Friday, April 6, 2012

Into Your Hands

These are my preparation notes that I wrote in advance of the sermon preached just a few minutes ago at Elim Mission Church, part of the community Good Friday service.  At this service we heard "last words" of Christ, seven preached messages, and sang songs of praise and proclamation.  Speak with the other pastors if you'd like their notes too! 
I love to tell the story of Jesus and his glorious love.  I love to tell this story because I know it is true.  Jesus paid it all!  What wondrous love!

God inspired one of the gospel authors to record these words: Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.  With these words Jesus entrusts everything into the hands of God His Father.  He entrusts everything into His hands: his body, his soul, his spirit.  He rests the legal case that he has been pressing forward with since His baptism.  The centurion declares the Verdict.  Surely, this is an innocent man.

(Yes, that's true, He is innocent.  He is the only one who is innocent.  Since the beginning there has been only one innocent man.  And the centurion, in a moment of clarity, in a moment of truth--in a moment of clarity that soldier speaks the only part of the truth that he can understand.  There is no hint here that the centurion is a Christian or even a God-fearing believer, but, as it says in Romans 1, God has revealed enough of the the Truth through creation that even sinful, unbelieving human beings can, and should, be able to see that Truth.  And the centurion does see and speak truth when Jesus, surely finished on the cross--when Jesus commits his human spirit and rests his case into the hands of the One Judge of the World, the God and Father of all.)

I said at the beginning that one of the Gospel writers recorded these particular words of Jesus from the cross.  And that is true.  God inspired four Gospels.  No one tells it all.  No one book, no one man or woman, no one human being--even someone who is full of the holy divine Spirit of God--no one can adequately comprehend it or reveal it alone.  What Jesus did on the cross is too deep, too awe-full, too painful, too glorious... the Gospel of John says the whole world could not contain the books it would take to fully describe the work of Jesus Christ.  God continually uses multiple authors, and multiple preachers, and many voices, so the work of God on the Cross can be more fully revealed.  God has given us a standard to judge these voices by--this divinely inspired book is that standard--whatever we speak must be judged there.  It was God's choice to make these wonderful Scriptures to be just as they are.  All Glory to God for his precious written word.

But there are at least two other witnesses to this glorious words of Christ.  These words of Jesus, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit, these words are first found in the Old Testament prophetic books, most particularly in Psalm 31.  Psalm 31 verse 5 is a direct quote from Jesus on the cross, given hundreds of years before the fact.  All praise to God for his excellent word!

The other witness is the one I'd like us to focus particularly on for a moment... and that one is the rest of the New Testament, where God's people are continually laying their case before God, trusting, not in themselves, but, instead, trusting in their Lord Jesus.

Specifically there is a time we all might know about when Stephen, the first Christian to die for his faithfulness to Jesus... there is a time when he spoke these same words, trusting his spirit, trusting his life, resting himself everything he has ever done or failed to do, giving it all to God.  Stephen preaches a marvelous sermon.  He ends with a strong words against those who rejected Jesus and condemned Jesus to death.

He says this:
“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
At that the crowd became furious.  One might imagine the scene.  But then Acts 7 goes on to say:
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Then the crowd stopped their ears and rushed at Stephen with loud shouts.  They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.  Acts 7 goes on:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (That is, he died.)

He speaks Jesus words of forgiveness and his words of entrusting his life to God... except... now he does not simply rest his case to God the Father, but he trusts his life to Jesus Christ himself... Lord Jesus, he says, Lord JESUS... you, my Lord and my God, I pray that YOU, my beautiful Savior, Son of God, Son of Man... I pray that YOU would receive my spirit... everything I am and all I hope to be... I rest it all in your care.

This is how God desires us to live and die, not trusting in ourselves and our righteousness, to do as Jesus did on the cross, and what Stephen did when he was about to die, to do as we read in First Peter about Jesus:
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  (First Peter 2:23)
We can trust our Lord for everything... and unless we do we will only have ourselves to depend upon.  And that is a dead end road, truly a dead end, because without our Lord there is no hope.

God has set up the world in such a way that there is always justice. Sin will be punished. The consequence is death.  Take time to read James 2:10 and Revelation 20:11-25.

Nothing can rescue you... except Jesus, risen from the dead. God has provided a way, one way, to take away all of your sins. As we read in First Peter chapter 2:24-25, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."

Have you returned? Have you come back to God?  Have you asked him for grace?   Or are you still fighting?
Anything you have or anything you do that gives you spiritual strength outside of a personal relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you, anything other than that is an idol, a lie, a trick from hell.  And it will not protect you.

Without Jesus there is no hope. Your sins will follow you until the day you die. And then comes judgment.

But when you surrender to Jesus you will find life, you will find freedom, you will find joy, you will find total and tremendous peace.  Read Revelation 21:1-7.

That's why we have "church."  We hear the promises of God.  We receive grace and mercy, for the first time or for the twelve hundredth time.  We come to surrender, to release control to God.

Then transformation can begin.  No matter who you are or what you've done, the Holy Spirit can take hold of you. You can be remade from the inside out. You do not need to keep living the way you are living today. You can quit hiding, quit pretending, stop being afraid, stop avoiding whatever it is that is most troubling... because the Lord will be with you, he will fight for you, not against you, and you will be his, not just now, but forever and ever. In Jesus' name.

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