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FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
 

FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL

LESSONS FROM LAMENTATIONS
(Part 5)

CHRIST AND THE CROSS


It is Good Friday. Today is Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Could our salvation and reconciliation with God not be secured by some other way? The answer is no.

“According to the law almost everything is purified by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb 9:22). “Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement.” (Lv 17:11). Thus, in accordance with the Old Covenant, an animal was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the offeror. Blood had to be shed.

Since our sins are against God Himself, what had to be sacrificed was a lamb without blemish. But only God Himself is perfectly pure. So His very own Son became the sacrificial lamb. Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

There is another reason why Jesus went to the cross. This one is less theological but more practical. Jesus showed the way to enduring suffering and affliction, which all of us can expect to experience in the world. There is a very important aspect to suffering that has to do with the very salvation of the world. God wanted to teach us something.
How was it with Jesus himself? “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 8-9).

Here we see an important progression:

Suffering > obedience > perfection > salvation

We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We are children of God, as Jesus was His Son. We are to be used as His instruments of salvation, as Jesus was the very Savior. We are to carry our crosses, as Jesus did. We are to die to self, as Jesus died for us.

God offered His own Son on the cross. Since we are His children whom He loves, God allows affliction, “for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” (Heb 12:6). If not, then we are not sons but bastards (Heb 12:7-8). God offered Jesus for our benefit. God disciplines us also for our benefit, “in order that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:10b). For what purpose? For us to receive “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11).

So there will be suffering in life. Affliction and crosses purify us. They make us cling to God more. We learn obedience to His divine will. When we obey and walk in His ways, we will grow in holiness. We move to become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). As we grow in holiness, as we become more like Jesus, we strengthen our witness and we receive greater anointing by the Spirit. We become God’s instruments to evangelize, to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus to all.

This is the process by which Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross will bring salvation to the world.

Today’s readings have much to teach us. We turn now to the lessons God gave us two years ago. Here again is the reflection offered in 2007 (From the book “Forty Days of Lamentations”).

* * *

Day 39
Good Friday
Jesus as the Model for our Lamentations

“You are my rock and my fortress”
(Psalm 31:4a)

April 6
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 31:2-25
Hebrews 4:14-5:9
John 18:1-19:42

It is Good Friday.

Today we celebrate the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 18:1-19:42). Jesus’ death and resurrection are what have won for us our salvation. They are at the very core of our covenant with God as Christians. They also point us to the spirituality we live and the gospel we proclaim. It is the spirituality and gospel of the cross. It is the spirituality of Lamentations, where in our sorrow is already the seed of hope and joy.

A spirituality of the cross is not easy. In fact, it is very difficult to live. This is one reason why we need to be always focused on Jesus. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” (Hb 4:15). Jesus has gone through it all. He has suffered terribly. In the light of his passion and death, our own sufferings are very small. In addition, Jesus understands our lamentations. He sympathizes with our weaknesses and failures. “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hb 4:16). God’s grace is abundant. His mercies are not exhausted. His help is always available.

Jesus is our model in relating to the Father in our lamentations. “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (Hb 5:7). Jesus as fully human agonized during his passion, and looked to God for help and deliverance. And he was heard. And he learned the lessons of Lamentations. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hb 5:8). Our deliverance and restoration lie in our obedience to God. And because of Jesus’ reverence and obedience, “when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hb 5:9). When we in turn obey Jesus, then we will experience restoration and enjoy eternal salvation.

What suffering did Jesus have to endure? Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the fourth and last of the “Servant of the Lord” oracles. It is prophecy perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is an extraordinary description of the suffering Servant who atones for the collective guilt of his people and saves them from the just punishment of God.

Over and over, Isaiah speaks about how Jesus suffered for our sins.

  • “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured” (Is 53:4a).
  • “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” (Is 53:5a).
  • “Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” (Is 53:5b)
  • “But the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.” (Is 53:6b)
  • “Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away, ….. he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people” (Is 53:8).
  • “But the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity. ….. he gives his life as an offering for sin” (Is 53:10).
  • “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” (Is 53:11b)
  • “And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.” (Is 53:12c)

Extraordinary! Inscrutable! God Himself has suffered and died for my sins! How can I not offer Him my life in return? How can I hold anything back from Him? My only vocation in life should be to ensure that God’s “servant shall prosper, (that) he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.” (Is 52:13). Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. “So shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless” (Is 52:15a). I can only commit my whole life to proclaiming His glory among the nations, so that “those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it” (Is 52:15b).

Jesus himself was in lamentations, but this gave us hope and joy.

Because of what Jesus has done for us, and what he continues to want to do for us, what now is he to us? Who is he? Jesus is:

  • Our refuge, in whom we can never be put to shame (Ps 31:2).
  • Our rock of refuge and our stronghold, through whom we are saved (Ps 31:3).
  • Our rock and our fortress, who leads and guides us (Ps 31:4).
  • Our refuge, who frees us from the snare (Ps 31:5).
  • Our faithful God, who redeems us (Ps 31:6b).

As Jesus is all that, the only reasonable response we can have to him is:

  • To place the totality of our being, our very well-being, into his hands (Ps 31:6a).
  • To trust in him (Ps 31:7b,15).
  • To rejoice and be glad in his love (Ps 31:8a).

Finally, it is appropriate to acknowledge who Jesus is and what he does for us. Let us praise him and proclaim him to the whole world.

  • “You are my rock and my fortress” (Ps 31:4a).
  • “You are my refuge” (Ps 31:5b).
  • You are “Lord, faithful God” (Ps 31:6b).
  • “You are my God.” (Ps 31:15)
  • “How great is your goodness, Lord” (Ps 31:20).
  • “Blessed be the Lord, who has shown me wondrous love” (Ps 31:22).

Jesus suffered and went to the cross. We are to follow in his steps. We too are to take up our cross. But even as our crosses in life bring us to lamentations, we know where we truly are going. Jesus has gone before us. Jesus has shown us the way. Jesus knows what our pains, fears and tears are all about.

We know the extent of God’s love for us. The Father’s love took human form in Jesus. And Jesus shed his precious blood to seal our covenant. And even now, Jesus walks with us, and bears our yoke with us. We therefore can face life—with all its ups and downs, with all its pains and joys—with confidence. In God we trust. Jesus brings us victory, hope and joy.

* * *

The kind of God we have: The God who died for us.

Covenant response: Embrace the cross.

* * *

So our appropriate covenant response is to embrace the cross of Christ.

Why? It is God’s will. Through Jesus’ crucifixion, “the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him” (Is 53:10c). It is God’s way to bring forgiveness for our sins and our justification. “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” (Is 53:11b). It is God’s way to bring salvation and life to the world. “If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life” (Is 53:10b).

Thus, “the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.” (Is 53:10a).

It is simply God’s way. In His love for us, God treats us the same way.

So we embrace the cross, just as Jesus did. And our continuing work is to proclaim the cross of Christ, so that many others will benefit from Jesus’ salvific sacrifice.

Following is one of the many lessons of Lamentations that we need to learn, from the book “Forty Days of Lamentations.”

* * *

Lamentations 111 – We proclaim a gospel of the cross.
“we proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23a)

The gospel of prosperity is popular and attracts many because it caters to what people want—money, success, healing, romance, and so on. But while God certainly wants to bless His people and give them good things, this is not the true gospel. The authentic gospel is a gospel of the cross, and so “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23).

The gospel of the cross is the way to true discipleship. Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). Jesus goes further: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27). We do know that if we follow Jesus, then that path leads all the way to the cross.

But the cross of Christ is what brings salvation. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). The cross of Christ is what brings joy and glory. “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2b).

Let us then proclaim, “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14).

Our lesson: proclaim the gospel of the cross.

* * *

The cross of Christ is the very instrument of our salvation. This is a great mystery.
Jesus has already shown us the way. Let us acknowledge Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and always put our hope and trust in him.

“But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’”
(Psalm 31:15)


Good Friday
April 10, 2009

 

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