CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

Author: clergydude (page 2 of 43)

February 15, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Stubborn Faithfulness

The two Marys were blocked from the one they loved by stone, gravity, soldiers and seals. Nevertheless, they busied themselves with something to do. As they retreated from the gravesite they went back to the home of Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and prepared spices for the body of Jesus. Scriptures record that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had already prepared the body – after a fashion. But in the minds of these ladies it was after a man’s fashion. Their love for Jesus was also fueled by a determined belief that those lads had made a hash of it. They were now prepared, in spite of all the aforementioned physical obstacles, to tend to Jesus’ body properly! When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. ~Mark 16:1,2

Faith eschews obstacles. As they finished up their bundle of precious spices and headed out the door, it finally occurred to them to state the obvious: They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Mark 16:3 Yes, there was that.

As heaven looked down upon the slow progress of the two middle-aged ladies carrying their costly gift, preparations for their dilemma had already been made. They of course didn’t know that. But that’s the way it often is in the kingdom. We’re not called to produce results, we are merely called to be faithful with what we have. They had spices and they had a stubborn resolve. For heaven that was enough: And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. ~Matthew 28:2 

February 14, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Marking Time

We left Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph perched outside the tomb and taking in two sets of busy men. The first ones were Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Although these two were hip deep with the group that had engineered the crucifixion, they had become surreptitious followers of Christ. The ladies wanted to offer help, to attend to Jesus, but the importance and unfamiliarity of these two men fostered an understandable shyness. So they waited and watched.

The two religious leaders finished up their labors and left the small, picturesque area. It grew quiet and it grew late. Yet the ladies waited. All of a sudden a second group of men arrived. Mary and Mary heard the sickeningly familiar sound of rough men, soldiers, interrupting their grieving and vigilance. What was this? It seemed the reach of the authorities knew no end. They had already humiliated and murdered Jesus. Now what? What was this latest outrage? They waited and watched.

These were the soldiers of the Sanhedrin. They were no less brusque and no less skilled than their Roman counterparts. They had to be because they were, in effect, extensions of their Roman overlords. Professional pride made them as calculating and ruthless as the Romans. As a bonus, they were not considered unclean, or as unclean as the Emperor’s legions. They enjoyed, more or less, unrestricted access to the religious leaders. At the very least, four of these soldiers showed up to carry out these plans: Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. ~Matthew 27:62-66

How did they secure the grave? We’ve already mentioned the large stone that had been rolled into place. The grave itself was hewn out of solid rock, so there was no back door to look after. And, in addition to the soldiers, a seal was set in place. The seal was a soft material, probably made of clay, that was imprinted with the Roman imperial seal and attached to the stone by a rope. To break the seal would incur the fury of Rome.

And there sat the two Marys. Jesus was dead, wrapped, buried, guarded and now sealed. And even with all of that, they waited and watched.

 

February 13, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Did Jesus go to hell?

(Note: I apologize ahead of time for the heavy theological slogging and the length of today’s offering. It can’t be helped. Godspeed your efforts and thanks for reading! ~CJ)

While none of the gospels exhaustively disclose what Jesus was up to as his body occupied the borrowed tomb of Joseph, there has been no end of speculation in respect to this timeframe. Part of that speculation has led to some rather novel interpretations, perhaps even outrageous! Since I’ve no interest in being novel or outrageous, I’ll give you what I think this following passage means: For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. ~I Peter 3:18-20 The question before us then is this: Did Jesus go to hell?

The “weekend in hell” concept came to some prominence around 750 A.D. when it found its way into the Apostle’s Creed by way of the Arians. Arianism, for a number of reasons, was considered heretical as early as 325 at the First Council of Nicaea. One of the primary weaknesses of  the Arians was their denial of Christ’s preexistence. If you recall our time in the first chapter of John’s gospel, Christ’s preexistence was a big deal – the biggest of deals. Hold that thought.

The teaching supporting the “weekend in hell” basically states that Jesus went to visit hell where he there proclaimed his victory and then preached to the previously damned. To what end offers another fork in the road. Some say it was for the redemption of these ancient reprobates – a second chance as it were for the Noah-mockers. Others say it was a brief moment of Messiah boasting. And there’s a more recent group that have taken it even further. Because of the sometimes curious teachings of E.W. Kenyon (1867–1948), a whole theology has been built up around Jesus actually going to hell and suffering its torments. It has made for some lively preaching.

But back to the text. Our understanding hinges upon how we fill in the blanks between Peter’s sparse prose: …having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah… My take on this section is that Jesus, now made alive in the spirit after he gave up his spirit on the cross – was also preexistent and preaching through Noah during the whole Ark episode. Let me tighten that up by adding some helping words to the text that do it no violence: …in which also He (once) went and made proclamation to the spirits (who are) now in prison. This idea of the Spirit of Christ preaching through Old Testament prophets, and in this case, Noah, is something that Peter established in the opening chapter of this same Epistle when he said:  As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating, as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. ~I Peter 1:10,11 I believe it the same train of thought in chapter three. Jesus didn’t have a “weekend in hell”. The Spirit of Christ preached through prophets and Noah back in the day. That’s my simple take. Jesus was a pre-existent preacher. The Arians were in fact wrong. Way to go Council of Nicaea!

Moreover, two things remain from what we’ve already learned. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.” I believe he meant it. The sacrifice was complete. There was nothing to add and nothing more to do. But if we back up just a few minutes earlier to that exchange between  Jesus and the thief on the cross, Jesus told us exactly where he was going once he passed from this earth. He said to the hopeful thief these comforting words: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” ~Luke 23:43 It was not a hellish weekend, but a heavenly one.

February 12, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Faithful

There is not a future Apostle anywhere to be found at the tomb. They have been scattered. Just as Jesus is hidden in the tomb, they have retreated into the shadow of the hinterlands surrounding Jerusalem. However, the vigilance and courage of Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of both James and Joseph (or, Joses), is on full display. This latter Mary would continue to be a central figure in the nascent church as it began to find its footing. Her house would host the fellowship in the early years.

As they sat quietly at the edge of the peaceful cemetery, they watched as Nicodemus and Joseph finished up their work. They were accustomed to preparing bodies for burial. It was simply a part of the culture of that day. Everyone, especially the ladies, were amateur morticians. But in this case, the two religious leaders had taken the lead – leaving the ladies to sit and watch and with nothing to do but just that.

They were waiting for something to happen. They refused to believe that this was the end of the journey. They had heard Jesus speak very clearly and frequently about the number three. Three days. That was all. He would return to their love in a mere three days.

They were not the only ones who had heard Jesus prophecy a resurrection: Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. ~Matthew 27:62-66

This extra bit of security played right into the hands of heaven. The Sanhedrin didn’t realize that history would use this as additional proof – secular proof – of what was about to happen. Everything was now in place and the two Marys sat and took it all in.

February 11, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Hidden From View

It was probably more physical work and mental tension than these two clerics had ever experienced. As Nicodemus and Joseph went about the sad task of removing Jesus from the cross, they had ropes to unfasten, lifeless limbs to be pulled through the heavy spikes, and the removal of the crown of thorns. The body required a cleansing from the grime and the blood and a closing of the eyes. All throughout there remained in these two – quite divorced from reason – a sense of vicariousness at play. The living carry a disquiet of causing further injury or more pain to the dear dead. I have chatted with first responders about the gentle care and respect they give to the bodies of those who’ve perished during their watch. There is a profound sense of reverence that arises from the recognition that just a few moments prior, a sentient, life-filled human- being inhabited this now, inert body. We understand the concept of “being dead” at an intellectual level. But it is difficult to grasp that truth when we’re handling a body that is still warm and supple.

And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. ~Matthew 27:59-60

We’ve all had our imaginations somewhat littered by various portrayals of how the tomb was sealed. Often it is depicted by a large, flat disc that was rolled into place. Those were around, to be sure, but they were actually quite rare. According to archeologists they’ve only discovered four of these in all their many years of digging around Jerusalem. Moreover, those four seemed to be attached to royalty. The more common covering was called the corkscrew stone. They have found this example on hundreds of tombs. It is basically a large stone with a stopper crafted on one side to plug the hole. Think of a wine bottle stopper with a round top attached for the grip. The large stone was fashioned and angled in such a way that with the removal of just a few supports, it would roll down a slight incline and right into place. However, pushing it back out from the inside of the tomb would have been impossible because of both the weight and the incline. Jesus was now hidden from view. He was really dead and he was really buried.

Taking Jesus down from the cross represents the 13th Station on the Via Dolorosa and placing him in the tomb is the 14th. Here we will linger for just a bit. And, there are others who will join us in our contemplation: And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. ~Matthew 27:61

February 10, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Funeral Arrangements

I’ve presided over more funerals than I care to recall. When I’m the officiant, I normally volunteer to accompany the family to the funeral home as the arrangements are being made.  I do this to offer a modest barrier for the bereaved from the death industry. I mean no dishonor to funeral home directors as such. They are in business and a necessary one at that. But I’ve become familiar with the sad task of picking out caskets. Oftentimes the first display – the econo-casket – is a plywood beater painted battleship gray that looks as though it might have been constructed by a junior-high shop class. I await the shudder of the grieving family. They cannot imagine their loved riding out the hope of the resurrection in that unseemly box. After that, they are shown into the display room where both the quality and price soar.

Honoring the dead has been around for as long as we humans first breathed the air of this planet. From burning pyres to pyramids, we’ve spent lavishly on loved ones that once walked amongst us. And it was no different with Jesus. As he hung dead on the cross, the perfect sacrifice for our sins, arrangements needed to be made. But who would make them? Who would risk being associated with one that had brought the full wrath of the religious elite and the capital punishment skills of Rome? John gives us the answer: Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. Near the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. ~John 19:38-42

The Book of Matthew describes Joseph as a wealthy man. Mark describes him as a member of the council. And Luke mentions that he was a dissenter when it came to the decision to have Jesus crucified. Nicodemus we met all the way back in chapter 3. He was, if you recall,  the Pharisee who sought out Jesus in the middle of the night. That these two men risked their reputations, their careers, and perhaps even their lives to attend to the body of Jesus is incredibly moving. Jesus would be laid to rest in a rich man’s grave and done so with the highest honor conferred on a Jew.

As Nicodemus and Joseph lovingly labored over Jesus they may not have been aware that yet another prophecy was being fulfilled. This from Isaiah 53:9… He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Their efforts provided the ancient equivalent of what today would be the most expensive casket and the best slab of marble that money could buy.  It was a lot of effort and expense for what turned out to be a very short stay.

February 9, 2018

A Sidebar to the Crucifixion

Jesus was not the only one to experience a lonely death that day. There was another and it was quite poignant. Jesus’ death would be redeemed even as it marked the way for redemption. The other death would be ignominious and mark a sad end to a man who had been offered the keys to the kingdom. We’ve met him a number of times as we’ve lingered over the Gospel of John. His name was Judas. We are offered two different snapshots of his tragic choice: When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. ~Matthew 27:3-5

It would be a few more years before Luke would supply, in the Book of Acts, additional details: Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. ~Acts 1:18 Scholars generally agree that both accounts represent a fair “Crime Scene Investigation” of what took place. One line of thinking is that Judas hung himself and his body was not found for some time. Eventually he slipped the knot and crashed to the ground. The other line believes that Judas picked a location above a precipice and managed to choose a weak branch. In that scenario he died from the fall but not from the hanging. We’ve spoken of distinctions without a difference. This is but another example. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was grisly, final and lonely.

Had Judas waited a few more days his malevolent betrayal could have been forgiven by the resurrected Christ. In many respects the denials of Peter were no less an outrage. But Peter stuck around and awaited the day of grace. Judas did not.

It is an instructive tale for those who have failed. And, from my few decades on earth that includes everyone. The first step in receiving the pardon we need is to believe that a pardon actually awaits us. I said earlier that Judas perished in loneliness, but that isn’t quite true. Judas died with a legion of malignant cheerleaders urging the tragic choice. Those voices convinced him that his sin was too unique, too egregious to match the mercy of heaven. In his mind the chorus rang out that his failure was bigger than the cross. It was then, and remains now, a lie of hell. No matter how far we’ve fallen there are hands to catch us beneath what we consider our lowest point.

February 8, 2018

The Via Dolorosa ~ τελέω (finished)

Jesus will speak six more words. The first three reflect the acute physical reality of one who has been bleeding and sweating for several hours. He is parched and dehydrated. His lips and tongue are swollen and the words are whsipered. He speaks his need to those awaiting his death: Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. ~John 19:28,29

Like a great theatre production coming to a close, Jesus carries the script to its very last line. His admission of thirst prompts someone in the crowd to unwittingly fulfill a Messianic prophecy foretold by David some 1000 years earlier: They also gave me gall for my food And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. ~Psalm 69:21

There is nothing more to do. There is nothing more to say. The Messiah, the Word, the Savior, brings it all to a close with his own volition:  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. ~John 19:28-30

It is finished. Jesus could have used the personal pronoun “I” in his last three words. For any looking at his disfigured body it would have made perfect sense. He did indeed look finished. But instead, Jesus adds a “t” to the “i” and uses the impersonal pronoun, “It.”  It is finished. Jesus was not finished. The mission was finished. This was simply the end of the beginning.

The religious leaders standing by were getting antsy. They needed this nasty business to conclude because there were important religious responsibilities to attend to. They went back to Pilate with a plan:  Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. ~John 19:31-33

The relief that these leg-breakers felt at the death of Jesus would be very short lived. The clock was now counting down for heaven to have the last word.

 

February 7, 2018

The Via Dolorosa ~ Abandoned

In light of all we’ve learned of the crucifixion from our slow crawl through the 11th Station of the Cross, the next bit is understandable. Dying is one thing. Being made a public spectacle during the process is quite another. And now the moment is upon us when Jesus demonstrates the fullness of his humanity. The profound loneliness of the cross charges through him: From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) ~Matthew 27:45,46

It was lights out at noon. The Greek historian, Phlegon, who wrote an in- depth record of events said this: In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.’ Had I been a part of the mocking crowd, that sort of darkness might well have changed my way of thinking.

Jesus hangs in that pitch black for three hours. It is eerie. It is foreboding. All of a sudden he pierces the darkness with a loud cry in Aramaic, Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?  Everything had been taken from Jesus except that internal combustion of intimacy between him and his heavenly Father. But at this moment – in this one horrific defining instance – Jesus tastes the full weight of the fall. He was bearing in his body the sins of the world.

There is some lively debate about whether or not God the Father actually turned away. I’ve read the arguments from each side and find them, at the end, distinctions without much of a difference. These sort of speculations diminish the reality of what Jesus was actually feeling with the words he screamed into the darkness. He felt as though the Father had turned away. That’s all that really matters.

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Extra: I again turn to music to help say what I’m not gifted enough at expressing. This song comes to us from the Irish songwriter, Stuart Townend, and is entitled: How Deep The Father’s Love For Us. To hear this beautiful tune, click here, for a nice, acapella version. And please, note the words in verse 1 in the supplied lyrics. Blessings, CJ

How Deep The Father’s Love For Us

How deep the Father’s love for us, How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss – The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One, Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there, Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything, No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart – His wounds have paid my ransom.

Stuart Townend
Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music (Adm. by CapitolCMGPublishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, songs@integritymusic.com)

February 6, 2018

The Via Dolorosa ~ Indescribable Forgiveness

Let’s reset the scene once more. Prior to Jesus being nailed to the cross and hoisted in the air for all to see he has experienced three different beatings, he has been spit upon, he has had a crown of thorns smashed down upon his head and he’s been stripped naked. He is surrounded by vultures – both real and metaphorical. The latter crack jokes, they mock, they accuse, they throw out blasphemous dares and bets. As Jesus looks down he sees the crusted remains and bones of the formerly executed. The stench is overwhelming. Just as the carrion pick at the dead flesh of the cadavers, the Romans pick through the remains of the last of Jesus’ earthly possessions. There is a rollicking game of dice going on amongst the soldiers to see who gets what. The most tedious of all are the religious leaders. There is a look of triumph on their face. They had completed a threat assessment and concluded that Jesus was the primary source of their low poll numbers. The corporate holdings in their booming religious portfolio would no longer be at risk. This hillbilly charlatan would be dead in a few hours and they could return to business as usual.

To force this much shame on an average human being would be enough to do the job. The physical pain matched with the humiliation would achieve a resignation, a bowed head, a cessation of protest. Yet, Jesus holds fast his gaze. The shame is theirs, not his. As he takes it all in he speaks the very words that highlight the genius of this, our faith: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” ~Luke 23:34

The reason we’ve spent so many writings getting a sense of the entire setting of Station 11 of the Via Dolorosa is to capture the enormity of this very moment – this very sentence. You see, it really doesn’t matter what you say you believe, or think you believe, or that you even really believe it when you say what you think – this expression of grace produces a pause in believers and unbelievers alike. It is so unexpected and so gracious that we find it completes the very definition of the words grace and mercy. This is what those words mean. We need look no further.

 

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