Friday, April 22, 2011

Condemned for our sin

I just got back from a men's prayer breakfast for Good Friday in our town.  Hundreds of us enjoyed 'egg dish' and fellowship with each other before singing a few hymns and listening to a retired prison Chaplin speak.

He shared many interesting stories of ministering to hardened inmates.  What a tough job that must have been!  But he felt called to do it, to be there for the outcasts, and to have sympathy and compassion for them, when no one else did.  He focused on getting to know them, and meet them where they were at, and show them mercy, as Jesus did.  He would have volunteers run the music and education programs, and concentrate on ministering individually to the inmates and on preaching.

He kept saying what tremendous satisfaction it brought him to see his efforts succeed on the battleground for hardened prisoners hearts.  By the time a person goes to prison, they are cast off by virtually everyone around them.  Society has given up on them and shunned them, and they are condemned.

Convicts who serve time in a prison, more than any other segment of society, know what it is like to be condemned.  Sure, they've all been found guilty in a court of law, so they deserve it.  But we do not know what it is like to be declared unacceptable and unfit to exist in free society, to be banished and punished for crimes for up to multiple life sentences or worse.  We have not experienced it.  Don (the speaker) made it clear that prison is very tough on inmates.  They all have plenty of time to think about the crimes they've committed.  The guilt, self-anger, anxiety, remorse, and depression all pile up inside them to staggering and overwhelming levels.

On Good Friday, Christians remember the condemnation and death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and what he died for.  Jesus had condemnation in common with prisoners.  He knew he would undergo the ultimate in condemnation and rejection by society, by the people he came to serve, teach, and to love, and by his disciples.  Because he was fully human, in addition to fully being the Son of God (perplexing, isn't it?), he agonized over this the night before he was crucified, while praying at the garden of Gethsemane.  From Luke 22:42-44: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

Even almighty God himself rejected Jesus and left his presence, as indicated in Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:45, when on the cross, Jesus exclaims in a loud voice "“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Perhaps, in his humanness, he didn't realize how horrible that would feel like exactly.

Why did God's presence leave Jesus, in this overwhelming moment when he could've used it the most?  The Bible teaches that our holy God cannot be in the presence of sin, without destroying all.  Jesus, according to scripture, was voluntarily dying on the cross as a sin offering for all of humanity.  He was innocent of any sin, yet he was made sin on our behalf: from 2 Corinthians 5:21God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   An innocent, holy, sinless man took on the guilt of the sin of the world himself, to make restitution available between man and God, for all those who believe in and receive this sacrifice (Jesus).

Before Jesus was condemned, Pilate the Roman governor pronounced him "not guilty" of the charge of leading a revolt (Luke 23:13-22).  But then Pilate had him crucified (for personal politics it seems) at the demands of the religious rulers and the crowds, because they believed Jesus committed blasphemy.  In Mark 14:60-63, the High Priest Caiaphas asked him while questioning him "Are the you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed one?"  Jesus responds: "I Am.  And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God's right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven."  Caiaphas and the others all scream "Guilty!  He deserves to die!"  

In spite of all the popularity Jesus had, the teachings he did, the miracles he performed, and the prophecies He fulfilled that showed He is the Messiah, He was crucified in part because He didn't meet their earthly expectations of one.  Consider this: Jesus did say in John 18:36 "My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.  If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders.  But my Kingdom is not of this world."

By his crucifixion, though ironic, He fulfilled his ultimate purpose and prophesy.  He was condemned for us!  He was condemned for you!  He was condemned for me!

Please consider watching this touching video.  God Bless you.  He Loves you.

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