Easter

“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

The thief on the cross. The one who in the final minutes of his life defended Jesus. He admitted his guilt and Jesus’ innocence. He acknowledged the divinity of Christ— he was the first convert to Christianity. The first person to say, “I want to be a part of your kingdom” (Luke 23:42.)

He never had to go through the ups and downs, loopty-loops, confusion, trials, backsliding, and church-hopping of Christian life. He never argued over theology, which translation of the Bible is best, or whether Christians should smoke cigarettes or serve in the military. He got to go straight into glory. He got to bypass the doing of, and the being of, Christian life.

I wrote in my journal several months ago, “What is it to be a Christian; what is this Christian life?” The thief on the cross never had to ask that question. The Apostle Paul writes in the Book of Romans about the hope of glory and the “eager hope” with which we look forward to “join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” Paul writes about how it is the work of the Spirit to help us in weakness so that we can be sanctified, justified, and glorified in the salvation we have because of Christ’s sacrifice. Because we indeed justly were receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man, Jesus, had done nothing wrong, as the one thief said to other (Luke 23:41.)

The Christian life is no longer about living according to our due reward, but rather by faith. Our hope is totally in the work of the Spirit, for the purposes of the Spirit, toward a spiritual reward. The Christian life is never about what is seen and measurable but rather what is unseen and unmeasurable. We see this hold totally true in the extremely short Christian life of the thief on the cross. He had no time to do good works, resist bad habits, contribute wise teaching, or pray beautiful prayers. He was saved and then glorified. Instantaneously! He totally got to skip the sanctification, transformation, justification phases that most of us experience.

Yet, I believe that Jesus sees all of us the way he sees the thief on the cross. I believe he sees all of us as today being with him in paradise. I believe he sees us in the Spirit, the spirit of faith, which sees things as they are when completed not as they are in process. I believe that to Jesus our moment of salvation is our moment of glorification. His mercy makes that possible, his grace makes it the operating truth.

God’s not waiting on us so He can make something reality. He is ushering us into His reality. And we are called, in this Christian life, to act according to that reality. We have to view ourselves in faith, which means viewing ourselves as complete, as co-heirs with Christ, as kings and priests, as sons of God— cause that is what glorification is, right? And we have to view each other the same way.

We cannot accept accusatory speech that contradicts what God sees of us in faith. We cannot level accusation against our brothers and sisters in Christ either. It’s very easy to become negative about other people’s faith. You know, if my husband were a better Christian, it’d be easier for me to be a better Christian. Kinda like how, if my daughter were a better kid, it’d be easier for me to be a better mom. If other people could get going a bit more in their walks with God, and give me a few less attitudes and inconveniences to trip over, I would assuredly be a better person. If the people around me would just be better, I could look a lot better.

And because other people make my personal process of transformation more difficult, I find it perfectly acceptable to condemn their level of adherence to God’s sanctification, their probability of being justified if they keep on acting like this. I feel I can comment on them, or rate them, judge them, or actually kind of hate them, because obviously they are not trying as hard as me cause if they were my sanctimonious little life would be a whole lot easier!

Yet, that attitude is completely antithetical to faith. If Jesus could say to the thief on the cross, you are glorified today simply because I say so; then He also says to us, it is today simply because I say so. That is that. There is no in between whilst which we get to fiddle around with condemnation— of ourselves or of others.

Our love for each other cannot come from what we see, but rather from what we don’t see, which is the glorification to come that God sees as already being, because of Jesus and through the Spirit.

 

Easter

“Do this in remembrance” Exodus 12 & Luke 22

Until today I was unaware of what Maundy Thursday is. It is a celebration of the command to “love each other” given at the Last Supper.* “Maundy” originates from the latin for “command.” I know the Israelites were commanded to remember the night that the angel of death “passed over” them. I know that Jesus told his disciples to remember him when they partake in Communion. I have not contemplated until today what overlap there might be between the Old Covenant Passover and the New Covenant Communion.

Unconsciously, I have always conceptualized the Last Supper as different from the Passover, though of course the Last Supper was a Passover meal. I want to lay down, real quick, a short list of similarities between to the two. In fact, let me jump to my conclusion— Jesus completed the Passover requirement and then doubled down on it at the Last Supper; which I would say is pretty consistent with everything that Jesus did whilst on Earth.

Exodus 12 gives a detailed picture as to how the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover, why they were to celebrate the Passover, and who could celebrate the Passover. Luke 22 gives us the same details about Communion according to Jesus’ instructions at the Last Supper, or First Supper if you will.

So let’s look at this without too much fuss:

How to celebrate: Celebrate with a special meal containing symbolic components.

Why to celebrate: Celebrate to remember the work of God’s salvation.

Who can celebrate: Only God’s people can celebrate this meal.

The third point caught me a bit off guard at first. I didn’t realize that Passover was only for the “native-born Israelites” or people who had effectively converted by being circumcised (Exodus 12:43-49.) “No outsiders are allowed to eat the Passover meal,” Exodus 12:43. I feel that that point is specifically important in regard to the Last Supper.

The Maundy command “to love one another” is a command for Christians to love each other. It’s not a command for Christians to love the lost soul. It is not a command for all people to love one another. When Christians participate in Communion or when they celebrate the Last Supper they are to remember that God cares about how people in the church treat each other.

The people we go to church with can be pretty irritating. Some are over-religious. Some are too cool being obnoxiously proud of their record collection and slight drinking habit. Some are theology snobs, some are bible trivia nerds. Some volunteer for everything, others do Sunday service in a dine-and-dash fashion. Some are nosy, some are aloof. And most are self-righteously concerned about whether the people they go to church with are “really saved.” Cause, you know, if they were “really saved,” their kid wouldn’t act like that, they wouldn’t dress like that, you wouldn’t see them at the kind of places you see them at, they wouldn’t keep people’s Tupperware dishes, they’d RSVP on time, their husband wouldn’t have left like that…

Well, Jesus laid to rest the “really saved” topic at the Last Supper. Passover is celebrated to remember God’s salvation in the past from slavery and the tradition is continued forward in the hope of continued salvation. Passover celebrates an unfinished work, which is best illustrated by the Jewish custom of setting a place for Elijah at the Passover seder. When Jesus took the unleavened bread, symbolic of sinlessness, and the cup of wine, symbolic of the lamb’s blood used on the door posts by the Hebrews as a sign to the angel of death that he should pass over that house, and he said about the bread and wine “these are me,” he was saying, “it is finished.” That ongoing hope of salvation commemorated in Passover was complete. Salvation is no longer an on-going quest, but a mission fulfilled.

But, like I said, Jesus tends to double down. So with the fore-shadowing purpose of Passover completed, what was it that the Last Supper was to symbolize carrying forward? It is no longer a hope of salvation, but a reminder that Jesus has established a Kingdom for those who are saved. That Kingdom is one of love defined by servanthood, a Kingdom of thrones seated upon by the lowliest members of mankind.

Jesus famously washed his disciples feet during the Last Supper according to the Gospel of John. Peter objected to Jesus’ act of humility. But Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Jesus also said “since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.”

Belonging to Jesus requires no on-going pursuits of salvation, but an on-going pursuit of humility. The perfect opportunity to do that is amongst our annoying brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no satisfaction in serving the saved. I feel way better about myself when I evangelize or give away spare change. Loving people “who should know better” is harder. Paul says that Christians should give up all their rights for each other. We remember the Kingdom and how the Kingdom operates, when we love one another.

Perhaps the next time the gold trays with tiny cups and puffy square crackers is laid out, our reflection might center less on our “personal door-posts” and our need for the salvation in the Passover blood. Rather, remember the level of lowliness that Christ expects of us, and the tender regard for our brothers and sisters He expects us to have, as the requirement of being categorized as His own.

*”The Other Holy Day,” Christianity Today

All Year Holiday Devotionals

“He isn’t here!” Mark 16:6

At Golgotha, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He became sin for us, was rejected by his Father, and was the legal satisfaction of justice due on our behalf. This is what Jesus did when he died on Good Friday.

Three days later, he did something even more wonderful for us. We talk less often, and less dramatically, about what Jesus did in the garden. In the garden, Jesus was buried in a tomb. On Easter Sunday, he came back to life and broke through the grave that he was interned in.

Jesus was buried with our sins, but rose back to life without them. He left our sins behind in the tomb. We are told that Jesus broke the law of sin and death. When he defied death, he also played the ultimate trick on sin— sin can’t rise again. Baptism is described by the Apostle Paul as a symbol of going down with our sins into a watery grave as Jesus did, and being brought back up in a sinless life as Jesus was.

I have been hit so hard recently by the phrase “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3.) Why am I completely absolved of all guilt? Because the guilty Natalie is hidden in the tomb of Christ. What does this mean for me? It means that no one can accuse me of my sin, because that sin is sealed away. It got left behind in the garden.

On Easter, the angel told the women who came looking for the body of Jesus, “He isn’t here!” And I get to say that same thing. When the Accuser tries to condemn me. When the naysayer tries to discourage me. When my own heart begins to fail, I can shout, “She isn’t here!” The me that was a slave to sin is not here! I have risen in Christ’s resurrection, and my sin is trapped in a borrowed tomb.

Satan, the Accuser, heaps our sins back at our feet. When he does, you can say with confidence— “She is not here; that one is not me!”

Satan had his one revelry day. He had his one day to tear Jesus down. On the cross, Satan got his enjoyment in accusing God Himself. But, Satan, does not get to accuse you!! Because he got his three hours, his one short day to accuse Jesus, he does not have any claim on accusing you or I. He can’t have it both ways! Satan got to taunt and torment and defile the character of Jesus the day of Jesus’ death. The cross cost the devil every ounce of license to do that to me. He wanted to shame God, it’s all he’s ever wanted; and God let him do it!– in exchange for never, ever being allowed to put shame on me. 

When the weight of your sins make you think of Christ’s death, don’t mourn there forever, because Jesus gathered up your guilt at Golgotha and buried it permanently in the garden.

“When your heart condemns you, fear not for God is greater than your heart,” 1 John 3:20. 

* This was how we started explaining Easter to our daughter. I kinda love it. With a craft paper box and a million stickers, we decorated “a garden box.” I read to her from a kid’s “say and pray” bible with a cute illustration of the garden and an angel chillin’ out on top of Jesus’ tomb. We talked about how we are decorating these beautiful garden boxes remembering how wonderful it is that our sins are locked away forever in Jesus’ tomb and that we live free with Him.

Clementine is only 2 yrs old now, but I am thinking as she gets older, we can add a time of reflection and personal confession to this craft, and maybe write down some things that have been bothering her (and us) on Good Friday, put them in the box for the weekend, and then on Easter Sunday praise God that there is nothing that can separate us from God or diminish the complete work that Christ did for us on the cross.

All Year Holiday Devotionals

“This is the King of the Jews” Luke 23:38

Easter is approaching and so the Gospels have been the focal point of the sermons at church. Our pastor just read Luke 23 to us week before last. He didn’t comment all that much on the scriptures, he mostly just read them aloud. I am very familiar with the Passion of the Christ, so I didn’t expect to be hit very hard by the verbal picture that unfolded.

The description of Jesus falsely accused before Pilate, his innocence ignored in favor of a murderer, his flesh torn open until his whole being was red and raw. And then thrown atop his open wounds, a kingly robe to disparage his identity as King of the Universe. They roughly pressed into his brow an ugly crown and tempted him to prove himself.

My, how he could have proved that he is King. My, how he could have spread the wings of his glory and destroyed the whole empire with the force of a single movement, or by the mightiness of his Name alone. But instead he remained silent, swaying in exhaustion, a pitiful sight of perversity— a fraudulent display of kingship, a joke.

This mental picture of a broken, bloody, powerless, exhausted and defeated king, finally hammered in for me what it means that Jesus “became sin for us.” That is my sin! That picture of Jesus on crucifixion day is the picture of my sin! If my sin were to take shape and be personified in actual flesh, it would be Jesus knelt in his own blood, nearly in trance due to pain, wearing a dunce cap and a jester’s clothes. 

My sin is the delusion of my own kingship! I am a perverse little king, wanting to be praised and admired. I am a little dictator, wanting to have my way at even just small expenses to others. I am a little bit of a Lucifer, wanting recognition for my beauty, talents, merits, efforts, and accomplishments. I am the itsy bitsy spider dutifully spinning the web of my temporary successes. Jesus became that sin! He became a grotesque, dying, mockery because I am a grotesque, dying, mockery.

God is jealous of His glory we are told. He does not share it. Lucifer fell from heaven because he desired recognition, affirmation, a pat on the back, a flattering word, a small praise, acknowledgement, thanks…just a little glory of his own. But God does not, will not, share the glory of His crown! Not with his angels, not with nature, not with you or me. His magnitude blasts through the meagerness of any attempt at beauty that is not originated from the wealth of His own treasury. The trap set for Eve was receiving a little knowledge of her own, getting a hand on a little more than God gave. God was holding out on them, she was told, because He is jealous and won’t share the gifting that defines His power. “Get a little glory, Eve.” Original sin; the original sin that Jesus became for us.

Jesus, who really is King, became the false king that I am. He who

is Truth, became falsehood for me. He who is Glory, became degenerate for me. He became ridiculous because we are ridiculous. He became despicable because we are despicable. He became an impostor because we are impostors. He became the fading glory of all my efforts revealed as illegitimate and futile. He became my incapacity. He became my failure. He became my frustration. He became my cry— “Abba, Father, why have you forsaken me!!!”