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As we once again turn our attention to Luke 23 I would like to share with you what else I see when “I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” As Christ’s friends and family were watching Him die on Golgatha’s hill, they must have felt hopeless. However, we can look at the same horrific scene and realize that what happened that day brought the world HOPE!
Please take a moment to read Luke 23:38-43.
While hanging on the cross a conversation began between Jesus and the two criminals that had been crucified on either side of Him. It is obvious they had both heard of Jesus and had heard stories about who He claimed to be. We are not sure how they learned about Him, or even if what they heard was accurate. Some of the Gospel writers revealed that at the beginning, both of the criminals had mocked Jesus, but it is obvious that one of them had been touched by the Holy Spirit through something he had seen Jesus do, or perhaps he had heard Jesus say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Regardless of what transpired, these two criminals ended up with very different responses to the Christ they were dying beside. One wanted Jesus to set him free from his pain and agony by delivering him off the cross and the other wanted to be free by becoming a part of Christ’s kingdom. He came to the realization of WHO Jesus was and simply requested for Jesus to remember him when He entered into His kingdom. He understood that Jesus is the Messiah and he understood that He truly was the King and he wanted to be a part of Jesus’ kingdom.
While Jesus was dying for the sins of the world, he was also dying for the sins of this man—a guilty criminal. A man who knew he was guilty. A man who knew he was getting what he deserved. A man who did not have time to perform any good works. A man who did not have time to go to the temple and put in an offering. A man who did not have time to get baptized. He had wasted his life, he had hurt people, he had stolen from people . . . could there be, would there be any HOPE for him?
O yes, dear friend! There was HOPE for him and PLENTY of it! In simple faith, He called out to Jesus to remember him and Jesus made him this promise, “TODAY, you will be WITH ME in paradise!” There was no hesitation, they was no “maybe so” or “I’ll see what I can do.” No, Jesus said, “Today YOU WILL BE with me in paradise!”
This is a wonderful reminder that we are not rescued from the penalty of sin by what we have done, or haven’t done, by what we can do or cannot do, we are rescued from the penalty and power of sin, by what Jesus did and by what He purchased for us when He gave His life for us on the cross!
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross I am filled with HOPE! That dying man had HOPE that day because He trusted in the ONLY one who could give him real, lasting hope!
The year was 1707. Sir Isaac Watts published his first book of hymns. This was a bold move, because just about every Church of England congregation only sang out of Psalms. Watts felt like this practice limited the church from singing about all Christ had accomplished in the New Testament. He is credited with writing over 750 hymns. One of my personal favorites is the hymn he wrote entitled: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
Here are just a few of the words:
When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
As we turn our attention to Luke 23 I would like to share with you what I see when “I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Although this is the darkest day in human history, it is one of the greatest days in human history! It is the day that our forgiveness was purchased and hope was born! As we take this journey together my prayer and hope is that we will all realize how wondrous and amazing the cross really is.
Pilate has given in to the pressure from the Jews and has handed Jesus over to be crucified. The Jewish people had chosen Barabbas, who had been guilty of murder, to be released and demanded Jesus to be put to death. The guilty was set free and the innocent would be beaten, bloodied, bruised and marched up Golgotha’s hill to die.
As Jesus walked up this hill, after enduring a tortuous night, the soldiers demanded a man named Simon, from Cyrene, to assist Jesus in taking His crossbeam. As they approached Golgotha (also known as “the place of the skull”) there were two criminals who were crucified along with Jesus that day. Please take a moment to read Luke 23:33-37.
Imagine everything Jesus had been through up to this point. He had been up all night. He had agonized in prayer, to the extent that His sweat became like great drops of blood. He had been hit repeatedly in the face. He had been mocked. He had been whipped with a “cat of 9 tails.” He had a crown of thorns placed on His head and driven down into His scalp. He was walked uphill, with the crossbeam on his back part of the way. He had spikes driven through His wrists and His feet. He had been raised up on the cross, and his bones had probably come out of joint as the cross dropped into the hole with a thud. The linen garment that had been stripped from His body was gambled over by the soldiers . . . and what does He say? He didn’t curse them, but He cried out to His Heavenly Father and said, “Father, FORGIVE THEM for they know not what they do.”
Charles Swindoll noted in his book, “The Darkness and the Dawn”, the phrase “Father forgive them,” conveyed the idea of continued past action. In other words He did not just pray it one time, but rather prayed this prayer repeatedly throughout the ordeal. He prayed it over and over again.
Let me quote from his book:
“Perhaps when they drove the nails into His hands, He was praying, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ When they nailed His feet to the beam and lifted that timber high and dropped it in the hole, with a jolt that tore His flesh, He was praying, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”
The very first words that Jesus uttered from the cross, were the words of forgiveness. These words were directed toward the men who were guilty of literally picking up the hammer and the spikes and driving them through His flesh and raising that cross up to be suspended between Heaven and earth while the Son of God was left to die in the most agonizing manner ever invented! Yet He proclaimed, “Father forgive them.”
But I do not believe those words were just directed to the Roman soldiers doing their job that day. I believe those words were directed to you and I that day as well. Because we are just as guilty of Jesus’ death as they were. Jesus wasn’t just dying on the cross that day because of Pilate’s decision, He was dying on the cross that day because of the Father’s decision to pour out His wrath on Him instead of YOU and I!
Note the words of the Apostle Paul as he penned the book of Romans, 2 Corinthians and Colossians:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10 ESV)
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:13-14 ESV)
Forgiveness is made possible, not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done! We must simply trust what He has done on our behalf, and we can be reconciled to God through faith and receive the forgiveness of our sins!
I found a story sermonillustrations.com that I think illustrates this forgiveness well. The story is told about the first missionaries who came to Alberta, Canada. They were savagely opposed by a young chief of the Cree Indians named Maskepetoon. But he responded to the Gospel and accepted Christ.
Shortly after his conversion, a member of the Blackfoot tribe killed his father. Maskepetoon rode into the village where the murderer lived and demanded that he be brought before him. Confronting the guilty man, he said, “You have killed my father, so now you must be my father. You shall ride my best horse and wear my best clothes.” In utter amazement and remorse his enemy exclaimed, “My son, now you have killed me!” He meant, of course, that the hate in his own heart had been completely erased by the forgiveness and kindness of the Indian chief.
When I read this story I was reminded of the fact that I am guilty of killing God’s only Son. My sin is what brought God’s judgement upon Him. My sin brought His death. My rebellion, my lust, my guilt was placed upon Jesus and although He knew no sin, He became sin for me so that I might have His righteousness and His forgiveness! O what a glorious thought, when I survey the wondrous cross!
And then to think, God the Father comes to me and says, “Now YOU can be MY son! Now YOU can wear the robes of righteousness that belong to Christ who died in your place. The home that my Son is preparing can now be yours.”
O the forgiveness of God Almighty, what a wonderful thing it is, but what a HIGH cost it was for me to have it!
If God can forgive me for what my sins put Christ through, then who am I not to forgive others who have put me through far less? We have been forgiven of MUCH, therefore we must learn to forgive MUCH! That is one of the most important evidences of being a true Christ follower.
You cannot survey the wondrous cross without seeing the wonderful forgiveness of God!
Here are a few things the people of Flagship Church have to say!
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”~Psalm 103:13 ESV
Yesterday, I took my one year old son in for some routine blood work. What I thought would be a simple pinprick to the finger turned into to be something much more painful. In the waiting room, he sat quietly on my lap, giving me lots of extra snuggles, not knowing what would be coming in only a few moments. They directed us back to the lab, and I sat in “the chair” with my little boy in my lap, still unaware. They prepped him to draw blood from the small, baby-sized veins in his arms. Then they began the torture by sticking a tiny needle into his left side. When one arm wasn’t enough, they moved onto the other side and started poking again. It was awful! I held him tight as a he sat squirming, fighting and screaming. I questioned, why am I doing this? Immediately, the answer came: for his own good, to keep him healthy. I believed I was doing what was best for him. Another thought came to my mind—it must be the same with the God and us. He sees the bigger picture, and sometimes He has to hold us tight as we fight and struggle and cry through the pain. When my little boy strained his neck to turn and look at me, I saw big tears filling his eyes and spilling over his cheeks. “It’s almost over, baby. We’re almost done.”
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” ~Luke 11:13 ESV
Ask any of my children, I am a far cry from a perfect parent. I break my promises. I lose my temper. I don’t always give them my best. Still, I don’t think they would doubt how much I dearly love them. If I could keep them in a bubble to protect them from all harm, I might just do it! I want the very best for them, but in my limited view of things, sometimes I mess up. I don’t always see things clearly. Oh, but God does! Nothing comes as a surprise to Him! He never breaks His promises. He is always faithful. He knows without a doubt what is best for us, and He promises to give it to us, if we trust him with our lives. Sometimes what is best for us, will take us around a problem or God will give us the solution to the problem. But sometimes, God takes us into the heart of death’s valley. King David knew that valley well. It was the valley of consequences of his own sin. It was the valley of persecution. Job travelled the valley path as well. It was the valley of sickness and suffering, of poverty and death. God didn’t respond exactly how they wanted. Surely, their plan would have included avoiding the pain altogether. David lamented, “How long?” Job wished that he had never been born. God knew. God held them through it all.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” ~Romans 8:18 ESV
As a young girl, I can remember nights alone in my room crying out to God. I just wanted Him to send an angel to hug me, hold me. Looking back on those nights decades later, I know that I was not alone for a moment. He was holding me the whole time. He must have been whispering in my ear, Hold on just a little bit longer. It’s almost over. I’ve got you. This is for your own good. Although it may be hard for us to hear, the truth is that sometimes God holds us, keeps us right in the midst of the worst pain. He knows that we have to endure it to get to the blessings of the other side. I know it hurts, my child, but just stay right here. And when we strain to look at Him with tear filled eyes, oh, how His heart must break.
What is the good that we are waiting for? I wish I had the perfect, crystal clear answer. Recently, my friend miscarried and no words would come. I couldn’t even think what to pray. So I just repeated over and over “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” and I held tightly to the promise of Romans 8:26 which says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” ~Romans 8:28 ESV
There are a few things I do know:
- Nothing we experience on this Earth (good or bad) can even come close to comparing to the glory that Heaven holds for us who are believers.
- God sees us. He sees us right where we are, where we have been and where we are going. He has promised to never leave us, and God cannot lie.
- Whether we see the “good” in this present life or see it later in eternity, I know we can trust God.
- He wants us to share the painful stories of our valley experiences so that we can comfort others with the same comfort offered to us (see 2 Corinthians 1:4).
- The promise of Romans 8:28, and those like it, only apply to believers—the true followers of Christ who have accepted His sacrifice and forgiveness for their sins and put their faith in Him alone. If you are living a life apart from a relationship with Christ, then you are in a sinking ship. You are needlessly experiencing the pains of this life and walking through the dark valleys alone. Don’t go on one more day without Him! Romans 10:9 says, “ . . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.”
- Finally, if you are a believer, and you are in the valley today, cling to this truth:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” ~Psalm 23:4a ESV
No matter how deep, dark or long your valley is, God is there with you. He is faithful! He will not leave you or forsake you!
In 2 Kings 18-19 the King of Assyria is using psychological warfare against God’s people. He is reminding them how he has devastated nation after nation and how each nation’s “gods” have been insufficient to stop him. He warns King Hezekiah and God’s people not to be deceived into thinking that the God of Israel will protect them. The Assyrian king assumes that the God of Israel and His people will fall before him or be miserably defeated just like all the rest.
Well he assumed wrong! The Assyrian king and the Assyrian army never even stepped foot in Jerusalem. They paid a high price for underestimating the power of God and rebelling against His authority.
The enemy uses psychological warfare in your mind as well, doesn’t he? He whispers things like this: “The problems are just too big. The addiction is just too strong. The temptation is just too powerful. The struggle just isn’t worth it. Others have failed, so will you. Not even God can help you now.” The “father of lies” constantly and continually bombards your thinking and seeks to defeat you before the battle ever begins. However, take a moment and listen to God’s response to the King of Assyria:
“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When YOU and I walk in obedience as a result of our faith in God and His Word, the enemy fails and falters each and every time. However, when we listen to his “psychological” warfare, filled with lies about God’s insufficiency and inability, we are “ripe for the picking.” If the enemy can defeat us in our minds then he has already won the battle.
We must know the Truth, believe the Truth and live out the Truth by faith. Satan is called the “father of lies” for a reason! Just remember, it is the truth that sets us free (see John 8:32)! Read, memorize, love, act upon and rest in the TRUTH and you can experience victory in every area of life.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
We all know someone who is broken, someone who is wounded and hurting. Truthfully, we are all broken people. We have been broken by grief, poverty, infertility, abuse, depression, torn families and marriages, and shame from past mistakes. For some of us, the wounds are raw and bleeding. The pain is real and fresh. It is a hurt so great that we feel like we might suffocate beneath the burden of it. For others, the pain is buried. It is carefully hidden and tucked away deep inside. Oh, but it is still there. Every day, every moment that we can’t escape it, we are reminded that we are broken. God sees our brokenness. God feels our brokenness, and He loves us in our brokenness.
Mary and Martha were broken. Their beloved brother had died, and their best friend, the Healer, wasn’t there. They must have felt abandoned. They were hurting, and when Jesus finally arrived, they cried out in despair. Why? They didn’t know or understand His ultimate plan. Even though Jesus knew that His friends would be reunited with their dearly departed brother, He was moved by their brokenness. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept.” I’m here to tell you, Jesus weeps for you, too. He loves broken people.
There is a blessing in brokenness. When we find that there is nothing left of ourselves, nowhere else to turn, there is potential for something miraculous to happen. When we get out of the way, quit fighting, God has room to work in our lives. Often times, we don’t quit fighting until there is nothing left in us to fight. Our strength is gone. God is ready and willing to rescue us; He wants to save us—to reveal His glory in us.
“ ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. . . . For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’ ”
God Loves the Sick.
There is a story in the Gospel of Mark of a man named Legion. His name was a reference to the many demons that vexed him day and night. Legion was sick, very sick. Out of his mind, he lived in the tombs where they buried the dead. He couldn’t be contained—by clothes or by chains. No one liked Legion; no one went to see him. But one day, Someone came to see Legion. “And when [Legion] saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him” (Mark 5:6). The day had finally arrived. Legion was going to be sick no more. Jesus was moved by the sickness that plagued him. From that day forward, Legion was forever transformed by the miraculous mercy and healing power that Christ showed that day.
Have you ever met someone that is so deep in sin that they can’t even see their way out? Their lives are so consumed by addiction and destruction that disaster is left in the wake of every move they make. What is even more confusing, it seems that they are choosing to live that way. How desperate they must be; how empty inside they must feel. These are the people that destroy homes and families. Everything they touch turns to ash, and they are killing themselves with each new choice they take. They are the people we tell our children to avoid and the ones that fill our prisons. And God loves them. He loves them deeply, and He longs to heal them just as He did Legion. Satan has gained a foothold in their lives and will continue to destroy them until there is nothing left. God wants to bring them hope. He is offering them the gift of new life.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
~Romans 5:6, 8
God Loves the Ugly.
I heard of a man who sold out his best friend for mere chump change. Another guy I know abandoned his loved one in his darkest hour. Maybe worse than that is the story of a man who lost everything and then these three guys that were supposedly his friends told him it was his fault! You may have heard these stories, too. Judas, Peter, Job’s Friends—the Bible is full of stories of ugly people. We don’t have to look very far to find ugly people in our own lives. There is the person that cuts you off in traffic and then has the nerve to drive slowly. What about the person that gets angry with you because the store where you work ran out of their favorite item? Sometimes the ugliness hits closer to home. Maybe it is the person you share your life with, the person lying next to you in bed. When was the last time you felt they loved you, appreciated you? Maybe it is the person you sit next to every Sunday at church. You give and give and still they expect you to give more. They expect you to be perfect and condemn you when you are not. Maybe it is a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor. Ugly people can be found anywhere. They taunt us and know exactly just what buttons to press. Yet, God loves them. He sees them for what they really are—weak, alone and lost.
If you are a believer, the truth is you were once an ugly person as well. God didn’t wait for you to become good before He saved you. Romans reminds us that God reached down when we were utterly helpless (5:6). There was nothing good about us, certainly nothing to be worth the ultimate sacrifice. But He did. He gave His life for ugly people like you and me. Today, God is still saving ugly people. He is making something beautiful with their lives. One of my favorite choruses written by the Gaithers says “Something beautiful, something good / All my confusion He understood / All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife / But he made something beautiful of my life” (“Something Beautiful”).
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ ”
The Broken, Sick, Ugly . . . God Loves Them
. . . And We Should Too!