Layout 1“Father, … I commit my spirit!”
Read Luke 23:46-49, John 19:31-42

Here are some signs that Jesus’ work really worked: The earth shakes, as God’s own creation trembles at the mighty act just finished on a barren hill outside the city. The massive temple curtain separating the place of God’s holy presence from sinful people is ripped from top to bottom, signifying the Creator’s invitation to humanity to enter into restoration. And on the cross, Jesus makes his own great declaration of faith in the Father’s plan: I trust You.

How could Jesus say this?

No prisoner in solitary confinement was ever more alone than our Christ on the cross. It had to be that way.

faithOnly Jesus could serve as the sacrifice for our sins. Only Jesus could be our spotless lamb. Only Jesus could be the human qualified to pay the penalty for sin. Because he was sinless. And in this he was unique in all of the universe. In this he was alone.

All he had to hold to was the Father’s promise of life on the other side of the grave. Soon he would rest, his salvation work complete. Soon all heaven would celebrate.

PRAY Lord, because of Your great love and completed work on the Cross, into Your hands I, too, commit my Spirit.

Charles_Lyons_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Charles Lyons

I wish you could meet Richard.* When our church moved into the hulking former Masonic Temple, squatting on a Kedzie Boulevard corner, the guy I would come to know as Richard hung out with a crowd of 20 guys in front of our building each evening.

This was their hood. This was their corner. Now, many years later, Richard has confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart the Lord Jesus.

He’s in my Grow Group that meets every Thursday night. The week after Easter we were bemoaning that Richard had to work the previous Sunday. He’s a security guard at a hospital, which has served this dangerous Humboldt Park neighborhood since the early 1900s.

He was recounting the hectic happenings at his ER security post on Resurrection morning.

“Yeah, we had two rape victims come in, then we had two other girls who were hit and run…” His hands were waving. “Then we had a shooting victim brought in.”

Right about here I interjected, “This is all Easter morning?”

“That’s right,” he affirmed, voice rising.

“Then the Monsters* (local gang whose turf surrounds the hospital) started gathering outside the ER door trying to get in to finish off the guy they shot but failed to kill. We had to put a call into CPD (Chicago Police Department) for some help. On top of that, two overdoses came in.”

While all that was going on, about a mile and a half north, Armitage Baptist was lifting praises to the resurrected Christ. We were declaring the good news that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is victory over sin and death. He’s in the life-transforming business. That very morning, almost a score of sinners
confessed Jesus as Lord in our services.

Cities are centers of death. The wages of sin is death. Cities … more sinners … more sin … more wages of sin … more death. I can’t help but think of the crime, the plagues, the fires, the wars that have wreaked havoc on cities throughout history.

Even natural disasters are more dramatic and more death-dealing when they hit cities. Think of the tornado in Joplin, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Biloxi, and Hurricane Sandy in Long Island.

Think of Jerusalem – ravaged, destroyed, blood soaks every square foot of its rocky soil. Several hundred years before Christ, the Babylonians decimated the city. Several decades after Jesus, the Romans brought great horror to the sacred city.

Jerusalem – The city. The city that is the center of the earth. The city central to God’s grand plan. On one dark Friday it is again the center of death. This death is the death of all deaths. Three days later death is conquered in a city, the city.

Could it be with all the devastation Satan has hurled at humanity in cities and through cities, that God chooses the city purposefully as the place where death will be conquered?

“O death, where is your sting, O grave where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, but thanks
be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Rosa,* new to our Grow Group, sat in stunned silence as Richard talked. Which, if you knew Rosa, was an awfully rare occasion. There had been a knock as our group assembled. The door was flung open. Richard entered the tiny living room seemingly filling it. Rosa told me later, “I recognized him right away! I don’t know if he recognized me, so I just introduced myself.

“Pastor, Pastor, he’s the guy who told my son that he was going to kill him!”

“When was this?” I asked.

“Over 15 years ago. Right out in front of church!”

It seems Rosa’s then-teenage son had some kind of run-in with Richard. Rosa had literally feared for her son’s life, taking precautions to avoid the big guy that ran the hood.

Not having seen him for years, she had the spiritually jolting, emotionally shocking experience of sitting that night studying the Word of God with the very man, now her brother in Christ, who had threatened the life of her son. And doesn’t God often take it up one more notch? Rosa’s son now works at the hospital because Richard helped him get the job!

Jesus is the death of death in the city.

Charles Lyons has pastored Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago since 1974. This column first appeared in the Baptist Bible Tribune.

Layout 1“It is finished!”
Read John 19:30, Hebrews 1:1-3

When its payment is completed, a bill is customarily stamped “paid in full.” No more payment is expected. The cancelled paperwork is proof that the debt is no longer held against the debtor. In New Testament times, the word written across the final invoice was tetelestai. This Greek word means “it is finished.”

Tetelestai (pronounced “tuh-TELL-uh-sty”) appears only twice in Scripture, in John 19:28 and 19:30. In the first verse, “Scripture” is described as tetelestai. Often translated as fulfilled or completed, it is finished. Jesus did everything the prophets said he would do. He left no job undone, no stone unturned.

finishedOnly two verses later in John’s account, Jesus himself declares his mission accomplished. After six hours on the cross, painfully pulling his body up to swallow every breath, it is almost impossible for Jesus to seize enough air to shout this news.

But he does. And everyone is stunned.

Tetelestai!

PRAY Lord, I am amazed by all you did to save me. Thank you for completing my redemption. Your work is finished, and I am paid for in full.

movie_filmstripCOMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

Watching actors portray Jesus on film is a little like Goldilocks trying out chairs at the three bears’ house. This Jesus is too small (“Jesus Christ Superstar”). This one is too passive (“Son of God”). Or just too weird (“Godspell”).

Even when Jesus resembles the one you met in Sunday school, like in the 1965 epic “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” you still find yourself looking for the inconsistencies that prove this Jesus isn’t as satisfying as the one in the Bible.

And when his suffering is gut-wrenchingly authentic (“The Passion of the Christ”), you want to see this Jesus during the rest of his life, and not just the last few hours.

Movies can’t capture him, and they’re not the best way to connect with him. But there’s still a reason to watch. Jesus on film may be undersized compared to the real-life version, but the other humans in the movies are caught in brilliant living color.

Judas, Nicodemus, Barabbas and the others are fully life-sized, and watching them interact with the film version of Jesus is downright convicting.

See the shades of jealousy you’ve never noticed in the “Greatest Story” Judas, and his belief that he was actually doing what was right for his people. Or listen to him wail in “Superstar,” narrating the whole story in what he believes is the voice of reason.

Watch Nicodemus in “Son of God” draw close and then pull away, again and again, as he’s torn between this new gospel and what he’s always known.

Simon of Cyrene comes to life in “The Passion,” starting off skeptical and reluctant to help Jesus carry his cross, but defending him at the end of their long march. In the same movie, Mary Magdalene can’t turn away from the gruesome crucifixion scene, her current reality mixing with memories of how Jesus rescued her from the Pharisees.

Even in “Godspell,” the loopy 1975 musical, we watch the disciples have their world turned upside down as Jesus teaches them things that are the opposite of the status quo.

The filmmakers created some of the dialogue to fill in places Scripture doesn’t describe in detail, so we don’t know exactly what was said or felt. But Judas’ jealousy and Mary’s neediness and Nicodemus’ doubts are relatable all the same because we’ve been in their shoes.

There’s a young church in San Diego called Barabbas Road. The founding pastor picked the name because all redeemed Christians have walked Barabbas’ path, he said. In fact, one of their early promotional videos featured different church members each proclaiming, “I am Barabbas.”

These Jesus movies elicit the same reaction: I am Barabbas. I am Nicodemus. You are Peter. You are Simon of Cyrene. Watching Jesus interact with vividly human people like us is the most moving thing about all these motion pictures.

And as a bonus feature, these abridged versions of Jesus will drive many viewers back to Scripture for the full story.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Layout 1“I thirst.”
Read John 19:28-29, Psalm 69:21,
Zechariah 12:10

Several times the Gospel writers say the events of the crucifixion happened to fulfill Scripture. Jesus sipped the sour wine. His bones were not broken, which would have sped up the dying process. His side was sliced open, and the water separated from the blood that spilled out showed he had died. Why was it necessary to fulfill the Scriptures?

Doubters might say that Jesus, sweet but deluded, had sacrificed himself unnecessarily. They might say there was no divine plan from before creation to redeem humanity from sin and death. They might say it was all miserable happenstance, a bad turn of events.

fulfilledBut as the pivotal point in all history, the crucifixion was no accident. And to prove it, the Author of the plan had it written down hundreds, even more than 1,000 years before it happened. Bible scholars point to over 300 Old Testament prophecies of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah.

And for it all to be proven true for those of us who stand on the A.D. side of time, Scripture was fulfilled. Down to the last sop of vinegar. Down to the last spear point.

PRAY Lord, thank you for the details of the crucifixion proving Jesus’ humanity, the reality of his death, and your divine plan over it all.

Layout 1“Why have you forsaken me?”
Read Matthew 27:45-49, Psalm 22

The crowd on Golgotha thinks Jesus is calling on Elijah for rescue, but he isn’t. He’s calling on Elohim. With the opening to Psalm 22, he invokes the entire prophetic psalm. It’s a word picture written a thousand years earlier showing the Messiah, abandoned to die.

How can someone who lives in constant contact with two others ever be alone? That has never happened before. The Trinity is the perfect picture of community: three persons enjoying complete unity, holy boon companions always in agreement.

forsakenBut for three hours Jesus feels nothing but the weight of our sin, and the one who knew no sin becomes sin for us. It’s so revolting that the Father who ordained it can have nothing to do with it. And Jesus, for the first time in all eternity, is alone.

Standing beneath the cross, disciple John and mother Mary witness in the skies what’s happening within Jesus Himself. The sky grows dark. The sun is blotted out. And rain falls on them all, the tears of heaven, as Jesus cries, Why have you left me?

PRAY Lord, when I feel alone, remind me that you know how it feels. And because You bore my sins, I need never be separated from God anymore.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Two separate gatherings will address theological differences within the Southern Baptist Convention at this year’s SBC annual meeting in Baltimore. The breakfasts – both scheduled for 6:30 a.m. on June 10 – signal that the discussion over Reformed theology continues in the convention, following last year’s presentation by a Calvinism study group.

One of the breakfast meetings is hosted by Connect 316, a newly formed group of “theologically driven traditionalists,” according to their website. The group’s executive director, Rick Patrick, has acknowledged Connect 316 is an alternative to Calvinist-leaning groups. “But in another sense,” he said, “we are quite reticent to define ourselves merely in relation to Calvinism.” The Connect 316 breakfast will feature a panel discussion with Adam Harwood, Richard Land, Malcolm Yarnell and Brad Whitt.

At another breakfast meeting sponsored by LifeWay’s “The Gospel Project,” panelists Ed Stetzer, David Platt, Frank Page and Trevin Wax will talk about “Salvation and the Mission of God.”

“In recent years, Southern Baptists have been involved in numerous discussions related to Calvinism, its rise among young evangelicals, its place in Southern Baptist life, and how it affects our mission,” Wax wrote in a blog post about the breakfast. The meeting, he continued, will address “how differing views of salvation impact the way we do mission.”

Reformed theology figured prominently in the discussion at the last two SBC annual meetings, especially in Houston, when a group appointed by Executive Committee President Page presented its findings to messengers. The findings of the study committee, which included thinkers across the theological spectrum, didn’t bring the SBC to a consensus. Rather, Page encouraged Baptists to cooperate despite their differences. “We need to start acting like believers,” he said.

Oklahoma City pastor will be nominated for SBC’s 2nd VP post
Baptist Press reports Hance Dilbeck, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, will be nominated for second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the annual meeting in Baltimore. The nomination was announced by Johnny Hunt, a former SBC president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.

“He has a great experience as a leader and pastor, a strong passion for the Great Commission, a sweet love for Southern Baptists and an unyielding commitment to denominational unity,” Hunt said of Dilbeck. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Ohio will recognize same-sex marriages
Another state on the marriage map changed colors Monday, as a federal judge ruled Ohio will now recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Judge Timothy Black could issue a stay on his ruling, the Associated Press reports; attorneys are expected to present their arguments today. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told AP last week it’s his job to defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“Every state is having a lively debate over this and I think that’s a proper thing to do,” DeWine added. “I think it’s pretty obvious that all these issues are going to be resolved by the 6th Circuit and some cases are going to get to the Supreme Court. They’re going to have a decision in the United States Supreme Court and we’re all going to have to accept that.”

Louisiana lawmakers take a step toward making the Bible official state book
A Louisiana House committee has voted 8-5 in favor of designating the King James Bible their official state book, reports The Times-Picayune newspaper. The bill, which has gotten pushback from many legislators, now goes to the full State House.

Bubba celebrates Masters win at Waffle House - with Justin Bieber’s pastor
Late-night diners at a Georgia Waffle House got quite a surprise after the Masters Golf Tournament finished up Sunday, The Christian Post reports. Champion Bubba Watson and his wife, Angie, celebrated his victory there with Pastor Judah Smith and his wife, Chelsea. Smith, a spiritual advisor to pop star Justin Bieber, also is the Watsons’ pastor at City Church in Seattle and counseled the golfer to read Philippians 4:11 leading up to his win at Augusta. “As a kid, you dreamed about playing on the PGA Tour,” Smith told Watson, according to an ESPN story. “You dreamed about playing in the Masters. You’re doing that. Why don’t you just go ahead and rejoice in the circumstances of your life?”

And if those circumstances are served smothered and scattered, even better.