A slow-to-believe believer’s thoughts on Good Friday

It’s Good Friday.

There’s a tsunami of meaning in those three words.

Maybe for you it’s just TGIF.

I get it.  Honestly, I grew up hearing the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but for years it made no connection with my soul.  If I’m honest the celebration (if you can call it that) of Good Friday has been odd to me at best and often it’s been an offense.  Tim Keller said something I heard the other day to the effect of, “The cross of Christ is offensive in all sorts of ways, and if you haven’t felt it, if you haven’t ever struggled with it, I don’t think you get it...”  That has been the case with me.  Until recent years, I haven’t really stopped to face the ugliness and offense at the center of the Christian message: that Christ was crucified for our sins.

Years of questioning from dear loved ones who don’t believe has caused me to look that horrific, bloody, crucified, historic Jesus I love in the face and wrestle with the offense of the Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Christ dying in our place for our sins).

I am a believer.  But I understand unbelief.  Unbelievers I love have caused me to examine what it is I say I believe on holidays like Christmas and Easter and Good Friday.  And I’m very glad they have.  I’m a slow-to-believe believer in Christ.  The wonder and horror of what Christ endured and did for me, specifically, and for all who would believe in him, is palpably meaningful to me now more than ever.  But I’m thick-headed and slow to get it.  I’m sure the meaning of Christ’s substitutionary death will increasingly become more real for me since it is infinitely full of truth and life.  Increasingly, substitutionary atonement is no longer two big, seminary-graduate words only to be heard from a pulpit.  Substitutionary atonement is the bloody door through which I enter an eternity of grace upon undeserved grace!

But I digress.

I want to try to explain at least a cupful of my thoughts regarding Good Friday as I stand under the Niagra Falls of Christ’s substitutionary death for those who believe in him.

There is much to capture in thinking on what it means that Christ died in my place and satisfied the just requirement of God for me so that I will never experience rejection from the God who made me to know him as Father and friend.   As I say, It’s like trying to stand under Niagra Falls with a tiny tea cup to grab a drink of water.  But here I go.

It’s Offensive Because We’re Evil

Good Friday is about how we have perverted the glory of God and how he makes his glory known rightly again.

The thought that people are basically good and if we just modify “bad” behaviors we would all be happy and the world would be a better place is lost on me.  I’ve had a 2 year old.  I’ve lied so I could look good to another liar.  I’ve been abandoned and objectified as a woman.  And I’ve watched the news and cared for people broken by the evil in others.

We modify “bad” behaviors not because we’re basically good, but because like Imagine Dragons said, “No matter what we breed, we still are made of greed.”  If we’re honest, we know inside us is a drive to make ourselves the center of life at the expense of others.  It’s an insidious evil that seems to lie dormant, but peeks out it’s ugly head and beats its little brother so it can have the ball, or abandons it’s family so it can have a better life… or a thousand other birthed-evils that come out of our hearts.  We have laws, and behavior modification techniques and self-help books, and therapists and jails and multiple forms of restraint and training in our lives because we are trying to tame the beast.  Not because we’re all angels at heart that trip up every now and then.

And all the horror that comes out of us is not just horrible because of what we do to each other.  It’s horrible because we were not random, chance products of evolutionary process. If that’s all we are then there would be no reason to call anything we do right or wrong.  It would be simply part of the process of evolution: survival of the fittest.  But we know we do evil things and we recognize evil in others because we are made to do good.  To be good.  To be godly. To reflect the glory of God in our lives like living testimonies to the universe and each other.  Our human lives are to be like works of art that display the beauty and wonder of the One who made us.  The evil in us is so evil because is a perversion of the image of God in us.

When I look at the cross of Christ and the horrors of his crucifixion and think about the why behind it- Why would God do that to save us?  I realize, at least in part, that the reason the cross of Christ is so offensive and horrific is because billions of people (including me) have perverted the glory of God with our lives and made God out to be a liar and a murderer and a self-centered leech with a message that says, “Your life for mine!”   The cross of Christ is justice.  It’s a making right the message that has been wrongly proclaimed from sinful humanity.  The cross of Christ says God is worth my life.  God is truth.  God is just.  God is life.  God gives life.  God’s message is, “My life for yours!”  The cross of Christ is a historical entrance of God into humanity saying, “This is what you all have done to me.  This is the bloody truth about the evil that is in you that perverts the truth about who I am and who you are.  I am bloodied and broken and bruised by your evils.  You were made to glorify me, but you have defamed me.  And I bear it because I am God and I give my life for you!

On the cross Christ is taking the truth that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in his own body.  His bloody, broken flesh on that cross is the embodiment of our perversion of God’s glory.  He became our sin.

I know that’s not all the cross of Christ says.  But it’s a few drops.  It’s enough to cause me to hate my sin and love my sin-bearing Savior.

All Real Love Is Substitutionary Sacrifice

Good Friday is about what love really is and what only God can do.

In that same talk, where I heard Tim Keller say that if we haven’t really struggled with the offense of the cross of Christ we probably don’t really get what it means, I also heard him say something that captured a few more drops of the cascades of truth pouring from the side of my pierced and broken Lord.  He said, “All love. All real love is a substitutionary sacrifice. ‘My life for yours’. Heart of the universe...”  It’s true.  It’s a truth we can all recognize.  We all know it when we see substitutionary sacrifice.  When a parent gives up their agenda for the day to tend to a child in need.  When a soldier dies to keep an enemy from taking freedom and life from another.  When a firefighter rushes into a burning building to rescue a trapped man.  All of these and so many other examples speak of the universal truth that real love is “My life for yours. I’ll die, I’ll sacrifice, I’ll serve to make your life better, easier, richer.”  Evil is, “Your life for mine.  How can you die, how can you sacrifice, how can you serve to make my life better, easier, richer?”

But even though we see this truth in our lives, none of our little displays of the true message substitutionary sacrificial love can save our fellow man from the righteous judgement of God on the evil we all carry around inside.

There’s a line in an ancient Hebrew Psalm in the Bible that says, “Truly no man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” (Psalm 49:7-9)

It’s the truth.  We all display little imperfect examples of the universal truth of substitutionary sacrifice, but none of us can be an atoning substitute for another human being.  The only person who could ever pay the costly ransom required to love an evil human being and give them a life that lives forever in friendship and intimate relationship with God is God.  I might die a little so that my son can live more.  But only the God-Man Christ Jesus can die so that my son can live forever!

So there’s my little tea cup of truth.  It’s just a drop from a fountain that flows abundantly with truth and life.  Christ died bearing the evil I have lived out which has perverted the truth about God.  And Christ did this for me because only he can give God’s life for mine so that I might live forever!

Maybe this Good Friday you can sip and taste with me and see that the Jesus who died so horrifically for our sins this day in history about 2000 years ago, he is good.

You Will Not Abandon Me

It’s Saturday. Two thousand plus years ago on a day like today You were dead to us. Hidden behind a stone. You came to us full of grace and truth and we thought You’d make our circumstance right, right away.  But now it’s Saturday and you seemed to lay defeated by our wrongs.  You were the only good Man and we killed you. And you didn’t use your superpowers to save yourself from us.

If I was there, and I didn’t have the Book and I couldn’t read Psalm 16 or know the end of the story is glory and resurrection life, I would be as unbelieving as Thomas and the disillusioned followers you met on the road to Emmaus… and to my own shame, even though I do have the Book and I’ve heard the story and I’ve believed, so often I’m an unbelieving believer like Thomas and the slow of heart to believe on the road to Emmaus.

But I do have the Book.  Oh thank you for preserving your Word!  I can read, and I’ve heard that old, old story about a Savior came from glory.  How we didn’t just kill him, but he willingly gave his life on calvary to save a wretch like me.  I heard about his groaning.  He didn’t use his superpowers to save himself from me, rather His miraculous power was in His precious blood’s atoning.

As I read Psalm 16 this morning, I thought about how You communed these words with the Father.  I wonder if there in the garden as the weight of the cup the Father gave you overwhelmed you and you cried out for another way, I wonder if then Psalm 16 was fleshed out in you as you said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. – Psalm 16:10

Even though the cup was more terrible than anything I could ever imagine, You knew the Father would not abandon you to corruption.  You knew, though you would have to suffer the forsakenness I had coming from the Father, though you would have suffer the totality of physical, emotional and spiritual death wrought by the sin of every fallen soul who ever has or will live, and though you would have to descend into hell and be dead to us for 3 days, you knew that the Father was good and that you would rise and bring many to life.

So now it’s Saturday.  To me it seems since that day that I heard about your precious blood’s atoning, at-one-ing me with You; since that day when I looked at You hanging on a pole- a curse because of me, all my sin in you hanging there, being put to death, paying the debt I owe- since that day life feels like Saturday to me.  I know one day You will come again.  I know one day I will rise.  I know because You’ve preserved your Word and I’ve heard Your story and by your grace I believe it.

And I wait, because Sunday came for You and it will come for me too!

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins;
And won the victory.

O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him,
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing power revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and brought
To me the victory.

I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory. 

– Victory in Jesus by Eugene Monroe Bartlett 1939


An Easter Allegory

My first attempt at an Easter Allegory. A story about the foolishness of not dying to yourself to follow the Savior of the World in light of His death and resurrection.

There once was a barn full of seeds. The seeds were piled up high waiting to be planted.

One group of seeds didn’t want to be planted. They managed to work together to hide behind a stack of hay so that when the farmer came they would be left behind.

As the bags of seed were taken for planting, the bag of seed which had hidden themselves began bragging and laughing about how smart they were to break away and make it on their own.

One day a loose seed, which had fallen out of one of the bags that had been taken for planting, was swept along by a large gust of wind and landed beside the hiding bag of seed.

The lonely seed said, “Oh no! The farmer has left a bag of seed here!” But the bag full of seeds cried out, “No! The farmer didn’t leave us. We are hiding! We don’t want to be planted. We don’t want to fall apart in the dirt. We want to enjoy being seeds and stay right here.”

The lonely seed answered with great concern, “But don’t you realize that you are all going to rot here over the winter and die anyway?

Haven’t you heard about the King of Seeds?

We all came from Him. He laid down His life and was planted in our ground and rose up into life-giving wheat! If you don’t let yourself get planted in the ground just as He did, you will never get to live as grain and be made into bread to feed people. You’ll die alone! But if you go out into the field and die in the ground you will sprout up into a totally new thing. You’ll become a beautiful plant. And then you’ll become many more seeds and more plants and more bread. You’ll never really die. But if you stay here and hide, the winter will come and you will rot and then be burned.”

Most of the seeds in the bag began to boo and scream, “Go away! We’re happy just as we are!” But a few seeds cried out, “Can you help us! We don’t want to stay here and rot! We want to be planted by the farmer so we can be raised up into wheat and made into bread and more seeds!”

So the seeds who longed to become wheat managed to rub a hole through the bag and spill out. A gust of wind blew the seeds far from the proud bag and were scooped up by the farmer’s son. The son then carried the seeds excitedly to his dad, the farmer, asking if he could plant them.

So the son of the farmer planted the seeds. He watched and waited and watered them while the hiding bag of seed lay undiscovered behind the hay in the barn.

After weeks had past and harvest time came the lonely seed and his eager friends were growing tall and beautiful in the field. Each were cut down. Some of their grains were taken to be ground into flour. Some were taken to be planted again. All of them were happy to be living as a new thing and giving life to others. But the selfish, hiding bag of seed lay abandoned in the barn and when winter came, they all rotted.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” -John 12:25

Paul explained, “But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have.

A different plant grows from each kind of seed. Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.

The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit.

What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.

Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven.

Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.

For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:35-57

Happy Easter!


Waiting thru Saturday

“As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.” -Luke 23:55-56 NLT

I’ve been thinking about waiting on God. Waiting when I could do something to free myself from difficult circumstances. Waiting for God to intervene.

These women did what they could to make Jesus as beautiful as they could even though he was dead. They also waited when they could do nothing.

It’s Saturday in my life. Somewhere between death and resurrection. There are things I could do. But I don’t want what I can do. I want a miracle. I want new life. I want God to intervene. I want what Moses longed for when he wrote:

O LORD, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory. And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful! – Psalm 90:13-17

I want to be like the women who grieved the death of their hopes when Jesus was crucified. Although I may not see or understand. Although I may doubt that there is any hope of fulfilled promises. I want to do what I can to make Jesus beautiful in the midst of His “death” in my life. And I want to learn to wait.

I believe my Saturday will not last forever. Sunday is coming. New life is coming. I hope for what I do not yet have, but I know my hope is sure! Resurrection will come. He may not come in my timing, or in the way I thought, but He will come!

So {I will} be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though I have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that my faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold- though my faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when my faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring me much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

I love him even though I have never seen him. Though I do not see him now, I trust him; and I rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting in him will be the salvation of my soul. -1 Peter 1:6-9 NLT (personal application added by me).

So glad He found me ,

Isaiah 51:3

Our Passover and Easter

Last year a passionate desire began in me to really stop to remember our Passover Lamb- Christ. We had our first Passover seder and it was great, but it was a bit lengthy. I so wanted to savor ever little bit of meaning in each of the emblems in the dinner, but then I had a 3 and 4 year old sitting at the table, trying hard to listen but their glossed over eyes giving away that my “sermon” was just a tad too long. 🙂

So, this year I’ve been prayerfully seeking how I could really keep it simple, worshipful, and yet not loose any of the emblems. One of the things the Spirit keeps reminding me is that I don’t have to explain everything. I can simply worship the Lord and meditate on Him as I serve this special meal and remember His body and blood broken and poured out for me. He also reminds me that He’ll stir my kids to ask questions and He’ll give me the answers. So instead of giving a sermon on every aspect of the meal this year, this is what we’ve been doing:

Thanks to the ideas I gleaned from the Family Guide to Biblical Holidays book, in February we started studying the different emblems of Passover a week at a time.

We did a week on sheep. And then a week on shepherds. Then we did a week on Jesus being our Lamb and Good Shepherd. (The kids crack me up. They said, “Yeah. Jesus can be a shepherd and a sheep. He can be two things cause He’s God!”)

Then we did a week on bread. I think that was the kids’ favorite cause we made bread. Last we did a week on seeds and plants. We talked about how Jesus said unless a grain (seed) of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. We talked about how Jesus died, but just like a seed dies and then sprouts a new life, He came alive again and lives in us who put our trust in Him, promising to raise us to new life, with eternal bodies like He has. The kids LOVED that too. They wondered if in their “new” bodies they’d get to fly.

Then this past week we made a sheep centerpiece for our kitchen table.

We also placed lambs that represent each of us in this house on the windows of our front entrance, along with the prophecy of Christ’s sacrificial death in Isaiah 53 and our declaration of celebrating the Passover and Easter. I kinda saw it as a modern placing the blood on our front doors. I know the application is spiritual, to the doors of our hearts, but I felt stirred to put a physical declaration of our dependence upon the blood of the Lamb at the entrance to our house.

On Palm Sunday we’ll begin a daily reading through the book Benjamin’s Box to prepare our hearts for Easter, which I discovered thanks to Jill at Praiseworthy Things.

At the actual Passover dinner we’ll be having all the emblems, but instead of going through a lengthy haggadah, I’m reading this book to the kids at the table. Then we’ll taste each of the parts of the dinner and prayerfully discuss each, especially the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine (grape juice).

I’m so prayerful about Passover this year. It’s such a tremendous opportunity. My children asking questions and listening and savoring the specialness of the night. My husband taking it all in. My heart overflowing in worship… I’m sure I’ll be fighting back tears. My sweet neighbor and her girls will be here with us, sharing in the richness of the night.

Father, I pray right now for Your anointing on that night. Please bring to Connor and Ryland’s remembrance Your word. Stir them to ask questions. And I pray you’d give me utterance to make known the mystery of the gospel of Christ to them. I pray the night would fill my husband’s ears with worship of You and prayers to You.

So glad He found me ,

Isaiah 51:3