Jesus Dies on the Cross

Part 5 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

When Jesus hung on the cross, he had enough breath to speak even though his skin was ripped from his bones and his face was so disfigured that we wouldn’t have been able to tell who he was. He had enough breath to speak despite the weight of his body hanging by two railroad spikes nailed into the most sensitive nerve centers in his body.

At the very end of his crucifixion, around 3 pm, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” That means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some have said that this means that God turned his back and couldn’t look at Jesus because of the sin he bore. The Bible, however, doesn’t say that’s why Jesus cried out these prophetic words.

We all know that Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In those days, when a teacher quoted the first line of a particular passage of Scripture, his intention was to reference the whole section. We know this must be the case because verses 16-18 say, “They have pierce my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”  This is exactly what happened to Jesus.

But that’s only three verses of the psalm. Toward the end of the chapter, David writes, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (vv. 27-28).  Although God did in fact “turn his back” as Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath on the cross, that is not the main point.  God turning his back on his Son led to something greater.  Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, says, “Could it be that Jesus on the cross [when quoting Psalm 22:1] is saying, ‘Here we go. Here we go’?”  In saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is pointing to the whole Psalm, which ultimately points to God’s universal redemptive plan to save a people–a family–for himself. The point then is that this world-wide revolution of bringing all kinds of people to worship God is about to begin. It is only because Jesus took the wrath of God and died in our place as our substitute Savior that the nations–we Gentiles–will be welcome at God’s table.

Just a chapter later in Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  The promise to Abraham from Genesis 12 has arrived and the gospel is primed to be spread to all the families of the earth.


STINT in South Africa

Dear Partners in the Gospel,

About five months ago, there was a chance to go to Uganda for a year to teach African pastors. I love theology and I want to teach and preach Jesus for my life’s work as a pastor. As you know, the Uganda opportunity quickly dissolved. I knew I didn’t want to be on a campus in Africa-or America. I feel called to more than campus work. I want my ministry to expand. I want to reach a more diverse group of people. I know being a pastor is my call because I love writing, preaching, shepherding, and communicating. It’s an irresistible call. My bones quake for it. My blood simmers at the thought. It will be there. I am going there. Just not quite yet. After the Uganda option fell through, I thought all other possible African ministry with Campus Crusade were on campus. I was awfully wrong. Just a week and a half ago, I found out differently. That day, my life’s direction changed. That day, suddenly, Africa became a giant opportunity.

Right now, I have applications at two amazing seminaries. My call is to go there, yet today, I feel like Eric Liddle, from Chariots of Fire. “God made me for China,” he said. “But he has also made me fast.” For me, I’m saying, “God made me to be a pastor. But he also made me for Africa.” Perhaps the race I need to run first is Africa; perhaps seminary can wait. Crusade does more than Campus ministry in South Africa. Here’s a quick rundown: Training in sexuality and abstinence; theological training for pastors; visiting orphans and widows; job-skill training; providing relief and support for AIDS patients; and the JESUS film to African tribal people. South Africa is the hope of Africa. It is like the United States of that part of the world. Africans say, “If I can only get to South Africa, I will be successful.” If you reach this country, you will reach the whole continent. Right now, I hear the call, “Preach, disciple, send!” For some reason though, it’s followed by: “But, wait!” I want to go to the hard places to work with the hard people. With this opportunity, it seems, I can’t pass it up. At the end of my life, will I say, “I’ve wasted it”? Or will I say, “I went to Africa when you called me, Lord”?

Because of this, I have decided to do a year-long STINT (an acronym for Short Term INTernship) from January to December 2009 in Pretoria, South Africa. This conviction is so heavy on my heart even though it has just budded. I can’t imagine the enthusiasm that will come as the experience blossoms into a rich time of growth and dependence on the Lord.

A year in Africa would humble my arrogant heart. A year with people who have AIDS and with children who don’t eat everyday would change my perspective on life. If I don’t go, will I ask, “What if?” May I never say that! Humility. Perspective. Wisdom. Experience. All of these, and so many more, will come if I go. It will no doubt change my life. Will it be hard? O yes! I might die. The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When Jesus’ life was risked upon going to Jerusalem, Thomas said in John 11:16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Jesus is whispering to me: “Come and die.” Will I die to myself? Will I go through the humility, pain, and sowing period to be more fruitful down the road? The experience gained from going to South Africa does not come from a classroom or interning at a church. Those are good things, but in the season I am in right now, would that be best? I do not have a wife or children or a mortgage. There is no better season than this one to seize the opportunity.

If I go, it would truly show that Jesus is my Treasure. It would prove my heart for Africa. It would be evidence of the Spirit’s work in my life. It would lower my pride, make me live simply, open my eyes to the hurt in this world, and would draw me to repentance and a greater thirst for Jesus. The great sin of the church in the 20th century was that it let an entire continent go down the toilet and sink into the devil’s grip. I don’t want to be identified with that. Know this: I’m not going to impress God or make him love me if I go. He will love me if I go or not. I’m going because he loves me and I want to obey his call. I’m going because Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

I want to store up my treasures in heaven. It sounds crazy to want to live in a broken country like South Africa. But when I read the words of Jesus in Luke 18:19-30, my fear is dissolved: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time and in the age to come eternal life.”

I hear this promise. I believe it in faith.



Big Red Welcome to Freshmen

The Sunday before school starts is always a night full of energy, excitement, fun, and, of course, food.

Today is the Big Red Welcome street fair on campus. Almost 5,000 freshmen are going to start the first day of their college careers tomorrow. Tonight, Campus Crusade, along with hundreds of other student organizations are vying for their attention, allegiance, and phone numbers.

What’s our goal in getting information from students? Simply, we want to connect with them on a deeply personal level. We want them to know they are loved and cared for. We want them to know they are somebody–that they matter to us.

And to God.

Freshmen can be so funny. Parents follow them everywhere. They are embarrassed, yet at the same time they don’t want the parents to leave at the end of the weekend. A familiar passage comes to mind when I think of freshmen coming to town.

In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Now, what in the world does that have to do with 18 year-old students? It might seem strange that this verse came to mind. But, it has so much to do with them! They are so young, impressionable, and ignorant to the world around them. Most of these students have lived a sheltered, suburban or farm-town lifestyle. They haven’t experience true independence, just like a little child. Furthermore, freshmen can be considered less-thans or non-importants. Not to us and not to God, either.

Jesus says, “Bring to me the ones who are the less-thans, the young ones who no one else will care for and I’ll take care of them.” We want these freshmen to experience true, life-changing community. We want these freshmen to see, meet, experience, and delight in Christ more than anything.

Let them come to us tonight and Lord willing, may we lead them to the fountain where they can drink and never thirst again.


Courage and the Gospel

Acts 23:11 says,

The following night the Lord stood by him [Paul] and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

As I was reflecting on this passage in prayer and even now, I notice a few things about this statement that God spoke to Paul after he appeared before the Jerusalem Council.

1) Take courage. God told Paul not to be afraid. That’s fairly explicit in the verse. The reason Paul can write, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16) is because the Lord Jesus himself appeared to him and said, “Take courage”. Also, Paul could say to Timothy, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7) because Jesus said to him, “Take courage”.

2) You have testified to the facts about me. Paul did not believe in some random set of mystical opinions about Jesus. These were cold, hard facts. The reason Paul could write, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:16-17, 19). Paul was so confident in the resurrection of Jesus that he risked being wrong and pitied by men. Because of the facts, however, Paul can say, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:21).

3) You must testify also in Rome. Paul wasn’t just commanded to go to Jerusalem, he was called to Rome–the New Yorks, the Tokyos, the L.A.s, the Londons of the world. Rome was the center of religion, government, trade, and social interaction. Because the Lord said, “Take courage” and because Paul knew facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Paul could go to Rome.

As I begin to apply this to my own life, I think of times I lack courage. I think of situations when I don’t know the facts about Jesus. I think of chances I’ve had to “go to Rome” for Jesus and didn’t do it. May we be encouraged that Jesus gives us courage, shows us the facts, and leads us to where he wants us to be.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” (Rom. 10:15). Is there any greater duty to be done for the kingdom? How beautiful it is. We must share the gospel. Without it, there is no forgiveness, no redemption, no salvation, no everlasting life. If God is truly for us, how can the world be against us? He gives us comfort in the face of affliction. His yoke is easy and burden is light when sufferings bear us down.

Take courage. Go share the gospel with the world.