Friday, May 9, 2014

The Seven Last Things Jesus Said: Prayer Room 2014

It is 12pm on Friday, during the feast of Passover.  The night before, Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Jewish feast of Passover, which remembers the Israelite’s liberation from Egyptian slavery.  Passover specifically celebrates the last of ten plagues, where God commanded the oldest born son in each family be put to death, except for the Israelites, who could save their sons by sacrificing a perfect lamb, collecting the blood, and painting it on their doorframes.

After celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus walked outside to pray in the garden.  He knew the Old Testament prophecies of Him being the slaughtered lamb whose blood would, once and for all, set God’s people free.  Still, He cried out to the Father and was filled with angst to the point of sweating blood.

As He prayed in the garden, a mob of Jewish and Roman officers came to arrest Him.  Jewish leaders had been conspiring to have Jesus arrested because His radical teachings were stirring up the Jews and leading them away from the man-made traditions of Jewish faith.  The mob first took Jesus to Caiaphas, the high Jewish priest, where Jesus stood trial.  Many came against Him with false allegations, though no one had any evidence.  The Jews convicted Jesus of being a blasphemer and found Him worthy of death.

Jesus was then taken before the Roman governor of the region, Pontius Pilate.  Pilate had Jesus flogged and a crown of thorns was forced down on Jesus’ head.  Pilate, sensing there was little reason to have Jesus actually executed, offered the Jewish crowd the choice of having either Jesus or Barabbas, a murderer, to be released, hoping they would choose to let a peaceful man go instead of turning a murderer loose.  The Jews in the crowd yelled for Barabbas to be released and when asked what to do with Jesus, chanted “Crucify Him!”

Jesus was then mocked, stripped naked, and beat again before having to drag the very cross that He was to die on through the streets.  When He reached the place called Golgotha, He was nailed to His cross and was left hanging there to die.

The following are the last seven things Jesus said before dying on the Cross.

“…they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”  The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”         –Luke 23:34-38

Meekness is defined as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment”.  Within the past twelve hours, Jesus had been falsely arrested, lied about, beaten, rejected by His people, mocked and publically humiliated.  One of His friends had betrayed him for a mere 30 silver pieces, and another friend, the first apostle and one of his closest companions, denied that he ever knew Him.  And now, hanging from a cross, still being mocked, gravity tearing and stretching the wounds in His nail-pierced hands and feet, light-headed from trauma and blood loss, and suffocating, naked, on display for all to see, Jesus’ heart is still breaking for those who are torturing Him and asking the Father to forgive them.

How would you rank your personal meekness?  If Jesus is a 10, where do you fall?  Take a moment and ask God to show you any people that you need to forgive.  Has your resentment and lack of patience toward them created just as much sin as the original offense?  What do you need to do or think in order to feel your heart break for the other person?  Pray about what your next step should be in forgiving that person.

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
–Luke 23:33-34, 39-43

Which criminal are you?  It is easy to say that we are the second criminal who fears God, but is that really true?  Look at how the two criminals address Jesus.
Both men have committed crimes worthy of being put to death.  From what is told of them in the Bible, we can assume that whatever they have done is of equal severity.  The first one knows Jesus is the Messiah and is looking for what Jesus can do for him in this life.  The second one never directly says Jesus is the Messiah, but he sees his sins and sees Jesus’ innocence and asks Jesus to remember him after they have both died.

Based on your communications with Jesus (your prayer life), which criminal are you?  Are you the one that is concerned about earthly gain or the one who focuses on an eternal relationship with Jesus?  Which one would Jesus say you are?  How does the motivation behind our prayers influence which criminal we are like?  What attitudes do you need to change so you are more like the one who will be with Jesus in paradise?

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. –John 19:25-27

Why did Jesus entrust the care of His mother to John, who at best was a cousin of Jesus’, instead of to one of His brothers, who were already Mary’s sons?  John’s mother and father were still alive at this point and he would need to care for them.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have closer, less burdened family take in the widow?

In Mark 3:31-35, a scene takes place where Jesus’ mother and his brothers arrive at a gathering where Jesus is surrounded by a crowd.  They tell him that his mother and brothers are there looking for Him.  He replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  After looking at the crowd around Him, He says, “Here are my mother and brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus wasn't showing disrespect to His family, but instead used the opportunity to show that once you become a follower of Jesus, you are part of a bigger family, the family of believers.  In God’s family, we are all brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters to one another.  On the cross, He still shows that He feels compelled to care specifically for His earthly mother, but He also shows how He sees His brothers in Christ having just as important of a position in His life.
Who is in your family of believers that isn't in your earthly family?  Fill out the family tree using those people.  Who has acted as a father?  A mother?  A sister or brother?  Who in the family of believers are like sons and daughters to you?  Thank God for these people and take a moment to pray for them as you would pray for your own family.  How can you strengthen your relationship with these people?

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?
(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
-Matthew 27:46

Think for a minute about the most hurtful and destructive sin you have ever committed.  How much pain did you feel after you realized what you had done?  How much did you struggle to connect with the Father after that?  How deeply did it hurt?
Now put yourself in Jesus’ place on the cross.  Most scholars believe that when Jesus spoke these words, His bond with the Father was broken and all the sins of the world, everything sinful that had ever been done and every sinful thing that ever would be done, would fall onto Jesus at one time so that when He died, His sacrifice would justify all sinners who put their faith in Him for all time.  Imagine the pain, guilt, and condemnation you felt from the sin above multiplied trillions of times over.  Stand for a minute and imagine the weight of that on your soul.  Try to feel the heaviness in your chest.  Try to feel the sorrow and anguish drain you.  Try to feel the pain, agony and fear.

What Jesus suffered for us in that moment is beyond our comprehension.  He was willing to take on all the guilt and eternal punishment that we deserve so that we can have a relationship with the Father forever.  Jesus was the whipping boy that took our punishment.  And He took it all at once.  And He did it just for you.

Take a slip of paper and write down your sins that you need to be reminded that Jesus has already paid the price for.  Use the tape to hang it on the cross.  If you are worried that your sin needs to remain private, fold the slip in half, even tape it shut if you like, before you hang it on the cross.  What is important is understanding that Jesus paid the price you deserved for that sin in this moment on the Cross.  How does believing that change you?

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.
 –John 19:28

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and asked her for a drink of water.  After the woman asked why a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water, Jesus replied:

 “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water… Everyone who drinks this water (the well water) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Surely at this point in the crucifixion, Jesus would have been physically thirsty.  He likely hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since the Passover meal the night before and had spent the night and morning being beat and dragging a cross through the town.
But He also was spiritually thirsty.  He had taken on all the sins of the world and was separated from the Father.  When we think back to the scene with the woman at the well, we see that the thirst Jesus was more concerned about was the thirst inside of us for the spiritual things of our God.  He was thirsting for water, but also for His lost connection to the Father.

In what areas of your spiritual life are you thirsty?  Is your prayer life (or lack thereof) causing you to be thirsty?  Is being judgmental making your heart thirsty?  Do things from your past keep you from taking the clean water of eternal life that God offers?  Are you trying to quench your thirst with earthly things, much like those that offered Jesus wine vinegar instead of water, and finding yourself thirstier and thirstier all the time?  Talk to the Father about your thirst and why you are thirsting when a spring of water should be welling up in you.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.

The Old Testament is full of prophecy that shows Jesus is the Messiah and that told of the gruesome and humiliating way He would die.  At times, Jesus’ followers seemed to have various levels of understanding about this, but Jesus knew very clearly what was destined for Him and what He would have to go through.  Jesus didn’t have to orchestrate and manipulate events to make sure that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled.  He simply lived His life and walked through the path God had set for Him.  He served the Lord knowing that He would have to endure death in order for God’s people to experience life. 

There is much debate as to what He meant by “It is finished,” whether it meant that His life was over, that all the sins had been atoned for or whether all the prophecy about His death had been fulfilled, but what is clear is that He had been through the horrors that were laid out for Him and in His last moments, He was tired and spent.
Many people mistakenly believe that if they are correctly living out God’s individual will for their life, that everything will go smoothly and they will never feel tired or drained and will never experience any adversity.  They worry that if they experience hard times, it is a sign that either they are not doing what God has called them to or they are not praying enough, doing enough, are close enough to the Father, etc.

The truth is that Jesus did everything He was called to do, but still experienced death on a cross.  Is there anything you are doing for the Kingdom that leaves you feeling tired, discouraged or is simply painful?  Do you worry that it is because you aren’t “doing it” right?  Take a moment to identify with Jesus’ feelings at this point.  Pray that you are strengthened and cared for by the angels or other Godly provision.  If you don’t feel this way, pray for someone that you know who does.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.  –Luke 23:46

Jesus is at His last moments, when His body is failing and struggling to hold on just one more breath.  In those last moments, Jesus acknowledges that there is nothing left in His body to give to the Father.  His flesh is finally about to fail and all that is left to surrender to Him is His spirit.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Meditate on that just a moment.  Jesus has just endured horrendous physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.  He was in so much angst over what was to happen that He was sweating blood just before the events began.  Yet in His dying breath He surrenders His spirit to the God that required it all of Him.

Imagine yourself in that position, where you are wholly and completely used up by God.  You’ve been stripped of everything and life is draining quickly from your body.  Is it easy to give up the only thing you have left, your spirit, to His complete control, or do you feel like you want to cling to that last remaining piece of you?

Where are you clinging to unforgiveness?  Where are you clinging to hurt?  Where are you clinging to your pride?  Where are you clinging to sin?  Where are you clinging to comfort and peace?  Where are you clinging to the world and not allowing the Father to take your soul into His faithful hands?
Just as Jesus was raised again on the third day and returned to splendor for all eternity, we will be raised again, either in this life or the next one.  God promises that to us if we commit our spirit and all our earthliness to Him.  Pray for the strength to trust Him and to lay down your whole being into His hands.

Spend some time before the cross in worship of Christ our King.

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