He didn’t have to do it. Whatever you read or listen to or think about on this Good Friday pertaining to the cross of our Lord, keep this in the forefront of your mind - He didn’t have to do it. As you enter into this day and your heart scrambles to deal with the emotions of remembering those awful hours of pain and darkness, make sure you remember this one outrageous fact - the cross was not a given. It was not inevitable. He could have said no and yet, He said yes.
I’m not saying there was any other way for us to be saved. The cross was our only hope. The Son of God paying for our wrong was the only way we could be forgiven. It was the only plan that could or would work, but it was not forced upon Him. It was not fate. It was not the cleverness of His enemies. It was not a trap. His hand was not forced. He could have stopped the motion of those dreadful wheels at any point and He didn’t, which means the cross was His choice.
He chose to go. He decided to endure the pain. He allowed Himself to be humiliated. He intended for this to happen. I guess you could say He wanted it. Yes, He did ask for this cup to pass from Him. He did ask the Father for another way, but when no other way could be found, He chose it, which means that however badly He did not want this, there was something in doing it that He wanted more. As F.B. Meyer said, “Whilst there was much that cried, “Back!” there was more that cried, “On!”
As you go through this Good Friday, remember Him and the cross He chose. Remember that He willingly endured everything for the joy set before Him. What could that joy be, if not His love for you? It was love. He didn’t have to do it, but He loved you and me. Every believer in Jesus can rightly say along with the Apostle Paul, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” - Galatians 2:20
I bet you sometimes feel really far away from God. Not only that, but I bet you think the distance is God’s way of showing you how unhappy He is with your behavior. In other words, you assume God punishes your sin by withholding Himself from you. The reason I know you sometimes feel this way is that I do too. We all do. Everyone goes through seasons of feeling really far away from God and we all naturally think this is a direct result of our wrong. The thing is, despite the way you feel, if you know Jesus, your sin will never separate you from the love of God ever again. The truth is, we used to be separated from God because of our wrong. We were all born that way, excluded from His fellowship like the Israelites of old who worshiped God knowing that they could never really approach Him. There was a special room in the temple where God’s presence was said to dwell and a giant curtain hung in front of the entrance to that room, keeping them separate from God. Only one person could go behind the curtain and only one day out of the whole year. Even then, this High Priest had to have the blood of a spotless substitute on his head, hands and feet. Jesus came and lived a perfect life and then laid that life down to be your Spotless Substitute. His perfect blood was shed to take you behind the curtain. In fact, before He died, that curtain ripped from top to bottom. You are no longer separated from God’s presence. No matter what you have done, you can be with God right now.
Springtime is amazing. It’s surprising. No matter how old I get or how many times I see it, I always love to watch the blossoming of new growth on the trees when winter gives way to spring. For months, the cold hard ground and gray skies have been silhouetted by the lonely bones of barren branches. The trees have been like skeletons sticking out of the earth, yearning for life. And then one day you see it: tiny, fragile, yellowish-green buds of new leaves start appearing as if by magic. Some trees have unbelievable blossoms that paint the landscape with pastel colors and some just start churning out green as if to proclaim the emergence of health and life.
It almost seems like a dead thing has come back to life again, and yet we know that’s not what happened. That tree wasn’t dead during the winter. It was always alive through the bitter and biting winds. It was drinking in the rain and waiting on the sun.
Do you ever feel like a winter tree? Does it ever seem as if you are empty and fruitless, exposed and just barely hanging onto your stiff patch of ground, waiting for the sun to shine? I know I’ve felt like that. Sometimes my heart feels cold and lifeless. Sometimes God feels as though He’s a million miles away. And yet, spring is around the corner. You see, we are like those trees. God has you planted right where He wants you. Even the cold winter rain is going down into your roots and giving you what you need to bloom. If you feel like a skeleton on the landscape, hang in there. Your spring is coming. The sun is going to make the gray sky blue and you are going to spin new leaves out into the open air. Keep digging your roots down deep into the Scriptures. Keep going to the Lord in His word and asking Him to nourish you, fill you and grow you. Your season is coming. You’re going to blossom and thrive.
“Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water - which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” - Psalm 1
I want you to answer a question in your own head without thinking about it. Just give your gut reaction as soon as you read the question. Ready? Here we go: who is the person you love most in the world? Is it your best friend? Is it your spouse or your child or your Great Aunt Liz or your German Shepherd, Roscoe? Who in your life just sets your heart on fire? Who is that person you are most devoted to and most excited to be with? Who is that person you’re crazy about, in spite of all their faults? Who is that person you would defend at all costs? Okay. Now picture them. Can you see their face in your mind’s eye and hear their voice and their laugh? Focus on that face you love and think about the way you feel about them. I want you to try something. Take your affection and commitment for that person and multiply it a million times. Multiply it a billion times. Imagine that huge love you have radiates with the eternal, explosive power of a trillion burning suns, no matter what that person does or who they become, forever and ever. Now, I want you to imagine what it would be like to be loved like that. What if Jesus loves you with that kind of intensity and constancy? He says you’re the apple of His eye. He says you enthrall Him. He says you are His chosen, His beloved, His friend. He says He’ll never forget you and never forsake you. What if you believed those words with all of your heart? What if His thoughts about you were the most precious thing in the world to you?
We worship Jesus together with singing because He tells us to do thing we might not have done on our own, but winds up being the thing we most need.
Every single one of us comes from different backgrounds and we all have different interests and preferences. When it comes to the feel and flow of a worship service, we all probably want different things. Some folks probably feel close to the Lord when they are hiking and some feel close to Him when they’re in a coffee shop with their journal open and their headphones in. None of that is bad. In fact, it’s great to find out the thing that helps you draw near to the Lord and max that out, but something else is needed for true worship. Sometimes, the things God wants you to do in worship are not the things you would have chosen and yet, the most worshipful thing is simply to do them anyway.
Some people may not like all the music and some people may not like the way the room is set up or the way Communion is handled, but God wants us here. The Lord wants us to be here with each other, praising Him together in spite of the fact that not everything is done our way. Jesus wants you here in a room full of people you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to be your friends and He wants you figure out what it means to love each other through the long, tough slog of life lived together. We sing to Him together to remind us we’re on the same team - that we’re in the foxhole together. These are your neighbors, your friends, your brothers and sisters. It’s more than just your church. It’s your family, and yes, that means all the funky, difficult and beautiful things that come with that term. We’re here because we need each other and we belong to each other.
Are you at peace and filled with a deep seated joy today, or full of anxiety? When you look at your self and your own heart, are you content, or shuddering and nervous? Do you know, right now, with absolute certainty where you stand with Jesus, or are you tense and worried, unsure about the way He sees you? People come to Jesus in one of two ways and the way you see your relationship with Him is completely dependent upon how you come to Him. People either come to Jesus as an employee ready to collect what they’ve earned or they come to Him as a charity case, ready to receive what He freely gives. Only one approach actually works, and yet most of us try them both from time to time. In Matthew 20, Jesus told a story about a landowner who hired people to work in His vineyard. Offering a certain amount of money, He hired some folks at dawn, some at mid morning, some at lunch, some in early afternoon and He even hired a few right before quitting time. At the end of the work day, He paid everyone the same. The people hired at dawn complained because they thought they should get more. The landowner said, “You got exactly what I offered you. You got exactly what you agreed to. So what if I’m generous to these others? This is my money.” When you approach Jesus like an employee, you’ll always wonder if you worked hard enough and you’ll be discontent with what He gives, but when you realize He just loves you for no reason, you accept everything as charity, which frees you up to just be satisfied, joyful and loved.