Two Men, Three Crosses

 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:38-42

The car is not a happy place for me.  Four times my car has been totaled.  Four times the wreck was not my fault.  For me, when I am driving, I am fully aware each second that I am not in control of what anyone else on the road may do.  When something unexpected happens in the car, I can’t seem to stop my mind from playing the scenario through to it’s gory, fiery end.  Therefore, I am frequently on edge, white knuckling the steering wheel.

It is in the car that I most often ponder my demise.  It’s the closest I can imagine to what the thieves on the cross must have experienced, starting into the certainty of their mortality.  Two men, two completely different reactions.  One looking into the void with bitterness and arrogance, the other chastened, humbled.  And between them, a savior.

When I was young, I was afraid of dying,  afraid that I would die without asking forgiveness for each individual sin. I thought Jesus was capable of forgiving all, but that I had to recite each one.

To the thief on the cross, forgiveness was granted with open hands.  There was no complicated or detailed acts of contrition required, no game of cat and mouse.  Simply grace, offered openly.   Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. 

How do you encounter Jesus?  Do you allow grace to be this easy?  Or do you muddy the waters with your own dance of atonement?  I know that I do, feeling that I must fully wallow in my guilt and seek to fix things before I allow Jesus to lift away my sin.  Grace is a free gift.

But grace, though freely given, was purchased at a costly price.  On the cross, in between those two thieves, was one innocent man.  Who suffered.  Groaned.  Bled.  For your sake, and mine.  On this Good Friday, I challenge you to take some time to reflect on the price paid for your sin, and offer up thanks to your Savior.

three-crosses-kelly-nowak

Advertisements

Asleep

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Mark 14:32-42

Do you feel as if you have been sleeping through Lent?

I know that in many ways I have.  The intentions I had for time set apart, for contemplation, for walking with Christ through the past 40 days didn’t quite meet up with reality.  And, to be more honest, most of the time I feel as if I am sleep walking through my daily spiritual life, no matter the time of year.  My path is paved with good intentions, missed opportunities, forgotten commitments.  Just like the disciples, asleep in the garden, I too fall short of the person I think that I imagine myself to be, and have to face the drowsy reality of who I actually am.

But here is the truth.  Jesus did not bail on his destiny just because his companions couldn’t stay awake.  Neither did he reject them in the future.  Instead, these sleepy men became giants of our faith.  They were witnesses to the resurrection, bearers of the Spirit, and our first evangelists.  For it is not our own paltry efforts that bring about God’s good plan.  Instead, he uses us as instruments in His hand.  On the cross, ALL of our sins are redeemed.

Garden

Garden of Gethsemane by He Qi

Here is another thing I have learned from dwelling on this passage- there is power in praying the night watch.  When you one of your people is walking through the dark night of the soul, stay vigilant.  Sit with them and pray that their needs will be met.  And let them know that you are sitting with them in the garden.  That sense of companionship, of not-aloneness, is powerful

And if you find yourself in the garden today?  Praying through tears to hear the voice of God? Follow the example of Christ. Ask someone to come sit and pray with you.  There is such profound solace in finally admitting that this anguish is too big for you, in asking others to help you pray the night hours.  I know from experience that simply knowing others are praying for you brings unimaginable comfort.

And take this invitation to wake up, sweet dreamer.  Easter is coming.  Let’s prepare to meet the day.

Betrayal

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching,  and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.  And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.  They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
Luke 22:1-6

As I was meditating on this passage today, I found myself struggling to put myself in Judas’ shoes.  What would it take for me to betray Jesus?   But as I thought from his perspective, I realized something.  There must have been a lot of moments, small disappointments, that led up to this moment of betrayal.  At some point back in Judas’ past, Jesus had not lived up to the standard of what Judas thought he should be.  And since that point, small moments, slights, and disappointments had been adding up.  To the point that a true believer became jaded.  A disciple turned into a thief.  A savior was betrayed for 4 months wages.

Judas, like the rest of the nation of Israel, had been waiting for the Messiah for a long long time.  400 long years had passed without one prophet, one word from God.  And now, Jesus enters the scene.  What would they hope for in a savior, this tiny, downtrodden nation?  A warrior king?  A fierce deliverer?  A strong leader with the courage, the riches, and the fierce will to restore the Glory of Israel?

Instead, they got a carpenter.  A man who tells parables instead of issuing rallying cries.  Who spurns the religious elite for a band of outsiders, foreigners and misfits.  A man who in no way is living up to the savior Judas had built up in his head.  To me, the only way this betrayal makes sense is if it is built out of bitterness- broken dreams and unmet expectations.

All of this begs the question: Who do I want Jesus to be? 

So I sat with it.

Judas

The first few things that came to mind were born out of my immediate desires:

  • Safe
  • Under Control
  • Predictable
  • Linear

Then, I tried to dig deeper into that.  What came to mind- compassionate (to realize that my striving, to see that I am seeking to please), listening (to hear my need for direction, my pleas for mercy), Loud (to speak above my constant clamoring to hear Him).

As I sat, thinking of what I truly needed in a Savior, a final thought.

NOT ME.

I need Jesus to be something outside of my constructs.  In order for him to be safe, and in order for him to be sovereign, he must be bigger than me, higher than me.  He must have an eternal perspective, to see all stories that weave together into The Story.  To be fully for me, He must not be caught up in my daily whims, tumults, and crises.  To be worthy of my faith, to be the true hope of the world, he must be exactly what he is.  Human.  Divine.  Sovereign.  Just.  Merciful.  Unexpected.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Luke 7:20-23