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.

You Do Not Know What You’re Asking

And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:21-22)

Years ago I had to fire a guy. It was a volatile situation and he had nearly come to blows with one of his colleagues. As I sat him down, I began to explain that things were not working out. To my surprise, he nodded and affirmed everything I was saying – that is, until I explained that we were letting him go.

“You’re letting me go? I thought you were letting him go?”

He thought we were firing someone else. He was shocked. His behavior which led to his dismissal was completely excusable to him. To paraphrase Stephen M.R. Covey, he judged himself by his best intentions and others by their behavior. He was completely unaware of his wrongdoing.

We all do this. We self-justify and compare our intentions against the faulty behavior of others. This is how marriages crumble, business partnerships dissolve, and churches split. When we ignore our own sinfulness yet see sin in others, we are delusional destroyers. We will hurt those around us and in so doing, we will starve our souls of grace.

When the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus, she brought this delusional mindset with her. She expects that her sons should sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom. She wants Jesus to confirm that this will happen. This is not unlike the dad who yells at his son’s t-ball coach because his son isn’t batting cleanup. Nevermind that little Timmy can’t even hit a stationary ball – he should be in the best position just because.

The funny thing is, we all approach Jesus like this to some degree. We may show up proud and we may show up ashamed, but we all show up entitled. And you know what, Jesus died so we could be entitled. Let me say that again: Jesus died so we could be entitled.

If our salvation was based on the net result of our good and bad, none of us would be saved. We do not want a merit-based salvation because we come with no merit. With empty hands we approach the throne of grace. But it does not matter, at least not to Jesus. He knew we’d need help. He knew we’d be so blind as to think we might somehow measure up to the standard of a holy and righteous God. So, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we are now entitled to his love, acceptance, and eternal salvation. We didn’t earn it, but he freely gives it to us.

As Pastor Scott said last weekend, “Grace isn’t fair.” If grace was fair and only those who deserve it would receive it, we’d all be out of luck. No, grace is not fair – it is benevolent. The grace of Christ is generous. It is merciful. It is not a reward for good behavior, it is a surprise party for failures.

We cannot earn grace, but we can accept it. Praise God that grace isn’t fair.

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Seeking the Welfare of Your City

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

 

God is into city-building. The Bible starts in a garden and ends in a metropolis. When people flourish under God’s hand, the end result is a bunch of kids and buildings and a town glowing with His presence.

Your residence is not an accident. God knows the hairs on your head and He knows when a bird falls to the ground – so He surely knows and cares about where you call home. Your neighbors are immortal beings with an eternity in front of them, precious in God’s sight.

And your well-being is tied to theirs.

Economists build their models and theories based upon the theory of self-interest, meaning all of us are motivated to do the thing that brings us the greatest gain (emotionally, spiritually, financially, etc.). When I first heard this it sounded either wrong or pessimistic, but the more you think about it the more this rings true. From your order at Starbucks to your Facebook post this morning, it was all in your self-interest. Your choice of job and your choice of spouse, your car and your shirt. All for your own good.

And guess what – God knows this. Self-interest is not the essence of sin – self-glorification is. We all want to be full of joy and purpose and there’s nothing wrong with that. The lynchpin is how we proceed from the desire to be happy to that which makes us happy. Philippians 2:4 says that we should not only look to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The greatest virtue is love – and love costs something. That is why Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on our behalf is so impactful, because it came at the cost of the slaughter of the Son of God. Love is proactive, outward-seeking. Love is action on the behalf of others, and this usually involves self-denial. When we love we deny ourselves of time, money, and reputation.

But…

God made love – He IS love. And this great love which He first showed to us costs something, but there is a return on the cost. Our welfare and our joy is tied to those around us: our family, our friends, and our city. When we serve others and improve their sense of well-being, our sense of well-being will also increase. It’s a positive correlation.

We cannot serve others if we have nothing to give them. I cannot feed you if I am hungry myself with no food. That is why if we want to serve others with impact we must start at the source. Social justice is great, serving the poor is great, helping that old lady across the street is great, but why? We must start with why. The how will take care of itself if we solve the why.

The why is this: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We serve others because Jesus served us to an unimaginable degree. We love others because the love lavished upon us compels us. You cannot help but respond in love if you understand what Jesus has done for you. As for the how, we start at the Gospel and we must proceed in the Gospel. On the wings of the Good News the Spirit carries us to love and good works.

To bring this all together, it’s clear that our well-being sits at the foot of the cross. At the feet of Jesus. And once we sit there for a moment, understanding a grace beyond grace, we’ll want to get up and engage our city with an other-worldly love.

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Great News for Us Failures

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Can you imagine living under Old Testament law? Eat this, not that. Wear this, not that. Oh yeah – and uphold the Ten Commandments and all the implications attached thereto. I can handle the part about not killing people, but I start to sweat when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-22 where He explains that anger against a brother is as good as murder.

When I first understood that the Law was meant to showcase the sinful bankruptcy of the human soul, I was confused. And I was also relieved. If we are supposed to live up to a perfect standard to please God, well, I reckon I’m out. You are too (and if you claim otherwise you’re also a liar, so add that to your tab). We are failures at righteousness.

Pastor Scott likes to say that we are not only undeserving of the grace of Christ, we are ill-deserving. Don’t miss this distinction. Undeserving is giving a beggar a dollar, while ill-deserving is giving a murderer a spot on your couch. The murderer not only doesn’t deserve to crash on your couch, he absolutely should not be under your roof under any circumstances.

Remember that stuff Jesus said about being angry makes us murderers? See where I’m going here?

The grace of Jesus is scandalous. It is generous beyond comprehension. I don’t mean to harp on the blackness of your soul, but if you don’t understand that first you won’t see the light of the cross. If we think we’re just undeserving our disposition is “oh, thanks man.” If we get that we are ill-deserving, we’ll drop our life at Jesus’ feet.

God’s grace is for you – and it’s for me. It’s for those of us that fall short. Which is all of us.

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A Great Market For Jesus

…as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

(Romans 3:10-11)

Pastor Scott told a story this weekend that deserves retelling in case you missed it. Years ago he hung out with some investment traders (the guys who wear big shiny cufflinks and talk about earnings per share). One of these guys, I guess without joking, asked Scott what the ‘market is like’ for being a pastor. Scott’s response:

“It’s great. Everyone needs Jesus.”

As a business guy, the market analogy works for me. All need Jesus. And not some more than others, like ‘that guy really needs Jesus.’ That’s like sitting around in prison talking about who is guiltier. It doesn’t matter when you’re behind bars and you’re all wearing jumpsuits.

Well the dark and the light side of that analogy is that ‘everyone’ includes you and me. It’s not that we all need Jesus like we need a cup of water. We need Jesus like we need pardon from treason against God Himself.

But wait – didn’t Adam and Eve start this mess? They’re the ones who ate the wrong fruit and turned their back on God. We are just their relatives, born into a bad family – right? Unfortunately, no.

You and I would have played it the same way in the Garden of Eden.

We prove our sinful bankruptcy on a daily basis, both Christian and heathen. While the Christian is on a continual trajectory towards Christlike character, perfection is impossible. We all stand cuffed and guilty before God. We all need a savior.

Now for the good news. Jesus offers everyone salvation. He wishes that none would perish. His shoulders felt the weight of your sins so that your life could feel the warmth of His love. All are guilty, but all are free to approach the throne of grace for forgiveness and eternal communion with God. Jesus removes our shackles and grants freedom.

You won’t stop sinning after you meet Jesus. If anything, you’ll become more aware of just how sinful you are. But you will know what direction to head when you act out that wonderful family trait that we call sin.

Grace covered it all.

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God is Not a Loner – The Trinity

God is not a loner. Before creating the world – and us – He was not sitting bored on top of a mountain slump-shouldered as His long legs hung over the side like a giant in a kid’s chair. God has always existed in perfect harmony and yes, in perfect community with Himself.

That sounds like an oxymoron: a community with oneself. Ordinarily it is (unless you are schizophrenic). But God has always been one God in three persons: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. One God, three persons. Not three Gods, but three persons. Not three manifestations, three persons. Still scratching your head? That’s okay. But we cannot dismiss the Trinitarian nature of God any more than we can dismiss Him.

The Trinity is a mystery, so rest assured in that. Our pea brains are too small to grasp the concept with complete clarity, but we know exactly what God wants us to know. He made it clear in Scripture:

“Let us make man…” (Genesis 1:26)

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19 ESV)

There are hordes of verses throughout Scripture affirming the Trinity, though the word ‘trinity’ is not used. Trinity is simply a word used to connote three – the three persons of the Godhead. (The reason it is now capitalized as a proper noun is because we are referring to God when we use this term. Capitalization shows reverence and respect in this way.)

Why does it matter that God was not a loner? Because it means that God did not lack anything. Creation was not an act of solving a problem or making God happy again – He was perfectly in community with Himself in the Trinity. He needed nothing. Out of the abundance of His heart, God spoke us into being. We are objects of creative love.

At The Door Church, one of the pillars of our mission to see lives restored by the Gospel for God’s glory is that we are community-driven. God created us to be in community with one another. I have heard it said that we are saved personally, but not privately. So as you think about the Trinity, give yourself some grace that it is a hard topic to grasp – but a crucial one to the Christian faith. And let the love of the Trinity guide you into a deeper relationship with God and those He graciously put to your left and your right.

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We Are All Theologians

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
― A.W. Tozer

 

When you pray and you notice a response, you are studying the nature of God and learning about the nature of prayer. When you read Scripture, God is directly speaking through His Word and you are certainly learning about the nature of God. Even a blade of grass on your lawn testifies to the greatness of God (Romans 1).

Tozer is absolutely right when he says that what we think about God is the most important thing about us. What we believe directs our desires and our desires direct our behaviors. Luke 6:45 tells us:  “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (The ‘good person’ is made good first because of the work of Jesus, thus we understand that Jesus’ work on the cross produces a saved group of people with new hearts – now capable of doing good from the abundance of their faithful hearts. It starts with belief in Christ, which is a gift.)

Theology can be academic and send you into the weeds, though. So be careful. Any study of theology that does not make you desire and love God more is not helpful. The key is that we come to our knowledge of God humbly and with awe, seeking to learn more about an impossibly loving and perfect Savior. If we come as academics, we’ll fill our heads full of data and our hearts will remain dry. If we ignore theology altogether and decide it’s for other people, we’ll have no rudder for truth and wind up who knows where.

This past Sunday we started a sermon series called, Dogma, where Scott will walk us through fundamental truths about God. As we sit in the pews and listen, may we worship with our heads and our hearts.

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