Sweating Blood: From Despair to Redemption

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

As the rocks pelted Stephen’s skull, he cried out faithful prayers of forgiveness for his murderers. The crowd descended upon him with gnashed teeth and boiling blood. Stephen learned just how offensive the gospel is as the mob brutally murdered him. It must have been terrifying and painful, faithful and hopeful though he was.

Jesus endured far more than Stephen.

As Pastor Scott mentioned in last weekend’s sermon, we should consider why Jesus was so grieved in the garden before his execution. Of course, there’s the theory that he was scared to be tortured to death—and there is no doubt this is true. If Stephen would have had advance warning of his stoning, he probably would have had a similar reaction. There is something more here for us, though. There is something distinctly different between the death of a Christian martyr and Jesus’ death on Calvary.

When I was a toddler, I got into some fire ants. I was in the front yard of a family friend’s beach house just playing away in the middle of a fire ant bed. I began to scream and writhe in pain. One of the men ran over with a water hose and sprayed me off. I began to swell up. I was allergic. My parents scooped me up and took care of me. They got me medicine and made sure I was okay. They covered me with their love.

Imagine if they had seen me and just thought, huh. What if they had noticed my anguish and turned their backs as the ants consumed my young flesh?

As Jesus endured the spit and mocking and torture, his Father had to let it happen. When Jesus died, he remained turned away. I cannot imagine the pain Jesus felt. I cannot imagine the pain the Father felt.

You see, the Father turning from Jesus during this dark hour was not capricious or mean. He was not punishing Jesus for anything Jesus had done. He was punishing Jesus for what we have done.

Jesus sweat blood because he knew his Father would reject him. He knew he’d drink the cup of the wrath of his infinitely powerful Father and that this cup entailed his rejection. This is a fate far worse than death itself. Rejection of the Father is hell. Jesus sweat blood in anticipation of this hell.

While this incident is dark and horrible, it is brightened by the fact that it was borne out of love. You see, Jesus knew why he was to endure this hell. The Father knew why he had to send his Son. It was for our ransom. It was to pay the price of sin. The blood Jesus wept was the same blood that covers our sins. And as we know from Scripture, Jesus did not stay separated from his Father. He rose, smashing sin and Satan and death and bridging the chasm between us and God. He prepared a way for us to escape the grave of sin to ascend to the perfection of heaven.


If only the disciples who were with Jesus knew the epic story they were caught up in, this grand narrative of loss and redemption and victory at the highest price. If only they understood what Jesus was dreading when he asked them to stay up with him. Maybe then they would have stayed awake. Maybe then they would have remained with Jesus and prayed with him. But they didn’t, and of course, Jesus would spread his forgiveness over them all the same.

Why is Good Friday Good?

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

Why is Good Friday called “Good” Friday? Couldn’t we come up with a different term? Good doesn’t describe what Jesus endured on the cross. He was brutally murdered. He was mocked and tortured until he surrendered his spirit as he hung on a cross between two criminals. Not good.

I’ll bet Jesus’ disciples didn’t think it was a good day, either. They saw Jesus do miracles, from feeding five thousand to calming storms to raising people from the dead. Jesus claimed to be God. But now he was dead. And even though Jesus told the disciples about his crucifixion beforehand, I am sure Thomas wasn’t the only one doubting.

Don’t skip to the resurrection. I know, that’s the easy explanation as to why we call Good Friday good. Because Easter makes it so! While this is true, we cannot ignore what happened as Jesus’ righteous blood ran down the rugged cross. Stay there with me for a moment.

We need to consider these words:
“…upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

The crucifixion was not merely an execution of an innocent – well, actually perfect – man. It was that, but it was also a payment.

Sin is dark and deadly. It is treason against God. It is hatred of God. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So what can God do? Here are some options:

1. He could let it go
2. He could kill all of us (the wages of sin is death)
3. He could pay our debt

Letting it go will not do. God is a God of justice and equity. Letting an injustice go unaddressed is contrary to his character. He obviously didn’t kill all of us. He chose the third option: to pay our debt for us. The Father sent his perfect, blameless, wonderful Son to die for us. The bloody gravity of Good Friday covered the bloody gravity of our sin. Because Jesus died in our place, we must not turn away from the violence of this day. We deserve those wounds, the spit, the mocking laughs. But Jesus bore them for us.

Don’t look away. Look right at Jesus. Consider what he endured out of his great love for us. Go ahead and picture it.

Now understand what this day means for us. It means Jesus earned the pardon of peace for us. Now, because of the work of Jesus, God gives us grace in exchange for our rebellion. Good Friday washed our hearts of the stain of sin. Praise Jesus for Good Friday, the day he paid our debts and deposited eternal grace into our hearts.

Would you pray with me?

Jesus, I was not there. But I can picture it. I cannot understand the pain and rejection you endured. But I can imagine it. I know you did that for me. I know you washed me clean and purchased me forgiveness on that day. So I want to thank you. But more than that, I want to follow you and be near you. Draw me closer, Jesus. Help me know you more. I love you. In your holy name, amen.

 

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He is Coming

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. (Matthew 25:31)

Spring is officially here. Grass is turning green and the pollen has coated every flat surface. The sun is shining.

Jesus is coming.

Our joy ebbs and flows. We get fired, then hired. We lose a loved one and shortly after we celebrate the birth of a baby. Marriages go through hard times and honeymoon times. We get busy with distractions, amusing ourselves to numbness.

Jesus is coming.

We search and grasp for meaning, and we lean towards that next best thing that might satisfy us a little more. It could be a new iPhone or a promotion. We hunger for something that will soothe the core of our souls. We become frantic in our search.

JESUS IS COMING!

If you aren’t dead, you’re dying. You will soon approach the throne of God. He might just show up before you do. Jesus is not a sniper waiting to pick you off, he’s a Savior ready to pick you up. When he comes back, make no mistake, it will be terror for some. He will judge according to the hearts of men. Not their statements, bank accounts, or moral records. He will judge them according to whether or not their hearts fully trust in him.

The choice is so painfully obvious, but we walk past it like a beggar passing up a feast. We want something else, not the ancient way of God. It’s not shiny enough. But it is enough, and very soon it will be made shockingly clear that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

He is coming soon.

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What Remains

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. (Matthew 24:2)

Look around you. Everything you can see will eventually rust, rot, and decay.

Whether we are young or old, fit or out-of-shape, our bodies too are wasting away. I’m only 33 but my injuries seem to linger a week longer than they used to. It happens, and it’s happening.

When Jesus explained to his disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, they couldn’t believe it. The temple was built like a bunker with hulking, heavy stones. It was beautiful. When Jesus explained that it would all be destroyed, it rattled them. They begin to ask more questions about his second coming and the close of this age.

They are seeking something permanent to hold on to.

We too seek permanence. We want something that will last, whether it is our kid’s childhood or our favorite show. But if we place our hope in things that are passing away, we place our joy upon an altar built with straw. It’ll all come down.

Jesus was before. He is here now. And he will remain after. He is past, present, and future. His redeeming work on Calvary spans the test of time – forward and back – and his kingdom endures forever. He is worthy of our hope. He will never pass away.

We have the choice to orient our lives around that which will pass away or that which will endure. Put your hope in Jesus, our indestructible Savior.

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The Coiled Spring of the Sermon on the Mount

And he opened his mouth and taught them…(Matthew 5:2)

The Sermon on the Mount never convicted me. I have always read it, the red letter brilliance, as advice and commands from Jesus. Clearly words to heed and live by. Certainly good verses to pray over and seek for clarity. And it is that, no doubt. But this past weekend when Pastor Scott recommended we also use the Sermon on the Mount as a diagnostic, it took me down the path of brokenness.

If you consider Jesus’ words in the SOTM and compare yourself next to them, you will despair. You will feel anguish. If you don’t, I hope the Spirit moves and makes you more contrite because none of us can stand in the light of the SOTM with swagger.

The SOTM is a gracious self-fulfilling command if we see it rightly. Jesus starts with “blessed are the poor in spirit.” There are two reasons, I believe. First, when we are poor in spirit we are humble recipients of the grace we so badly need. Second, I believe Jesus was about to help us get poor in spirit with His words. The SOTM sobers us if we consider how our life compares. By Jesus helping us get poor in spirit we can then come to the fountainhead of grace – His feet – and drink.

 

Why Go There?

You might wonder why it makes sense to turn this beautiful sermon into an opportunity to feel broken. Shouldn’t we just sit underneath His wisdom and listen and stay positive about it all? Why the long face?

The reason we should welcome the awareness of our spiritual bankruptcy – both in this context and in the broader context of our walk with Jesus – is that brokenness precedes healing. And we are all broken. If we deny our brokenness, we are delusional and we remain in a posture of pride. A person who knows she is broken will walk behind Jesus, meet Him at the well, and pour her expensive perfume on His feet in an effort to get better. She’ll plead with Him, and she will lay hold of the Word until the Spirit lights up the pages and delivers the words deep into her heart.

You are sick. You are guilty. If you’ve ever been angry at someone, it’s as good as murder to Jesus. So you’re a murderer. Have you ever lusted for someone who wasn’t your spouse? You’re a cheater. I won’t go on – you get the point. We need to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to the words of the SOTM to help us understand how badly we need Him.

 

A Good Cycle

As we read Scripture, we should see God more clearly. And when we see God more clearly, we can then see ourselves more clearly. The more I read the Bible and the more I walk through life with Jesus, the more convinced I am of my depravity and God’s goodness. I’m a mess and He is magnificent. The distance between my righteousness and Christ’s righteousness seems to grow in my mind even as, by the power of the Spirit, He makes me more like Himself every day.

Beholding the glory of God and our human brokenness, we feel small. Have you ever stood on top of a mountain or watched giant waves pound the shore? It’s a glorious smallness we feel. We comprehend that what we observe is massive and we are not but we don’t want anything to change. We search the expanse with our eyes on top of the mountain and we stand there on the beach with the salt air as the waves roar. We were designed to take in awe and stand amazed at God’s greatness.

The more small I feel, the bigger God seems. And this is a good cycle. Because the more I see God’s power and holiness, the happier I get. He has adopted me as His son. He has my back. All of this grandeur, this terrifying power, is leveraged in my favor. How great thou art!

 

The Coiled Spring

The SOTM compresses us. We read it and lap up every word Jesus says and if we do so from a self-aware mindset, we will feel our unrighteousness. Jesus perfectly exhibits the qualities He preaches on and while we may have glimmers of them, we want more. But we don’t measure up. But we want more.

As we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, we are like a coiled spring. The more we are compressed by our imperfection the more potential energy is stored. The Gospel – the Good News of Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection for us sinners – releases that kinetic energy. When we are weak we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10). We spring upwards in joy as Jesus looks into our eyes and says, you are mine. I will heal you.

The Lord doesn’t give us commands so we can fail a test (unlike my math professor in college). He gives us commands so we can understand how to live and to see the grace of Christ more clearly. So let us sit underneath the SOTM and soak up Jesus’ words as applicable ways to live our life. And let us also notice how dreadfully short we fall. But let us move from there to spring upward into the arms of God with a soul-penetrating grin. He has saved us and He is making all things new – including us.

 

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The Herod In Us

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13 ESV)

We are never the bad guy. When you watch The Lion King, you never associate with Scar. He’s the worst, that scumbag lion who wants the kingdom for himself. He’ll step on anyone to do it, even while smiling.

We are Mufasa. Or Simba. We wear the white hat and ride the white horse and we’re on the right side of the fight. We are William Wallace. The horns sound as we enter the scene of life and hope everyone realizes how great we are. We are trying to do the right thing. Did you see that? Why can’t anyone see I’m doing the right thing here?

You see, we all vie for our personal kingdoms. Whether we admit it or not is another matter.

Herod had a kingdom. So when Jesus came on the scene, his stomach turned. Back in Biblical times you were king until you died or until someone stronger came and overthrew you. Herod heard the word on the street that a new king had arrived. So he decided mass infanticide was a good idea. Just kill all the young male babies and that’ll cast a broad enough net to kill this new king baby I keep hearing about.

You are in The Garden. You and your perfect spouse. You walk around in harmony and God is a few acres away doing something cool and you walk upon that tree He mentioned. He told you not to eat of it because you’ll die. But then you hear another voice, a voice telling you that not only will you not die if you eat it but you’ll really live. Like life in HD on top of the mountain live.

You take a bite.

That is what we do. We know what is right, we just don’t want to do it. Because submission to God means dropping our kingdom in the trash as we enter His kingdom. And that’s hard, but it shouldn’t be.

The really odd thing about this dance we do is that there is one real kingdom, and that is God’s kingdom. We, like grass, wither and die when we take the last breath we were given by God on the world He made. Yet He keeps on living. He always has and always will. He makes it rain and He knit you in your mother’s womb. It’s like a toddler telling his parents that he’s in control. Or worse.

When I read the story of Herod, I am appalled. Not only at the baby-killing but at the selfishness of the reason. He wanted babies to die because he wanted to live.

I’m going to have to distance from the baby-killing part of Herod. I’ll keep that line in the sand. But his disgusting kingdom-building feels awfully familiar. And someone bent on building their own kingdom will, if history is any indication, do horrific things to put another brick in their castle.

Let’s not sit in this mess too long. If you’re being real, you can associate with the kingdom building grossness of Herod. I can. That is the essence of sin. It started that way in The Garden and it’s that way here in 2016. Until Jesus returns we’ll fight this nature of ours (Jeremiah 17:9). But we can choose how we respond.

We can get on the building committee for one project only – His or ours.

I don’t mean that to say you can just will yourself to start caring more about God’s kingdom. Our wills are pretty weak. But we can make the choice to submit. We can actually read the Bible and care about what it says. We can pray and ask for help. We can be readers of the Word and doers of the Word. Here’s how.

Our building committee is a joke. It’s just us and we start nailing a 2×4 to a cinder block with a rubber mallet and it just goes bad. God’s building committee is eternal all star. When we submit to the lordship of Jesus, the Spirit moves within us to shape us and mold us. We get into the flow of how things were designed. And it all goes better. We flourish, the world is made better, and we get something done of significance. That sounds a lot better to me.

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A People That…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

 

We like to draw dividing lines. Just look at a map. Sometimes you have to wonder if the people who made borders were on drugs or just plain confused, but nonetheless they drew lines of separation. Church is no different. Those people over there believe this or do that or worship this way or that, but we do it this way and that’s right.

We draw lines.

Now some lines are crucial, for example theological lines. When the lines of orthodoxy smear we approach dangerous territory. If I believe Jesus is the son of God and you think He was just a prophet, we stand on different foundations. Some lines matter.

But let’s talk about the church – the bride of Christ. The church is the group of people who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and who believe that He died for their sins and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death. That includes a Southern Baptist church in Kansas and Christians in a mud hut in the African desert. They’re all one people – a chosen race.

So what are we all doing, this massive world-sized glob of people with different colors and ages and shapes and places? Are we just ants running around on a hill in different directions?

“…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

When you see a “that” in the Bible, pay attention. The words after “that” tell you why God did something. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for His own possession, that we might proclaim His excellencies. In other words, God called us together, saved sinners of all tribes, to bring Him honor and glory and to delight in Him.

How incredible. That means the goat-herder and the CEO have the same purpose, granted with different contexts. This “that” provides a purpose for us and a true north. If what you’re doing in your life is proclaiming your own excellencies, you’re back to the tree in The Garden having a sin feast. If you’re reflecting the light of Christ, you’re in your proper lane.

You don’t have to point at the sky when you score a touchdown. You don’t have to go around with a plastered smile on your face. That isn’t the call here. The call here is to joyful obedience to proclaim the excellency of the One worthy of all praise. You will speak with your life.

Live your “that.”

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