Theology

Every Knee Will Bow

Every Knee Will Bow

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9–11

For Jesus Christ, the way to exaltation was crucifixion.

This passage is part of a hymn sung in the early church that celebrates the deity, humility, death, exaltation, and worship of Jesus Christ. The hymn’s theme is tied to the mystery of the incarnation—Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human.

As Paul recounts, though Christ was “in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (2:6). Instead, Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. . . being found in human form” (2:7–8). The Creator of all things humbled himself and was “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”

Christ willingly took the form of a servant in order to give up his life for us, as he told his disciples: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul writes, “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (2:8).

The phrase “even death on a cross” emphasizes that the form of Jesus’ death revealed the extent of his humility, for crucifixion was not only brutally painful, but horribly degrading as well. In fact, Roman citizens could not legally be crucified. Crucifixion was reserved for foreigners, slaves, and criminals. From his birth in a barn to his death between two thieves, Jesus identified with all of humanity, including the outcasts.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ death on the cross is not emphasized for its painfulness and degradation, but for what it accomplished: full payment for the sins of the world. He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

In his death on the cross, Jesus went to the lowest depths. But three days later he was raised to life and exalted to the highest heights: “Therefore God has highly exalted him” (2:9). After enduring the cross, Jesus now “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

God intends for Jesus Christ to be worshiped by all creation. God exalted him “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:10–11). A fluke of the Greek grammar leads the ESV to translate the phrase as “every knee should bow,” but this should not be understood as conveying what ought to happen—it’s what will happen. This becomes clearer when we realize that the line is an allusion to Isaiah 45:22–23:

Turn to me and be saved,

all the ends of the earth!

For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn;

from my mouth has gone out in righteousness

a word that shall not return:

‘To me every knee shall bow,

every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

By applying this declaration to Jesus, the hymn powerfully affirms that he is God. In addition, the hymn declares that every knee will bow “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” This again is a massive claim of Jesus’ deity, because it says that all beings, including angels and demons, will bow and confess to this Jesus. Such a claim could never be made about a mere human—only God could receive such worship.

We worship the exalted Jesus Christ because of who he is (Lord of all creation), and because of what he did for us in his death and resurrection: Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24).

Will God Be Faithful?

Will God Be Faithful?

Psalm 22 contains some of the most heart-wrenching cries to God recorded in all of the Psalms. God himself is on trial and David asks, “Will God remain faithful?”

This is the song of a believer who experiences great suffering and wonders where God is. It is a psalm that, in the midst of injustice, wonders if God himself will be faithful to his promise.

This is a psalm in three movements. The first movement is written with the dark, minor notes of pain, bewilderment, and betrayal. The second has bright chords of rejoicing and freedom. The third is composed of both the deep, sundering bass notes of God’s power and the high ring of celestial praise.

The song, to be sung on the Sabbath, was a reminder. Like most psalmic worship, David’s goal was to weekly remember God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and to reassure the assembled congregation that God’s faithfulness is completely trustworthy. Let’s listen.

CONFLICT: IS GOD FAITHFUL?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,

and by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22:1–2

The first movement of Psalm 22 has God on trial. David asks the question, “Will he be faithful?” while at the same time arguing that he should. Verses 1–2 express the heart-cry of Jesus on the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” David most likely composed this psalm while on the run from King Saul. He had been promised the throne of Israel and the protection of God, yet he had spent the last few years of his life on the run as a fugitive. It truly seemed like God had forsaken David and forgotten his promise. Because the trial went on longer and longer, and David cried out more and more, it seemed that God had stopped paying attention.

But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by mankind and despised by the people.

All who see me mock me;

they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;

“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;

let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Psalm 22:6–8

Yet this situation, David cries, is out of character for God. His holiness and glory have not been jeopardized, but are still upheld by Israel. So he cannot have lost his power. When Israel cried out to God, they were rescued and not put to shame. They trusted in God and he answered their cries. David’s question is, “Why, if you redeemed Israel out of Egypt and her slavery, have you forgotten me?” Over the next few verses, David compares his situation and character to that of Israel. In verses 6–8, he describes his reality: he is despised by his own people, while Israel was only despised by foreigners. The people mocking him realize the conflict—they mock him because they think God will not rescue him. Verse 8 ends with the question, “Has God abandoned David?”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;

you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.

On you was I cast from my birth,

and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Be not far from me,

for trouble is near,

and there is none to help.

Psalm 22:9–11

David’s frustration mounts in verses 9–11. If God is faithful to his promises to those who are obedient, David has more claim than anyone. He was God’s from birth, and since infancy he has been faithfully obedient to God. If there is anyone who has a right to call on God’s faithfulness, it is David. At this point, God seems without an excuse, and David’s question is simply, “What gives?” The psalm then relays David’s resignation in vivid imagery: poured out like water and starving to death, David has nothing left to hold out for. His enemies surround him like lions and dogs. The wealth he had before becoming an outcast is divided up among his enemies.

This movement concludes with a final, dying man’s cry to God to deliver. David has made his argument and can do no more. He must now wait for God’s answer. This movement should be the heart-cry of every believer when suffering. There is nothing wrong with the tension of asking “Will God be faithful?” Often this question drives believers to worship and anticipates the future action of God. It is part of worship. However, worshipers find hope when they remember the past actions of God.

RESOLUTION: GOD IS FAITHFUL

But you, O LORD, do not be far off!

O you my help, come quickly to my aid!

Deliver my soul from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dog!

Save me from the mouth of the lion!

You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

Psalm 22:19–21

Just when it seems that God has truly gone silent, David’s tone changes: he begins to rejoice that God has answered him (verse 21). There is no comment whether or not David received the redemption for which he longed, but he expresses confidence that God will be faithful to his word. The deliverance in verses 19–21 form the foundation for David’s praise. Praise be to God for deliverance is not private act, but a communal one. This song, sung among the assembled people on Sabbath, recounts the actions of God in David’s life to the people of Israel. The song’s praise to God for his intervention reminds the nation of God’s acts on the whole nation’s behalf. Just as David was redeemed, so was Israel. Just as David has a reason to praise God, so does the congregation.

These nations will remember the actions of God.”

The conclusion to this movement is rather simple despite the terror of the previous movement. The afflicted can trust God for deliverance, and this deliverance should prompt obedience. Just as God was faithful to his promise, David promises faithfulness to his own promise. Worship is the beginning of obedience. The same spirit of thankfulness that prompts praise to God will also prompt obedience. Individual praise then encourages corporate remembrance of God’s action and further praise. But this chain of events is not limited to the people of God alone. The next movement concludes the psalm with a thunderous crescendo.

FUTURE: GOD’S FAITHFUL REIGN

All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the LORD,

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before you.

For kingship belongs to the LORD,

and he rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;

before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,

even the one who could not keep himself alive.

Posterity shall serve him;

it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;

they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,

that he has done it.

Psalm 22:27–31

The song concludes (verses 27–31) with a movement so profound it is hard to remember the suffering recounted in the first verses. David expands the worshiping people to include all the nations of the world. These nations will remember the actions of God—demonstrated in the lives of the people of Israel and her King—and turn to him in worship. God is truly King over the whole earth, and rightly deserves the worship of all people. Everyone—prosperous or otherwise—will serve him.

WE ARE WITNESSES

Just as a pebble tossed into a lake spreads ripples over the whole lake, a person who experiences God’s redemption and praises him sets off a reaction. The people of God take up the chorus and praise God along with the redeemed, for they, too, were redeemed. When all the people of God are doing this, they are a witness to God’s redemption and an example for the world.

Psalm 22 closes by mentioning the remembrance passed down from generation to generation. Parents who hand down the stories of God’s faithfulness raise children who trust their God.

In the same way, the people of God stand as a powerful witness to the world when worshiping him for his faithfulness and redemption. Just as Jesus suffered and felt the abandonment of God, yet experienced deliverance to the heights of glory, so Christians, when faced with suffering, praise God and trust him for deliverance.

How Grace Motivates

How Grace Motivates

Many leaders have it all wrong. Rather than trying to motivate the people they lead, they just need to stop demotivating them.

This is crucial for leaders to learn, or else they will hurt people, discourage them, and lead less effective teams. The truth is that demands, threats, and promises of reward don’t motivate people to work harder or better—in fact, they demotivate people.

Instead, Scripture shows—and psychological and sociological research confirms—a surprising and counter-intuitive truth: grace motivates.

GRACE IS COMPELLING

God’s grace is overflowing and abundant.1 It is also powerful: grace motivates changed lives, as Paul writes: “The love of Christ compels us!” (2 Cor. 5:14).

The law threatens and demands, but does not motivate. This is not to discount the value of the law. The law of God is “perfect, true, and righteous altogether” (Ps. 19:7–9) and “holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12), but it does nothing to produce the life it requires. As Paul Zahl writes, “The Bible declares the law to be good and right (Ps. 119, 1 Tim. 1:8Rom. 3:31Rom. 7:12–16) but then with one great insight deprives the law of any lasting capacity to do us any good (Rom. 7:24–25).”

The law does not enable people to do what it demands. The Ten Commandments are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—but not the means with which to obey them. The Apostle Paul writes, “If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Gal. 3:21). The law cannot generate what it commands. Law does not deliver what it mandates—but grace does.

The Bible says this in a variety of ways:

  • Matthew 10:8: “You received without paying; give without pay.”
  • Romans 2:4: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”
  • Romans 6:14: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
  • Titus 2:11–12: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.”

GRACE IS PRACTICAL

The shocking and life-giving truth that grace motivates is not just for the pulpit and counseling sessions. It has massive implications for leadership in all realms. Grace is practical.

In his TED Talk on “the surprising science of motivation,” business writer and speaker Daniel Pink shows how social science confirms this ironic reality. Research shows that traditional incentives, or “extrinsic motivators” (rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks) actually don’t work to motivate people. In fact, they decrease performance and results. What actually motivates people are “intrinsic motivators,” inward desires that drive our behavior. Pink singles out three primary intrinsic motivators that, if cultivated, lead to better performance and more personal satisfaction:

  • Autonomy: The urge to direct our lives.
  • Mastery: The desire to excel at something that matters.
  • Purpose: The yearning for our actions to serve something greater than ourselves.

So in leadership and business, rewards and punishments demotivate people. People are instead motivated by freedom, the desire for excellence, and the desire for their actions to have meaning.

What this means is the carrot and the stick produce the opposite of what they intend—the more you try to incentivize people, the poorer their performance becomes. Once people’s basic financial needs are met, motivation is driven most by a desire to connect to something larger than themselves, rather than the desire to get more material rewards.

Those who lead by grace set the tone for entire teams and organizations. Grace expressed as love, acceptance, and understanding increases performance in the workplace. Peter Bregman explains:

An organization performs best when the people in the organization know they can trust and depend on each other. Then they break out of silos. They take accountability for their own mistakes instead of blaming each other. They surface problems before they become major obstacles. But if people spend their energy hiding their feelings, that energy will leak out in negative and insidious ways, sabotaging your efforts and theirs.

A 2010 Gallup study analyzed 32,000 businesses and found that happier, more engaged employees significantly increased productivity and profitability for their organizations:

After talking with thousands of workers, Gallup identified 12 issues that best predict employee performance, and none included pay raises or bonuses. For many decades, researchers have known that such incentives don’t provide lasting motivation, said Michael Cole, who teaches leadership at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School. “The good feeling wears off, and everything resets,” he said. So what lasts? Cole said three things energize a workplace for the long run: When employees feel as if they have control over their work, are contributing to a larger purpose and have a chance to learn and grow.

GRACE IN REAL LIFE

For pastors and ministry leaders, the principle that grace motivates ought to permeate our lives, work, and leadership. This means when you want to see better performance from your staff, don’t threaten demotions or probation; instead, provide security, offer freedom for self-direction, and help them see the larger significance of their work. If you want your children to be more obedient (not just compliant), don’t give them threats, but talk about Jesus’ obedience on their behalf and dazzle them with grace. And when you want to see more faithfulness in your congregation, don’t just hammer them with the demands of the law; rather, tell them about Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf, even and especially when we are faithless (2 Tim. 2:13). You will be amazed at the fruit the Holy Spirit produces when you focus on grace, rather than threats and incentives. Grace motivates.

How Good Is Good Enough?

How Good Is Good Enough?

“A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16

How good is good enough to be saved? Are you good enough? This verse answers those questions.

Let’s briefly define “justified.” It’s a very important word. It means “counted righteous” or “to be declared righteous before God,” that is, to enjoy a status of being in a right relationship with God, to be accepted by him.

This verse tells us that it is impossible to be good enough to be considered right with God. Paul’s point is that while the law is good, it is totally inadequate as a means of salvation (Romans 3:19–20). That’s because the law cannot generate what it commands. No law exists that provides the power to follow what it demands. The law does not deliver what it mandates.

The grammar of this verse highlights the difference between the two options: not by doing what the law demands but through faith in Jesus Christ. Negatively, we are incapable of any kind of self-justification. Positively, we stand before God empty-handed, depending on Christ’s righteousness given to us and his death on the cross as our substitute.

BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE

The law shows us our sinfulness and our need for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to deal with our unrighteousness. From Jesus Christ “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit alone. We are neither saved by our merits nor declared righteous by our works. We do not deserve grace, or else it wouldn’t be grace. This means that God grants salvation not because of the good things we do, or even our faith—and despite our sin.

“Faith in Jesus Christ” is key to our being right with God. But what is faith? J. Gresham Machen defines it like this:

Faith means not doing something but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift. A man can never be said to obtain a thing for himself if he obtains it by faith; indeed to say that he does not obtain it for himself but permits another to obtain it for him. Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereign grace of God.

This is the ring of liberation in the Christian proclamation. If our salvation is not grace all the way then we will spend our lifetimes wondering if we have done enough to get that total acceptance for which we desperately long: “I said the prayer, but did I say it passionately enough?” “I repented, but was it sincere enough?”

It’s not about how sincere we are. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice. Justification does not rest on any merit in us.

Faith in Christ puts our hope exactly where it should be: in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Firstborn of the Dead?

Firstborn of the Dead?

At the beginning of the book of Revelation, John writes this greeting to the churches he’s addressing:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. (Rev. 1:4–5)

The title “firstborn of the dead” for Jesus is of great theological importance, especially with Easter in the background. The Greek word for “firstborn” that John uses is prōtotokos, a word that literally refers to birth order—the first child born. This is a concept of great significance in the Old Testament, where the firstborn son inherited his father’s place as head of the family, receiving the father’s blessing and a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17).After the Passover in Egypt, God told his people that every firstborn child was set aside as his own (Ex. 13:2), and the nation of Israel as a whole was referred to as God’s “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22).

Christians have a sure hope that one day, because we are in Christ, will reign with him as the firstborn of God, heirs of all things in heaven and on earth.

Because of the biblical significance attached to the concept, the word “firstborn” acquired a metaphorical sense and came to also refer to the special status of the firstborn as the preeminent son and heir. In the New Testament, Jesus is shown to be the “new Israel,” the culmination and fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations through the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:7–8, 16). Jesus fulfills the intended role of Israel as God’s faithful firstborn son in his perfect life and sacrificial death, and he is vindicated by God in his glorious resurrection.

In referring to Jesus as the firstborn of the dead, John is drawing words and imagery from Psalm 89, which celebrates the kingship of David and his line with phrases like “the firstborn,” “the highest of the kings of the earth,” and the idea that the Messiah’s throne will be a “faithful witness in the sky.” John is portraying Jesus as the “exalted heir of David who represents his people.”2

Numerous other times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as prōtotokos, firstborn:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)

When he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:6)

Two other passages convey the same idea with slightly different language:

“[The prophets and Moses said] that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:23)

In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23)

As “firstborn of the dead,” Jesus is both first in time and first in preeminence. As the first to be raised from the dead, Christ is the founder and initiator of the new era God is bringing about through Jesus’ victory over sin and death.3 Jesus’ resurrection from death opens the way for all who trust in him to follow him in a resurrection like his when he returns. This is important because it shows that our ultimate hope is not just for our souls to go to heaven, but for our physical bodies to be raised to new life like Jesus’ was. He is the firstborn of the resurrection.

In Revelation 1:5 we also see the metaphorical sense of the term, showing Jesus’ supremacy in authority and kingship after his resurrection. Biblical scholar G.K. Beale explains,

John views Jesus as the ideal Davidic king on an escalated eschatological level, whose death and resurrection have resulted in his eternal kingship and in the kingship of his beloved children . . . . “Firstborn” refers to the high, privileged position that Christ has as a result of the resurrection from the dead . . . . Christ has gained such a sovereign position over the cosmos, not in the sense that he is recognized as the first-created being of all creation or as the origin of creation, but in the sense that he is the inaugurator of the new creation by means of his resurrection.4

We can draw all this together to see that there are two central ideas in the title “firstborn of the dead” in Revelation 1:5. First, the allusion to Psalm 89 shows that Jesus fulfills all history as the messianic King descended from the line of David. Second, being the “firstborn of the dead” means that Jesus is both the first to rise and the first in supremacy. He is the first to rise from the dead and thus the first of the new creation. He is also the inaugurator of the new creation and sovereign over everything. He is the rightful heir to it all. Christians have a sure hope that one day we will follow Christ into the resurrection and new creation, and, because we are in Christ, will reign with him as the firstborn of God, heirs of all things in heaven and on earth.

 


1 Luke L. Keefer, Jr., “Firstborn,” in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 258.

2 C. John Collins, in the The ESV Study Bible, 1049.

3 Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 129.

4 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 191.

The Day Jesus Died

The Day Jesus Died

The day that Jesus died—the day we remember as Good Friday—goes down in the history of the world as a day of great suffering, when Jesus Christ endured the weight of sin and shame on our behalf. As we remember what it cost him to reconcile us to himself on this day, it is worth walking through what Jesus endured that day.

EXCRUCIATING PHYSICAL SUFFERING

The Bible records that after being arrested, put on trial, falsely accused, spit on, and beaten, Jesus was handed over to be scourged, or whipped, in accordance with the Roman custom of scourging a condemned criminal before execution. The Roman scourge was a short whip called a flagrum made of a wooden handle connected to a few strips of leather or rope, with pieces of metal knotted along the strips. The condemned person was stripped naked (or nearly so), stretched out and tied down so as to leave the neck, shoulders, back, buttocks, and legs completely exposed, and lashed repeatedly with the scourges.

This flogging was so severe that often the victims were killed, though the goal was to inflict as much pain as possible while keeping the criminal alive for the execution later. Jesus would have emerged from the scourging with deep lacerations, exposed muscle, covered in blood, and half-dead—already fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that the Suffering Servant would be marred beyond human recognition (Isa. 52:14).

Sin is not just some misdeeds here or there. Sin is an autonomous, enslaving power.

Next Jesus was given a crown of thorns and forced to carry the heavy crossbar that he would soon die on. It would have weighed more than a hundred pounds, and it was laid across his traumatized back to carry to the place of the execution.

At the place of crucifixion, Jesus had large 5- to 7-inch nails driven through his hands and feet to secure him to the cross. Crucifixion victims would often die from asphyxiation because in their weakened state, they would slouch down on the cross, keeping air from reaching the lungs. They would pass in and out of consciousness, pushing themselves back up on the nails to get enough oxygen to stay conscious.

Jesus was on the cross enduring this for roughly six hours, while his family, friends, and enemies stood around watching him as he was utterly exposed, shamed, and tortured. At around 3 p.m. in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Soon after this, he declared, “It is finished,” and called out, again with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” before he breathed his last breath.

Later the Roman soldiers came to ensure that all the crucifixion victims were dead. Jesus was so obviously dead that instead of breaking his legs as they normally did, the guards jabbed a spear into his side, piercing his lungs and heart so that blood and fluid poured out. There was no question that Jesus had truly died.

EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL SUFFERING

As terrible as the physical pain Jesus endured was, the emotional and spiritual suffering must have been even greater. In the lead-up to his crucifixion, he experienced betrayal by his friends, false accusations, mockery, and the shame of being exposed naked in front of his family, disciples, and worst enemies.

And far beyond all this, he endured the full weight of the wrath of God against the sin of the human race. It was the reason he came into the world (1 Tim. 1:15).

Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” is known as the Cry of Dereliction. It shows his intensity of suffering and his radical vulnerability.

Scripture tells us that everyone who does not follow the law of God perfectly is under a curse (Gal. 3:10–14). Sin is the cause of this curse. Sin is not just some misdeeds here or there. Sin is an autonomous, enslaving power. Romans 3:10 tells us, “None is righteous.” There is no distinction because all have sinned.

Christ became cursed for us. In his death, Jesus takes the part of all those who suffer from the curses of others and the curse of their own sin. On the cross, Jesus voluntarily and willingly bowed his head under the penalty for sin and the curse of God. The Father did not do this to the Son; the Son and the Father did this together. God submitted to God’s own wrath.

Fleming Rutledge makes the point that no other form of execution would have reflected the enormity of the dark powers holding us in bondage. Jesus’ situation under the harsh judgment of Roman persecution was like our situation under sin. He was condemned, he was rendered helpless and powerless, he was stripped of his humanity and reduced to the state of a beast, and he was declared unfit to live and deserving of death.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

Jesus Christ took our place under the dictatorship of sin. He was condemned by the law and subject to death because only he, the perfectly righteous one, could break the hold of these powers and bring us out of slavery to sin, attributing to us his righteousness in what is called the Great Exchange.

This why Scripture says that God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin, so we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The full weight of our enmity with God fell on him. No wonder he cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His forsaken condition was a direct result of his identification with us.

God the Creator, in the person of his Son, put himself into our place and made himself to be our own sacrifice. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

Our heavenly Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him would be saved—that all who believe in him would be delivered from the power of sin and death and become heirs with him of everlasting life.

Good Friday Reading Recommendations

Good Friday Reading Recommendations

Good Friday is a crucial day, not only of the year, but also for world history.

Since Jesus’ death, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. On Good Friday, millions of Christians set aside our other concerns to meditate upon what this astonishing claim means.

One way to meditate on the crucifixion is to read and reflect on the seven sayings of Jesus from his cross. These sayings have been used in Good Friday services for centuries.

  1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
  2. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
  3. “[Jesus] said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (John 19:26–27)
  4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)
  5. “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
  6. “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
  7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

 

There have been numerous books written on the theological analysis and the devotional elements of these seven sayings.

HERE ARE A HANDFUL ON THE TOPIC THAT WE RECOMMEND:

The Seven Last Words from the Cross, by Fleming Rutledge

The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, by A. W. Pink

Finding Hope in the Last Words of Jesus, by Greg Laurie

Cries from the Cross, by Erwin W. Lutzer

Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus

Cross-Shattered Christ, by Stanley Hauerwas

Thank God It’s Friday, by William H. Willimon

Jesus’ Last Words

Jesus’ Last Words

On Good Friday each year we take some time to meditate on the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us in suffering a humiliating, bloody death by crucifixion. It’s a time to dwell on what Jesus suffered for us, in all its pain and intensity, without rushing straight ahead to the good news of Easter, resurrection, and new life.

One of the ways Christians have traditionally meditated on Good Friday is by reading and reflecting on the seven last sayings of Jesus from the cross.

Luke 23:44–46: It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

This passage is a moving account of Jesus’ dying words. When everything was said and done, Jesus’ work on the cross was all but complete, and his proclamation “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” finished the work. The significance of Jesus’ statement lies in a conversation he had with religious leaders about his role in God’s great plan.

John 10:14–18 records this conversation: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I make take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

No one truly took Jesus’ life from him. God had given him a specific task. That task was to lay down his life on behalf of the world (v. 18).

Just as it was Jesus’ God-given task, it was also Jesus’ choice to lay down his life.

THE GRAVITY OF THE TASK

When we read of Jesus before his crucifixion, the gravity of this choice becomes even more apparent. In Luke 22:39–44 Jesus spends an intense evening in prayer, wrestling with the reality of the task ahead of him. Going so far as to ask God to remove the task, to make another way, Jesus ultimately concludes that God’s will would be done.

Thus, when Jesus finally declares in Luke 23:46, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Jesus is voluntarily laying down his life. No one took it from him—in fact, when the soldiers came by to make sure the men on the crosses would die quickly, it was obvious to them that Jesus was dead already.

Jesus faced the incredible task to lay down his life as a ransom for the world.

This task was traumatic and overwhelming, yet Jesus went to it willingly. After hanging on the cross for three hours, Jesus finally gave up his own life. He was not helpless at the hands of those who crucified him—he alone had the authority to die. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says, “The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many.” The crucifixion was Jesus’ plan and it was the plan from before creation—he’s the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE SACRIFICE

But Jesus’ death is still death. It is still an abomination. Jesus submitted, but this doesn’t mean everything was OK. The author of life was murdered by evil men. But Jesus yielded to the evil and injustice because he knew who was really in charge.

The story doesn’t end here; there is the hope we celebrate at Easter. But for now, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the suffering sacrifice of our Savior. You can give thanks to Jesus for his steadfast love and faithfulness that led him to lay down his life for you as a ransom.

Why Did Jesus Die?

Why Did Jesus Die?

The Christian faith is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But what was the purpose of his death? According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is the culmination of a long historical process, the dramatic height of God’s sovereign plan from the beginning to send his Son to inaugurate the kingdom of God, die in our place for our sins, and conquer our enemies of Satan, sin, and death in his resurrection.

You see, the human problem is that God’s original vision for the earth was broken by human rebellion. In Genesis, we see that God’s plan for humanity was for the earth to be filled with his image bearers, who were to glorify him through worship and obedience. This beautiful state of being, enjoying the cosmic bliss of God’s intended blessing and his wise rule, is called shalom. The shalom God intended was broken when our first parents Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s rule in an act of cosmic treason. In response, the Creator placed a curse on our parents that cast the whole human race into futility and death.

But God planned from the beginning to ultimately restore humanity to right relationship with him.

The key is that it would require an ultimate blood sacrifice to repair the rift and bring us back into communion with our Creator. God shows us this throughout the storyline of the Old Testament, beginning immediately after the Fall when he kills an animal to provide clothing to cover the shame and nakedness of our first parents (Genesis 3:21).

We see this again when God accepts the animal sacrifice of Abel over the offering of fruit from Cain (Genesis 4:3–5), and throughout the story of the patriarchs and the nation of Israel with the institution of sacrifice God commanded. All of this was done to give us the categories to understand the weight of sin, the awesome holiness of God, and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ death, which was required for God to restore us to fellowship with him.

THE DAY OF ATONEMENT

The climax of the Old Testament sacrificial system was the Day of Atonement, a day of great bloodshed in which the gravity of humanity’s sin could be seen. Because of its importance, it eventually became referred to simply as “the Day.”

The primary section in Scripture concerning the Day of Atonement appears in Leviticus 16–17. This passage functions as the center of the book of Leviticus, which is itself the center of the Pentateuch. This day speaks of the Lord’s gracious concern both to deal fully with his people’s sin and to make them fully aware that they stand before him, accepted and covered in respect of all iniquity, transgression, and sin (Leviticus 16:21).

On this day, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of Israel in order to avert the holy wrath of God for the sins of the past year and to remove their sin and its stain from them. Two healthy goats without defect were chosen. They were therefore fit to represent sinless perfection.

TWO IMAGES OF THE ATONEMENT

The first goat was a propitiating sin offering. The high priest slaughtered this goat, which acted as a substitute for the sinners who deserved a violently bloody death for their many sins.

Then the high priest, acting as the representative and mediator between the sinful people and their holy God, would take the second goat and lay his hands on the animal while confessing the sins of the people. This goat, called the scapegoat, would then be sent away to die in the wilderness away from the sinners, symbolically expiating or removing the sins of the people by taking them away.

The sacrifices of the Day were designed to pay for both sin’s penalty and sin’s presence in Israel. The shedding of blood and the sending off of the scapegoat were meant to appease God’s wrath against sin and to cleanse the nation, the priesthood, and even the sanctuary itself from the taint of sin (Leviticus 16:30).

THE LAMB OF GOD

The Day of Atonement was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and our great high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. These great images of the priest, slaughter, and scapegoat are all given by God to help us more fully comprehend Jesus’ bloody sacrifice for us on the cross.

Jesus Christ fulfills and accomplishes forever what the two goats symbolized. The Old Testament sacrifice of animals has been replaced by the perfect sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:26, 10:5–101 John 2:1–2, 4:9–10). Christ paid sin’s penalty (Romans 3:25–26, 6:23; Galatians 3:13). He redeemed us (Ephesians 1:7), paying the price that sets us free (1 Corinthians 6:20Galatians 5:1). He turned away God’s wrath (Romans 3:25) and reconciled believers to God (Ephesians 2:16) so we can be forgiven for our sins and cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

In his death on the cross, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, which God had planned from the beginning and illustrated all through the history of Israel. In his death our sins were paid for, and in his resurrection we receive new life.