shielded by it. Begin this Easter and the rest of your life, on finished ground.
Matthew 26 vs 17 - 30
Thursday evening of execution week : The Last Supper
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. 20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” 23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.” 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
No explanation is necessary; just contemplate, wonder and listen.
John 19 vs 17 - 22
17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
In my apprenticeship as a traditional Sign & Poster Writer at the age of 16, I remember a lovely man called Wesley of the Seamen’s Mission coming to the workshop and ordering cloth banners with John 3:16 written on them. They were to be in different languages for the various ships coming in to the Belfast harbour Polish, Russian, Slovakian; all sorts, and I always wondered to myself if anyone ever actually read this text which was strange to me. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I met a new worker from the mission, and he was one of the very seamen who had come into Belfast port and read the banner some 15 years before. Truly, God speaks in many languages.
Here, at the cross, our God used a sign, written in three languages of the day, a sign that was meant to degrade and humiliate Jesus. In those crucifixion days a sign was hung over the prisoner’s neck as he walked to the cross. The sign usually had his name and his crime written on it for all who passed by to see. In keeping with a prophesy foretold many years before which said, “He was numbered with the transgressors”, Jesus too had a sign nailed to the cross above Him. Ironically it was Pilate who ordered it and most likely Roman soldier who wrote it, but it shows us how God sometimes uses the ungodly for His purposes. That proclamation said; JESUS CHRIST KING OF THE JEWS.” I wonder how many read it and were challenged, even persuaded; the penitent thief on the cross, the centurion or Pilate perhaps? Maybe some of Jesus executioners, maybe even some of those who were denied His deity, the Pharisees or the Zealots?
What about us as we read it again, as if for the first time. Does it thrill us to know that JESUS KING OF THE JEWS, KING OF KINGS, KING OF HEAVEN, KING OF HEARTS, was lifted up on a cross to die for you and me?
Monday morning crucifixion week - Jesus curses a fig-tree
Matthew 21 vs 18 - 19
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.
Do you get grumpy when you’re hungry? I do! Fifteen or so years ago, just after Easter we took the family for a short self catering holiday in Spain. We arrived late at night, the queue at the car hire office wasn’t long but it was deadly slow in moving. These were in pre-satnav days so we left the airport late, in the dark, trying to follow the directions of the apartment’s owner who lived in Portadown. Needless to say we got lost! To cap this disastrous start, we hadn’t eaten a meal since leaving the airport in Belfast in the afternoon. Result, by the time we finally reached our destination yours truly was like the proverbial bear with a sore head.
Jesus had gone to the fig-tree because it was in leaf, and though it was too early in the year for the main crop of figs, trees often produced small, bitter fruit which dropped off just as the tree came into leaf. It was these that poor people without food, would gather to eat. This time however, there were no figs. Over the years many wrong conclusions have been drawn from this incident, usually, that this revealed a mean streak in Jesus, that he lost his temper because he was hungry, sometimes that he was vindictive or petulant. Of course they all miss the point and one wonders why.
Jesus actions were seldom pointless, and when the gospel writers included something in their accounts of his ministry they did so because it was meaningful. This is an acted out parable and it is placed by Matthew between Jesus confrontation with the chief priests and the teachers of the law after he had cast the traders out of the Temple, and a new controversy the following day when he was questioned about his authority. In the bible the image of a vine and the fig-tree both relate to Israel and the incident amounts to a warning that Israel and its faith had become barren and unproductive. There was no fruit being produced in the lives of its leaders, and that being so, the barren tree would be judged.
That was then, but today the warning stands for the church and for the individual Christian that Jesus expects to find fruit in our lives, and if the faith in Jesus we claim is not producing anything that glorifies him, then God the master gardener, as Jesus said, prunes and cuts away what is dead in order to make us fruitful. That process may be painful, but it is effective. Is it not better though, to remain rooted in Christ, to walk closely with him and so produce that harvest God seeks in our lives. Food for thought!
Listen and make this your prayer -
Philippians 4 vs 7 - 11
The surpassing worth of knowing Christ
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in. Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Is it worth it? Is knowing Jesus worth it? It’s a question any of us can answer only for ourselves but this is true that until we are prepared to forsake everything else to know him, as we’ve been reading this week, we can’t know him and if we do not know him and trust him we cannot have eternal life.
Paul was a big gun in Judaism in the early days of the church, a man entrusted by the High Priest with the persecution of the church and the arrest of Christians. It was a job he loved because he was zealous about Judaism. He was wholly committed to it and proud of his roots and accomplishments in it. He went so far as to say that he was faultless as far as the law was concerned. He was fastidious in keeping all the rules. That though was exactly the problem he was committed to a system of religious observance. It depended on him and how well he performed, but no matter how well he performed in the law and he really did perform, it couldn’t secure eternal life for him. The law just wasn’t capable of doing it.
When Paul encountered the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, a city in which he hoped to round up a few more Christians, he was transformed by the meeting. If the Philippian Christians had asked him was it all worthwhile leaving behind Judaism, had he any regrets about doing it, his answer is above. All his good works, all that he had done so well he counted garbage so that he could gain Christ and know the righteousness he only can give. Any Christian I know who really knows Jesus would say the same.
Hebrews 5 vs 5 - 10
5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ 6 And he says in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ 7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Sometimes we hear people come up with the idea that the crucifixion was wee buns for Jesus and they reason that if he knew what was going to happen at Calvary he knew what would happen beyond death, that God would raise him to life again. That way of thinking takes no account of the fact that Jesus had two natures, fully God and fully man or of the fact that he would bear the sin of the world and endure, because of it, the wrath of God. It was not the agony of crucifixion that brought the words of anguish “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” but the fact that he endured the wrath of a holy God against sin. You see, the author of the letter to the Hebrews captured the truth that this experience was one that Jesus would have avoided if any other way was possible. With every fibre of his humanity Jesus recoiled from the cross and all the anguish it held. More than that from the prospect of enduring the burden and the penalty for our sin and it was the fact that he endured; that he was obedient to death, even death on a cross that means those whose lives are now in him will not have to endure the same. He has done it all
John 12 vs 20 - 27
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23 Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. 27 ‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.
This is the time of year that we sow seeds in the anticipation of a colourful garden in the summer months or of a harvest in the autumn and if we understand that, we know the principle behind what Jesus said. Yes he could have saved his life by avoiding the cross but that would not have brought the harvest of life that was the very reason for his coming. “... it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” His life was the seed which once sown guaranteed a harvest of life in those who put their trust in him.
There is another way of course to treat seeds. That is to leave them in the packet and not sow them. That way you will still have them but there are two things to bear in mind. First you will have no harvest and second that sooner or later the seeds will perish.In both ways you have lost out, now when you could have enjoyed a harvest and finally when the seeds perish and the opportunity for any harvest is lost completely. It’s an illustration really of what Jesus said when he spoke on this occasion. If we withhold our life from him now there will be no life in eternity, and in the long run we will lose even that life we have now. Put like that it’s obvious what is sensible, maybe all that’s lacking is the courage to step out in faith. So, if you see the logic in Jesus words, will you take that step today?
John 12 vs 1 - 8
Jesus anointed at Bethany
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you but you will not always have me.’
I’m sure at some time or another you’ve heard it said of someone...... “he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. These words were written by Oscar Wilde in the play Lady Windermere’s Fan, to describe a cynic, and they could well be applied to Judas here. He knew the price of the perfume Mary poured on the feet of Jesus but he knew nothing of the value of love. Though she knew the cost of the nard Mary wasn’t counting the cost of love. The act of extravagance, counted wasteful by a thief, came from pure motives and a heart of devotion and love and when we consider the one who was the object of that act of love who really could say that it was extravagance in any sense. Even in itself the anointing anticipated Jesus death and pointed the way to an even greater act of love, the cost of which cannot be fully understood by us but is captured in the words of an old hymn. “We may not know, we cannot tell what pains he had to bear. We cannot know, that’s true, but we know the reason.... “we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.” In the light of that was Mary’s act one of extravagance? Perhaps, but it was one that revealed love at its heart.
Luke 18 vs 9 - 14
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” 13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Not so long ago if you were given to blowing your own trumpet and telling any who would listen how good you were at anything be it sport or a job, someone would quickly put it right with a comment to bring you down a peg or two. Today, it’s almost expected that you should talk yourself up. The danger is it all tips over too easily and we run the risk of becoming what is known today as a blagueur, which the Oxford Dictionary terms a pretentious talker. We get plenty of that kind of thing on programmes like The Apprentice which admittedly makes good entertainment because the participants are generally so outrageous and bristling with confidence but a blagueur in the mix always helps.
I reckon that the Pharisee Jesus spoke about in the parable above would have fitted right in with the cast of The Apprentice. He wasn’t behind the door at telling God how good he was and so much better than certain types he might encounter. I’m sure he believed that God was fortunate to have him onboard. Dream on! The lesson is clear it isn’t those who are filled with a confidence in their own righteousness that are justified before God but the one, like the tax collector, who knows exactly what is wrong in his life, and has confessed it before God. That is humility.
Right through the bible we read that humility is a characteristic God values in people whereas it is the proud, the blagueurs he opposes. Peter puts it like this in his first letter... “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.”
More than most Peter should know what he’s talking about, before Jesus was arrested he boasted of his unshakable commitment, his willingness even to die with Jesus. Within hours, in the courtyard of the High Priest that boast fell in tatters around him, ripped to shreds by three denials. Paul too, described himself as the foremost of sinners because he had opposed Christ and persecuted the church but Paul was forgiven and Peter was restored and both were used greatly by God in the service of Jesus and the kingdom.
Lord Sugar, or Alan as we know him, quickly susses out the blagueurs and marks their cards but God who knows the heart makes no mistakes, he misjudges no-one so nothing it to be gained by trying to pull the wool over his eyes. He opposes the proud but lifts the humble. Be honest then about your sin, your failings and the weaknesses you struggle with daily, confess humbly, turn from them to Jesus. It is the humble and the repentant that he chooses to use.
Saint Patrick's Breastplate is an Old Irish prayer of protection attributed to Saint Patrick. In musical form it is contained in the Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook (162) and was translated by Cecil Frances Alexander the author of “There is a green hill” and several other hymns. Today perhaps, use this as the template of your own prayers for Christ’s presence and protection.
St Patrick’s Breastplate
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity:
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation:
His baptism in the Jordan river,
His death on the Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today!
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead:
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward;
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard!
I bind unto myself today
The power of the great cherubim,
The sweet "well done" in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim;
Confessors' faith, apostles' word,
Patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls;
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray;
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea around
the old eternal rocks.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today,
The strong name of the Trinity:
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation –
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!