There’s something fundamentally goofy about preaching a Good Friday sermon, and then not preaching an Easter sermon (or vice versa). Each day has its own emphases, and deserves its own time. But life is often goofy. Even though it’s posting here on Easter, this entry is based on a devotional delivered Friday night by Joe and me at the very first meeting of a community that we expect to shortly evolve into a church plant. Since logistics prevents us from meeting on Easter this year, we went ahead and rolled the topics for both days into one short devotional. Hope it’s a blessing to you.
Good Friday is a day to consider what was nailed to the cross. Jesus, of course. Our sins, of course. But all too often, we talk as if the whole meaning of our existence is to escape this earth and get to heaven. If that’s true, then…
- the problem with sin is that it keeps us out of heaven
- the point of the cross is that it takes our sin and puts it on Jesus, and He takes care of it
- the point of the resurrection is that it really worked, and the sin is gone
- the next really significant event in your life is you dying and going to heaven.
In between now and then? Well, just hang on. In light of eternity, a few decades of quiet desperation isn’t so long, really.
The truth about the cross is so much more than that. God put man and woman on the earth to guard and cultivate it, to lovingly rule over it and make it productive. We were supposed to be the very image of the Triune God on the earth, walking with God, partaking in flourishing marriages, families, and friendships. We were made to be healthy, strong and whole — in every possible sense of those words.
We ruined it, thoroughly, by sinning and bringing death into the world. We gave the Serpent a foothold in our domain, and he has used it to steal, kill, and destroy. But at the very beginning, God made a promise that the Seed of the Woman would crush the Serpent’s head. The Serpent won a victory in the Garden, but it was only temporary.
Jesus did not come to gather a few bedraggled refugees to heaven before Adam’s failure finally makes the earth fall apart for the last time. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and set the world right again.
What did Jesus die for? Everything that keeps us from that. Every sin, yes. Also every sickness, every death, every suffering; every physical and emotional wound ever inflicted; every broken relationship; everything without exception that stands in the way of human flourishing on earth. This is why the blind, the lame, the maimed were excluded from the Old Covenant priesthood: because the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) is a new Garden of Eden, and those maladies have no place in the Garden — not because God rejects those who suffer from them, but because He heals them. It’s what Jesus said when John the Baptist asked, “Are you the coming one, or do we look for another?” “Go and tell John what you see: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” In another place, Jesus read a Scripture in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He sat down, and the eyes of all were upon Him as He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Our eyes should be on Him as well, because what He said is true. He didn’t just bear our sins to the cross; according to Isaiah, He bore our griefs and sorrows, our weaknesses, our sicknesses. That’s why Isaiah doesn’t just say “By His stripes we are made righteous.” That’s true, and it’s important, but there’s so much more than that: “By His stripes we are healed.”
As Paul meditated on the meaning of Jesus to the Ephesian church, he took it further than just healing what is broken. He said that we are already seated in the heavenly places with Christ, blessed by the Father with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and commissioned and equipped to make war on spiritual armies of wickedness in the heavenly places — right now.
This is the furthest thing from pie-in-the-sky hope for eventual escape from this earth into heaven, and it’s a good thing. If that’s all you’ve got, you haven’t got very much. Even as great a man of faith as David sustained himself with faith that he would “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Jesus told us to pray for that: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are Christians; we don’t abandon earth for heaven. We are agents of Almighty God taking part in an invasion — heaven invading earth.
You have what Christ bought for you. Act like it.
On November 12, 1993, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship took place in Denver, Colorado, and mixed martial arts entered the mainstream in the United States. You have to understand that up to this point, most martial arts tournaments were held for a single style only. Karate guys went to karate tournaments; taekwondo guys when to taekwondo tournaments, etc., and all the tournaments had a long list of rules. This tournament was different: eight fighters from eight different styles would face each other with no weight classes, no time limits, and almost no rules at all. For most martial artists, myself included, it was a night of surprises. In the end, Royce Gracie, a Brazilian weighing less than 180 pounds, defeated a field of contenders far bigger than he was. The audience was baffled. The announcers were surprised. The fighters were shocked — all but two: Gracie himself, of course, and another fighter named Ken Shamrock, who came from a similar (grappling) background. Shamrock lost his bout to Gracie, but in the fight before that, he faced a big, strong kickboxer named Pat Smith. (You can see the bout here.) Shamrock won handily, placing Smith in a leg lock and forcing him to surrender.
The thing about those kind of locks is, they hurt like the dickens, but as soon as the guy lets up and you have a minute to recover, you feel okay. You don’t even feel like you lost the fight — you feel like you were tricked somehow. That’s what happened with Smith, and if you watch the video clip of the fight all the way to the end, you’ll see him tap and lose the fight, but then you’ll see him get up, shake it off, and start yelling at Shamrock and trying to restart the fight. He lost, but he can’t accept it — he wants to keep fighting.
Can you imagine Shamrock actually letting Smith restart the fight? Think about it — he’s already won. It’s over. How dumb would he have to be to let Smith talk him into giving up the victory he already won, and getting back into the ring to go again?
Isn’t that exactly what we do with the attacks of the devil? Jesus already won the victory; the Serpent’s head is crushed. But he likes to pretend that it’s not true; he wants to keep yelling at us to get back in the fight. Why do we believe his lies?
Or as a pastor I heard a couple months ago put it: “I’m tired of listening to people talk about struggling with sin. They come to me and say, ‘Pastor, I’m just struggling with this sin in my life,’ and I tell them, ‘Stop it!’ Stop struggling with your sin; rebuke it in Jesus’ name and get on with your life!”
And again, why stop with sin? Let’s rebuke everything that Jesus died to deliver us from. Let’s call for the space around us to be an outpost of God’s Kingdom, come to earth. Yes, the coming of the Kingdom is a process, which is a fancy theological way of saying that God probably isn’t going to give us all the cookies at once. But I believe we have yet to even scratch the surface of what He will give us, if only we will believe.