Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Crux


The Crux

Photo by AntonO 2014
Patterns of three in Scripture reflect God’s Triune nature, as exemplified in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It surprised me, however, to discover that the root word for crucifixion, namely “crux,” from the Latin word for cross or torture, also has three definitions.

According to Merriam-Webster, these are:
        1. A puzzling or difficult problem:  an unsolved question
2.   An essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome 
3.   A main or central feature (as of an argument).
How appropriate these three definitions are when we consider the role of the cross in Christianity!  The paradox of the cross is in fact one of the most puzzling or difficult problems of all time. How could God lower Himself to leave Heaven’s throne, wrap Himself in human flesh (John 1:2), and subject Himself (Luke 9:51) to the cruelest punishment man has ever devised?

Why would He come to earth not to be revered as King of Kings, obeyed as Lord of Lords (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14; 19:16), and worshipped as our Holy High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), but to be despised, betrayed, and rejected? (Isaiah 53:3)

Why would Holy God the Son, Who knew no sin, take on all of mankind’s sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), allowing Himself momentarily to be separated from God the Father (Mark 15:33-34) to pay our sin debt in full (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) while we were still His enemies? (Romans 5:10)

Which brings us to the second definition: the cross is the essential point demanding resolution. How each of us responds to the puzzling problem of the cross determines our relationship to God, the resolution of our sin problem, and our eternal destiny.

We can deny the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross, trusting wrongly in our good deeds to outweigh our sin and to earn our way to Heaven (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). We can ignore the cross, but sadly, ignorance is not bliss, and a wrong belief system does not free anyone from the consequences of the truth. Those who deny or ignore the cross are condemned to the same fate – eternal punishment in hell (John 3:18).

Only by trusting in Christ’s completed work on the cross (John 19:30; Hebrews 10:10-14) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) can we receive eternal life (John 3:16, 5:24). Faith in this changes us from God’s enemies to God’s children (Romans 8:16); from guilty to forgiven (Ephesians 1:7; 4:32; Acts 13:38; 26:18); and from condemned to eternal death in hell to redeemed to eternal life with Christ in Heaven (Romans 8:1; Galatians 3:13; Revelation 5:9).

Therefore, the cross is the main or central feature of Christian doctrine – the first and essential condition of the triad of His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This is the heart of the Gospel, or Good News. Without believing it in our heart we cannot be saved from the penalty of our sin (Romans 10:9), born again (John 3:3-8) into the family of God, and destined for eternity with Christ and our loved ones in Him.

On Calvary’s hill that fateful day were three crosses: that of Jesus between those of two thieves (Matthew.27:38; Luke 23:33). These three represent the entire relationship of God with man: Jesus Christ the Savior; those who accept Him and His completed work on the cross; and those who reject Him (Luke 23:39-43).

The thief who recognized Christ as Lord was promised that he would be in Paradise with Jesus that very day, but the unrepentant thief who angrily denied His power is still suffering in hell. Sadly, many indifferent passersby in the crowd were jaded by the crucifixions that were commonplace in that time, and ignored the suffering of our Lord on the cross (Matthew 27:40). Unless they came to believe in Him later, like the centurion and others who experienced the earthquake after His death and then realized that He was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54), they too would be condemned.

On the cross, Christ tasted death for us (Hebrews 2:9) so that we would not need to face that consequence of our sin (Romans 6:23). He paid in full the debt He did not owe and that we could not pay, to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20-21; Hebrews 2:17).

The cross bridged the great gulf between our sin and God’s perfection, purity and holiness. From before the foundation of the world, Triune God knew that Adam would disobey, bringing the curse of sin, separation from God, and eternal death upon all mankind (Genesis 3). But God had an amazing plan of salvation (Hebrews 4:3; 9:26; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8).

The Son would become flesh (John 1:2), suffer and die on the cross to pay the sin debt, and rise again to prove His divinity and give eternal life to all who trust Him. He laid down His life willingly so that He could take it up again (John 10:15,17; 15:13; 1 John 3:16), giving us victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-57) over Satan, sin and death!

Because of the cross, Christ’s followers have the blessed hope of eternal life and of His glorious reappearing (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3). One day we will have glorified bodies like His (1 Corinthians 15:49-54) that will never die, sin, or experience the corruption of pain, sickness or aging!

If you haven’t already, I implore you to consider the puzzling problem of Christ’s cross, to resolve once and for all in your mind and heart what He did for you there, and to make it the crux of your daily life, your relationship to God, and your eternal destiny!   May we all take up His cross and follow Him!  

© 2016 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives
children's ministry blogs
Womanhood With Purpose

Saturday, March 20, 2021

What Was Jesus Thinking?


The last week of Christ’s life takes more space in the Gospels than any entire year in His ministry, and a six hour time span on the day of His death takes up as much space as the months He spent in Galilee. The Word tells us of much of what happened and words spoken during this paradigm-changing, single most crucial week in history. Yet it leaves to our imagination much of what Jesus thought and felt.

Imagine that you are a parent, and that your beloved children have committed crimes against the powers that be. Justice demands their severe punishment and execution, and they are condemned to die an excruciating, prolonged death. But you have arranged to substitute your life in their place, and you willingly agree to suffer and die so that they may live.  You know when, where and how your gruesome execution will occur. You know that you are innocent, yet all will believe that you are guilty and deserve to die.

So you warn your children that you will be put to death, and you explain the specifics without going into detail about the horror. You know that your time with them is short, and you want to impart to them all of your wisdom and Godly example before you die.

But sadly, they just don’t get it. They don’t realize they are guilty of any serious offense, so they don’t understand the need for your sacrifice. You tell them you are going to die, and they argue over who will have more privileges when you’re gone. You explain the most important life lessons you want them to understand, backed up by your Godly example during your time with them, yet they not only fail to understand but don’t even care to learn.

You fill your last moments with them with meaningful family time, commemorating what has been and what will be, but they’re distracted with arguing with one another. You ask them to pray, not for you and your ordeal to come, but for themselves, that they will have the spiritual strength to carry your message forward. Instead, they fall asleep. You are arrested, tried, and put to death, and they run away, abandoning you instead of being proud to be in your family.

Yet this is just a poor illustration of what Jesus suffered. His sacrifice paid for all sins (John 1:29), past, present and future, of all mankind, not against a worldly power but against God the Father Himself, against the Creator and Ruler of the universe. His love was infinite and completely self-sacrificing, taking no thought for His own desires but willing to give His all to save us (John 15:13). 

His sacrifice was not just for those who loved and trusted Him as He walked this earth, but for all of us, all sinners (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8; Isaiah 64:6), children of the devil (John 3:10), and enemies of God (Romans 5:10) deserving eternal punishment in hell.

One of the many ways in which His life was unique was that His divine omniscience allowed Him perfect foreknowledge of coming events (Acts 2:23), with all their detail and ramifications. He had known since the beginning of time that man’s salvation demanded not only His coming to earth wrapped in human flesh, but His agonizing death on the cross (Revelation 13:8; Psalm. 88:15)

He knew that even His closest disciples would be clueless about what He was telling them (Matthew 12:40; 16:20; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34). Their priority was not His mission as much as their own power and prestige (Matthew 16:21-23; 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45).   

Just as He supernaturally knew how to arrange His last Passover meal with His loved ones (Matthew 26:17-18; Mark 14:12-15); He also knew that they would be more concerned about who would betray Him (Matthew 26:21-25; Mark 14:18-21) and who among them was greatest (Luke 22:21-24) than about understanding the eternal significance of the bread and wine, symbolizing His body broken and His blood shed for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24).

I wonder if His perfect knowledge made His sadness and pain easier or more difficult to bear?  It may have been even more painful because He knew the details of how He would be betrayed by Judas and Peter (Matthew 26:47-50; 69-75; Mark 14:29-31; 43-46; 66-72), abandoned by the others (Matthew 26:31-43; Mark 14:27; 37-40), doubted by Thomas (John 20:24-25), and accused, humiliated and tortured by His very people that He came to save (Matthew 26:59-68; Mark 14:55-65).

Yet His unspeakably horrible trial may have been made possible to endure by His foreknowledge of the ultimate result. As difficult as it is for my limited human mind to fathom, He not only willingly sacrificed Himself (John 10:17) and set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51; Isaiah 50:6), but He endured His suffering for the joy of giving us eternal life (Hebrews 12:2).

He knew that He would restore Peter and the others to vital positions of ministry (John 20:15-19), that even Thomas would no longer doubt (John 20:26-28), that He would convert Saul to Paul and give the gospel of grace to be spread to all peoples (Acts 9), and that His resurrection would conquer sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:20-57). Praise God that all who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) now have eternal life

© 2014 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives

Saturday, March 13, 2021

View through the Ruin


Photo by Laurie Collett 2017

May all who celebrate it have a blessed and safe St. Patrick's Day! As a Christian, I believe that all who trust Jesus as their Savior are saints. Still, I can appreciate that "St. Patrick's" life is worthy of respect, as he is said to have converted the pagan Irish to Christianity. My family and I do have fond memories of Ireland and the time we spent there, as you may see from the reposted article below:

Our family was recently blessed to visit Ireland, where the joy of spending time together was enhanced by the unusually sunny weather and gorgeous scenery. The lush green landscape there is dotted by many ruins of walls, dwellings, and even castles!

One of our favorites was Minard Castle near Dingle in County Kerry, still stately atop a gentle hill on a boulder beach, its gray stones overgrown with tangled ivy. It was built by the Knight of Kerry in the mid 17th century and was later attacked by the forces of Oliver Cromwell. In the romantic film "Ryan’s Daughter," it was used to film the scene where Rosy met the English Captain, with whom she would have an extramarital affair.

Our son and daughter-in-law were the first to scramble up the steep, winding narrow stairs to view what remained of the bedrooms and watch towers. There was no signage or docent, so much of it was left to the imagination. I followed not too far behind, while my husband chose the safer and broader perspective from below on the castle grounds.

Later he told me that a fellow traveler shook his head while gazing at those of us scampering about on the upper levels of the ancient structure.

“I’m a mechanical engineer,” he told Richard. “All it would take is one stone from that arch to slip a little, or to crumble a little, for that whole building to come tumbling down.”

Richard shuddered as he pondered our fate, wondering why he hadn’t tried to stop us, or if he could even had he tried.

As I ascended the rough steps, sometimes painfully clinging to thorny vines on the wall for support, I was thankfully oblivious to the conversation below. I paused often to peek through the window openings, and to imagine what it was like for the original occupants to gaze out on that same scenery. The rolling hills, far-off mountain peak, and sea must not have changed much, despite the considerable deterioration of the dwelling itself.

Were there joyful parties in the castle, or grim watches for invading enemies? Were the occupants blessed with marital bliss and happy, healthy families, or plagued by sickness, strife, trials and death? Most likely a mixture of both, as would be true for most lives at different times.

As I paused to snap a photo of one view through the crumbling ruins, I was struck by the contrast of the jagged rocks that framed the window, jutting out into the bucolic landscape and farmhouse in the distance, and the grand yet hazy view of the mountain peak beyond.

The Bible describes the church, or body of called-out believers who trust in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), as a building fitly framed together. Jesus Himself is the Cornerstone and the Foundation on which the church is built (Ephesians 2:20-22). Each believer is positioned uniquely to fulfill the specific function God has predetermined for each of us (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

But what happens if the individual stones in the building, or believers in the church, start to fall apart? As the engineer observed, just one stone slipping in the arch could bring the whole castle tumbling down. If a church leader is found out in adultery or other sin, or begins preaching false doctrine, the entire local church body may dissolve (1 Corinthians 5:6-13).

Even “small” sins or divisions among church members, or erosion as vines and leaks work over time on building blocks, can damage the entire structure. Maintenance and upkeep are therefore crucial for a dwelling, and regular, well-attended services (Hebrews 10:25) and immersion in God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:2) even more so for a church.  

Crumbling around the edges of one stone can affect its connection to the others, and similarly, willful sin in the life of one church member erodes the body as a whole, for the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Small wonder that so many churches today are in disarray and even closing their doors altogether!

But the view through the ruin also reminded me of my own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, as is true for every child of God (Ephesians 2:22; 2 Corinthians 6:16). The outward body is aging daily, yet the soul inside should be growing closer to and in better alignment with Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:16), as long as we build our lives on the solid Rock (Matthew 7:24) and Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).

Looking out from the jagged borders of the window reminded me that although I am rough around the edges, God still blesses me with the vision to see milestones along my path. As I viewed the nearby farmhouse and heard the far-off laughter of my son and his bride, I remembered God’s blessings of honest labor (2 Thessalonians 3:10), family (Psalm 127:3-5) and shelter in the past and present.

And the mountain peak beyond strengthened my faith that there are still mountains and lands to possess, figuratively speaking, even as we grow older (Joshua 14:9-12; 13:1). Ultimately we will ascend to that holy city, New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12; 21:2,10), on the heavenly hill! (Zechariah 8:3)

Meanwhile, as our physical bodies age and fail, our souls groan to be clothed with the new heavenly tabernacle of our glorified body! (Romans 8:18-23). Then we will view Him through the ruin of our earthly body no more, for we will see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and be as He is, in our heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:40-54) that will never die, sin, age, or experience pain, sickness or sorrow! 

© 2017 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives

Photo by Laurie Collett 2017   

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Follow the Light


Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol 2010

Given the time of year -- nearly spring -- and the COVID restrictions causing many to spend more time at home,  many people may be planning or even starting a spring garden. Planting has many spiritual applications, from  sowing the seed, to nurturing and watering the growing shoots, to bearing fruit and harvesting the crops. This reminded me of a post I wrote several years ago, reposted below.
While reorganizing the kitchen pantry a few months ago I was surprised to find a plastic bag containing several vegetable seed packets dated 1998. I had totally forgotten they were there, but at least I learned that I really ought to clean out my cupboards more often!

Rather than toss the seeds, I thought it would be interesting to see if they had any life remaining in them, so I planted a few seeds of each variety in the wells of an egg carton.

Lo and behold, seven days later a determined seedling pushed through the soil, after 18 years of lying dormant in the dark! It was a bush bean, according to the notation I had made on the egg carton. The dried casing that had once covered the seed lay shriveled up beside the new sprout.

In the days and weeks to come the bean plant grew rapidly, shedding its first set of paired leaves and sporting new ones in clusters of three. Readers of this blog, knowing my penchant for patterns of three in nature and in Scripture as reflections of the Trinity, will understand my excitement at seeing these leaf triplets!

The bean stalk always inclined itself toward the overhead kitchen light, sometimes growing on an angle, so that I had to turn it in the opposite direction to help it grow straight. But no matter how often I turned it, it would keep reorienting toward the light.

About a week later, the bean sprout had company. A melon seedling timidly poked up through the soil, barely distinguishable from the white particles of perlite in the starter mix. But it was far less vigorous than the bean, and instead of following the light, it inclined itself toward the bean plant, apparently preferring its company to seeking out its own source of new life.

And, just as I had given up on any other seeds taking root, a very tiny, threadlike shoot appeared in the mint well. I practically needed a magnifier to spot it! Yes, these expired seeds (20 varieties) brought forth three live seedlings!

Despite more time, water, light and fertilizer, however, the mint only crept horizontally along the ground, stunted in its growth and never lifting itself to the light source or even to its neighbors.

Needless to say, it will be a long time, if at all, before we enjoy the fruits of this miniature “garden!” But at least observing these seeds grow brought to mind some Bible truths.

The first is to never give up hope! With God, all things are possible! (1 Peter 1:3; Matthew 19:26) To our human reason, planting seeds 18 years after their intended growing season is a ridiculous exercise in futility. But God’s timing is always perfect (Daniel 11:29; Galatians 4:2), and nothing is too hard for Him (Isaiah 59:1).

He promised and delivered a child to Abraham and Sarah when they were ancient and long past their fertile years (Genesis 18:14), blessing them with a son and all mankind with a great nation that would give rise to the Messiah (Genesis 26:4).

Much later, God the Father allowed His Son, Jesus Christ, God in human form, to raise Lazarus from the dead even when his body was already decomposing (John 11:39-44).

Best of all, He raised Jesus Christ Himself from the tomb (Matthew 28:6) to everlasting life in His glorified body, so that all who place their trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven will have forgiveness of sins and abundant and eternal life with Him! (John 10:10,28; 14:6; Acts 13:38; 26:18)

Our earthly body may crumble in the grave, left behind like a discarded seed covering, but our soul and spirit will one day unite with a heavenly body that will never age, get sick, feel pain or die (1 Corinthians 15:35-50).

God’s children may grow impatient waiting for Christ’s return (Titus 2:13) and the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) – I know that I keep looking up!. But we need to remember that with Him, one day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8), and to have faith that He is working behind the scenes, allowing all who would be saved to accept Him (2 Peter 3:9), and preparing mansions in Heaven (John 14:2) for each of us!

In each of our lives there may be long periods of dormancy. Before we are saved, the Holy Spirit works in our lives and in our hearts to plow that infertile soil until His Word of salvation takes root (Matthew 13:3-23).

In my case, decades elapsed between the first time I heard a clear presentation of the Gospel and the moment I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. So never give up on praying for (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and witnessing to (Matthew 28:19) unsaved loved ones!

Once we become His children, there may be long periods when we are “on the shelf,” not engaged in meaningful service (1 Corinthians 9:27) or bearing fruit (Matthew 21:19), either through our own disobedience or because God is preparing us for a much greater work. We should pray for brothers and sisters in Christ going through these fallow times, for we can have faith that He has an amazing plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11).

How can we live so as to orient ourselves with that perfect plan? By following His light. No matter which way the world turns us about and tries to pull us away from God, Who is Light (1 John 1:5), we must constantly keep our gaze and mind fixed on Him. Just as the bush bean grows constantly in the direction of the light, we must walk in the Light, and then we will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:8-14).

That will bring us the perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3) of knowing that we are in His will and that He is guiding our path (Psalm 119:105), giving us direction to grow in Him. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12; 12:46), and if we follow His light, we too are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), turning others from darkness to light (Romans 2:19; Acts 26:18).

The melon, growing sideways as it inclined toward its neighbors, reminded me of those who are attracted to personalities in the church, or even to false teachings (2 Timothy 4:3), and not to Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 1:12-15). As our late pastor used to say, man will always let you down, but Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

It makes me wonder how many unsaved people are still in the dark because they have concluded that Christians are hypocrites, and how many Christians have dropped out of service because they were hurt by a pastor or other church leaders?

And finally there is the mint, stunted in its growth because it only crept along the dirt. Men prefer the darkness because their deeds are evil (John 3:19), shirking from the Light Who will expose their flaws. If we keep our minds in the gutter by exposing our eyes, ears and senses to filth, we cannot experience the renewing of our minds and transformation (Romans 12:1-2) into the new creature Christ wants us to be in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).

May we focus on what is good, lovely and pure (Philippians 4:8) by following His Light, so that we can be the light of the world and lead others to Him!  

© 2016 Laurie Collett
Edited and reposted from the archives