Monday, March 29, 2010

The Cross

We have been focusing on the last 24 hours of Jesus' life and today we go through his final 6 hours, which were spent on the cross. Mark 15:25-39 tells us part of the story of Jesus' time on the cross.
Crucifixion is one of the most inhumane forms of execution. The person is made to suffer terrible pain. The point of crucifixion was to help the person live as long as they could before they died. The Romans used this as a deterrent for crime. People who had seen a crucifixion would not want it to be them on the cross.
As we look at the cross I want you to think about what it means to you.
This past weekend I went with a small team to Cedar Rapids to do some flood recovery work. I am from that area, but had not been into the neighborhoods since the floods and I was amazed at home much work is left to be done coming on two years after the floods. One of the jobs I worked on was to cover the outer walls of a house with green guard. The siding will then be put up over this guard.
The guard comes in a long 4 foot sheet folded every 2 feet, but the total length is probably 40 feet or so. The math geek in me came out as I start to try to figure out the best way to cover the walls without wasting any of the green guard. You have to figure in doors, windows and all of that.
Near the end of the project I was using the small scrap pieces to cover the last part of our wall because I did not want to waste any. I hate to waste stuff. I try to get all I can out of the things I have or use. But then I was thinking this morning that when I use the small scraps I may not be doing a good job of being efficient because I used more nails for each small piece than if it were a larger piece.
Anyway, when I look at the cross I see a great sacrifice. I see a price that was paid for me. And again, I do not like to waste things, so I do not want to waste that sacrifice. I want to live my life to the fullest in a way that brings glory to God.
I see many other images in the cross because it is a powerful symbol of our faith. What is it that you see in the cross?

Monday, March 22, 2010

He Can Take It

We are continuing our focus on the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. Today we are reflecting on the torture and mocking of Jesus found in Mark 15:15b-20.
First Jesus was flogged, which means he was whipped all over his body. Usually they would flog the person's back and then their front. Flogging was not meant to kill someone, but to torture them. It was designed to cause as much pain as possible without killing the person.
Then the scripture said the whole company came out to mock Jesus. This would have been between 300 and 600 men. They put a purple robe on Jesus and a crown of thorns. This was to pretend he was a king.
It is hard for me to fully see this picture in my mind of my Lord and Savior being beaten and mocked. It is hard to image that he endured this pain and suffering even though he could have stopped it if he had chosen to. Yet we do not want to overlook this part of Jesus' final hours.
As we have been putting ourselves into the story it has often been as a follower of Jesus. In this part of the story there is not much room for that. I think we need to see ourselves as one of the company of soldiers. It was our punishment and pain that Jesus was enduring. It is almost like each one of us were represented in those soldiers. The times I sin and go against God's will for me, it is like I have taken a whip or a rod and caused my Lord pain. It hurts him when I hurt others or myself with my thoughts, words and actions.
Those soldiers also represent the cruelty of humanity and show our brokenness. If I continue to live in that brokenness I will continue to be cruel and hurtful. I need to recognize this brokenness inside myself if I am going to change. So I invite you to remember your brokenness, acknowledge it, and then offer it to God. We all have caused our Lord to suffer. But we can give him our brokenness, and he can take it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pilate's Proposal

In Mark 15:1-15 we see Jesus on trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, which is the southern part of Israel. Pilate does not really seem that interested in having Jesus crucified, so he offers a choice to the crowd that has gathered. He offers to free Jesus or Barabbas.
We believe Jesus to be a kind and loving person. He was a man who healed the sick and lame. He challenged people to not just be good, but to be compassionate.
Then on the other side is Barabbas. From what we are told he is part of a rebellion against Rome. To the people of Israel this is not a bad thing because he was fighting for their freedom. He was also a murderer. He had killed at least one person in this pursuit of freeing Israel.
If you watch the Passion of Christ movie by Mel Gibson, you will see his idea of Barabbas is this gross barbarian. One person described him as an animal. I think Mel was emphasizing the fact that it seemed Pilate wanted to put someone next to Jesus that was the opposite. He wanted someone next to Jesus who had never done anything right compared to Jesus who always did the right thing. Pilate was trying to make the choice easy for the crowd.
However, they called for Barabbas to be freed. Again in the movie, as the crowd calls for Barabbas it looks like the whole crowd is calling for him. Everyone except two figures in the middle of the screen. You only see them for a few seconds, but it is the disciple John and Jesus' mother Mary. Both are standing silent.
What would you have done in the midst of that crowd?
I would like to think I could have yelled my vote for Jesus to be released over Barabbas. I would have gone along with Pilate's proposal. He wanted to free Jesus and I would have agreed. But I wonder if my voice would have been heard. Would it have been drowned out by the rest of the crowd? Would I have stopped yelling when it was obvious my voice was not making a difference?
Sometimes in life we will see obvious choices and yet others will not want that choice. Will we continue to cry out or will we be silent?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Denial of Peter

As we continue through the final 24 hours of Jesus' life we are in the wee hours of Friday morning. Jesus was arrested between 1 and 3 in the morning. He was taken to a cell at the house of the high priest and held there until the council of religious leaders could be assembled. Once they were assembled they tried Jesus for blasphemy and found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
While this was going on inside the house of the high priest, Peter is warming himself by a fire in the courtyard. He is trying to see what is happening to his teacher. However, he is also trying not to draw attention to himself. He wants to blend into the crowd so not to be noticed and connected to Jesus for fear he will be arrested too.
If you know the rest of the story you know that Peter was not able to stay in the background. A servant girl first recognized him and he denied knowing Jesus. Two more times people asked if he was a friend of Jesus and two more times he denied it even calling curses on himself if he was lying. Then a rooster crowed and Peter remember Jesus had told him this would happen, and Peter wept.
I want to invite you to try to put yourself into Peter's shoes. How would you have responded to such questioning? Maybe a better question is, would you have had the courage to even be in the courtyard when he was? No other disciples is to be found at this time. Peter had courage enough to follow Jesus to the high priest's house, but lost his courage when questioned. Where would you be?
I had one person yesterday ask me why Peter did not go for help. I don't know the answer to that, but that was a good thought. What if instead of staying close Peter had gone to gather the other disciples and brought all of them to support Jesus. I usually like to face tough times with other people, so I would hope I would have thought of something like that. Jesus had more followers than just the 12 disciples. At one time he sent out 70 followers to do ministry. Peter could have gathered a large group to support Jesus, but instead he was there alone.
Of course, I want to say I would not have denied Jesus like Peter did, but I also think Peter is bold and brash and if anyone would stand strong in a crowd he would be someone who would. So if he couldn't then the surrounding situation must have been intimidating.
This story in Peter's life does challenge me to do more than just say I would not have denied Jesus, but rather to work at not denying Jesus in my life. Each day we have chances to deny Jesus by things we say or do that are not pleasing to God. Things we have justified by saying everyone else is doing it or I am not hurting anyone. The crowd is not concerned about our denial, but I know God is. God wants us to follow His example and always treat others with compassion. God wants our lives to show his love and grace to everyone, including ourselves and those we may not like. I accept that challenge and will strive to live it. How about you?

Monday, March 1, 2010

In the Garden

The second event of the last 24 hours of Jesus' life take place in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). This was a garden filled with olive trees. The word gethsemane means olive press, so somewhere in the garden there was an olive press. An olive press was a large smooth stone with a round stone that would be pushed around to squeeze the oil out of the olives. Did you know half of the weight of a fresh olive is oil? Useless fact, I know, but at least you learned something today, right?
I found it interesting that this garden was named for an olive press as this garden is known as the place Jesus came to pray before he was arrested, tortured and crucified. Jesus probably felt like an olive in a press this night as the pressure of what was about to happen was coming down on Jesus. The pressure of what Jesus saw coming was driving him to his knees.
It was after midnight that Jesus and his disciples arrived in the garden. Jesus asked his disciples to pray and yet they kept falling asleep. We know Jesus was praying to God that there was another way to redeem humanity other than his torture and death. However, Jesus was going to give his life if that was what God asked him to do.
Again I want to think about what it would have been like to be one of Jesus' disciples in this situation. When Jesus asked his disciples to pray
they had no clue what was about to happen. I probably would have fallen asleep just like the disciples did. For one thing, I am not a night person. I have a hard time staying up until 10:30pm. Another thing is that not knowing what was about to happen I probably would not have been really excited to pray. If I knew what was going to happen I would have been devoted in prayer, but not seeing the significance of that night I would have been more lazy in my prayers. I wish this was not the case, but there are times I am more fervent in my prayers than others.
Routine prayers don't usually get me so excited that I could pray for hours. When I do have a specific prayer concern or my spirit is given direction then I can be drawn passionately into my prayer time. I would have hoped given the situation the disciples were in that my spirit would have been so connected to God that I would have been drawn into prayer, but I can't say for sure that would have happened since it didn't with the disciples. They fell asleep and Jesus was left alone in prayer to struggle with his impending death. At the end of this prayer time Judas enters the scene with a crowd of armed guards. Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss on the cheek and then Jesus was arrested.
How do you react when the pressures of the world are coming down on you? Do you turn to prayer? Also, how faithful are you to be in prayer for those around you? When Jesus needed the disciples in prayer the most, they fell asleep. Will we do the same for those around us or will we dedicate ourselves to praying for others?