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Is God a Megalomaniac?

We have an email here from a mom named Coleen who is writing in on behalf of her son. And for the sake of anonymity of him, as a minor, I am not going to use his name here. Coleen, his mother, writes in to ask this. “Dear Pastor John, I am hoping you can help us with regards to the topic of God being a megalomaniac, which is what our fifteen-year-old son currently believes. We’ve talked about this, and he has said that you may be the only person who can change his thinking. Because of the Westminster Catechism’s answer to the chief end of man, he now believes that God is somehow weak and has an enormous ego, that he created human beings so they will worship him. That God is too ‘needy.’ My son wants to enjoy other things more than God and thinks ‘programming’ people to find their greatest happiness in worshiping him is coercive, mean, manipulative, and wrong.”

Is God a Megalomaniac?I don’t know Coleen’s son’s name, but for convenience sake, I’m going to call him Joe, and speak directly to him. According to his mom, Joe believes six things. What she doesn’t say, and if I were having a conversation with Joe, the first thing I would ask is probably, what are you basing your view of God on? Are you making it up? Are you trusting some human teacher? Are you deducing it from nature, and the logical use of nature? Or are you basing it on God’s word in Scripture? And how he answers that question would probably affect how I answer.

But, since I don’t know, I’m just going to rest my case with God’s word, since I regard all those other sources as very unlikely sources of reliable information about infinite reality, especially the source of my own head. I think if we are going to know anything about God for sure, God has to tell us. There’s no other way to know. We need both the word and the Spirit’s opening our hearts to see what’s really there. So let me say a word about the six things that I see Joe apparently believes about God.

Strong God

First, he believes God is somehow weak. According to Scripture, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). Job says, “The Almighty — we cannot find him; he is great in power” (Job 37:23). In fact, Job comes to the end of his book with this overriding conviction: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

In Isaiah 46:9–10, God himself puts it like this, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”

So no, Joe, God is not weak. He is infinitely powerful. He upholds the universe by the word of his power. He holds you in being moment by moment. If he stopped thinking about you, you would vanish out of existence.

Good and Upright

Second, Joe says God has an enormous ego. The problem with that statement is that the connotation of the word ego is that his head is swollen beyond what it should be or he’s too big for his britches. He’s posturing and posing to get people to think he’s greater than he is, or that there’s a void inside his big, boasting head that desperately needs filling from others who can give him what he lacks. So, in this case, he’s always trying to make up for some deficiency from the contributions of others.

That’s the way we talk about big egos, but all of those connotations are sinful. They’re ugly. The Bible never portrays God in any of those sinful ways. None of those connotations about God’s self-exaltation are in the Bible. None of them.

None of those connotations is true of him. Psalm 25:8 says, “Good and upright is the Lord.” Or “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

Joe, you seem to have decided to use this derogatory language about God because of this next thing you believe.

Created for Worship

The third thing is God created humans so that they will worship him. That’s true. That’s absolutely true. Listen to Isaiah: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6–7).

Jesus in John 4:23 says God is seeking worshipers in spirit and in truth. In Ephesians 1:5–6 we read, “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” — why? — “to the praise of his glorious grace.”

So, Joe, it sounds like you’re asking, “If it is ugly and sinful for me to act like that, how can I admire a God who acts that way?” That’s a very good question. And here’s the reason that you dare not seek people’s worship while God should and must.

If I say to a crowd — puny, puny John Piper, sinful John Piper — if I say to a crowd, “I came tonight so that you would all see my beauty and find your greatest happiness in me” — if I believed that and said that, I would not be loving.

First, because I’d be wrong. I am not where your greatest happiness can be found. I am emphatically not where your greatest happiness can be found. Second, I would be unloving because I would be distracting you from the one whose beauty can make you supremely happy and satisfied, namely, God and all that he is for us in Christ.

But if God were to come into the room tonight and say to the crowd, “I came tonight so that you would see and know my divine beauty and find your greatest happiness in me,” he would not be unloving.

First, because it is true. He is the only source of deep and longest happiness. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Second, he would not be distracting us from what would make us deeply and permanently happy. He would be giving us the surest way to joy, namely, offering us himself.

Now, Joe, add this to that thought. This is crucial — hear this. God did not just come into the room, or the world, and say, “Here I am for your enjoyment.” He came to people who hated him. He came to people who rejected him, who belittled him, who called him an egomaniac, and he died for us. He died for us. That is not weak. It’s not needy. It’s not what egomaniacs do. They don’t die for their enemies out of love.

Strength to suffer for his enemies and bring them to eternal happiness in worshiping him — that’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful strength. The most beautiful strength in the universe was shown at Calvary for sinners like you, Joe, and me.

Overflowing Fountain

The fourth thing you say is that he’s too needy. No, he’s not needy. He’s not needy at all. That’s not coming out of the Bible. It’s not coming out of reason. It’s coming out of unreason. Acts 17:25 states, “[God is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” God does not need us. If he were hungry, he would not tell us (Psalm 50:12).

God seeks our worship, not because it meets his need, but because it meets our need. We were made. We’ve got this big, God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. We were made to enjoy God, know God, love God, serve God, and worship God — that is, to enjoy to the max and to overflow with admiration over what is most admirable.

Joe, I hope you take this right: God is stuck with being God. He didn’t choose to be beautiful. He is beautiful. He is absolutely who he is. “I am who I am,” he said (Exodus 3:14). The only question God has is not whether to be beautiful and all-satisfying. The question is whether he’s going to share it, and then die for it.

Giver of Happiness

Then Joe says, “God’s programming people to find their greatest happiness in worshiping him is coercive, mean, manipulative, and wrong.” There are two problems with this, Joe.

  1. God’s way of bringing people to worship him is not programming. It’s not programmed because that implies computerized robots with no moral will and no soul, which we have. It’s a mystery of great proportion. So God is not manipulative. He’s not coercive.
  2. The other problem is that it cannot be mean. It cannot be mean to bring a person to their greatest happiness. If it really is our greatest happiness, then you and I, Joe, would never want to leave it, not in a million years for anything. Which leaves us, Joe, with this question: Is your indictment of God not based mainly on good evidence from his word, but on the fact that you don’t like it, and you want very much to be free to enjoy other things more than God?

If that’s true, I pray and I hope and I ask you to reconsider. Every pleasure that isn’t rooted in God will fail you. Your heart was made to find greatest and longest happiness in God. If sin keeps you from supreme joy in God, sin needs to go, not God.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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When Worship Lyrics Miss the Mark

It’s Sunday night, after a day of worship with the people of God. And musical worship is such an important part of our embodied life together. But I don’t think we’ve ever looked at the lyrics of a contemporary worship song in a question. We do today. “Hello, Pastor John! My name is Samuel, a young minister through music. My church’s worship team struggles with a new worship song — ‘What A Beautiful Name’ — a widely acclaimed song because of its musical orchestration and its reflection on God’s glory and the kingship of Christ. However, my worship team finds the lyrics of the second verse questionable: ‘You didn’t want heaven without us, so, Jesus, you brought heaven down.’ Our question is, Does saying, ‘You didn’t want heaven without us’ imply a man-centered gospel? The statement isn’t necessarily false, but the implications could be skewed. That’s our fear. Additionally, the word ‘so’ is used afterwards, implying that the following statement of ‘bringing heaven down’ was founded upon the first statement of not wanting heaven without us. Much like the word ‘therefore,’ ‘so’ implies heaven was brought down in response to God not wanting heaven without us. Do you believe these lyrics are biblically valid?”

Let me start broad and then get specific because I love the issue. I love the concern.

The first thing I want to do is praise God for a worship team that is struggling with issues of truth in song lyrics. This is really good news. It’s a good sign and I hope all worship leaders who hear this would be encouraged to do the same. One of the reasons this is really good news is that a congregation learns its theology, and takes it down into the crevices of their soul, by the songs that they sing, not just by the preaching they hear.

Lyrics Matter

Historically, it’s the hymnody of the church that has, alongside preaching, been one of the most powerful means by which a church is taught. I would guess that in some churches the songs may be more decisive in the way truth is embraced because the preaching is so thin when it comes to doctrinal teaching. Of course, the songs may be very thin as well.

You can sing very thin songs that just repeat even great sentences like “his name is great.” That’s true, but does it ever say why it’s great or how the cross grounds its greatness? I say amen to the struggle, and I commend every worship team to be vigilant over the lyrics of what their people are singing.

Boatloads of Songs

When Worship Lyrics Miss the MarkThe second thing I would say is that the last thirty years, maybe forty years, have been an incredibly fruitful time for writing new lyrics and new music for the church. This is a great thing. This is a great sign of life. The psalmist says five times, “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 33:396:198:1144:9;149:1).

Jesus said, to balance things, “Every scribe” — you could say every worship leader — “who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). What this means is that, given the hundreds and hundreds of worthy, substantial, rich, deep, old hymns that speak nourishing doctrinal truth, and given the many, many, many new songs of the last thirty years that are solid and Christ exalting and gospel rich and God centered, there is no reason for any church to sing songs that are misleading or even questionable.

It’s not as though any worship team who has access to the Internet is backed into a corner not knowing what to sing or having to sing something questionable. Because there’s hundreds of glorious, rich, beautiful, contemporary and old songs. My main response to Samuel is find the old and the new, the rock solid and beautiful, and use them.

You are teachers in the church. Let this sink in. James says, “Let not many of you become worship leaders” (because you’re teachers — see James 3:1). Let not many of you become worship leaders because as teachers you will be judged more strictly. Right after the pastor comes the worship leaders who are choosing what teaching is going to happen while people are singing their hearts out and absorbing all this truth (or non-truth) that these people have put in front of them.

Insufficient Backdrops

Now, to the specific lyrics Samuel is concerned about. There’s a thread of teaching in some songs today that seems, to me, to lack the gravity of God’s passion for the glory of God above all things. Let me say that again. There’s a thread of teaching in some songs today that seems, to me, to lack the gravity of God’s passion for his glory above all else.

My sense is that, until a congregation is devastated by the outrage and the horror of our sin as demeaning and belittling to the glory of God, accompanied by a majestic vision of God’s glory and justice and holiness and wrath—until those two realities are taught and felt deep down, the reality of grace and mercy will not be rightly known and cherished by a congregation. Which really matters to me, then, how we sing about grace.

It seems to me that there’s a strain or a thread of songs that tend to assume that people’s sorrows, shame, and difficulties in life are enough of a backdrop (a bad backdrop) to make the mysteries of the glory of the gospel known over against them. I don’t think so.

I don’t think the sorrows and the shame that people bring, without being taught what their real condition is, are enough to help them understand grace. In fact, people are going to distort grace if its not taught against the backdrop of the biblical bad news rather than the bad news that people bring which they think they understand to be the bad news. It’s not the bad news.

The New Testament assumes that people need to be taught what their real terrible condition is under the power of sin before grace can really be the God-exalting reality that it is. I see that in Ephesians 2:1–10 and Ephesians 1:4–6, for example.

Samuel is right that the question is not whether a statement in a song is literally true by itself but what effect it has on the people. That is, how does it fit into their view of God? It may be that the same truth will be sung one time in one context, but it will not be sung another time in another context because the whole tendency and tone of the context is going to be misleading. It’s going to confirm error in the hearts of the people.

I don’t favor the lyric he quotes. It fits too easily into a theology of a God who created because he was lonely, and then saved people for the same reason. He just can’t be happy without us.

God’s Delight in Us

To be sure, we should sing about God’s amazing delight in us as his children. Witness the father in the parable of the prodigal son throwing a party when his son comes home (Luke 15:11–32). Witness Zephaniah 3:17, where God sings over his people. What is so amazing about that is that God is not miserable and lonely without us. He’s not motivated to sing over us because we have just made up for some poor deficiencies that God has — and now, at last, his weakening deity is strengthened by our presence, and he can be happy finally. That’s not the picture of the Bible!

God’s delight in us is the overflow of his fullness, not the compensation of his emptiness. Does the song help the people feel that wonder? That’s the question.

Here’s another popular lyric that we sang it in Asia recently. I wish they weren’t singing this. It’s very popular: “Like a rose, trampled on the ground. You took the fall and thought of me above all.” That’s not true. That’s not true. It’s not helpful. I’m not frankly even sure what it means. Above all what? Above all other people whom he saved? No, it can’t be that. Above all his own glory? No, not his own glory. Above all what? That was a beautiful song before it got to that line. He saved us precisely so that we could see and savor his glory as the supreme treasure of the universe above all. I’m not sure what the lyrics are trying to communicate, but it doesn’t communicate that to most people.

My conclusion is God has been at work in history, and he’s been at work wonderfully in the last thirty years to produce hundreds and hundreds of solid, gospel-rich, doctrinally faithful, Christ-exalting, big-God songs. So many that we don’t have to use the ones that seem theologically skewed and that may mislead our people.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Does My Sex Life Affect My Prayer Life?

Welcome back to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast with longtime author and pastor John Piper. A listener named Matt writes us, “Pastor John, 1 Corinthians 7:5 says that a husband and wife should ‘not deprive one another [of sexual relations], except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer.’ My question is, how do our sex lives interfere with our prayer lives? And when should there be a time in which a couple takes a break so as to devote themselves to prayer? Is this like the principle of fasting, where the desire for sexual relations is meant to put our focus back on the Lord to remind us that he is our ultimate joy and satisfaction above all else?”

Let’s get the whole verse in front of us. Matt leaves out the last half, which really creates a helpful paradox — at least, I have loved it ever since I first struggled with it.Does My Sex Life Affect My Prayer Life?

Here’s the whole verse: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” That’s where he stops. Here’s the rest of it: “But then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

The Paradox

Now what’s paradoxical about this is that, on the one hand, Paul sees the suspension of sexual relations as a means of intensified devotion to prayer, presumably because the couple wants a breakthrough and some answer to prayer because the devil is doing something they don’t want him to do.

They want to resist the devil — resist unrighteousness that he’s promoting. Abstaining from sexual relations for prayer is a way of making war on Satan.

But then, on the other hand, Paul says the married couple should come back together and continue to have sexual relations so that Satan may not tempt you. This means that regular relations in marriage is a weapon against satanic triumphs. So abstaining from sexual relations for prayer is a weapon against Satan, and carrying on regular sexual relations is a weapon against Satan. That’s the paradox.

Maintaining Balance

I think this is really important to see because it means that, in God’s design of the world and of human life, his pattern for ordinary things like sleeping, exercising, eating, and sexual relations in marriage all have their place in maintaining appropriate spiritual equilibrium that keeps us from being knocked off balance by Satan.

For example, a sleepless person is more vulnerable to the satanic attack of depression and impatience. A person who goes for a long time without food may be vulnerable to the temptations of gorging or stealing or irritability.

In the ordinary course of life, God’s design for the human body has spiritual implications as well as physical ones, which means that the first thing to say about our sex lives is not that it interferes with our prayer lives, but that it may provide protection from satanic attack against our prayer lives.

A satisfied sexual pattern in marriage may free the mind for prayer and triumph over temptations to adultery or other kinds of sexual sin. Of course, I should say in passing (he didn’t ask this) that God has other strategies of purity and glorifying him for people with unsatisfactory sexual lives in marriage.

We got a question, I know in this recent batch, from a man who said, “We haven’t had sex for five years.” God has a special grace for that. Single people who must read this text and say, “That’s not helpful. A regular pattern of sexual relations will protect you from the devil? I’d like that.” But God has other glorious gifts for people who don’t have this particular gift.

Sex and Prayer

What about Matt’s question? His question was “How do our sex lives interfere with our prayer lives?” You can see that’s not the way I would ask the question, but it is an understandable way of putting the question since Paul says, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

I think Matt is on the right track in suggesting that Paul sees this as a kind of fasting, not from food, but from the ordinary pleasures of sex. The point of fasting is to say in a more intensified way with our bodies that we as a couple, a married couple, are deeply earnest in what we are seeking God for in our prayer.

In essence, we’re saying we abstain from sexual pleasures for a season in order to pray and to show with our body’s denial how desperate we are for an answer to this prayer. I think that’s where Matt was going in his suggested solution, and I think he’s right.

There’s another take on it.

The abstinence may be less planned than that and simply a response to some terrible news that we got. For example, you and your spouse may be planning a special evening that might climax in sexual relations. You’re looking forward to it, and you get a phone call about the injury of your child in another state, say, a college student. Or you hear of some deep marital difficulty in some friend. You get a call, a desperate call, and you just don’t have the emotional and physical wherewithal to pursue intimacy that night. You just give yourself to prayer for your child or for your friend.

Either way, planned or unplanned, the point is not that sex is evil or that it is a hindrance to the ordinary life of prayer. The point is that every legitimate pleasure we enjoy may be given up for a season to underline our intensity or desire for answered prayer or to show our emotional empathy for someone who is suffering.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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We get a steady stream of questions from mothers of young kids, like this one from a listener named Beth. “Dear Pastor John, my husband and I are new parents to a two-month-old son. Caring for him has been joyful and exhausting. I can barely concentrate on anything I used to but need the Lord more than ever to sustain me. What counsel do you give to new mothers on continuing their walk with God?”

Soul Care for Exhausted Young Mothers

I am not a mother, never have been, but I lived with one for 47 years. I still live with one, and I watched her be a young mother with five children: four of them born into the family, one carried into the family at eight weeks. And I do try to read my Bible with an eye to what is helpful for moms and dads and everybody else. So, here are a few pieces of counsel from experience and from the word. And they may not be the most important, but they are off my prayerful front burner.

Seek God

Soul Care for Exhausted Young MothersNever lose sight, Beth, never lose sight of the fact that your walk with God is as essential for the good of your child as is your milk or the formula that you may be giving him. Children do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). If you lose your communion with God, you will lose not only a source of strength for the sake of parenting, but you will lose the very thing you want most to impart to this child.

And you want him to know God more than you want him to live. You want him to taste and see that God will be sufficient to meet all of his needs, including his needs for his own parenting. And if you lose God while parenting, the very thing you want to give him most you have lost. So, that is how important it is for you to fight for whatever it takes to maintain a sweet, growing, satisfying walk with your God.

Discipline Well

Don’t let this little boy become a little emperor. I see far too many parents who are dominated by their children: out of control on airplanes, out of control in restaurants, out of control in the mall. All the trouble that these parents have spared themselves at home by not disciplining comes back on their own heads in public.

It will come back with a vengeance on their children’s heads later in life. Children are designed, intended by God to be submissive and to be obedient to their parents. They are not intended to dominate the house, dominate relationships, dominate when company comes over. And it is important for them to learn this early, because if they think they are the center of the world, it will be hard to break them of this destructive illusion later on.

Practically, that means that the child doesn’t so rule your schedule that you don’t have time for what you need to do for your own soul. He does not need your ever-present attention. You can show him lavish attention and provide him with all the affection and touch he needs without training him that you have to respond every time he has a peep in his crib.

God loves us lavishly, and as part of that love he makes sure we know we are not the center of the universe. That is what love does. Let your child become secure not in your ever-present hovering, but in the certainty that you always return in love.

Worship Without Ceasing

Turn all your practical mothering into worship. Make the food, change the diapers, push the stroller, “whatever you do, whether you eat or drink” — or play peek-a-boo with your baby — “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And that means, I think, practically, as you are doing it, all these things, hundreds of them:

  1. Depend upon the sustaining, empowering, guiding grace of God.
  2. Give thanks for all the blessings of this child and your strength to care for it.
  3. Be amazed at the miracle that he is and what he is becoming, and turn your amazement into praise.
  4. When you become irritable, confess it: the worship of confession. Confess it and honor God with your confession and your reception of his promised forgiveness. And constantly pray, pray, pray, pray for whatever you need. That is how you make your days an act of worship. And then there may not be in your mind such a huge gulf between tending to your child and tending to your soul.

The Role of Church

Stay in church and be involved with other people. Beware of withdrawing into solitude with the child. You need other people. The Bible makes that plain, especially in 1 Corinthians 12. And that need doesn’t go away just because children come into the house. So, strap that baby on and be out and doing with other people — especially be in worship and be in fellowship around God’s word.

I can remember 44 years ago with our first child born in Germany. As soon as we brought that chubby little beached whale home and tried to learn how to be parents, as soon as we got him home, we went straight to our Friday night small group meeting which we did every Friday night while we are in Germany.

It was our lifeline, because our church life wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be. But we had a small group. So, we would get there early in the evening. The baby would have already eaten or we would feed him there while everybody else was eating. Then, when it was time to study and pray, we would lay him down, tummy down, on a double bed, put a pillow on four sides of him, pat his bottom, walk out of the room, and leave him there for the next three hours.

And then, we would take the bus home — we had no car in Germany — and put him to bed at home at 11:00, and he never woke up between 7 o’clock in the morning usually or, if he was very young, yes, he would have to wake up and eat for a while. So, don’t let the baby slow you down. Do what you need to do for your own souls.

Share Diaper Changes

Negotiate with your husband to take turns in getting up in the middle of the night. He should know you need sleep as much as he does. God’s ideal for child-rearing is two parents. There is a reason for that. So, tell your husband that I said he should help you. Make room in your schedule not only for rest, but also for reading.

And that leads me to the last thing I want to say. Read Bible-saturated books. And the most Bible-saturated book is the Bible. But read others as well, maybe audiobooks while you are working. And the reason is this: The book of Proverbs begins, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). Your responsibility is to pour glorious, wonderful teaching about God and his ways and his world into the mind of this little child. So, don’t fail the child by failing to read and grow in what you need to teach him about God and about life.

So, I pray that the Lord will give you the strength and the wisdom that you need to take up this, perhaps, greatest-of-all tasks: raising this child in the nurture and discipline of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Should Patriotism Have a Place in Church?

We will soon celebrate July 4th, Independence Day as it’s known for us in the States. And the day itself raises questions about national loyalty for those of us who are strangers, exiles, aliens, and pilgrims on this earth. “Pilgrims and Patriots,” that was our topic back in a past year, in episode 378. But this year we will take a closer look at patriotism in the local church, and the time seems right to pick up an important email from a pastor named Scott who writes: “Pastor John, are there any acceptable displays of patriotism in a church service? I was brought up in a very conservative and patriotic background in which every patriotic holiday was celebrated in a Sunday church service, including Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, the anniversary of 9/11, etc. Elements like pledging the flag and singing patriotic songs were heavily used. Is this okay? I pastor a church that has a history of this, but it makes me uncomfortable.”

Should Patriotism Have a Place in Church?Scott, I have been in several churches recently — not just growing up especially in the South I am thinking, because that is just my experience — where on the Fourth of July the focus on the branches of the armed forces seemed to me uninformed, unshaped by the radical nature of the gospel, and out of proportion to the relationship between America and the kingdom of Christ.

I share your discomfort. Indeed, it is more than discomfort, I think. There are real biblical principles at stake, and so it will be helpful, I think, to face those principles, and then we will see if there is time to deal with practical transition issues in a church. So, let me say a word about principles.

United with Christ

When we are born again, we are united to Christ, our King, and we are delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God so that now it can be said with glorious and profound reality, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

Therefore, wherever we live on earth, whatever country, whatever tribe, whatever family or clan, we are pilgrims, sojourners, refugees, exiles in all of those. Our first identity is with the King of the universe, not any country or nationality or political party or governmental regime.

America is emphatically not our primary home or primary identity. That should be spoken. It should be felt and it should be precious. We should never be ashamed of identifying, first and foremost, as citizens of the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of heaven.

Our Ultimate Allegiance

Jesus Christ, therefore, is our absolute Lord. We swear absolute allegiance to him and to no one and nothing else. All other commitments are relativized. To be sure, citizens should submit to the laws of their government. Employees should submit to the rules of the employer. Wives should submit to husbands. Children should submit to parents. Church members should submit to the elders of the church.

But none of these commitments of submission is absolute. All of those authorities are subordinate and secondary to the authority of Christ and, therefore, all submission is qualified. Written over every commitment for the Christian is: unless Jesus commands otherwise.

Therefore, there is no unqualified allegiance to any political party, any nationality, any ethnicity, any tribal identity, or any branch of the armed service. It is all qualified. It is all secondary. It is all relative to the will of Christ. We should not say anything or do anything that looks as if that were not true.

Sunday Worship

Therefore, the question of what to do when the people of God are gathered to worship Jesus Christ on the Lord’s Day is not merely a question of whether a particular act is permissible in general with all of those qualifications that I just mentioned, but whether it belongs in a worship service, where the focus is on the absolute lordship of Jesus and worshiping and praising and honoring him. My own opinion is that any pledge of allegiance — like the one to the American flag — does not belong in a worship service that is called to the highlighting of the absolute allegiance that we have to Jesus, even though the pledge says that the nation is “under God.”

Nevertheless, what is being highlighted and foregrounded is an earthly allegiance. And the recitation of a pledge to a human authority in the setting of the worship of divine authority does not provide for the kind of Christian qualifications and nuances that are so necessary precisely in our day.

Giving Thanks

Whenever Christians pay tribute to earthly blessings like American freedoms, which are wonderful, and the sacrifices made to have them and the people who made those sacrifices, the emphasis should be on humble thankfulness to God who is great and in his great mercy has given us what we don’t deserve.

When he gave them, we didn’t deserve them. We don’t deserve them at this moment that we are enjoying them and, therefore, words and songs should have no triumphalist or assertive tone, especially not for any military expression, but, rather, should have a feel of humility and lowliness and dependence and thankfulness along with a suitable call to repentance and need for ongoing mercy.

Champion the Gospel

And the last thing I would say in and over everything we do and say in our worship services, especially the ones that give thanks for American blessings and privileges, there should be the dominant expression of the work of Jesus Christ, the gospel, to forgive American sins and American sinners like us and a call to make Jesus supreme in this particular service we are in and over the hearts of the people and over the land.

Now, those are some of the biblical principles that I think should shape our expressions of thankfulness for America in worship. And I realize I am out of time and I haven’t even touched on what is probably this pastor’s most painful situation is, I have inherited a church where things don’t seem to be in proper proportion and I would like some practical help. And so I am going to do that in another Ask Pastor John episode.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Caiaphas, the high priest that year, must have been fit to be tied.

Well, somewhat so.

As you will hear in this PODCAST, it was Passover. The Holy City, Jerusalem, was teaming with pilgrims. The all-important 3:00 PM Passover sacrifice at the Temple was fast-approaching.

It was arguably the single most financially-flourishing day of the year (second only, perhaps, to the Day of Atonement) as far as the corrupt Temple Industrial Complex over which Caiaphas presided was concerned. There was money to be made this day. Lots and lots of money.

But the heavens seemed to conspire against Caiaphas.

Of all the luck (bad luck indeed), a most-rare, hauntingly-eerie atmospheric anomaly threatened to diminish severely Caiaphas’ shady haul of ill-gotten shekels.

At 12 PM, high noon, a mere three hours before the afternoon sacrifice, the sky turned ominously dark. If it stayed that way, there would be no 3 PM Passover Lamb sacrificed that day.

Well, according to Matthew 27 — Read ’em and weep, Caiaphas  “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until 3 o’clock.”

A darkness that drove everyone away from the cross as they scrambled for shelter from the encroaching gloom of that midday blackness.

Coincidence? No way!

Now there would be no Passover Lamb sacrificed at 3 PM on this day.

Or would there?

Now, over the past couple of weeks, we have been going over the final seven sayings that Jesus uttered before dying on His cross, becoming the singular atoning sacrifice for our sins.

This week, we pick up the story at 3:00.   The darkness that was so thick you could feel it had lifted. Once the sky began to clear, the soldiers returned to the cross in order to check on their prisoners. And, it was at 3:00 that Jesus made His final three statements… one right after the other.

Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

Imagine it… while Jesus was on earth, He continually and consistently offered proof of His deity. Even Pilate, upon sentencing Jesus, admitted that there was no fault to be found in Him. Jesus healed people, rose people from the dead, calmed storms, walked on water, cast demons out of people, and so much more. In fact, so many things that John put it this way:

There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books. (John 21:25)

…and Jesus did all that in a mere 3½ years.

Yet, now… up on that cross… Jesus – the Creator of the Universe – was thirsty. Really?

Really.

Because, remember, while Jesus was 100% God, He was also just like us. When He was born, He was a baby who needed to be wrapped in swaddling clothes. As a boy, Scripture tells us that He grew in wisdom and in stature. As a man, He got tired and needed rest. He got hungry. He became emotionally drained. He slept. He wept. He prayed. He rejoiced. He groaned. He sweat. And He bled… oh, did He bleed! And, in John 19:28, we read that Jesus was parched.

Therefore, it was necessary for Him to be made in every respect like us, His brothers and sisters, so that He could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then He could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

Just like any of us would be, Jesus was dehydrated. And, considering His beating, the amount He bled, the march to Golgotha, the parading from trial to trial that all preceded this moment… “thirsty” was an understatement.

Yet, even in expressing His incredible thirst, we see further proof of His selfless love for the world.

It wasn’t until after He prayed for His executioners (Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing); after He saved the soul of the repentant thief on the cross (today you will be with me in paradise); after He had arranged for the care of His earthly mother by John; after He paid the penalty for your sins and mine; after He had completed His redemptive mission… only after all that did Jesus finally say anything in reference to Himself or His own needs.

A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. (John 19:29)

And all of this – even Jesus’ thirst – fulfilled prophesy.

15 My throat is as dry as dust,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have left me for dead in the dust.

16 An evil gang is around me;
    like a pack of dogs they close in on me;
    they tear at my hands and feet.
17 All my bones can be seen.
    My enemies look at me and stare.
18 They gamble for my clothes
    and divide them among themselves. (Psalm 22:15-18) 

If only one person would show some pity;
    if only one would turn and comfort me.
21 
But instead, they give me poison for food;
    they offer me sour wine for my thirst. (Psalm 69:20-21)

These are just a couple of dozens upon dozens of prophesies about Jesus’ betrayal, trials, and crucifixion that were written more than 400 years before Jesus was even born.

And, after mustering up enough strength to fulfill this final prophesy from the cross:

It is finished

Image: Angie Radillo

When Jesus had tasted it, He said, “It is finished!” Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30)

And, when Jesus said “It is finished”, it was finished then, afterward, today, and forever!

But, what was finished?

On the surface, Jesus’ physical sufferings were finally finished.

And the same goes for our own suffering.

Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18)

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Additionally, Jesus’ personal, earthly mission was finished.

For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost. (Luke 19:10)

However, now that He has resurrected, thankfully, Jesus continues to seek and save people all over the world, just as He seeks after you and me!

All this to say, there would, in fact, be one Passover Lamb sacrificed that day at 3:00pm.

Unlike those other high priests, Jesus does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when He offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. (Hebrews 7:27)

Once for all… it is finished.

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—Jesus entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever…

Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:12 & 28)

Once for all time and for all of us… It is finished.

Just as Jesus said.

Just as God, the Father said in Isaiah 44:21-22,

21 “Pay attention, O Jacob,
for you are my servant, O Israel.

I, the Lord, made you,

and I will not forget you.

22 I have swept away your sins like a cloud.

I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.

Oh, return to me,

for I have paid the price to set you free.”

23 Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done this wondrous thing.
Shout for joy, O depths of the earth!

Break into song,

O mountains and forests and every tree!

For the Lord has redeemed Jacob

and is glorified in Israel.

 Likewise, He has redeemed YOU. He has wiped away our sins. When we repent, He does not remember them, nor should we.

It is finished.

Which brings us to Jesus’ final statement from the cross:

“Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Now, when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He asked that His Father would allow the cup of God’s wrath to pass from Him. Yet, the Father said, “No. You must drink it.” So, don’t take it lightly how God answered Jesus’ final prayer from the cross, asking His Father to take His spirit.

We discover the answer to this question in Acts 7, during the stoning of Stephen – the first of thousands of people throughout Church history to lay their lives down for Jesus.

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”…

59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. (Acts 7:54-60)

There was Jesus, with His prayer answered, His spirit committed to His Father, standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Stephen saw the same thing that, God willing, you and I will someday see.

All because there was a sacrifice on that day some 2,000 years ago at 3:00 PM. THE sacrifice – One and Once for all. The Sacrifice that Paul would refer to as our Passover Lamb.

Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. (1 Corinthians 5:7)

It. Is. Finished.

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“Jesus said…”

Welcome back to the foot of the cross.

In this PODCAST, we are now in that six-hour window of time — between 9 AM and 3 PM.

9 AM when the Romans nailed Jesus to His cross; 3 PM, that moment when Jesus finally succumbed to His brutal beatings, His massive blood loss, and the tortures of crucifixion — finally and mercifully to die.

Within that six-hour window, Jesus spoke seven times. The final words of His earthly life pre-resurrection. As we noted last week, a complete, seven-sayings, last lingering look into Jesus’ beautiful, sizable, and irresistible soul.

The first two of these sayings we discussed last week.

We’ll consider the middle two now.

And the final three we’ll explain next week.

Let me give you a heads-up. Get yourself ready for a rollercoaster of a ride tonight. This because the first of the two that we consider now is without a doubt the most emotional of the seven. I dare say, this may well be the single most emotional scene in the entire Bible. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The second of the two statements that we consider now is equally without a doubt the most dramatic of the seven. I dare say, this is the single most dramatic scene in the entire Bible. No question about that.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw His mother standing there beside the disciple He loved, He said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.”27 And He said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.  (John 19:25-27)

“The disciple He loved” was John, who always wrote about himself in third person. And with these words, Jesus said goodbye to His precious and beloved mom.

Now, keep in mind that Mary, Jesus’ mother, had other siblings. However, during Jesus’ years of ministry, His brothers did not believe in Him as the Messiah, the Son of God. Nor were they there at His crucifixion.

We read in John 7:5,

For even his brothers didn’t believe in Him.

Yet, after the resurrection, we know that Jesus appeared to His brother James.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

And we know that Mary, Jesus’ brothers and the apostles were there, creating the early Church, after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.

They went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:13-14)

But, as we look at Jesus’ dying moments at the cross, none of His brothers believed in Him and all had abandoned Him, leaving Mary there with Jesus’ apostle John. She was a broken hearted mother in need of someone to care for her. And Jesus knew this. Jesus knew that, while she was blessed, her blessing came at a great price.

Now, when we look at the four Gospels, Matthew presents the picture of Jesus as King; Mark presents Jesus as a Servant; Luke presents Jesus as a man; and John presents Jesus as God. So, when John wrote Jesus’ words:

 “Dear woman, here is your son.”

John is revealing, in Jesus’ clearest language, that Jesus is Mary’s Savior – her Messiah – and yet Jesus knows that she is also His earthly mother and He cares for her as such. Her oldest son is dying. She is a widow, probably in her late-40’s, and Jesus literally stopped dying long enough to take care of His mom by entrusting her to His beloved apostle, John.

I know that Peter and Paul get all the “headlines”, but I believe that John is the greatest unsung hero of the New Testament. Because, as we read:

And from then on this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:27)

What a remarkable man!My God why have you abandoned me?

Now, between Jesus saying these words to Mary and John – His third “saying from the cross” – and His next words, roughly three hours had passed. Three excruciating hours of Him hanging there on the cross, bleeding and suffocating. And after over 180 minutes of agonizing pain and suffering, Jesus exclaimed:

My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? (Matthew 27:46)

So, we have the Son, who would not abandon His mother, becoming the Son who was abandoned by His Father. This is not coincidental. But, contrary to what we may presume, this is anything but heartless on the part of God the Father.

I can assure you that God the Father felt Jesus’ pain deeply. You see, this is the break in relationship that lasted throughout all eternity – before our time began – up to this single moment.

John 1:1-2 tells us (albeit with a tough English translation that fails to offer the magnificence of intended meaning):

In the beginning was the Word [meaning Jesus], and the Word was face-to-face with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

We’re talking about an intimacy that exceeds anything human or even within our human comprehension. We don’t even have anything that compares with being “face-to-face with God”.

And at this moment, while Jesus was on the cross, this relationship was shattered.

Quite honestly, no human being can begin to empathize with Jesus at this moment, since no person has ever experienced the type of intimacy that Jesus and His Father experienced since the beginning. Even if you were to think of one person being completely devoted to another person and that person abandoning their loved one… this pain doesn’t even begin to approximate what the Son and the Father were feeling at that moment.

It’s almost as if, for those three hours from noon until 3:00, the Holy Trinity was shattered.

Yet, for those three anguishing hours, as Jesus endured the hellish torment that we sinners deserve, the Father mercifully allowed His Son to suffer that in complete privacy.

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)

This was not a solar eclipse. Full eclipses do not last three hours. There is a phenomenon that happens on very rare occasions in Israel, where the prevailing winds blow at just the right angle and kick up loess soil to the degree that it can literally blot out the light of the sun. This chalk-like soil is so coarse and so gritty that people run for cover when the winds kick it into the air, just so that they can breathe freely. So, assuming this is the phenomenon that took place at this moment, it is likely that many of the people at the foot of Jesus’ cross also ran away for those three hours.

All this to say, when this darkness fell across the land, it was an eerie darkness that everyone throughout Israel could feel.

It was a darkness that left Jesus to endure the penalty for the sins of all mankind completely alone.

This was a transaction held solely and privately between God the Father and God the Son.

This is why I say that Jesus’ words, ”My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” do not describe God the Father’s heartlessness, but the most heart-filled, selfless act of absolute love that the world has ever seen or will ever see!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

The moment when God gave us His Son is right here when Jesus cried out, ”My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?”

Understand this: God abandoned His only begotten Son so that He would never ever have to abandon YOU.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

For God made Christ, the one who had never sinned, to become sin for us, so that in Him, we could become right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

In that awful moment, Jesus literally became the human personification, the very embodiment, of sin. I’m talking about all the sins committed by every human that has ever and will ever live.

John, the master of metaphor said it best:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. (John 1:5)

Light is the one thing that absolutely cannot be tarnished. You can shine it through a smudged window and the imperfections of the window are revealed, but the light itself remains perfectly clean. So, we have the one Man, who throughout His entire life never knew any taint of darkness, and in this moment, Jesus became the living, breathing personification of sinful darkness.

For us.

And as much it pierced His very soul, God the Father had no choice in that moment but to abandon His Son to such an absolute degree that Jesus was forced to change the way that He even addressed His Father. Let’s go back to Jesus’ first statement from the cross:

“Father, forgive them…”

Then, here we read Jesus’ fourth statement from the cross:

“My God, my God! Why have you abandoned me?”

And, at that moment, in His solitary moment of taking on all the sins of mankind, Jesus paid the price for us all as well.

By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:3-4)

Did you notice the verb tenses Paul used in these verses? We WERE subject to God’s anger by our sinful nature, but God IS rich in mercy.

And, we know that Jesus was not abandoned forever. Even before Jesus drew His last breath, He returned to addressing God as His Father:

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

And with that, the Father and the Son were face-to-face, together again.

Having paid the penalty of our sins… Having satisfied God’s justice once and for all… Having taken a drink of that cup of God’s wrath that you and I deserve, “My God” blessedly became “His Father” once again.

Abandoned by God no longer, so that you and I would be abandoned by God never.

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Grief became a three letter word: God.

Grief became a three letter word: God.

McCartney Piper Lee Coleman was born on April 25, 2014 at 2:47a.m. She weighed 3.47 pounds. She died two days later on April 27th. “She was what I had prayed for my whole life,” says Angelique, her mother. “I always knew I wanted to be a mom and I wanted a daughter, and that’s what God gave to me … When McCartney died, the most important relationship in my life changed. Grief became a three letter word: God.”

As a child, Angelique had childlike faith and attended church with various friends. Baptized at nineteen, she found that her faith ebbed and flowed with the tides of adulthood. When Angelique became pregnant with McCartney, she and her husband were part of a Missional Community group at The Austin Stone Community Church. They were excited about God’s plan for them, but Angelique sensed something wasn’t right from the beginning. Thirty-three weeks into her pregnancy—after Angelique and her husband had bought a house, decorated the nursery, and picked out tiny tutus and Longhorn booties—Angelique began seeing spots in her vision.

She called the doctor. A few days later she had blood tests, and a few days after that, her doctor told her she had a condition called HELLPS, a life-threatening pregnancy complication. The only cure was delivery. While Angelique’s health was in jeopardy, nobody realized how much danger McCartney was in. Only after her death would they find out that their daughter had Trisomy 18, and that her little body had been infected by the bacillus virus. Two days after she was born, they lost her.

In their final moments with their daughter, Angelique and Matt stood by her crib and cheered, “Come on, baby girl, come on!” as nurses tried to revive her. Their efforts were in vain. As the Colemans held McCartney’s lifeless body and watched as blood trickled out of her nose and mouth, Matt asked, “What now?”

His words haunted Angelique in the days and months to follow. What now? Reminders of her lost baby surrounded her. Whether it was the diaper aisle at the grocery store, the clothes still hanging in McCartney’s closet, or recovery from her C-section, she was constantly reminded of her loss. She began to blog about her experience as a way to cope:
May 11, 2014: Everyone keeps saying that I’m so strong, but they don’t know that I am screaming “I hate you, God!!!” constantly in my head.
May 15, 2014: It feels like my whole body and soul are scratching at a way to be with her…
June 7, 2014: Sometimes the word “love” sneaks in my thoughts, but it feels like when you watch those movies or TV shows and the girl goes crawling back to the boyfriend that just gave her a black eye.

McCartney’s death changed Angelique’s faith. She had always known God was mighty, but his might had never affected her in such a painful way before. As time passed, Angelique was drawn into a deeper relationship with God. By the end of June, she was ready to stop cursing, questioning and yelling at him, and try talking to him again. She realized that prayer was not a way to get what she wanted, but a way to align her will with his.

Angelique and Matt did not walk this troubled road alone. Their community surrounded them from the moment they came home from the hospital. Family and friends were ever-­present. Their MC brought meals and prayed with them. “My MC leader texted me every single day—not just the first week or two, but for months. She pointed me to the truth, and sometimes I didn’t want to hear it, but she just kept asking how I was doing.”

September 15, 2014: Yesterday, we went back to church for the first time since we lost her … The words of each song appeared … I waited. I waited until the weight of the words was so much that I couldn’t help but throw my arms up. They didn’t lift up in praise. They lifted up in submission. They lifted up in surrender.

November 14, 2014: I’m pregnant … and I’m okay. Maybe God is giving me the serenity He knows I need.

God spoke to Angelique through worship, through prayer and through community to show her that she was never alone. He was there at the side of McCartney’s crib, and he was there in the long, dark months that followed. A year later, Angelique dealt with the anniversary of McCartney’s death with a maturity and grace that was born from pain and struggle.

April 27, 2015: We received an outpouring of love from friends and family … we were constantly reminded of how blessed we are and how surrounded we are by love and support. We’ve never been alone and she has not been forgotten … He has filled me with grace and peace.

There is hope, and above all, thankfulness—for her community, for her healing and for the faith that has brought her this far. Angelique now has an answer to Matt’s haunting question of “What now?” Now is community, now is healing, now is grace and peace.

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

 

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“Jesus said…”

As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, the fact of the matter is this: Jesus said seven statements, this as His life was literally dripping out of Him drop by precious drop. Each one of the seven — when considered separately — tells a most-dramatic tale. All of the seven — when considered collectively — give us an unparalleled insight into the heart of Jesus.

It was, after all, Jesus who much earlier in His ministry said this: “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (Matthew 12).

On yet another occasion, Luke 6, Jesus said, “What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

So if we want to know what is in Jesus’ heart, we need look no further than what Jesus said. His words.

And as we are about to learn, what Jesus said from the cross, in the closing moments of His storied life, reveals perhaps most clearly of all exactly what was in His sizable heart. What a beautiful heart His was and is.

So join me now at the foot of the cross as we hear for ourselves the final words of Jesus as His innocent and holy life comes to a violently calamitous close.

We read the first of Jesus’ parting words in Luke 23:33-34,It's God's very nature to forgive us when we repent

When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” 

The prophet Isaiah actually prophesied this moment some 700 years earlier in Isaiah 53:12,

…he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.

He bore the sins of many and prayed that they might be forgiven.

One thing that is abundantly clear here, and throughout Scripture is this undeniable fact: It is the very nature of God to forgive.

If we truly believed this, then we would be so much more able to lead effective Christian lives because by coming to terms with the fact that God’s nature is to forgive, we would be able to forgive ourselves! Satan is called The Accuser of our Brethren for good reason – he won’t let us ever forget all the stuff we have done that make us ashamed. Yet, when we repent, we are actually and completely forgiven, thanks to God’s great love! He will never reject our repentant hearts.

And the same is and was true for His only begotten Son… even on the cross.

But, to fully grasp what Jesus was praying for, let’s look at the context of that moment, starting way back in Matthew 12:14,

Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.

Then, we read in Mark 3:6,

the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.

And, in Luke 4:28-29, as Jesus was visiting His boyhood home of Nazareth, we read even more details about what the Pharisees needed forgiveness for, as they didn’t know what they were doing…

the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff

Then, in Luke 13:31, we read of some friendly Pharisees warning Jesus,

“Get away from here if you want to live! Herod Antipas wants to kill you!”

And, in John 8:58-59, we read this exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders:

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone himbut Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

There was Jesus, in His Father’s house, having to slip away undercover and go into hiding because the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him on the spot! But they wouldn’t stop…

Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. 32 Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?” (John 10:31-32)

And, in the following chapter, we read the continuation of the Pharisees’ pursuit of Jesus, chasing Him out of the Great City…

So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. 54 As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.

The point is, there were plots and plans laid out and initiated by the Jewish religious leaders, the Roman political leaders, committees and conspirators all with the aim of ambushing Jesus, arresting Him and killing Him throughout nearly His entire ministry, culminating to that terrible day we now call “Good Friday” when this happened while Jesus was being shuffled from one illegal trial to another:

Then the men who held Jesus made a great game of knocking him about. And they blindfolded him and asked him, “Now prophet, guess who hit you that time!” And that was only the beginning of the way they insulted him. (Luke 22:63-65)

Later that morning, we read what happened when Jesus was brought before Herod in Luke 23:11,

Then Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus.

Soon after Herod dismissed Him, we read what happened while Jesus was under Pilate’s watch,

Then Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, had Jesus flogged with a lead tipped whip. (John 19:1)

John didn’t need to go into detail of what Jesus endured at this moment, as he knew his readers were far too familiar with the brutality of a Roman flogging. But, the mocking and torture didn’t end there.

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. 29 They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. (Matthew 27:28-30)

Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). 18 There they nailed him to the cross. (John 19:16-18)

All that is the context within which Jesus hung there, praying to His Father, “Forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” After all that – years of trying to kill Him – Jesus still prayed that God would forgive them.

It is, and ever shall be, the heart of God to forgive. And this means to forgive YOU.

Never forget that in God’s kingdom, repentance is the “coin of the realm”.

So, all this begs a very important question: Did God, the Father, answer Jesus’ prayer and forgive all of those responsible for all of His torture and death?

Before answering this question, consider this: Jesus was not Biblically required to pray for the forgiveness of His tormentors, nor His executioners. In fact, previously, some very Godly men who endured far less than Jesus endured, did not pray for God to forgive their tormentors, but actually prayed for His wrath and vengeance against them. In fact, there is an entire genre of Psalms, referred to as Imprecatory Psalms, that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon the writer’s enemies or perceived enemies of God. Notable examples are Psalms 2, 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 83, 109, 137, 139, and 143. Obviously, this is not a short list, nor a slight blip on the Biblical radar.

Consider King David’s prayer in Psalm 69:22-

Let the bountiful table set before them become a snare
    and their prosperity become a trap.
23 
Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
    and make their bodies shake continually.
24 
Pour out your fury on them;
    consume them with your burning anger.
25 
Let their homes become desolate
    and their tents be deserted.
26 
To the one you have punished, they add insult to injury;
    they add to the pain of those you have hurt.
27 
Pile their sins up high,
    and don’t let them go free.
28 
Erase their names from the Book of Life;
    don’t let them be counted among the righteous.

That’s David’s – the “man after God’s own heart” – prayer regarding his enemies.

And these Imprecatory prayers are not isolated to the Psalms. Jeremiah, one of the Godliest men to ever walk the earth prayed:

“Lord, you know what’s happening to me.
Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors! (Jeremiah 15:15)

Jeremiah also prayed these words in regards to his tormentors:

Lord, you know all about their murderous plots against me.
Don’t forgive their crimes and blot out their sins.

Let them die before you.

Deal with them in your anger. (Jeremiah 18:23)

You may be thinking, “yeah, but, these are isolated cases within the Old Testament.” Let’s consider what Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians:

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

And know this… nowhere did God rebuke these or any other equally Godly men for their equally imprecatory prayers.

Yet, while Jeremiah, David and other very Godly men set examples for us to perhaps follow, Jesus did not follow their examples at all. Because, while Jesus was fully human, He is also fully God. And in this moment, in regards to this portion of His nature, He is nothing like us at all. It is in His nature to forgive!

That is amazing to me!

That is who He is, and it is what God does… again and again and again. He forgives in response to our repentance. So, if God can forgive those who tormented, beat and killed His only Son, then He can and most assuredly will forgive you and me.

Still, some might argue that when Jesus said, “Father forgive THEM for THEY don’t know what THEY are doing”, He was recognizing that while THEY were sinning, they were sinning in ignorance. They didn’t know any better. You and I, however, do not sin in ignorance. And because we sin with our eyes wide open, we are beyond Jesus’ prayer upon the cross.

I can’t put it any more clearly than RCH Lenski wrote:

“The sinning that is connected with the Passion of Jesus is so open, flagrant, deliberate, and so multiplied that everybody who was involved knew it. It is unwarranted to claim ignorance for these outrageous sins, or to think that Jesus supposed that ignorance was back of them. ‘What they are doing’ is defined in I Corinthians 2:8, namely this that they were crucifying the Lord of glory, or Acts 13:27, that they were fulfilling the prophets, or Acts 3:15-17, that they were killing the Prince of Life. It was this ignorance that Jesus referred to.”

Paul, who identified himself in present tense (not past tense) as the “chief of sinners… all to human, a slave to sin”, wrote this:

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8:31-34)

God is not against you! He is for you! He is your number one cheerleader! He hasn’t held back anything, but even surrendered His own Son for all of us! And Jesus, God’s risen Son still pleads for us today… He pleads that God would forgive us!

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 35-39)

If God can forgive Paul, who broke into homes and dragged fathers and husbands to be chained and thrown into prison for simply following Jesus. He even, on occasion, oversaw their executions, for the crime of being a Christ follower. If God can forgive Paul, He certainly can forgive you and me! And if Paul can be that certain, so can we!

We should cling to Paul’s words as inspiration and guiding principle:

Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:13-14)

In other words, Paul reached a point in his life where he realized that it was time to move on and not live in the past any longer. Because God is a God, first and foremost, of forgiveness in response to our repentance.

So, back to my earlier question: Did God answer Jesus’ prayer and forgive all those people who tormented and killed Him?

Well, we read in Acts 2, some 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter – the one who denied Jesus – stood up with thousands of Jewish pilgrims standing around him and said,

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”

37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away — all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day —about 3,000 in all. (Acts 2:36-41)

That… all that in answer to Jesus’ prayer.

In God’s Kingdom, repentance is the coin of the realm!

Then, just two chapters later, we read how the number of Christians nearly doubled in just a short time:

many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000. (Acts 4:4)

And, in Acts 6:7, we learn that this happened in Jerusalem:

So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

These are the people who belonged to the group who conspired to kill Jesus. Not long after His resurrection, they had become Christ-followers along with the thousands of others in Jerusalem!

All this was a direct answer to Jesus’ prayer on the cross.

But, what about the Romans who crucified Him?

I can’t speak for all of them, but the Bible does speak for some of them, particularly the ones who were at the foot of the cross… the ones who drove the nails into his hands and ankles:

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

They thought they were killing a criminal, then they realized that they had killed the Son of God. That’s repentance.

Then there were the criminals who were crucified alongside Jesus:

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” (Luke 23:39-42)

A criminal who saw the error of his ways and asked to be remembered by Jesus in HIS kingdom. That’s repentance.

Which brings us to Jesus’ second statement while on the cross. It comes as Jesus’ answer to the thief on the cross:

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

It is the heart of God to forgive.

It is His very nature.

As Psalm 51:17 tells us,

A broken and repentant heart, God will always forgive and will never reject.

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It is called, appropriately enough, the Via Dolorosa, Latin for “The Way of Sorrows.”

For Jesus, it absolutely was a way of sorrows — every single excruciatingly painful step of it, from the Antonia Fortress (where Pilate sentenced Him), to Golgotha (where Jesus’ execution awaited Him).

In this PODCAST, we will walk that path together.

It was what we call Good Friday. For the Jews, it was Preparation Day… not to prepare for the Passover, but for the Sabbath. It just happened, on this particular year, that Passover also happened to fall on that day. So, special preparations had to be made by 3:00 that Friday afternoon.

Now, before we move along, remember this: God created us with emotions. He wants us to feel. He is also a God of celebration. This is written throughout the Scriptures. And, the Bible tells us repeatedly that He is a God of contemplation.

And, in my humble opinion, true contemplation is a lost art amongst most 21st century evangelical Christians.

When you think of it, contemplation and celebration are the two sides of the same coin that we call “worship”.

The same God who said:

Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with timbrel and harp. (Psalm 149:3)

Also said:

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Celebration and contemplation.

For fear of swaying too far in one direction or another, many churches today tend to sway… well, toward one direction or another. But as Jesus said, we should worship in truth and in spirit.

God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

Jesus Walks the Way of Sorrows

Image: Speed the Light

Therefore, as we trace the fourteen stations of the cross, along the route that Jesus took from his sentencing to His crucifixion, we should be both celebratory and contemplative in truth and in spirit. We should encounter an emotional experience as we literally or figuratively walk along the Via Dolorosa as if we were walking along with Him. Simultaneously, we should pause and contemplate what Jesus experienced every step of the way to His execution.

The first station is where Jesus was sentenced to die.

Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15)

I find it interesting that not a single one of the Gospel writers offered an explanation or a description of what Jesus’ flogging and crucifixion looked like.

They didn’t need to. Their readers knew all to well what that looked like.

The second station is where Jesus carried His own cross.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha in Latin, it is called Calvary).

Now, to be historically accurate, Jesus carried just the cross beam, not the entire “T” shaped cross. The post would have been waiting for him at Calvary. This cross beam probably weighed between 30-40 pounds. He was so weakened from blood loss, being flogged, beaten, and sleep deprived that He could hardly walk, let alone carry the beam on His lacerated back. Crucifixion, and the processional that took place before it, served as both a punishment and a deterrent for anyone even thinking about committing crimes against Rome. This is why the Via Dolorosa winds its way through the heart of the city to the hill outside the ancient city boundaries.

The third station of the cross reminds us of when Jesus fell for the first time along that road. This is actually one of the stations not mentioned specifically in the Gospels. However, given Jesus’ condition, along with Isaiah’s prophesy, it is a certainty that He stumbled at least once.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

Station number four: Jesus meets His heartbroken mother.

Like station three, this is not mentioned in the Gospels. However, we do know that Mary was indeed with Jesus at the cross, watching her firstborn son die, as John wrote:

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)

You may remember the prophesy Simeon offered 33 years or so earlier at Jesus birth:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

So, whether Mary encountered her son along the path to Golgotha, or only at the foot of the cross… either way, you can be sure that her heart shattered!

And station number four prompts us to contemplate her broken heart.

Station Five: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Matthew 27:32)

Cyrene was a region in North Africa with a large Jewish population at the time. It’s likely that he traveled to Jerusalem to make a pilgrimage for Passover. He was just an innocent bystander who is now forever immortalized as a major player in the Greatest Story Ever Told.

I find it interesting that Mark dives a little deeper into Simon’s identity, listing his sons Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21). We read about Rufus in Romans when Paul offered this:

Greet Rufus, that special servant of the Lord (Romans 16:13)

It’s entirely possible that Simon’s son came to his faith in Christ due to his father’s experience of carrying Jesus’ cross.

The sixth station is where Veronica wiped the blood off of Jesus’ face.

The story of Veronica is celebrated at Catholic and Protestant churches across the globe, yet it also is not mentioned in any of the Gospels. Early church tradition identifies her as Veronica of Caesarea Philippi, way up north at the base of Mount Hermon. According to tradition, she offered her veil to Jesus and He wiped the blood from His face on it and the image of His face miraculously was transferred in His blood onto what we call today the Veil of Veronica. I find it interesting that the name Veronica is a compound name, and is half Latin (Vera, which means “true”) and half Greek (Icon, which means “image”).

Now, whether or not this moment actually occurred, Isaiah 53 still tells us for certain:

He was hated and rejected;
his life was filled with sorrow
    and terrible suffering…

He suffered and endured
    great pain for us…

He was wounded and crushed
    because of our sins;
by taking our punishment,
    he made us completely well…

He was painfully abused,
    but he did not complain.

He was condemned to death
    without a fair trial.
Who could have imagined
    what would happen to him?
His life was taken away
because of the sinful things
    my people had done.
He wasn’t dishonest or violent,
but he was buried in a tomb
    of cruel and rich people.

10 The Lord decided his servant
    would suffer as a sacrifice
to take away the sin
    and guilt of others. (Isaiah 53:3-10)

Station seven commemorates Jesus falling a second time. While this also is not chronicled in the Gospels, I am certain that Jesus stumbled several times. Why else would they compel someone else to carry His cross? Jesus knew and even prayed the Psalms. I wonder if, while Jesus tread down the Via Dolorosa, He prayed the words of Psalm 38:

I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart. (Psalm 38:6-8)

Station eight marks where Jesus consoled the women of Jerusalem. This is written about in Luke 23,

A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:27-31)

In other words, if this is how the Romans will treat an innocent, living Tree, how will they treat a dying nation? (as will happen in AD 70)

At station nine, Jesus falls for the third time. This is the final station which is not specifically mentioned in the Gospels. Once again, I think about Psalm 38 with contemplation:

My heart beats wildly, my strength fails…

I am waiting for you, O Lord.
You must answer for me, O Lord my God.

16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me

or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
facing constant pain.
(Psalm 38:10-17)

At station ten, Jesus is stripped of His garments.

Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:

“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”
(Matthew 27:35)

Yes, crucifixion victims were always killed naked and exposed. The purpose was to humiliate them in every way possible.

Station eleven marks when Jesus was physically nailed to the cross.

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. (Luke 23:33)

In Mark’s Gospel, he marks this time as 9:00am.

And, with due respect to the honored hymn “The Old Rugged Cross”, Jesus was not crucified at the top of a hill, but at the foot of the hill, at eye level for everyone to see. The Romans wanted their subjects to look into the eyes of the people they knew and loved as they died. And typically, it would take a process lasting three whole days before the victim actually died from crucifixion, unless the Romans took pity on them (or merely wanted to expedite the process) and broke their legs so that they could not lift themselves to breathe, thus suffocating them on the cross.

At station twelve, Jesus dies.

The time of the day was 3:00pm, the same time of the Temple Sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. However, on this one particular Passover, no lamb was sacrificed at the Temple because the skies and the Temple turned completely pitch dark from noon until 3:00 that day. There was also a city-rocking earthquake that afternoon which put a halt to nearly everything.

Instead, for all mankind, THE Sacrificial Lamb was slain not at the Temple, but at Calvary.

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” 48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.

49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split (Matthew 27:46-51)

It was there, on the cross, that Jesus died unlike most crucifixion victims. He didn’t bleed out, nor did He suffocate. He literally died of a ruptured heart.

But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water poured out. (John 19:34)

Today, we know that blood and water pouring out such as this is post-mortem evidence that Jesus died of a ruptured heart muscle. The pericardium surrounding the heart was punctured by the tip of the centurion’s spear, causing what appeared to be blood and water to pour out from Jesus’ body.

He died of a broken heart. Literally.

Which brings us to station 13 when Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross.

Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs….

36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled :“Not one of his bones will be broken,” (John 19:31-36)

And finally, station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.) 44 Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. 45 The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. 46 Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. (Mark 15:43-46)

All of this happened on Friday.

But, Sunday’s coming!

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