Crowding In

palm-branchLast Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday and this Friday we will be commemorating Good Friday. Today I find myself in between these two sacred days of the Christian faith. I also can find myself between two crowds. One crowd shouts “Hosanna!” while the other crowd demands “Crucify Him!” In which crowd do I find myself?

 

First, I observe the “Hosanna!” crowd that congregated along the road Jesus traveled upon His arrival to Jerusalem. The complete narrative regarding Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem can be read in Matthew 21:1-11, but I am focusing upon only a few of the verses.

The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought
the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on
the coats.
Most of the crowd
spread their coats in the road, and others
were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.
The crowds
going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
B
LESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD
;
Hosanna in the highest!”
When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying,
“Who is this?” And
the crowds
were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus,
from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21:6-11
(underlining is my emphasis)

The “Hosanna!” crowd included people who were not necessarily residents of Jerusalem. The majority of this crowd probably were people coming to the city for Passover. Very likely they had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and they saw the potential of Jesus being the Messiah. They expressed their enthusiasm by waving palm branches.

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The “Hosanna!” crowd was a positive crowd and I would desire to be a part of it. In contrast, the “Crucify Him!” crowd was a more negative group. I do not feel that this crowd would be worthy of my attention. In book of Luke I read the details of Jesus being brought before Pilate and Herod. Again, I am only quoting a few specific verses.

but they (the crowd) kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!”
And he (Pilate) said to them (the crowd) the third time, “Why, what evil
has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death;
therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” But they (the crowd)
were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And
their (the crowd’s) voices began to prevail. And Pilate pronounced
sentence that their demand be granted.
Luke 23:21-24
(underlining is my emphasis)

Looking more closely at the scripture quoted above, I notice in verse 18 of Luke 23 that it says “With one voice they cried out.” An assembly of people in agreement regarding an opinion is more readily heard in contrast to the voice of only one person. Another thing I notice about this crowd in verse 21 is that they “they kept on calling out.” Persistence pays off and this becomes evident in verse 24 that says “their voices began to prevail.” Numbers and persistence can influence the outcome of a situation.

This particular crowd is first mentioned in Luke 22:47 as the crowd who came with Judas to the Mount of Olives when he betrayed Jesus. According to verse 22, these people were the chief priests, officers of the temple guard and elders of the people. These men were residents of Jerusalem and they had been plotting and planning against Jesus for a period of time. The “Crucify Him!” crowd was a contrast to the spontaneous travelers of the “Hosanna!” crowd. I notice that instead of waving palm branches, they carried swords and clubs in their hands.

These two crowds were not made up of unstable people who chose to praise Jesus one day and punish Him another. Both crowds had their own agendas and both crowds were present all week. I suspect each crowd became more convicted of their opinions as time went one. A crowd can be right or it can be wrong. In either case, a crowd is powerful and influential. The “Hosanna!” crowd proclaimed Jesus as a king while the “Crucify Him!” crowd portrayed Him as a criminal.

 

peopleAlthough I certainly was not alive over 2000 years ago when these crowds gathered around Jesus, I still encounter crowds today. On a daily basis, I may find the busyness of business crowding into my life more than I encounter crowds of people. Worries can crowd out the thoughts in my mind that should be occupied with Jesus. I say that I want to be among the “Hosanna!” crowd rather than the “Crucify Him!” crowd, but do I live my life according to this statement? Does my attitude show the crowd around me that I make it a priority to praise the Lord in all things at all times or does my behavior cause the surrounding crowd to think I crucify, or put to death, the plans and purposes of the Lord? These questions cause me to do some serious thinking!

My Reader, with which crowd do you mingle? What message is your lifestyle shouting to the crowd around you? Last Sunday we all were part of the “Hosanna!” crowd. By this Friday will we allow the circumstances of the past few days to influence us to join the “Crucify Him!” crowd? Will be ready on Sunday to join the “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!” crowd and proclaim the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Seventh of the Seven Last Words

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  Father, into
 Luke 23:46

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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

As I read this verse of scripture three words or couplets stand out to me: (1) Father (2) Your [God’s] hands (3) I [Jesus] commit. Today, I am going to give each of these words some more thought.

Father

The Seventh Word from the Cross is known as “The Word of Reunion.” The first thing I notice is that Jesus is once again referring to God as Father rather than as God as emphasized in the Fourth Word. (see post for March 26) While he is still hanging on the cross, Jesus is experiencing a spiritual reunion with God as Father. Also, Father and Son will soon be physically reunited when Jesus returns to his heavenly home after the resurrection.

Your (God’s) hands

The hands of Jesus are pierced with nails that hold him to the crossbeam of the cross. He places these hands into the hands of his Father rather than into the hands of mankind. It was the hands of men that pounded these nails through his hands in the first place so this is not what he wants. Jesus acknowledges a more secure feeling of comfort and care in the hands of God. Jesus no longer needs to know the whys of his situation; he simply trusts his Father by placing his hands into His hands.

I commit

Feeling the security of the promise of reunion with his Heavenly Father, Jesus verbally commits his spirit into the hands of God. These are the words of a dying man who is breathing his last breaths of earthly life. This is a statement of surrender to the Father’s plans and purposes, which at that moment did not look great from his human vantage point upon the cross of crucifixion. Jesus trusted even though he did not fully understand. It is interesting to me that another reunion is being made possible at this same time. Jesus’ commitment opens the door (or curtain) for the reunion between Father and Son and it opens the way for me as well. Mark 15:38 states, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” when Jesus uttered these words. The fact that the curtain was torn from top to bottom is a powerful statement revealing that the curtain was torn by the hand of God rather than the hand of mankind. Not only are Father and Son being reunited but the torn curtain symbolizes that people now can have access to God at any time. That is why Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Father…your hands…I commit

Since “The Word of Reunion” can apply to me today, I want to consider how this affects my daily life. Just as Jesus never got his why question answered, neither should I expect full understanding in my journey with the Lord. God doesn’t ask me to understand but He does ask me to trust and obey. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16:24,“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “ Hmmm. What kind of cross am I to take up? I do not need to really die a physical death upon a cross like Jesus, but there is a dying to self that I must experience. I like the quote from Ann Voskamp  “I know — we need a place of execution in our lives if we’re ever to rightly execute a life of faith.” Just before Jesus began his final journey to the cross, he prayed in the Garden of Olives saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” according to Luke 22:42. So, if for me to take up my cross means to die to myself, what do I need to die to? This may include my will, my dreams, my desires, even my own rights. This gets very personal! I am not so sure I will always like this but I want to heed the words of Matthew 16: 25-26, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Maybe dying to myself will not be so bad after all when I consider the length of time of eternal life!

My Reader, in just a few days we will be celebrating Easter. However, before I can celebrate Resurrection Sunday, I feel the need to embrace the cross of crucifixion and the meaning of the seven sayings by Christ on the cross. Personally, as I try to wrap my mind around all of this today, I find myself singing the first verse of the hymn I Surrender All by Judson W. Van DeVenter. Then I will be ready to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today on Sunday. My Reader, will you join me in song?

All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live. 
Refrain:
I surrender all,

I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Second of the Seven Last Words

Today you will be with me in paradise. Today you will be with me in paradise. Today
Luke 23:43

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The second week of Lent begins today and I am ready to meditate upon the second of the seven last words or phrases spoken by Jesus as he hung on the cross. The second word is known as “The Word of Salvation” and is found in the same chapter of Luke as the first word I focused upon last week. Jesus was not the only man to be hung upon a cross that day. There were two thieves or criminals who were also crucified, one on either side of Jesus. The one man just hurled insults at Jesus and said in Luke 23:39, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Jesus did not respond to him. The other man said to the first man, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” in verses 40 and 41. This second criminal then talked to Jesus in verse 42 saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus not only responded to this remark but granted his request. Jesus’ response to this man is the second word that I am wanting to learn more about this week.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:43

The first thing I notice about this statement made by Jesus is that he begins by saying “Truly I tell you.” Jesus’ response is true because he is the Truth according to John 14:6 when he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Another reason Jesus may have chosen the word truly is to point out that he was the only one who could provide the way to his Father in paradise or heaven. Jesus fulfilled the criminal’s request in Luke 23:43 when the criminal confessed that he had sinned and asked for salvation. I am sure this man never forgot these personal words from Jesus – and neither will I!  My Reader, you and I can still accept the fact that Jesus says these same words to you and me when we confess our sins because I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I am glad I can relate more to the second criminal on the cross beside Jesus than the first one!

“Today” is the next word I notice as I study these words of Jesus. As long as I, or anyone, is still living on this earth, there is hope for salvation. This criminal was dying on the cross and his request for forgiveness may have been the last words he ever spoke. I am quite sure they were the most important words he ever spoke. Jesus heard him and answered positively. My Reader, I encourage you not to wait until your dying breath to accept Jesus as your personal savior, but he will hear you if that happens to be the situation. I like the promise found in II Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Another thing I notice is that the moment this criminal asked Jesus to forgive him, he was assured of the gift of salvation. My Reader, when Jesus hears this request from a sincere heart, he grants the request to anyone at that very moment just as he did for the criminal on the cross. Jesus says “yes” – not “no” or “maybe” or “let me think about that!” Thank you, Jesus, for these special words! Hmmm, I wonder if the criminal on the cross had enough breath to say “thank you.”

The final word that stands out for me is “paradise.” This has always been an interesting word to me. It comes from a Persian word meaning “garden.” Some commentaries refer to the Garden of Eden as being the paradise on earth that God created in the beginning. Revelation 2 and 22 both refer to paradise as being a garden. Revelation 2:7 states, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (For your own information you might like to compare Genesis 2: 4-18 where the Garden of Eden may be called the Garden of God and Revelation 22:1-5 where the New Jerusalem may be called the Garden City of God.) However I choose to define paradise, it is where I desire to dwell with Jesus for eternity as promised by Him on the cross.

I am glad that Jesus spoke these words to the criminal on the cross and I am glad that I can hear these words spoken to me today. As Jesus hung on the cross that day long ago, there also were two other men upon their own crosses. One man hung on either side of Jesus. My Reader, with which man and which words do you most identify? Has Jesus responded to the cry of your words?

Joyfully,
Cheryl

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First of the Seven Last Words

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. Father, forgive them, they know
Luke 23:34

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According to the Christian calendar, today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The season of Lent is comprised of the forty days before Easter, not counting Sundays. I find it interesting that Sundays are not counted because they are considered “mini-Easters.” Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.”  The forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring temptation by Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. Lent is often defined as time of repentance, fasting and preparation for Easter. Today, Christians may focus upon their relationship with God and may choose to volunteer and give of themselves for others rather than giving up something for Lent. I seem to identify more with adding rather than subtracting from my life to prepare for Easter. This year I have decided to meditate each week of Lent upon one of the seven last statements made by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. I think these words are important because often the last words a person speaks are what a person most wants those around him or her to hear and remember.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke 23:34

This statement recorded by Luke is often referred to as “The Word of Forgiveness.” As Jesus was being nailed to the cross, these are the words that were uttered from His lips. I have to ask myself the following questions. Who is “them” that he asks his Father to forgive? Are they the Pharisees and Sadducees who demanded his death? Are they the Roman soldiers who have beat him and pulled out his bread and placed the crown of thorns upon his head? Are they the jeering crowd he walked through on his way to Golgotha? Are they the soldiers nailing him to the cross? Most likely, “them” included all of them! However, I am probably too shortsighted when I think that “them” refers only to the people surrounding Jesus at the time of His death. I must remember that the purpose of Jesus coming to earth in human form was to die so I could live. My sins are included in the reason Jesus was on the cross. I now hear Jesus speaking personally on behalf of me when he speaks, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Wow, this gives me a deeper appreciation of what Jesus said that day! I cannot conclude this paragraph without quoting John 3:16-18. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”  Jesus died to forgive my sins which includes my sinful nature and the sins I still commit because I do not know what I am doing. Jesus forgave me that day on the cross but I still need to go to the cross to ask forgiveness for my mistakes and shortcomings. I am definitely one of “them” and I am grateful that I am forgiven and continue to be forgiven!

As I continue to ponder upon these words of Jesus, I realize that I need to follow his example and ask the Father to help me forgive specific people who have sinned against me. I need to grasp the fact that those who have hurt me most likely did not know what they were doing. When I can comprehend that someone did not intentionally offend me, it is much easier for me to forgive them. I am reminded of the words spoken by Jesus when he taught his disciples how to pray.  Matthew 6: 12, 14-15 says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Debts can be translated trespasses or sins in different translations of these verses. Forgiveness is a big deal!

My Reader, do you see yourself as one of “them”? Do you need to follow the example of Jesus and ask someone to forgive you? The answers to these questions may not be easy to verbalize, but your truthfulness will lead you to a closer relationship with Jesus. This is the reason for the season of Lent – a time to repent and prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection six weeks from this Sunday.

Joyfully,
 Cheryl
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