By Rob Woodrum

Bearing our Consequences

Image result for ancient crucifix

I was doing my usual research for our teaching this week and came across some differing views about policies of capital punishment in the Roman Empire (yes…I’m that boring), which led me to investigate historical evidences of crucifixion, which led me down a very long path of looking at all the various ways in which the crucifixion of Christ has been represented in the arts. (None of this, by the by, made the cut for my teaching…but it was fascinating for me)

What struck me was how much the crucifixion of one Middle Eastern man two millennia in the past has persistently and relentlessly invaded the imagination of humans right up until this present day. That cross emanates something we vaguely intuit. There is a key there and we can’t shake it.

The New Testament has the crucifixion of Jesus as a central theme from which the hope of the gospel flows out. While a robust theology of this event was still in it’s primitive stages in the minds of the NT writers – one thing is crystalline clear: Something VERY important happened in relation to the human condition and the future of the world when Jesus died on the cross. That much they unflinchingly declared.

This Sunday we’ll be reading the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in our ongoing study of Matthew – we’ll be reading Matthew 27:32-66.

Over and over again the NT tells us that Jesus died for sinners – for us. The picture they present is that Jesus, as our substitute, the righteous for the unrighteous, took the consequence of our sins onto himself in that death.

As we consider him, hanging naked and surrounded by enemies who mock him, we see him bear our shame.  In what ways does that effect us now? How can Jesus bearing our shame help us in understanding ourselves in relation to God. How does it effect our understanding of God’s view of us?

Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross – most likely wanting to connect himself with the suffering servant of God from that lament. On the cross he takes our forsakeness – our despairing aloneness and separation from the Divine onto himself.  Not just to identify with us – but to take that away. What do you think that looks like in your life experiences? How can we apply this to times when we do feel alone or forgotten by God?

I love the image of the curtain which separated the holy of holies being torn from top to bottom. What significance, if any, do you see in the direction of that tear? Christ’s sacrificial death has now cleansed us and re-united us with God. What implications does this carry for us, especially in light of understanding who we are in relation to God?

As you read over the passage – what other consequence of sin, if any, do we see Jesus bearing in our place?

This, again, is a brutal yet beautiful passage – a window into the heart of God towards you and I. Hope you can be there this Sunday!

The Wonderful Cross

“Righteousness and love, law and grace, life and death, as well as time and eternity all intersect at the cross; displaying a divine wisdom that staggers the imagination and leads the humble heart to bow in thankful adoration. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.”
― Steven Cook

This Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 27:1-31. It describes the preliminary stages of the cross experience of Christ. We’ve stated before that the cross is the central revelation of God’s character. So, we’ll be focusing on the cross in our teaching, discovering what it reveals and provides for us. It’s a very painful section to read and discuss, but it is also beautiful when understood as a picture of God’s heart towards humanity. That’s one of those strange, delicate tensions that the Gospel is full of.

In v1-10, we have the set up for the trial before Pilate, but then a parenthetical account of Judas’ fate. Judas went to the temple and the temple leaders because his heart was burdened by the sin he committed. What response did he meet there? What does that tell us about what had happened to the temple system of that time? How does that contrast with Jesus’ ministry and the cross experience he undergoes in this section? What warnings do we discern when it comes to our own framework for the practice of our faith?

Through the rest of the section we’ll cover we read about the trial before Pilate. Pilate had political aspirations and clearly wanted to protect those, but he also had difficulty with the apparent innocence of Jesus. The crowd and their leaders wanted blood and Pilate wanted to avoid a riot which could further tarnish his reputation as a competent leader for Rome. He offers a trade – he’ll let one prisoner go as a gesture of good-will for the Passover – who will it be? Barabbas, a condemned insurrectionist and murderer, or Jesus, the hopeful messiah. He likely expected they would choose Jesus over a brigand, but he was wrong. Barabbas, the guilty goes free and Jesus, the innocent, takes his place for crucifixion. Matthew is pretty heavy handed with the telling of this – it’s obvious what he wants us to see. What do you see?  What is this a picture of the cross providing for us all.

When the soldiers mock Jesus, they dress him up like a clown king…a parody of what a ruler should look like. They fashion a crown out of thorny brambles to put on his head. The Creation story comes to mind, and the curse pronounced because of sin:

Gen 3:17…”cursed is the fertile land because of you;
        in pain you will eat from it
        every day of your life.
18 Weeds and thistles will grow for you,
        even as you eat the field’s plants.”

Considering that curse, what does Jesus being crowned with thorns mean to you? What can it be picturing about what the cross of Christ is providing for us?

As I said – it’s a heavy and painful section of Scripture to read – but beautiful beyond comprehension as well. Hope to see you Sunday.

When Faith is Falling Apart

Related imageI think one of the most common questions that gets posed to me is: “What is God DOING to me?” – or variations on that. “Why God? Why is this happening?” seems to be a regular refrain in the song of the redeemed. The reality is, life is painful and difficult and being a follower of Jesus doesn’t insulate us from experiencing that. That’s one of the reasons I love the gospel so much, because it never presents a triumphalist view of the world where the good guys always win. No, it clearly presents us with suffering, in all of its ugliness; but also reveals that pain as the very stuff that God works through to bring about his ultimate good.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 26:31-75 – covering a lot of territory, but all of it goes together, trust me.

Obviously, Jesus is the focal point of this section – but there is another character that reoccurs over and over through the entire section. Who is it?

We’re going to look at what we can learn from Peter’s miss-steps. By observing what he does, we can discern what NOT to do when our world starts to fall apart and our faith beings to fail.

Read it over – consider what the opposite moves are to Peter’s movements and attitudes, and you should be tracking with what we’ll consider this Sunday!

Hope to see you then!

A New Exodus

What’s your favorite holiday? I still really enjoy Christmas, especially now that grandchildren are in the mix. We have traditions that we hold to every year, some that are sentimental, some that are just silly…some that are both, like Janelle and I and our annual light-hanging on my house. I don’t think I laugh all year as much as I do on that day. Have you ever had something go strange during a holiday celebration? Something that made the whole thing feel awkward?

For the people of Israel, the Passover Meal was and is the central celebration of the Jewish faith. It is a special meal, with special food and special prayers – all of it rich with meaning about the national heritage and covenant they enjoyed with God. In our text this Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 26:17-30, where Jesus and his disciples share the Passover Celebration together. Jesus, however, veers from the normal traditions and reshapes the celebration to reveal something amazing about his mission!

The Passover meal was instituted during the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt where they had lived as slaves. It commemorated their deliverance from slavery, as well as their protection from judgement, as the angel of death passed over the houses where the blood of the Passover lamb was sprinkled. The exodus of Israel revealed the distinction between the systems of this world (Egypt) and God’s Kingdom. Israel enjoyed a unique relationship with God – a covenant – and those are the things the Passover celebrated.

Jesus chose Passover as the timing of his sacrificial death. What does that tell us about the nature of Jesus’ messianic mission? What is it recreating. What are the parallels, on a worldwide scale, between the first exodus and Jesus’ mission.

Why do you think Jesus cryptically states that one of their own will betray him? Why do you think he didn’t just point him out and condemn him on the spot?

If Christ’s body and his blood, given sacrificially on the cross, is the basis of our unique relationship with God (a new covenant, in Jesus’ words) – what will that relationship look like in light of its basis?

If I were clever, I would have timed this teaching for next week when we celebrate communion…but hopefully we’ll remember what we learn and absorb it, not just for a week from now, but for life.

See you Sunday!

 

Contrasts of the Cross

Image result for cross and shadowsHow many of us have had our lives go exactly as we planned them to go? I would venture to guess very few. I know that my dreams from just a young child were to be a cartoonist or comic book artist. God, of course, had other plans. It’s intriguing to me how often we struggle with the turns that life takes, wondering why God doesn’t change things. We can look at this broken world of wars and crimes and disease and wonder if God really has a plan at all. Then I look at the cross – and I’m reminded that God’s plans don’t always look the way I would assume they should. I remember how much beauty can actually emerge from the depth of suffering. How much hope can be found in the presence of sacrificial love.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 26:1-16 – entering the final stages of the gospel drama.

The story begins with Jesus giving one of his clearest predictions of his upcoming death so far. He even indicates when it will be taking place. What does that tell us about the nature of Christ’s death? Was it an accident? Was he pushed into a corner where he couldn’t escape? What does his foreknowledge reveal about his mission?

In contrast, look at the religious leaders conspiring to have him murdered. They considered themselves representatives of God; doing God’s work. Look at what morals, values and commands they were willing to throw aside in order to keep their place of political power. What contrast do you see between Jesus’ willingness to die and their schemes? How does our present day, Evangelical church measure up when compared to the cross?

The woman who brings the perfumed oil and pours it on Jesus (weird thing to do…but I’ll explain it a bit on Sunday) is commended by Him. He described it as anointing him for burial, tying this act to His upcoming sacrificial death. If we look at her example, what would we say the cross of Jesus can inspire in our lives? What do you think Jesus meant by indicating her actions would be remembered when the Good News is shared?

What question does Judas ask? How does that contrast with Jesus’ cross and the woman’s sacrificial devotion? If we’re not challenged by this, we’re not thinking it through. The cross exposes something here in Judas. What are our motives for following Jesus? If it cost us everything, would we still be faithful? How can the cross reshape our values and form us into better people?

Hope to see you Sunday! Surf-N-Grill is supposed to be happening – but the weather just doesn’t seem cooperative with our plans (with a nod to my opening paragraph). Let’s hope for some clearer skies!

Risky Mission

Image result for parable of the talentsWhelp – my latest Grandson is in town and he brought his parents, which got me delayed in posting about our teaching this Sunday.

This week we’ll be reading a very familiar parable – the parable of the Talents, in Matthew 25:14-30.

As you read this story, remember that parables aren’t meant to be exact representations of God’s kingdom in all the details. Jesus said it is “like” this sort of thing. The most important element of this story to discern is just what Jesus meant the talents to represent. A talent was a sum of money in Roman currency.  We get our English word “talent” from this parable, interestingly enough. Do you think Jesus is talking about money? Probably not, since money is the metaphor he’s employing. Do you think he’s talking about our skills though? What else do we know that God has entrusted to us, his subjects, to manage while our King isn’t presently seen?

The element of investing the talents is intriguing to me. It carries the implication of risk-taking. What would taking risks with what God has entrusted to us look like in our lives? What would it look like in our churches?

The third steward in this story seemed to speak respectfully to his master. But what do you think his actions actually revealed? Contrast the way the first two stewards interacted with the master and the third stewards assessment of what the master is like. What do you make of that contrast, if anything? Here’s a hint – how did the Pharisees understand God in contrast to Jesus’ revelation of God?

This should be an intriguing story to consider! Hope to see you tomorrow!

Prepared to Wait

Image result for crazy wedding themesDo you like weddings? What is the craziest wedding you’ve ever attended or seen? It seems like every culture has a different approach to weddings and the rituals associated with them. This Sunday, as we continue our study in Matthew, we’ll be reading about the unusual wedding rituals of ancient Palestine as we study chapter 25:1-13.

As you read the parable that Jesus tells, what do you believe the main point is?  How comfortable or uncomfortable are you with discussing the end times? If you knew for sure that Jesus was going to return within the next hour, what would you do differently?

It’s interesting to note that both sets of girls fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom. The only time the differences began to show up between them was when the alarm was sounded. One group was prepared, one was not.

In what ways can we see to it that we are prepared for the reveal of Christ as King?

Looking forward to being back! See you on Sunday – and don’t forget Surf-N-Grill is on! Finally!