The Best, Worst Day

World-renowned evangelist, Billy Graham, once said, “Sin is the second most powerful force in the universe, for it sent, Jesus the Son of God, to the cross. Only one force is greater Ð the love of God.” That’s why some people call the day Jesus hung on the cross, the best, worst day ever. Most people call it Good Friday, but I call it “God’s Friday,” for on that day God the Father offered His Son Jesus in love to atone for the sins of the world and to reconcile a rebellious creation back to the heart of the Father.

So high hopes of the crowd sang Jesus’ praises the day that He entered Jerusalem’s gates on the back of a donkey. The people had seen Jesus cast out demons, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, even raise the dead. So they rejoiced: “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed be the one who ushers in the kingdom of our father, David.” They believed that Jesus was the anointed one of God, ushering in an age of peace and victory over enemies and unprecedented prosperity to elevate God’s people once again to power in the world. They had high expectations of the Messiah coming to them.

When Luke in chapter two announced Jesus’s birth, He had a sky full of angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all of God’s favor rests.” According to Isaiah chapter 9, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. As He is born to the creation, He brings peace to earth and favor from God.

But then, in the Gospel of Luke 19, when he’s talking about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, he says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Why is that change of location? Because now Jesus the Messiah comes for the very purpose He was born Ð to offer His life on the cross for the forgiveness of sins of the world and to be raised from the dead to give eternal life to all whom God loves. Jesus was coming to remove every barrier which divides humanity from God, so now God in heaven is at peace.

So the crowd rejoiced that day as Jesus rode the donkey’s back with their high expectations, but soon all would know the profound truth, the paradox, that Jesus would be a crucified Messiah. The events of passion week that followed that triumphant entrance into Jerusalem were significant. With the praises of the people still hanging in the air, Jesus went to the home of a religious leader. They had a little supper party, and a woman crashed the party. She anointed Jesus’ head with expensive perfume, wept at His feet, and dried His feet with her hair. She anointed Jesus as the King He is.

That very night Judas made a deal to betray Jesus to the religious leaders. In the Upper Room, Jesus shared what would be the Last Supper with His disciples in the Passover celebration. Many forget that Jesus’ crucifixion was in the context of Passover celebration. It remembers the Exodus event when God by ten plagues broke Pharaoh’s will and delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, leading them into the freedom of the wilderness, and then the promised land. The people were spared because they took the blood of the Lamb and smeared it on their doorposts as a sign of their faith that by the Llamb’s blood, they would be spared judgment. And so it is with Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, with drops of blood pouring from His forehead, asked His Father if there was any other way? “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss, and the soldiers arrest Him. The disciples all run for their lives in fear. They desert the Master. Peter, despite his bravado, denies Jesus three times, and on His trial Pilate, in an act of cowardice, abdicates justice, though multiple times he had said, “I find no guilt in this man.” He turns Him over to the whim of the crowd for fear of his life. The religious leaders had persuaded the crowd to scream, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Here is the paradox: How could God usher in His kingdom of life and love if the Son of God, the Messiah, is put to death on a cross? How can an infinite, eternal God die and still win? Well on that best, worst day ever, because of the cross, we learn a number of things that are wonderful news for us.

First, because Jesus was rejected by His people, deserted by His disciples, forsaken even by His Father, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Second, because of the cross, we know Jesus has born sin’s curse. He has taken sin’s condemnation on Himself. The Scripture says, “The one who hangs on the tree is cursed” (Gal. 3:13). Jesus was rejected, deserted, forsaken, condemned, even cursed in my place and in your place. Isaiah 53:6b tells us “the Lord God laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus has taken the curse on the cross. That’s why when John in Revelation 22 is painting a vision of the new Jerusalem with the glory of the Lamb’s light shining on all that are in the city, he describes a river of life flowing through that city and trees of life lining the river. Healing for the nations in the leaves of those trees. Then he says this simple statement: The curse has been removed. When Jesus, the Son of God went to the cross, He took the curse that we deserved on Himself.

Third, because of the cross of Jesus, we have unlimited, continual access to the very presence of a holy God. When Mark talks about Jesus’ baptism in chapter 1, he says, “As Jesus was baptized, the heavens split open and the dove descended, resting upon Jesus.” He is remembering the fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 64 where the prophet aches with the words, “Oh that you, God, would rend apart the heavens and come down.”

So, as Jesus is baptized, marking the beginning of His ministry as the Messiah on earth, ushering in that age of peace culminating in the cross and the resurrection, the heavens are split apart and the Spirit descends upon Jesus. It’s the same word in the Greek. It’s schizo, from which we derive the English word schizophrenia. The word means to tear apart, to rip, separate into two. At His baptism, Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. God is coming down to earth to rescue us.

Mark’s Gospel of the crucifixion account says, “When Jesus breathed his last, the veil in the temple was ripped apart” (15:33). It is the same word. The veil was torn apart and now all people have an open invitation into the very presence of the holiness of God.

Remember the story of Esther in the Old Testament with her husband, King Xerxes. The villainous Haman had made a law that on a certain day all Jews would be put to death. After three days of fasting and prayer, Esther appeared before the king’s throne, even though it was a law of the land that if you appeared uninvited before the king, you could be put to death unless the king extended his scepter to you. The king did extend his scepter, Esther revealed the plot, and God’s people were ultimately saved because of her courage. Likewise, Hebrews 4 tells us that Jesus is a high priest who understands all our weaknesses, yet He was perfect. So in the name of Jesus, we can boldly come before the throne of God to receive mercy and help in our time of need.

When Jesus went to the cross and the sacrifice was finished, He made it possible for all people forever who put their trust in Him to have access and relationship with God. The cross of Jesus also proves that He is in fact the Son of God. It seems like a paradox, but it’s true.

In the very first verse of his Gospel, Mark says, “The beginning of the story about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It is interesting that, in this account of Jesus’ life death and resurrection, the Son of God is not confessed by any man until the crucifixion when a foreigner, a Roman centurion in charge of His execution, watches Jesus die, watches Him pray to the Father, watches the courage with which He sacrifices His life, and then says, “Certainly this One was the Son of God.” The demons in Mark’s Gospel affirmed multiple times that Jesus is the Son of God. The Father affirmed at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my son whom I love. I am well pleased with him.”

The Father also affirmed Jesus’ deity on the Mount of Transfiguration with His disciples when Jesus radiated with the fullness of glory, “This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him.” However, it was not until Jesus went to the cross that any man confessed Him as the Son of God. In fact, the mockers at the foot of the cross even said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from there and save yourself.” But Jesus couldn’t save Himself and still save us, so He proved that He was and is the Son of God by finishing His sacrifice. By His blood, our sins would be forgiven, and we would be in relationship with God.

Henri Nouwen, a Christian writer and theologian, tells a moving story from the country of Paraguay about a doctor who cared very much for the poor people in a little village. He would often treat them free of charge. Others in the village Ð the authorities, the police, the government of the village Ð didn’t like the doctor. They didn’t like his politics, and they thought he was stirring up discontent among the poor people. The doctor was too popular for them to take on, so instead they arrested the doctor’s son, put him in jail, and tortured him mercilessly. They tortured him too much, and the son died.

When news of that son’s death spread through the village, the people wanted to hold a huge demonstration march. They wanted to carry his body through the village and demonstrate to the media and to the newspapers what had happened, but the father said, “No, I just want a funeral in the church here in the village. We will show in our own way.”

When the people arrived for the funeral, they had a surprise. The father had taken the body of his son, just as they had found it in the prison cell Ð on a blood-soaked, dirty mattress. Instead of being all cleaned up and dressed in a nice suit and an expensive coffin, the corpse of the doctor’s son in that little village was naked lying on the mattress, covered with cigarette burns, bruises, blood, and scars. It was the strongest protest imaginable! What that father did was put the injustices of his village on grotesque display.

Henri Nouwen goes on and asks, Isn’t that what God did at the cross of Calvary? He displayed the injustice of our world for the whole world to see. The cross showed what kind of world we live in Ð a world of violence, cruelty, injustice. But it also showed the kind of God we have: a God of sacrificial, forgiving love Who gives Himself for us in love.

So that day, when Jesus hung on the cross, it was the best, worst day ever. It was God’s Friday, and on that day God made it possible for you and me to believe that all our sins are forgiven, we can have a relationship with God who made us, and in the name of Jesus we can have eternal life. Jesus on the cross showed clearly He is the Son of God, for who but God could reign from a cross as a throne? Who but God could forgive and promise a future to a criminal thief at His side, even as He Himself was dying? Who but God would forgive His executioners and all sinners with His dying breath? The day that Jesus our Lord died on the cross showed the glory of God’s love for us. This is a day again for you and me to say, Lord, I believe. Forgive me my sin. Come by your spirit into my life. I believe in you. Glory to God.

Meet Jesus: The Obedient Son

Mark describes a powerful and intense scene in today’s text. We get a glimpse into the mind and the emotions of Jesus as we observe Him preparing Himself for His own crucifixion on the cross. We see His inner suffering and anguish but we also see something else that is meant to make our hearts glad. So let’s take a look at the story.

It’s Thursday evening. Jesus has already celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples and served the Last Supper. Judas has run off to betray Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus has taken His disciples to a garden called Gethsemane. Something is about to happen. You can feel it in the air. The moment for which He entered this world is at hand. The die is cast. The cruel cross is only a few hours away.

Jesus needed some time alone with His disciples and His heavenly Father to prepare for the events to come. So He leaves most of the disciples in one section of the garden taking only Peter, James, and John to keep watch and pray while He went off to pray. We’re told that He’s very distressed and agitated. He didn’t want to die, especially not on a cross. We see Him agonizing over the hours that He knew lay ahead for Him. He tells Peter, James, and John that He’s grieved, overwhelmed even unto death with sorrow.

Perhaps Jesus didn’t fully understand why this had to happen. He only knew this was God’s will for him. We don’t know. It is a picture of great inner turmoil. Jesus threw Himself on the ground and prayed, “Abba, Father, for You all things are possible. Remove this cup from me.” Jesus was talking about the cup of suffering. Some say it is the cup of God’s wrath, but that is not correct.

Then Jesus said an amazing thing: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” He submitted to the will of His Father. He was obedient.

Jesus’ words shouldn’t surprise us, for Jesus had been consistently obedient to God all the way through His life. He told John the Baptist that His baptism was to fulfill all righteousness. We witness Him not giving in to Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. We also see Him not giving in to the temptation to avoid the cross when Peter told Him,

Lord, you don’t have to do that. We see Jesus again and again not giving in to temptation to do things His way instead of His Father’s way. It’s like that passage in Hebrews 4:15: “We do not have a high priest Jesus who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are Ð yet without sin.”

Jesus was obedient. In John 4:34, He said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and complete his work.” And now, in today’s passage, “Not my will, but yours be done,” even though it meant the worst sort of suffering.

How could Jesus pray like that? Well notice He addressed God in the prayer: “Abba, Father.” That one word makes all the difference. He was not submitting to a God who makes cynical sport of men, but to His loving Father whom He trusted with His entire being. A God who promised resurrection and ultimate victory.

Notice, then, how the passage ends. The Son acts obediently. He doesn’t just talk obediently, He acts obediently as He bravely faces those who have come to arrest Him. He could have run, but instead He faces them. Jesus is the obedient Son in all of this.

So we have to ask, what does Mark (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) want us to see in this touching scene? Mark is painting a word picture of Jesus as the perfect, obedient son. That is important for us to know and understand because we are not obedient sons and daughters. Scripture tells us, “All of us of sinned and fallen short of the glory of God in our thoughts, our words, and our actions” (Rom. 3:23). We think of sin sometimes as only the major sins, but it’s much more than that. It’s our thought life. It’s the words we say, the things we do, and the things we don’t do.

To give you an illustration of how serious a matter this is, let’s say that I could get myself down to committing only three sins a day, such as three bad thoughts, that displease God. Well, I read somewhere that we have at least 10,000 thoughts a day, and a lot of them are not good. If I lived to be 80, I would have more than 80,000 infractions against me as I stand before my righteous judge. I’d deserve to have the book thrown at me, wouldn’t I? Therefore, not one of us can stand on our own resume before our holy God who hates sin and demands perfect obedience and righteousness.

Max Lucado writes in one of his books, “All of us occasionally do what’s right. A few predominately do what is right, but do any of us always do what is right? According to Paul, we don’t. There is none righteous. No, not one. Some may beg to differ. I’m not perfect, Max, but I’m better than most folks. I’ve led a good life. I don’t break the rules; I don’t break hearts. I help people. I like people. Compared to others, I think I could say I’m a righteous person.

“I used to try that on my mother,” Max writes. “She’d tell me that my room wasn’t clean, and I’d ask her to go with me to my brother’s room. His room was always messier than mine. ÔSee. My room is clean, mom. Just look at his!’ It never worked. She’d walk me down the hall to her room. When it came to tidy rooms, my mother was righteous. Her closet was just right, her bed was just right, her bathroom was, well, just right. Compared to hers, my room was, well, just wrong. She would show me her room and say Ôthat is what I mean by clean!’

“Well, God does the same. He points to Himself and says, “This is what I mean by righteousness.” And the consequences for our lack of righteousness is death, eternal death.

It’s a real predicament. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became one of us to live a life of perfect obedience, to be the obedient Son I could never be. His perfect obedience makes Him the perfect sacrifice for my sin, for the forgiveness that I need. Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:21).

However, there is even more to consider when we think of Jesus as the Obedient Son. His perfect obedience has earned righteousness for you and me. We’re incapable of perfect obedience, but the positive merits of Christ’s righteousness are counted for us. Theologians talk of His perfect obedience being imputed or attributed to me.

I came across an illustration, which I think captures this truth so well. This person writes, “Here’s one way to look at Jesus’ earthly life of obedience to God the Father. Jesus lived approximately 33 years, or 1,057,157,021 seconds. In every second, the average human being’s brain has 100 billion neurons all firing around 200 times per second giving a capacity of 20 million billion firings per second. If we want to know how many conscious decisions Jesus made to obey His Father’s will, multiply 20 million billion by the number of seconds He lived: 1,057,157,021. The equation would look amazing. It would become a very large number. Jesus Christ never made one decision, consciously or unconsciously, in all those innumerable split-seconds that wasn’t completely consistent with loving His Father and His neighbor.”

Jesus’ obedience wasn’t always an outward performance. He always did the right thing, and He always did it for the right reason. During His lifetime of constant, unwavering obedience, from infancy all the way to death, He wove a robe of righteousness sufficient to cover millions and millions and millions of us Ð even you and me.

How does Jesus’ righteousness become mine? By putting my faith in Him. When I trust Him and what He did for me, His righteousness becomes my righteousness, and I am restored in my relationship with God. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “For just as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Jesus is the perfect obedient Son for your sake and for mine.

You know, every once in a while I’ll find myself in a conversation with someone when God will give me the opportunity to ask that individual, “Have you come to the place in your spiritual life that you know for certain that, if you were to die today, you tould go to heaven?” Then I typically follow that question up with this question: “If you were to stand before God, and He would ask you why He should let you into His heaven, what would you say?” Good questions, aren’t they?

Let me ask you personally, how would you answer these questions? Frequently I’ll hear, “Well, I hope He’ll let me in. I’ve tried to live a good life, you see. I’ve tried to do the right things, to not hurt anybody too much.” What they are saying is they are counting on themselves, their own record of obedience to save them. I point out to them, as I have for you today, that just doesn’t add up. We always fall short. Then I point them to Jesus, the obedient Son, who paid for your sins and mine at the cross and whose resume of perfect obedience is transferred to your account when you place your trust in Him. Isn’t that marvelous? It’s all grace!

Dear friend, whose lifelong record of obedience will you rely on for your standing before God, for your eternal destiny? Ð Jesus Christ’s or your own? I appeal to you this day, on the basis of Scripture, go with Christ. Go with Christ’s record. Trust that obedient Son.

Meet Jesus: Our Authority

We see a lot of battles these days over the issue of authority. It’s actually nothing new. We see them in politics in Washington, D.C., in our courts, and in the world of athletics between the players’ union and the NFL, for instance. We even see it happening in our own homes.

Someone once told me a cute story about a little boy who was in trouble with his mom and dad. He was told to go sit in the corner, but he wouldn’t sit. Finally his dad forced him down in the chair, and the child said, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m still standing on the inside.” A real authority battle is happening there.

We have a battle over authority happening in the text for today as well. The chief priests, scribes, and the elders (the authorities of the Temple) were very upset with Jesus. The day before He had raised a ruckus in the Temple. He drove out the money changers and livestock sellers. He also pronounced judgment against them, saying they had turned God’s holy Temple from a house of prayer into a den of thieves. They couldn’t believe He then had the nerve to return to the Temple the next day, so they confronted Him, not just once, but four times.

First they asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you authority to do them?” In other words, Who do you think you are? We run this place; we’re in charge. What gives you the right to teach as you do, and act as you do?

But Jesus took them on and out matched them. He said, “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you just answer this one question for me. Was John the Baptist’s baptism from God or was it from men?” They couldn’t answer Him, for they knew that if they said it was from God, Jesus would ask why they didn’t believe John when he pointed people to Jesus. And if they said John’s baptism was from men, people would condemn them because everyone believed that John was a prophet. So they simply replied, “We don’t know,” thereby showing their lack of authority. Then Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

So Jesus told them a story, which was His way of saying they were on their way out. It was a parable about an owner of a vineyard who allowed some tenants to come in and work the vineyard. When it was time for the owner to collect what was due, he sent his servants. But the workers beat up his servants, sent them away, and refused to pay them. Finally, the owner said, “Maybe my son can get this taken care of.” But when they saw the owner’s son, the workers killed the son so they could have the vineyard to themselves.

Then Jesus asked, “What do you suppose the owner did? He drove those tenants out of his vineyard, and he gave it to others.”

Jesus was using some imagery here. The vineyard represented Israel. God is the owner; the servants are the prophets, and the son is Jesus Himself. They are going to kill Him, and God will take the vineyard away from them. The religious leaders are not buying into this talk from Jesus and want to arrest Him, but they are afraid to because everybody likes Him so much. So instead they decide to make Him look bad by asking Him some tough questions.

The Herodians and Pharisees decide to incriminate Him first of all. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know you are very wise. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” That was a sore subject, because everybody hated the Romans. If Jesus told them to pay their taxes, everybody would say He’s not one of them. And if He told them to not pay their taxes, the Romans would chase Him down and arrest Him for causing trouble.

So Jesus, calmly said, “Give me a coin. Whose image is on that coin?”

They responded, “Caesar’s.”

Then Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Remember that you yourself bear the image of God. He deserves your all).”

They walked away amazed. He had outwitted them again and shown His wisdom.

Then they sent some Sadducees. They were very rich, aristocratic, priestly types who ran the Temple as well. They tried attacking the theology of Jesus by showing how ridiculous it was for anyone to believe in the resurrection from the dead by coming up with a far-fetched story about a woman who married several brothers. “When she dies, who will be her husband in heaven?” Knowing that they didn’t believe in the resurrection, Jesus replied, “It is obvious that you don’t even know the power of God or Scripture itself.” And then He gave an explanation and pointed out that Old Testament Scripture points to the resurrection. He made them look absolutely ridiculous.

A scribe, who overheard this discussion and noticed how smart Jesus seemed to be, asked Him, “What is the greatest commandment?” What is God’s will for us?

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. The second is this: ÔLove your neighbor as yourself.'”

The scribe, who was one of the authorities, then attested that Jesus had a superior knowledge of God’s will over all these religious authorities. “You’re right, Teacher. That’s more important than any sacrifices that are going on in this Temple.”

But Jesus put him in his place by telling him that just knowing something like this doesn’t put him in the kingdom of God. He still needed to follow Jesus. By the end of the day, Jesus had taken on every leading authority in the Temple and reduced them to absolute silence. He showed them to be lacking in authority and leadership. After that, no one dared ask Him any more questions.

At the end of the day, Jesus sat down with the crowds and warned them to not put their trust in these teachers of the law. “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

The scoreboard at the end of the day reads: Jesus Ð four knockouts; religious authorities Ð zero. In all of this, Jesus has shown Himself as the One with absolute authority. He is superior to anyone, the One to whom people should submit. His parable about the vineyard owner’s told where He received His authority, wisdom, knowledge, and confidence by pointing out that He is the owner’s son.

When Jesus finished debating with the leaders, He asked the crowds, Why is the Messiah called the Son of David when David calls Him Lord? He was quoting from Psalm 110 and giving them a glimpse of who He is. He said, I’m not only the Messiah, I am David’s Lord Himself. I am God in the flesh, in the suit of the Messiah. That is where He gets His authority.

The religious authorities rejected His words just as Jesus had said to His disciples earlier Ð “I’m going up to Jerusalem, and there I will be rejected by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.” The religious leaders eventually found a way to get him arrested, and have Him crucified on a cross. But God raised Him from death, thus confirming Christ’s authority. And at the end of one of His Gospels, we see Jesus standing before the disciples and saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God has put things under Christ’s feet, and on the last day, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

The religious authorities rejected Him. How about you? This story in Mark’s Gospel was saved for people like you and me. Jesus came into this world to be the authority in your life. How much authority does Jesus have in your life? Is He, first of all, the Savior and Lord of your salvation? He came to save you through His cross and resurrection. Salvation is in no other name but Jesus.

Have you surrendered yourself to His authority for your salvation, believing in your heart of hearts that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by Him? If you have not, then why not do that now? The day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus really is the Lord. Some will say that with joy, but others will say it with fear and sorrow. What about you?

I appeal to you this day by the power of the Holy Spirit, entrust yourself, surrender yourself to His Lordship, to His care, to His authority in your life. And if you have said yes to following Jesus Christ, then He is your Savior.

But let me ask you, is He really the Lord in authority? Is He the One you turn to when making decisions in your life? Do you stop and ask what Jesus wants you to do in a situation? And if you know what His will is, do you choose to do it even if your appetites or desires dictate differently?

To submit to His authority in your life means, first of all, that you will obey Him in every area of your life.

I love this little article I came across. It says, “You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi divided. It’s like we have a board room in every heart. Imagine a big table, chairs, coffee, bottled water, and a white board. A committee sits around the table in your heart. There’s the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting, constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision.

“We tell ourselves we’re this way because of our many responsibilities. However, the truth is that we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, and unfree. That kind of person can accept Jesus in two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote. However, then He becomes just one more complication.

“The other way to accept Jesus is to say to Him, My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. I am your responsibility now. Please run my whole life for me.

“Accepting Jesus Christ is not just adding Him to the board, it is also firing the committee and subtracting those idols that sometimes run our lives. Jesus is not to be marginalized in our lives, but centralized. I will rebel against Him as a child rebels against its parents, but then I need to come back in repentance and say, I was wrong. I know that what you want is best for me.

“Not only I will obey Him in all areas of my life, His word will become my authority. I’ll study it, act upon it, submit to it as my authority, as an expression of my submission to Christ.”

Someone once said to me, “It is to Christ that we come, but then Christ sends us to a book Ð the Bible. And then I will do His bidding.” When He says to me, “Go make disciples,” I will tell others about Jesus. I will take the responsibility of teaching them the ways of Jesus in the kingdom of God. I will stand up for Him. Each of us has a mission field to which we have been called, a circle of influence. To give Jesus authority over me means I am going to be a missionary for Jesus where I am.

That is what it means when Christ becomes the authority in your life. That is what He wants to be in your life.

And by the way, a promising future is attached to those who submit to His yoke of authority. Hear His words: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Believe it.

Meet Jesus: Courageous Lover

Am I loved? Do I really matter?

So many people in this world are asking those kinds of questions. What causes that kind of thinking? I suppose sometimes it could be because something bad is happening in a person’s life and they think maybe God is upset with them. Am I loved? Does God really love me? Why he letting this happen?

Maybe they have a sense of feeling alone and isolated. Perhaps they are in the hospital room or a nursing home or rehab center, and no one has visited. Do I really matter?

Maybe you have been quite unlovable in life, and you think you’re beyond being loved by anyone. Perhaps you weren’t shown a lot of love as you were growing up. Maybe you were an outcast. There is a whole host of reasons for wondering whether one is loved or if one matters.

We’re going to take a close look at a story today that I think speaks loudly to that kind of thinking. In Mark 11, Jesus is entering the city of Jerusalem, which represented enemy territory for Him, for it was the religious establishment’s headquarters. They had been spying on Him and arguing with Him, and they didn’t particularly like Him or what He had to say. In fact, they wanted to destroy Him. Now here He was, approaching enemy headquarters, and the opposition is poised like a rattlesnake ready to strike out at Him. Even the disciples, as slow as they could be in their thinking, understood the danger. It says they were afraid.

Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Him, and a sign posted at the entrance to Jerusalem could well have read, “Enter at your own risk.” But He went. He even staged a parade. He rode into town on a donkey, which caused a major uproar. People hailed Him as a king, waving palm branches and throwing cloaks down on the ground in front of Him. Why would they do that? Because they saw Jesus was making a statement. The Prophet Zechariah talked about a King who would come riding into town on a donkey. Jesus seemed to be throwing down the gauntlet in front of His opposition and making a prophetic sort of statement claiming kingship. That would not only get the religious establishment upset but also the political leaders. It would be seen as challenging the established authorities with this grandstanding entrance.

It’s interesting that this King, who proclaimed the kingdom of God is at hand, would actually do that. Down through history, kingdoms have done anything they could to protect their king. I’m reminded of the story about Winston Churchill on June 6, 1944, D-Day. The Prime Minister desperately wanted to join the expeditionary forces and watch the invasion from the bridge of a battleship in the English Channel. US Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower was desperate to stop him for fear that the Prime Minister might be killed in battle. When it became apparent that Churchill would not be dissuaded, Eisenhower appealed to a higher authority, King George the VI. The King told Churchill that if it was the Prime Minister’s duty to witness the invasion, he could only conclude that it was also the King’s duty to join him on the battleship. At this point, Churchill reluctantly agreed to back down, for he knew he could never expose the King of England to such danger.

Our King Ð King Jesus Ð did exactly the opposite. With royal courage, He surrendered Himself up to ultimately be crucified on a cross as He entered Jerusalem that day. Jesus went. Such courage!

When the parade was over, Jesus went into the Temple, looked around and then went back to Bethany on the outskirts of town to spend the evening. But the next day He really made His presence felt. You’ve probably heard the story of the Temple cleansing. Jesus went into the Temple, the central part of Israel’s religious faith where all the sacrifices were made. The Temple was central to the city of Jerusalem. It was Holy Ground, where the presence of God resided. Jesus went into the temple and saw people selling animals for sacrifice and making money exchanges. This was where the Gentiles went to pray, and they had turned it into a marketplace. Jesus just went ballistic on them and began to drive the money changers and farmers out of the Temple. Jesus roared out, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it Ôa den of robbers.'” He got their attention as He stepped on sacred turf, and now they plotted how they might kill him.

Jesus’ time in Jerusalem ended with a cross where they killed Him. Why did Jesus go there? Why did the Son of God make that ride into Jerusalem knowing what was going to happen? Why would He cause such a ruckus in the Temple, which would upset them move them toward destroying Him? The answer is simple. It was love. In Mark’s stories, we see courageous love in action. Peter would later tell people at Pentecost, “Jesus did all this all according to the plan of God, the plan to rescue us from sin.” It was no accident, no miscalculation on the part of Jesus. He knew exactly what He was doing. He was provoking them, forcing their hand, while at the same time trying to issue a wake-up call for them to repent.

What was His motivation? It was love Ð not only for His heavenly Father, but also for you and me. Shortly before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He told the disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. I have called you friends” (John 15:13, 15). Jesus told His disciples He was going to Jerusalem to give His life as a ransom for many. His crucifixion on the cross would pay that ransom. A ransom is a payment. Payment was necessary. Payment for what? Payment for sin, the greatest problem of humankind. Jesus made payment for our sins to rescue us from its consequences (death), which keeps us separated from our loving but holy God. Jesus entered the jaws of death, Jerusalem. He caused a ruckus in the holy Temple and forced their hand in order to die for all the wrong things we have ever done and would ever do. He completely atoned for our sins when He went to the cross. The book of Hebrews tells us Jesus entered Jerusalem at His own risk so we may confidently enter the sanctuary of God’s presence by the blood of Jesus.

I’m reminded of a story that I heard quite some time ago. It goes as follows:

It had been a wonderful afternoon for the family. Living in the wilderness way up north, they had taken the horse and sleigh out into the woods to cut a pine tree down, which would serve as the Christmas tree in their log cabin.

The sun was sinking low as they made their way back home. Mother and father were in the front of the sleigh, the three young children in the back snuggled underneath a warm, handmade quilt, talking amongst themselves. They were only two miles from home in a clearing when the husband nudged his wife and pointed her toward the tree line. They were being followed. It was a large pack of wolves. It had been a rough winter, and they were obviously hungry.

The man snapped the reins to get the horses moving along faster. Mother’s pulse quickened. Suddenly the pack appeared out in the open running toward the sleigh. The children screamed as the wolves growled and barked as they followed. The children turned and, seeing them, were so afraid. The pack, being faster and unencumbered by a sleigh full of people, soon caught up with the horse. They began to nip at the horse’s feet and tried to slow it down or stop it all together. The father yelled and tried to scare them off, but there was no scaring them off. So he pulled out his rifle and fired into the pack, unloading all the bullets in his gun. A couple of the wolves dropped to the ground, but there were so many. It stopped them for a moment, and then they began to chase them again, still attacking. It was absolute chaos in that sleigh as the pack closed in on the family.

The horse was slowed down again. It looked like they were going to possibly die, when suddenly the father handed the reins to the mother and said “GO!” as he jumped in the midst of those attacking animals. Surrounded by them, he fought with them and screamed at his wife, “GO!” as she looked on in horror. The pack was concentrating on their prey standing alone in that snow. They were circling around him, and suddenly they all attacked, jumping on him, and he was engulfed by the pack.

The horse and the sleigh took off toward the cabin a short distance away as fast as they could go. The children were wailing, crying, and sobbing as mother drove the sleigh. She had tears running down her own face. She drove as fast as she could to get her children to safety. When the howling and growling behind them stopped, they knew he was gone.

As they approached the cabin, the children were sobbing quietly. When they went through the front door, mother took them in her arms to comfort them and quietly whispered, “My, didn’t he love us! Didn’t he love us!”

Knowing the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem, we can say the same thing, can’t we?

If you are sitting with someone right now listening to this broadcast, I encourage you to stop and say to that person sitting next to you, Didn’t He love us!

If you are alone today listening, I invite you to simply say out loud, “Didn’t He love me, this Jesus!” I mean, look at what He did for you! If you were the only person who ever existed, He made that last ride into Jerusalem for your sake so that you might become His own and live with Him for eternity.

For some of you listening today, Jesus is standing poised to enter your life. He has not been in there yet. In the book of Revelation is a passage from Jesus that says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens it, I will come into you and eat with you and you with me.” He wants to have a personal relationship with you. Invite Him in. Let Him love you up for the rest your life.

And for the rest of you who might be listening today . . . Listen, I don’t know what you may be going through in your life Ð I know life has its ups and its downs and causes us to wonder sometimes Ð but, I do know this: You Are Loved! You are loved by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. I appeal to you to claim it and trust in it and build your very life upon that love.

Who’s that coming into Jerusalem?

It’s Jesus, ready to face off with the opposition.

Why is He doing that?

Love.

My, didn’t He love us!

Meet Jesus: He’s Challenging

What are you planning on doing with the rest of your life? Jesus has some answers for us to consider in today’s text.

Jesus’ followers had spent quite a bit of time with Him, watching Him do amazing miracles, seeing His power at work, listening and learning about the kingdom of God, and being taught about the way God thinks. They had even been authorized to do some ministry of their own and experienced some success in doing it. Now Jesus takes them off on a bit of a retreat. While they are in Caesarea Philippi, He asks them, “Who do people say I am?”

They respond, “Well rumors are floating around that you are one of the prophets, or maybe John the Baptist.”

Jesus gets personal at that point. He asks, “Who do you say I am?” This is one of the most important questions you and I will ever answer, because how we answer will determine our eternal destiny.

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus didn’t deny it, but instead told Peter to keep it under his hat for a while. Perhaps He didn’t want that kind of publicity at this point. Jesus still had a lot of work to do. He didn’t need the Romans thinking He was leading a rebellion against them and, consequently, arresting Him. Or perhaps Jesus suspected Peter didn’t totally understand Him yet, even with the answer he had given.

I imagine Peter must’ve been quite proud of himself right then, thinking to himself, I knew it! But in the next moments, we find out that Peter doesn’t really comprehend Jesus and His mission at all, for Jesus said something next that really shook him up. A prediction. It is necessary that I must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and after three days rise again.

Peter then tries to correct Jesus: NO! That can never happen, Lord. That is not what I had in mind.

But Jesus comes down hard on Peter: Get behind me, Satan, for you are not setting your mind on divine things, but on human things. You are not thinking like God thinks, as I have been trying to teach you. You are thinking like humans think. It must have been a very intense scene between Peter and Jesus, for Peter had a different job description in mind for the Messiah. He had envisioned the Messiah would be a powerful military leader who would set up a new government, surely not die in this way.

Peter’s human way of thinking was not God’s thinking. We can’t fault him much, though. It is a lot easier to think like human beings instead of like God. We are much more comfortable with our way of thinking. But Jesus had a divine plan in mind Ð given to Him by His Father in heaven Ð to give up His life and save us from sin and its consequences, and defeat the power of evil.

Shortly after this incident, Jesus had His conversation with Peter in mind as He talks to the crowds and the disciples. He describes what it means to follow Him and be His disciple. In fact, you might say Jesus drew a line in the sand and issued an ultimate challenge: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

What does it mean to deny self? It means to set aside selfish needs, to say no to your selfish craving for comfort and the comfortable life. It means to surrender your whole self to Jesus.

C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, writes “Christ says, ÔGive me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want YOU. I’ve not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the tree down. I don’t want drill the tooth, or crown it or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked Ð the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself. My own will shall become yours.'”

When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross,” He was describing suffering and sacrifice. The cross was an instrument of execution that the Romans used against the rebels and criminals in that day. It was a terrible tool of suffering. Jesus is saying, You need to be willing to suffer for me and maybe even die for my sake and for the cause of the gospel.

Jesus seems to be saying, if you go with Him, be prepared for the possibility of getting hurt for His sake. Be prepared to get into trouble, meet some resistance, and face rejection and ridicule for following Him and speaking up for Him. Jesus is not calling us to a safe life. He is calling us to a life of carrying a cross.

Thomas  Kimpis, a great Christian author who wrote Imitation of God, says, “Jesus has many who love His kingdom in heaven, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of the bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of His Passion. Many admire His miracles, but few follow Him to the humiliation of the cross.”

In verse 33, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Following Jesus means to line your life up behind Him. Give Him control, and put Him at the control center. Do what He says.

Jesus finishes that little talk off with this thought: When I reappear in all my glory, if you’re ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you then.

This little sequence between Jesus and Peter and then the crowd will happen two more times in the days that follow. Jesus will make a prediction of what’s going to happen in Jerusalem. He tells them He will suffer and die, and on the third day, rise from the grave. The disciples will not comprehend what He is talking about, so in chapter 9 Jesus will sit them down and explain what it means to be His disciple. His teachings about God’s way seem to be lost in them. They argue amongst themselves about who is the greatest disciple, and Jesus talks to them about greatness in His kingdom means being a servant of all . . .

That is a very challenging command, Jesus Ð to be a servant. I’d rather have somebody wait on me. And of ALL? Even those who I don’t like?

Yes, of all.

Even those who have different value systems than mine?

Yes, even those who are different from you.

Even those who disrespect me and dare to treat me like a servant?

Yes, even those who are difficult to love.

It is challenging talk for the follower of Jesus.

In chapter 10, James and John come to Jesus seeking places of special honor. Jesus, we want to be vice presidents in your new administration when you come into power. They don’t get it. Jesus is telling them not to be like the Gentile leaders of the world. Instead be like Him, the One who came to serve and not be served and to give His life as a ransom for many.

We learn from this episode that being a disciple of Jesus means to be a loyal follower who adopts the teacher’s ideas and lifestyle. That means sacrifice and serving others, just like Jesus did for us. It means giving ourselves away and putting ourselves aside for the sake of others. It’s a loving choice to serve as we follow Jesus, the servant King.

Jesus has drawn a line in the sand, and it’s a very challenging line. As we will continue to see in Mark’s Gospel, the disciples stay with Him even though they still don’t quite get it, but they eventually will understand after the cross and the resurrection.

Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has you and me in mind as he shares these episodes. These words are for us to chew on. We’re being challenged, first of all, to answer the question: Who do you say Jesus is? We’re also being challenged to follow Him the rest of our lives and to live our life in the way He has just described. Will we live our life to simply save ourselves, or will we carry a cross?

Those hearing Jesus talk like this might wonder why anyone in their right mind would sign up to be a servant, carry a cross, sacrifice, suffer, and deny themself in a world that tells us again and again to take care of ourselves.

Jesus knew we might wonder that, so He gives us the answer in Mark 8:35-37. He takes a term from the business world Ð profit. It’s a matter of profit and gain. What will we gain? Listen to what Jesus says, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it. What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his life?”

Why would anyone in their right mind sign up for life with Jesus? It’s simple. It is in denying ourselves and carrying a cross that we find real life, life to the full. Of course, we think of eternal life, and we have Jesus’ promise because of what He did for us at the cross and at the tomb. But here He is talking about life to the full. It means a life filled with joy and ultimate purpose. It means serving Jesus by serving others and standing up for Jesus Christ in whatever mission area the Lord has placed us.

So what are you doing with the rest of your life that God has given you? Are you trying to save it or are you losing it for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Jesus? Are you spending yourself for His cause with the rest of your days? You have this one life. Don’t waste it by pursuing safety and comfort and leisure. Give yourself and your resources away, for Christ’ sake, for others’ sake, and for your sake. Do something great for the One who saved you Ð Jesus. Then you will gain real life. That might mean speaking up for Jesus to those around you. Tell them what He’s meant in your life. Take the risk of someone thinking you are a fanatic of some sort. It might mean doing something for somebody else in the name of Jesus, helping them serve somebody in His name Ð the churched and the unchurched. Get involved in the lives of people around you. Serve them, and use that strong name of Jesus. Live for something bigger than yourself Ð Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. That’s real life.

Let me tell you a story that I came across from John Piper in his book, Don’t Waste your life. He said, “In April 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon West Africa. Ruby was over 80, single all her life. She poured it out for one great thing Ð to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick ones. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor pushing 80 years old and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. Their car brakes failed, they went over a cliff and were both killed instantly.

“I asked my congregation, ÔWas this a tragedy Ð two lives driven by one great passion, mainly to be spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ?’ Even two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to throw away their lives on trifles?

“ÔNo, this is not a tragedy,’ I explained. ÔThis is glory. These lives were not wasted, for Jesus said, ÔWhoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospels will save it.’ But I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life.

“Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Readers Digest, which tells about a couple who took early retirement from their jobs in their Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida where they cruise in a 30-foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells. At first when I read about it, I thought it might be a joke, a spoof on the American dream, but it wasn’t. Tragically this was the dream. Come to the end of your life, your one-and-only, precious, God-given life, and let the last great work before you give an account to your Creator be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them standing before Christ at the great day of judgment. ÔLook, Lord. See my shells!’ That is a tragedy! And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream.

“Over against that, I put up my protest. Don’t buy it, don’t waste your life.”

That is what Jesus is telling us today. Don’t waste your life. Pick up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Him.