The Wall Fell Down Flat

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In 1993, when I ran the New York City Marathon, I hit the wall at about 20 miles into the 26.2 mile race. If you’ve ever run a long distance race, you know what I’m talking about. It wasn’t a physical wall, but it might as well have been. The wall is that point in the race where you feel like you can’t continue. It’s the point where you feel like there is a wall in front of you that is keeping you from going any further, keeping you from the victory of finishing the race.

In life, there can be times when we hit a wall, something that keeps us from moving forward. It could be the wall of marital conflict. It could be the wall of addiction. It could be the wall of financial problems. Whatever the circumstance, when we hit that wall, we feel that we can’t go on. We feel like victory is unattainable. No matter what we do, that wall is standing there, standing in our way, mocking us as we face it with a sense of despair, a sense of defeat. Victory stands on the other side of that wall but there is nothing that we can do in our own strength to overcome that wall.

But there is a way to get beyond that wall, there is a way to get to the victory on the other side. It’s found in God’s Word, in chapter 6 of the book of Joshua.

In the passages leading up to Joshua, chapter 6, the Israelites had finally crossed the Jordan River and had entered the Promised Land. But, before they could call that land their own, they would face opposition from the people who currently inhabited it. They would face obstacles as they sought to claim that land, and the first obstacle came in the form of a wall.

Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. (Joshua 6:1, NLT)

The city of Jericho was a walled city and, out of fear of the Israelites, the people of Jericho had tightly shut the gates to the city. In order for Joshua and the army of the Israelites to take that city, they had to deal with that wall. And, as we read in Joshua 6:1, no one was allowed in or out of Jericho. That wall stood between the Israelites and victory. There was nothing they could do in their own power to get through that wall. So there they stood, facing that wall. I love the way that verse 2 begins: “But the Lord said to Joshua…” The wall may have been keeping the Israelites from victory, but God had a plan, which He revealed to Joshua: “Alright, Joshua, take your men and march around the city once a day for six days. Have seven priests join them, walking ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. Then, on the seventh day, I want you to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. Then, the priests will give one long blast on the rams’ horns. When that happens, have all the people raise the loudest shout they possibly can. The walls of Jericho will fall and you can charge straight into the town to victory.”

Now this may have seemed like a crazy plan. Who would have blamed Joshua if he said, “So, we just walk around the city for seven days, the priests blow their trumpets, we shout, and the wall falls down? Come on, Lord, what’s the real plan?” But this was the God who parted the Red Sea so they could escape the Egyptians. This was the God who provided manna in the wilderness, the God who opened the Jordan River so that they could enter the Promised Land. So, Joshua gave the orders and the Israelites followed God’s plan to a T. Let’s look at what happened next.

So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:20, NKJV)

The Israelites got to the other side of the wall that faced them. They received their victory. Why? Because they had faith in God, and that faith inspired obedience. Hebrews 11:30 (NLT) says, “It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.” The faith Joshua and the people of Israel had in God was great, and so they obeyed the word of the Lord and followed His plan. When we face walls in our lives, we need to look toward this example of faith. In faith, we need to come before the Lord and seek his plan. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV) says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

When we exercise faith, allow God to show us the way past our walls, then submit to Him in obedience, we will see the walls we face fall flat and will receive our victory. Our faith is our victory. As God’s Word tells us in 1 John 5:4 (NLT), “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

We Need to Be Like Ananias

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and pray for the people who persecute us. One way in which we can show love to our enemies is to share the Gospel with them. Yet in sharing the good news of salvation through Jesus, we may be inclined to draw the line when it comes to people with whom we have an issue, people who are openly hostile towards us, or people who we think may be too far gone. This may be especially true when it comes to sharing the Gospel with people who are openly hostile to us and to our faith. We may think

, “I’ll just stick to sharing my faith with people who are nice to me, or people who are friends of mine. Thank you very much!” But, as Jesus pointed out, anyone can love someone who loves them back, anyone can be nice to a friend. As followers of Christ, we are called to a higher standard than that. We are called to God’s standard.

John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to die for them. It doesn’t say God so loved some people. He loves ALL people! And all people is inclusive of our enemies. Jesus died for them just as He died for us. They deserve to hear the Gospel just as much as our friends, our families, and anyone else whom we like. And because we who have received the gift of salvation are called to spread the Gospel across the street and around the world, we are called to spread that Gospel even to our enemies, even to those who hate us or persecute us. We are called to have the same heart towards them as Jesus has. As followers of Jesus, we want to be more like Jesus, and yet we struggle with this.

In the book of Acts, we see someone who experiences a similar struggle, a man named Ananias. Saul, a pharisee whose mission was to do away with all of those who followed Jesus, was on his way to Damascus to arrest the followers there. His mission was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus that knocked him off his horse and left him blind. He was told by Jesus to go to the city and wait for further instructions. And that’s where Ananias comes in. Ananias was a believer who lived in Damascus. In a vision, the Lord told him to get up and go to Saul. Now, Ananias knew who Saul was. He knew that Saul was an enemy to all who called Jesus Lord. And so, he was hesitant. But the Lord told Ananias that Saul was His chosen instrument to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, to kings, and even to the people of Israel. Despite his reservations, in obedience, Ananias went to Saul. He laid hands on Saul, whose sight was restored, and Saul went on to become the apostle Paul, one of the key leaders in the early church and the writer of much of the New Testament.

When it comes to bringing God’s Word to those who hate us, to those with whom we disagree, and to those who we may feel are not deserving of the good news of salvation, we may be hesitant, like Ananias. But, as a follower of Jesus, Ananias chose obedience to God over his own opinions and reservations. May we all be like Ananias and follow the words of 1 John 2:6, which says, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

…BUT HE DID NOT TAKE IT

silhouette of three cross, christ, faith, god, jesus, clouds, HD wallpaper

Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. (Mark 15:23, NIV)

In my time of devotions today, I was reading in Mark 15. When I got to verse 24, which begins with, “And they crucified him,” I had to stop and go back to verse 23. “Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” Now, I have read those words before, but today, they jumped off the page as if I had never seen them before. Before they crucified Jesus, before they nailed his hands and his feet to that cross, before he hung there struggling to breath, he was offered wine mixed with myrrh. Why? Because wine mixed with myrrh was a first-century narcotic, meant to lessen the pain of the person being crucified. It would have taken some of the edge off Jesus’ pain. But Jesus did not take it.

In 2015, I underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. Following the surgery, I had to begin what would be six months of physical therapy. In the first few weeks, any movement in the shoulder caused pain. So before I would go for my physical therapy sessions, I would take a painkiller. I didn’t want to feel that pain. But Jesus had already been beaten. He had been whipped to within an inch of his life. Roman soldiers had place a crown of thorns on his head. He was already feeling pain. He was now about to feel the intense pain of nails driven through his hands and feet. He was about to feel like his chest was going to explode as he struggled to take a breath. So, if he had taken that wine mixed with myrrh, who would have blamed him? But Jesus did not take it.

The night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that the cup he was about to experience, the cup of pain and humiliation he was about to endure, would be taken from him. But Jesus chose to do the Father’s will, and so he took that cup and drank from it fully. He was arrested, he was insulted, he was given what was basically a fixed trial that could have resulted in only one outcome, his being put to death. He was subjected to more pain than many of us have ever experienced. He took that cup and drank it completely. But when he was offered the chance to escape at least some of the pain, when he was offered that cup filled with wine mixed with myrrh, Jesus did not take it.

Jesus chose to suffer in an unimaginable way; he chose to endure incredible pain. He chose to endure ALL of the pain. And so, he did not take the wine mixed with myrrh. If that sounds totally counter-cultural, it is! Would you choose to suffer that kind of pain if you were offered a means of escaping at least some of it? Would I? I can tell you, without hesitation, that I would not. But Jesus did. He chose the pain because it was only through suffering that pain that he could accomplish the mission he was sent for, to redeem a fallen world, to pay the price for my sins and for yours so that, through faith in him, we could enjoy eternity with the Father. Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” For Jesus, the joy of our redemption far outweighed the pain of the cross. Hallelujah!

Scripture verses taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Seasons

Seasons. On the earth that God created, we experience four different seasons, each one bringing differences in the weather, each one having different characteristics, and each one serving a different purpose. In many parts of the world, winter brings the cold. Trees are bare, the grass is not as green, and the landscape looks dull and bleak. But then spring comes and plants come to life, new leaves sprout on the trees, and the landscape looks bright and colorful. The summer brings the warmth of the sun and bright sunshine, and then the fall arrives and the leaves begin to fall, signaling a return to the cold, bleak winter.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we read that there are seasons for everything in life, a time for everything and for every matter under heaven. There are times for birth and times for death. There are times to plant and times to reap. There are times to break things down and times to build them up. There are times to weep and to laugh, times to mourn and to dance, times to seek and times to lose. There are times for love and times for hate, times for war and times for peace. Just like the seasons of the earth, each season of life brings something different from, and often opposite to, another season.

There are seasons in our spiritual lives, as well. There may be times when, like the plants in spring, we are growing, when we are seeing the move of the Holy Spirit clearly in our lives. Then there may be times when, like the summer, we feel the warmth of the Son as we walk with Him, when all around us looks and feels right. During these seasons, we feel at our closest to God. But, there also may be times when we start to feel as if God is farther away. These may be times when the trials of life begin to pull at us. It may start gradually, like the fall, but eventually, we may feel as if God has abandoned us. We are in a season like that right now with the pandemic that has gripped the world and the divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our nation. At times like these, things look as bleak as winter.

The good news is that God never abandons us. He is with us always. When He seems far away, it’s not because God has pulled away from us but rather, we have pulled away from Him. But, He is always there, no matter what season we are in. What season are you in right now? If you feel like you are in fall or winter, reach out to God. When you do, you will experience new growth and a new closeness to God as a new season begins.

Hear and Obey

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

On the doorposts of Jewish homes, you will find a decorative case called a mezuzah. Inside this case is a piece of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which is comprised of what we, as Christian believers, know as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Those verses include the Jewish prayer called Shema Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel.”

The word shema has a primary meaning of “to hear,” but it also takes on other meanings, including “to obey.” In Deuteronomy 6:4, the meaning of the Hebrew word shema is literally “to hear and obey.” In addressing the Israelites in chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, Moses was telling them that they needed not only to hear and understand what he was saying but also to obey it. So what was it they were to hear and obey?

Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Moses was reminding the Israelites that the Lord their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the one true God. When Moses used the words, “Shema Yisrael,” he was telling them that they need not just to hear the words that followed, but also to understand them. There was only one true God and He was YHWH, the Lord. This was something that they needed to fully understand. But there was more than that required of them.

Moses continued by saying, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Moses had just reminded the Israelites of the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Now he was making it clear to God’s people that the God whom they understood to be the one true God must be loved with total devotion. He must be loved with their entire being: heart, soul, and strength. And the way by which they would be able to show that love is by the way in which they lived their lives, by obeying His commands. They were to keep those commands in their hearts, in their minds, and in their mouths.

The words of the shema are not just for Jewish believers. They are for followers of Jesus Christ, as well. In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus confirmed this when He said, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

There is only one true God, and He is the Lord. He is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, When we live our lives as Jesus commanded, loving God with our hearts, with our souls, with our minds, and with our strength, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we fulfill the greatest commandment. But more than that, when we live our lives understanding that the Lord our God is the one true God, and obeying His commands, our lives become true worship in His eyes (Romans 12:1-2).

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Love & Sacrifice

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15:12-13, NIV)

On February 2, 1943, the Dorchester, a luxury liner renovated for the purpose of transporting troops made its way through the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. The ship was transporting 902 troops from Newfoundland to Greenland when it was attacked by a Nazi U-boat. The U-boat scored a direct hit on the Dorchester, dooming the ship and its passengers. As the ship began to sink, four men sprang into action as they began to place the lives of others above their own. In an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the four men refused to abandon ship. Instead, they gave up their own lifejackets, took care of who had been wounded by the torpedo’s explosion, and offered spiritual counsel to those who were unable to get off the ship to safety. As the Dorchester vanished below the waves, survivors of the attack told of seeing these four men standing with arms linked, praying out loud together to the very end.

Those four men, a Methodist minister named George L. Fox, a Jewish rabbi named Alexander D. Goode, a Reformed Church reverend named Clark V. Poling, and a Catholic priest named John P. Washington, became known as the “Four Chaplains.” On that February night in 1943, these four men made the ultimate sacrifice. One of the dictionary definitions of the word “sacrifice” states that it is the act of giving up something of value for the sake of something else that is regarded as more important. As the Dorchester sank and the Four Chaplains stayed on board tending to others, they were giving up their own lives, which were of value for the sake of something more important, the lives and souls of the other men on that ship. They embodied the words spoken by Jesus in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

There is no doubt that the life of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was of great value. Yet, God valued each and every person who has or will ever walk the face of this earth, so much so that He was willing to exchange the life of Jesus, His Son, of whom He had said, “I am well pleased,” for what He regarded of even greater value, your eternal soul, my eternal soul, and the eternal souls of every man, woman, and child, regardless of who we are, the color of our skin, or what we have done. Jesus confirmed this when He said in John 3:16 (NIV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That was the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus came to earth and gave His life so that, if we believe in Him, we will enjoy eternal life in the presence of the God who created us.

Jesus calls us all to love others. He calls us all to be willing to sacrifice our own lives for others. There are times when that sacrifice means giving up your physical life, as the Four Chaplains did in February 1943. But sacrifice can also mean giving up our own time to spend it with others who are in need of comfort, who are in need of encouragement, or who simply need a friend to walk with them through life’s difficulties. It means looking at others, all others, and seeing in them something that is of greater value than ourselves. Jesus calls us, not just to simply love others, but also to love them as He has loved us. And by giving His life for us, he showed us that the love He gives us is a love that says, “I value you more than my own life.”

Perfect Peace

Peace. It’s something we long for but something that can be fleeting and elusive. The dictionary defines peace as freedom from such things as civil disturbance or disquieting and oppressive thoughts or emotions. It is defined as an agreement to put an end to hostilities between nations, or harmony in personal relations. Peace is all of these things. But, as I said before, although it is something we strive for, or long for, it is something that, from a worldly perspective, is hard to hold onto. A look at the number of wars and hostilities throughout history, a look at the hatred and the violence that seems unending throughout the world, and even a look at the divorce rate will confirm that peace is hard to come by and harder to hold on to. But there is a peace that we all can experience, a peace that we can easily find and count on, a peace that we can hold on to because it’s a peace that we can be sure of. Where can we find that peace? I’m glad you asked!

The peace that I am referring to is the peace of God. It is a peace that goes beyond worldly peace. It’s a peace that is beyond our human abilities to produce. But it is a peace that we can attain, a peace we can experience. How do we find that peace? In his letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” To experience the peace of God, we only need to ask Him for it. We need to pray, telling God what we need, what will move us from worry to peace, and then thank Him for it. When we do, we will experience that peace that exceeds our own understanding, a peace that carries us through trials and through difficulties. It’s that easy to experience the peace of God. But here’s what it requires from you: TRUST!

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” To be able to put aside our worrying about anything and instead pray about everything requires that we place our full and complete trust in the One to Whom we are praying. When we keep our minds fixed on God and place our trust in Him, we are promised perfect peace. The Hebrew word for “peace” here is shalom and it means more that the end to war or hostilities, it means more than just freedom from oppressive thoughts or emotions. It means more than just relationships that are in harmony. This word includes blessings such as wholeness, health, and completeness. It means a peace that goes far beyond our understanding, a peace that the world cannot offer but God can.

The next verse in Isaiah, Isaiah 26:4, says, “Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.” The peace that God gives us when we trust in Him is a peace that we can count on. It’s not a fleeting peace. It’s a solid, unshakable peace. Why? Because God is the eternal Rock, he is our form foundation and, as Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Builders (Matthew 7:24-29), the person who builds his home on a foundation of solid rock will see that house stand through the worst storms life can bring. When we put our trust in God, we are building our hopes, our faith, our lives, on that solid rock foundation and, when the storms of life threaten to shake us, we will not be shaken but will withstand the storms with the peace of God guarding our hearts and our minds.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Promises

When someone makes a promise, that person is declaring to another that something will or will not be done. When a promise is made, the person to whom it was made has the right to expect that it will be kept. Yet sometimes it can seem like promises are made to be broken. Children promise their parents not to repeat a bad behavior, only to do so. Husbands and wives promise to stay together through good times and bad, only to jump ship when times get rough. Nations promise to abide by a treaty, only to violate that treaty. One often broken promise is the campaign promise. Political candidates, in their efforts to be elected, make promises to the voting public to do something, or perhaps not to do something. But then, once elected, those promises are sometimes unfulfilled.

The bottom line is that we can’t always count on people to keep their promises. But when it comes to God, Scripture makes it clear that He is a promise keeper. God’s promises reveal His purposes and God does not waver from those purposes or from His promises. He is fully committed to His promises. If God says He will do something, we can be sure that He will do it. Scripture tells us, in Numbers 23:19, that “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” Hebrews 6:18 says that “God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” God doesn’t lie and God is unchanging, so when God makes a promise, it is something that we, as believers, can totally depend on. Just ask Joshua.

After God used Moses to set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt and lead them to the promised land, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, as a result of their disobedience. But God had promised them that land. And God delivered on that promise. Let’s take a look at Joshua 21:43-44. Under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites finally entered into the promised land. In verse 43, we read, “So the LORD gave to Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there.” Not only did they enter the land but, when they did, they faced the enemies that lived there and, with God’s help, defeated them. Verse 44 says, “And the LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could stand against them, for the LORD helped them conquer all their enemies.”

Now let’s go to Joshua 21:45. It’s here that Joshua tells us that, “Not a single one of all the good promises the LORD had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true.” God was faithful to His promise. He kept His word. God said He would give the Israelites the land He promised them, and He did. But perhaps the greatest promise that God has ever made, a promise that He made to you, to me, to every person who has or will walk the face of this planet we call home, is the promise that He would make a way for each of us to have eternal life, a promise to send a Redeemer who who paid the price for our sins. And that promise has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:20), the apostle Paul wrote, “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.” All God’s promises are “Yes!” and “Amen!” in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can experience the hope of eternal life in God’s presence. This is a promise we can depend on, a promise we can hold onto. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” (Hebrews 10:23)

Can I get an “amen?”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

WHAT’S SO “GOOD” ABOUT GOOD FRIDAY?

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (Matthew 27:45-50)

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus was beaten, mocked, scourged, and then nailed to a wooden cross on which He would die. Today, those who are followers of Jesus remember this event on the day we call Good Friday. But what is so “good” about a day on which our Lord and Savior suffered in this manner? What could possibly be good about a slow, torturous death such as crucifixion?

Jesus was sent into this world for a purpose. And that purpose was to redeem the world. Jesus came to pay a price that we could not pay, to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind, for your sins and mine. In Romans 3:23, the apostle Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Later, in that same letter (Romans 5:12), Paul tells us, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” All sinned. Not one, not some. All. Not one of us is exempt. We have all sinned and, as Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” That is the penalty for sin and that’s what Jesus came to pay.

Matthew 27:45 tells us that, on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, darkness came over the land of Israel for three hours, from noon until three in the afternoon. Jesus had hung on the cross from about nine in the morning until noon and had spoken at least three times during that time before the darkness fell. But when the darkness fell, Jesus was silent. When the darkness lifted, Jesus spoke again, crying out loudly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was while darkness fell over the land that Jesus was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). As He hung on that cross, he took upon His shoulders the sins of the entire world, redeeming us from the curse of our sins (Galatians 3:13). And it was at that moment, that Jesus felt forsaken by God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Our sin separated us from God and at that moment, Jesus felt that separation.

It was because of that separation from God caused by sin that man could no longer stand in the presence of God. And that is why, in the Temple, there was a curtain that separated God’s people from the place of God’s presence, the holy of holies. But look at what happened to that curtain when Jesus gave up His life on the cross. Matthew 27: 51 tells us that, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The curtain that stood between man and the presence of God was removed. It was completely torn in two. And look at how it tore: from top to bottom. From heaven to earth. Through the death of Jesus, God removed that which stood between us and His presence, our sin.

And so, we call today “Good” Friday because on this day, Jesus fulfilled His purpose, He gave His life so that we could be set free from the chains of our sin and the penalty of that sin. He made a way where there was no way and restored the relationship between us and our God. As we saw earlier, Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. But that same verse goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus paid the price so that each one of us can enjoy eternal life in the presence of the Father. And that’s what’s “good” about “Good” Friday!

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

FACING YOUR RED SEA IN FAITH

It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned. (Hebrews 11:29)

With each step out of the land of Egypt, the Israelites must have tasted their freedom more and more. God was leading them away from the place in which they had been enslaved for generations. And then it happened. They found themselves face to face with a watery dead end as they stood at the shore of the Red Sea. And then, to make matters worse, Pharaoh decided to pursue them in order to bring them back into captivity. As the Egyptian army, with its horses and its chariots, came into sight, the Israelites once again became slaves – not slaves to the Egyptians, but slaves to their fear. They cried out to God, complained to Moses, and began to think that they were better off when they lived as slaves to the Egyptians. But Moses had faith in God. “Do not fear!” he told the Israelites. Moses believed that God would not allow them to be recaptured, and God used Moses to part the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to pass through on dry land before sending the pursuing Egyptian army to its watery grave (Exodus 14:1-31).

God provided a way for the Israelites to escape their captors and their fears. He made a way through the obstacle in front of them and away from the fear that pursued them. The way through the Red Sea was provided by God, but it required something on the part of the Israelites. In Exodus 14:16, God told Moses that he was to lift up his staff, stretch his hand over the sea, and divide the water, and that the Israelites were to walk through the sea on dry land. God’s way through the problem facing the Israelites required faith. Moses had to believe that what God said would happen would come to pass. He had to believe that the laws of nature would be bent and that the water would roll back, exposing dry land so that the Israelites could pass through. He had to believe that the water would be held back long enough for every one of them to make it through to the other side, ahead of the pursuing Egyptian army. And then they had to step out in that faith.

We all face a Red Sea at some point in our lives. The entire world is facing a Red Sea right now with the COVID-19 outbreak. And that Red Sea is fear, anxiety, hopelessness, depression caused by isolation. But here’s the thing, as we face this Red Sea, we have a choice. We can stand in front of it and allow ourselves to become slaves to that fear, that hopelessness, that anxiety and depression. Or, we can seek God’s help, asking Him to help us through by parting our Red Sea. When we reach out to God, He will provide a way through our difficulties. That way could be miraculous, as God eradicates the virus. Or God may simply give each of us the strength, hope, courage, or comfort that we need to face the situation we are in. The parting of the Red Sea required faith on the part of Moses and the Israelites. Seeing our Red Sea part requires the same from us. We need to believe that God will make a way for us. And we need to step out in faith and walk through our difficulty in whatever way God directs.

Is COVID-19 leaving you at a standstill, facing the Red Sea of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, or depression in which the enemy is trying to enslave you? Are the words that come from your heart, “God, if You can, please help me through this! I’m trying so hard to believe but look at what’s happening all around us!” If so, remember the words that the father of the demon-possessed boy cried out to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Cry out to God to help you build the faith you need, allow Him to show you the way through your Red Sea, then step out in that faith into the freedom that waits on the other side.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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