The Holiest of Holidays

All holidays have purpose and value.  But not all holidays are created equal.  Some are not only holidays, some are holy-days.  Easter and Christmas are certainly two significant holy-days.  But the holiest of holy-days is rarely esteemed—Good Friday.

Our culture pays little attention to this holy-day.  And if we take our cues and our values from it, Good Friday will most likely come and go with little or no fanfare.  But let’s not overlook the mystery and wonder of this holiest of days this year!

I don’t believe it would be an overstatement to propose that the overarching message of the Bible is more profoundly illustrated on Good Friday than on any other day in human history!  This is not to take away from Christmas or Easter, but rather to see how these holy-days find their ultimate explanation in Good Friday.

I would also suggest that there is no topic known to us more poignant nor profound than Soteriology—the study of God’s gracious gift of salvation from our sin, and how Jesus Christ purchased it for us.  The Bible teaches this gracious gift will be the incomparable, inexplicable, and inexhaustible focal point of every man, woman, boy and girl who will spend the coming ages in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus!

Accordingly, the mystery of the Son of God’s death on a cross, should be the most fascinating and compelling topic for our consideration in our earthly realm as well!  After all, there is only one Person in history who was so significant that our ancestors devised our calendar around His brief earthly pilgrimage.  And there is no other event in history so disturbing—and yet so encouraging, as Christ’s untimely and unjust death on a cross.

But don’t be mistaken.  Jesus didn’t die because Judas betrayed Him.  Jesus wasn’t condemned because the Jewish leaders lied about Him.  Jesus wasn’t sentenced to death because Pilate was a coward.  Jesus wasn’t killed by Roman soldiers.  Jesus didn’t die because He was powerless to save Himself.PassionOfTheChrist_2004_02

It was our sin—and God’s justice, that put Jesus on that cross to die…

The Bible makes it clear that there is no one righteous before God, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of our Creator’s expectation for us.  God’s Word also makes it plain: the wages of our sin is death.  Physical death, yes.  But far worse, spiritual death as well.  We understand that physical death occurs when our spirit is separated from our bodies.  Spiritual death, the second death, is when our spirit is separated from its Creator—forever. The consequence of our sin against our Creator is both physical and spiritual death.

Because God is just, someone had to pay the consequences of our sin.  Even though Jesus had never committed any sin (thoughts, words or deeds) He bore our sins, and He took our punishment for them.  He died because of us.  He died for us.  He died in place of us.  But there’s much more.

It was our sin—and God’s love, that put Jesus on that cross to die…

The Bible makes it equally clear that God the Father so loved us, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe on Him would not have to die, but would have eternal life instead.  God’s Word also tells us that His Son Jesus so loved us, that He willingly laid down His life for us.

So on Good Friday, two thousand years ago, God’s grace was gloriously provided by Jesus’ death on a cross!  He who was rich became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich!  He who had no experience with sin became sin for us so that through Him we might gain the sinlessness of God!

God’s justice was perfectly satisfied on Good Friday.  God’s love was perfectly demonstrated on Good Friday.  God’s grace is freely offered to you because of Good Friday!  That is the Good News of Good Friday!  And because Jesus conquered death on Resurrection Day, if you will have faith in God’s grace, you too will be resurrected one day to marvel at the magnitude of His grace forever!  No wonder the holiest of holy-days has come to be known as Good Friday!

Why A Shepherd?

psalm-23-1-the-lord-is-my-shepherd

“The LORD is my shepherd…  So begins one of the most loved, and best known passages in all of the Bible.  True to the saying, “it takes one to know one,” Psalm 23 was written about 3,000 years ago by a shepherd who later became a king, David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem.

After David’s bold opening declaration, he makes three statements expressing his complete trust in the LORD as his shepherd.  “I shall not want” summarizes David’s confidence in the LORD’s ability to provide for his every need.  “I will fear no evil” demonstrates his trust in the LORD to protect him, even in the darkest days of his life.  “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” articulates David’s faith that even in death, his Shepherd will care for him throughout eternity!

This beautiful psalm not only talks about David’s Shepherd, it talks to his Shepherd as well!  In verses 2-3, David talks about all his Shepherd does for him and why.  In verse 4 the pronouns shift from “He” to “You” and David now speaks to his Shepherd in a written prayer.  David’s confidence in facing death is in his Shepherd’s presence and protection.  In verse 5 he speaks affectionately of the LORD’s gracious provisions, even in the presence of his enemies.  Finally, in verse 6 David concludes his thoughts by speaking about his Shepherd’s care “all the days of my life” and then even after his days come to an end and “forever” begins.

This poignant psalm is rich with word pictures!  It starts with a Shepherd, and his flock of sheep, one of whom is King David himself.  It pictures them lying down in green pastures and drinking from still waters.  It paints sheep following the Shepherd on paths of righteousness and through the valley of the shadow of death.  It draws comfort from a shepherd’s rod and his staff.  It portrays a bountiful banquet table prepared in the presence of enemies.  It visualizes the blessedness of an anointed head and a cup running over.  It concludes with the (obviously magnificent) house of the LORD in heaven.

This psalm is so rich I have assigned aspiring preachers the task of writing multiple messages from this psalm, each one focusing on a unique truth, promise, principle, viewpoint, illustration or challenge contained within it.  Though they would often complain about my assignment, invariably these students of God’s Word would fall deeper in love with Psalm 23 with each new message they wrote.

In my earlier years I wondered how a psalm with six verses and a little over one hundred words could be so special to so many people.  But over the last twenty years I have studied it, memorized it, preached it and have recited it in so many difficult occasions, and in countless places.  Its ability to move me and so many others is no longer mysterious!  After all, like King David, we too are sheep in desperate need of a trustworthy Shepherd!

Love Well, Die Well

mary at the cross

It was an anonymous poem, originally written in Latin sometime during the Middle Ages.  Many years later it was translated into German, and later into English.  The tune associated with this poem was originally used as a love song, attributed to Hans Leo Hassler in 1601.  J. S. Bach harmonized the song in its present form in 1729.  This poem and tune combination eventually found its way into English hymnals entitled, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”  taken from the first line of the first stanza. While the hymn as we know it has only three verses, the original poem consists of eleven stanzas.

Because the third and last stanza found in our hymnals has always moved me deeply, I have memorized it and have incorporated it into my prayer life.  However, this powerful prayer becomes even more significant when it is considered in its context with the rest of the original poem.  While I have memorized only the second stanza below, what follows is the last seven stanzas of the original poem.

 

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,

For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.

I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;

Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

 

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,

For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love to Thee.

 

My shepherd, now receive me, my Guardian, own me Thine.

Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.

Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;

Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

 

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;

O Savior, do not chide me!  When breaks Thy loving heart.

When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,

Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

 

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,

When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.

O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,

Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

 

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door,

Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!

When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,

But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

 

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;

Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.

Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,

My heart by faith enfolds Thee, who dieth thus dies well.