On a recent Sunday morning while driving to church with my family, I listened to a message on the radio telling the story of Jesus' crucifixion. And as the pastor was walking us through the sequence of events that day, a thought struck me that had never occurred to me before.
The pastor started by saying that the two criminals hanging on either side of Jesus initially mocked Jesus in his plight, even though his fate was the same as their own. Along with the crowds, they ridiculed this man who claimed to be the King of the Jews.
But somewhere in that time, the attitude of one of the criminals shifts. Instead of scorn, this criminal begins to rebuke the other, defending Jesus' innocence. Then he goes even further, asking Jesus to remember him when He enters His kingdom.
I know many of you reading this already know the story. You've probably read it numerous times. So had I. And yet, something struck me, and challenged the way I understood this situation.
At this moment, Jesus had been abandoned by pretty much everyone that was close to Him. The crowds in Jerusalem that were singing his praises a week ago, were now demanding his death. One of his disciples betrayed him, another denied knowing Him at all. And as he hung on a cross, He felt forsaken even by his Heavenly father.
Jesus was dying. And his dying carried the crushed hopes of all who had believed in Him and the reign of His Kingdom.
But this criminal looked at Jesus hanging on the cross – Jesus who was beaten and bloodied, who barely looked like a man anymore – and saw a Saviour; saw HIS Saviour.
Do I have faith like that?
Can I look beyond the broken and the bruised and see Jesus?
Despite my circumstances, can I cling to Jesus in hope of His Kingdom to come?
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
You may recall that during the month of February, our Student Ministries was working through the four ancient Greek words for love. We do studies like this to help us better understand what the original authors of the New Testament were trying to convey with their letters. And to better wrap our 21st century brains around 1st century people. We finished our series with the ultimate of all loves, which is Agape. Agape love describes the unconditional, divine love that God has for his creation, for us. Agape is a love that is selfless, and sacrificial. While researching this I stumbled on an article that describes Agape love like this;
“Agape...is unmotivated in the sense that it is not contingent on any value or worth in the object of love. It is spontaneous and heedless, for it does not determine beforehand whether love will be effective or appropriate in any particular case”
Agape love is not based on the value of what's being loved. Agape doesn't say, “If you're worthy of this, then you can experience it.” It doesn't require something; it is an undeserved love. Which makes perfect sense to why this is the love that the New Testament authors would use to describe God's love for us. We've done nothing to deserve His love, yet he gives it anyways.
Isn't that amazing?
I think of a passage like Romans 5:8, which states:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
Agape love. Unconditional, undeserving, sacrificial love for His creation. Why? Simply, because He does. We've done nothing to deserve it, we've in fact done everything in our power to reject it. Yet, He gives it, to the point of sending His son to die on a cross, that we might know it. Wow.
It's really easy to stop there, and just say, Agape love, that's God's love for us, neat!... BUT, our New Testament authors don't stop there. Several times we see this word used to describe how we ought to love others. John 15:9-13, We see Jesus commanding his followers...
“This is my commandment, that you love (agapate) one another as I have loved (egapesa) you.”
Jesus is calling us to love each other sacrificially, selflessly, unconditionally, and maybe the toughest of all, undeservedly. That's tough, don't get me wrong. Agape love is a tall order that none of us should take lightly. But it's something we've been commanded to by Jesus himself. This word is also used to describe the love, in a passage you all likely know very well, Galatians 5:22-23, which states;
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love (agape), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
It's really easy to zoom past that first “fruit” and get to some of the more specific fruits of the Spirit. We get caught up thinking, okay, be kind, be patient, be peaceful, be good, be faithful, be loving. But the word used here is not philia (which describes a friendly love), nor storge (familial love). The word used in Galatians 5:22 is agape; unconditional, undeserving, selfless, sacrificial love. The fruits of the Spirit at work in our lives STARTS with this kind of love. And under this kind of love, the rest of the fruits get their framework, and their purpose. How God loves His creation, we too are to love.
We are about to enter into that time of the year where God's agape, love, is on display for all to see. Even the un-churched will hear of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us all. When you approach the cross this Easter, reflect on God's agape for us. Reflect on the fact that you can't earn it, and that you've done nothing to deserve it, YET, God gives it freely, unconditionally, and sacrificially, because He loves you.
Mike Sanders, Youth Director
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I remember one of the first times I worked my way through the book of Hebrews. I had been hesitant to read Hebrews because I found it hard to understand all the Old Testament references and what they had to do with the message that the author of Hebrews was trying to communicate.
So, I sat down and started chasing all those footnotes and cross references that you find in your Bible (a little aside – this is one of the reasons why I don’t think your primary Bible should be a digital device that doesn’t include these). As I read the Old Testament quotes, suddenly the book came alive as I saw the incredible way the author built the case surrounding the supremacy of Christ and the power of salvation through His death on the cross.
One of my favourite sections – and really it’s the pinnacle of the book in many ways – is in chapter 10 where the author writes, (italics mine)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:11–14 (ESV)
When I first read those verses, I wondered why it would mention “stands daily” and then “sat down”. Why would the author put these little details in? As I chased down the cross-references and read some other material I was struck with the thought that the reason why the priest could never sit down was because his job was never done. Every day, day after day, sacrifices would have to be made for the people by the priests. It was a never-ending job that required unbelievable dedication and endurance. There was no shortage of work. Sin continued to be committed, sin needed to be atoned for, and a sacrifice was necessary.
Until THE day when everything changed. Jesus changed everything.
Jesus gave His life as the final and ultimate sacrifice for your sins and mine. In one final act, Jesus took the punishment for our sin. The punishment that we are responsible for because we can’t keep God’s perfect law, was taken on Himself. Not multiple sacrifices, but ONE SINGLE SACRIFICE that made atonement for all sin for all time.
Let that sink in a minute as we approach the time of year where we come together as a church to remember that Jesus died and rose again (Good Friday and Easter) so that our sins can be forgiven and we can be made right with God. And then Jesus SAT down.
The priests in the tabernacle had no need of chairs because their work never ended, but Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, offered himself as a single sacrifice for sins, for all time. After his sacrifice was offered and accepted, he did what no other priest serving in the tabernacle had done before. He pulled up a chair and sat down at the right hand of His Father (1). Your sin and mine has now been covered by the sacrifice that Jesus made. By faith, we accept that gift of grace. It moves me to tears to think that my Saviour did that for us, for His church, for any who would believe.
As we gather this Easter weekend, it is my prayer that the prodigiousness of this grace, that was poured out in the finality of Christ’s sacrifice, would move us all to proclamation and mission - proclaiming the good news to our friends and neighbours and serving people as an expression of love because of what Christ has done for us. Why not invite them to join you on Easter Sunday at Calvary – you never know what they will say until you ask.
And remember…. He sat down…
Pastor Aaron Groat
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