jasonbwatson

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day set aside in the United States to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country—who have served in the Armed Forces to protect the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. It is, to borrow words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

I grew up just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., and as someone who loves politics and U.S. history I have always loved much of what that city has to over. I have taken my children into D.C. several times, and they enjoyed it too, for the most part, though they did grow tired of all the walking. Most anyone who visits Washington, D.C. will see several of the most recognizable monuments in the city: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. There are many others in D.C. and in other places around the country—particularly in places of historical significance. Visiting these monuments with my children provided me with an opportunity to tell my children about why the monuments had been erected, about the people and events they were there to remember and honor and about the freedoms we enjoy because of them. That, of course, is exactly why the monuments are there.

I am not going to write about the monuments to important events in our nation’s history, however, nor about the sacrifice that has been paid by the men and women who have served in our military and given their lives in defense of our nation. Instead, I want to talk to you about a spiritual memorial day of sorts.

I want to first take a look at several examples of monuments or memorials that God used in Scripture to remind His people of important truths or promises–to help them to remember those things because we are, in the natural, quite prone to forget. After we look at these examples I want to identify for you three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and for our children.

First, the biblical examples:

* Perhaps the most prominent example is the rainbow. See Genesis 9:8-17 and note the repetition of “sign” and “remember”
* Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and God instructed him to take twelve stones and create a monument specifically so that future children would be prompted to ask about them, thus giving parents an opportunity to tell their children what God had done. See Joshua 4:1-3, 6-7, 21-24
* The Passover was designed to create a memorial for the Israelites to remember how God had spared His people and led them out of captivity. See Exodus 12:14
* Easter, as well as the fact that Christians worship on Sunday rather than Saturday, are memorials to the resurrection of Christ, which is the most important event in the Christian faith
* Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, is designed to cause partakers to remember the love of God, manifested in the gift of His Son who died in our place. See 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now, those are five biblical examples of memorials or monuments whereby God provided direction for remembering important events and promises. It is quite fair to say, then, that the use of symbols and monuments is appropriate and that they are not dishonoring to God in any way. (Provided, of course, that they do not become idols). Take, for example, the cross. Here is what Max Lucado has written about the cross:

The cross. Can you turn any direction without seeing one? Perched atop a chapel. Carved into a graveyard headstone. Engraved in a ring or suspended on a chain. The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. An odd choice, don’t you think? Strange that a tool of torture would come to embody a movement of hope. The symbols of other faiths are more upbeat: the six-pointed star of David, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. Yet a cross for Christianity? An instrument of execution?
Would you wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold-plated hangman’s noose on the wall? Would you print a picture of a firing squad on a business card? Yet we do so with the cross. Many even make the sign of the cross as they pray. Would we make the sign of, say, a guillotine? Instead of the triangular touch on the forehead and shoulders, how about a karate chop on the palm? Doesn’t quite have the same feel, does it?

Why is the cross the symbol of our faith? To find the answer look no farther than the cross itself. Its design couldn’t be simpler. One beam horizontal—the other vertical. One reaches out—like God’s love. The other reaches up—as does God’s holiness. One represents the width of his love; the other reflects the height of his holiness. The cross is the intersection. The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standards.

How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The cross, then, is a monument, a memorial, a symbol that reminds us the God loves us—that He loved us enough to send His only begotten Son to pay the penalty of sin in our place that we could never pay. We do not, by the way, use a crucifix, because we know Jesus is alive. Yes, His death is significant and meaningful, but I He had died on that cross and stayed dead, we would be without hope.

So, I said I was going to share three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and our children. The first is the one I just shared–the love of God, the gift of His Son, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We cannot overemphasize that love or that atoning sacrifice. I am not suggesting that you must wear a cross necklace or hang crosses in your home or anything else, but I am suggesting that we have a responsibility to remind ourselves and—if we are parents, to remind our children—regularly of the love of God and the gift of His Son.
In an article published just before Valentine’s Day 2015, entitled “Remembering the Unquantifiable Love of God,” Christina Fox wrote,

But real love isn’t something you can measure. The love God has for us is beyond numbers and can’t be tallied. When God promised to bless Abraham with countless children, he used the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore as a metaphor. These are things people simply cannot count. Paul described the love of Christ as surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). And the psalmist wrote, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

God’s love for us goes farther than even time itself, into the deep recesses of eternity past. It stretched all the way from forever, forward to the cross, and will continue into eternity future. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4–5).
His love for us is a love that doesn’t hold back. His love gives everything, to the point of sacrificing his very own Son. At the cross, the perfect eternal love of the triune God was shown most vividly as the Son bore all our sins for us. This is unquantifiable, immeasurable love.

We have opportunities at church, opportunities with communion, opportunities when we forgive, when we explain justice and mercy-—we have opportunities around us all the time, every day, to recognize, remember and celebrate the love of God.

The second area where we need to conscious of creating reminders or memorials is in what God has done in our lives. Each of us has stories and instances of God working in our lives, through the circumstances we have experiences, the trials we have endured, the valleys we have passed through, to see God at work and to experience His grace, His comfort, His mercy, His strength, His patience, His faithfulness. We need to be intentional about remembering those instances—and willing to tell others about them.

In Luke 8 Jesus heals a man indwelt by many demons—so many that they call themselves Legion. He casts them out of the man and into a herd of pigs. In verse 38 of that chapter we read that man who had been freed of the demons begged Jesus that he might stay with Him. But Jesus sent him away, and in verse 39 it says that Jesus said to him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And what happened next? The verse finishes, “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Now, you probably do not have a testimony so fantastic as being freed of a legion of demons. Neither do I. And frankly, for a long time, I thought that my story, my testimony, any examples of what God had done for me, were pretty boring. But that’s simply not true. Any of us—all of us—can tell others of what Jesus has done for us. It may not be dramatic, it may not incredible, it may not be the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, but the simple reality is that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have a miraculous testimony. The almighty, sovereign God of the universe gave His Son to die in your place, and you are now forgiven, set free from sin, and destined to spend eternity in heaven with Him. That is miraculous!

Stephen Altrogge wrote an article entitled, “If you don’t have a dramatic testimony.” In it, he recounts feeling the same way I did—that his testimony is nothing exciting. He grew up in a loving family, was a pretty good and did not do anything terrible from which, or out of which God saved Him. That may make your life story less exciting from a human standpoint, but it is really all the more reason to be grateful and thankful to God. Altrogge writes:

Don’t be disappointed that you don’t have a gripping, over-the-top testimony. Don’t feel like you somehow missed out. Will you get to tell your story in front of large audiences? Probably not. But that’s a good thing. Be grateful that God spared you from the heart-breaking, soul-wrenching consequences of some sins. Be grateful that God saved you before you could wreck your life. Be grateful that you’re not carrying years of baggage around with you.

Those with incredible testimonies may have greater opportunities to tell their stories to larger audiences, but everyone one of us can tell others about what God has done for us. The story of our salvation itself may not be dramatic but every believer has a story of how God has worked in our lives, of how God has provided peace, provided direction, provided comfort…

Let me ask you a question—–could yousay that one or more of these describes you or where you have been at some point in your life: By the grace of God you still alive; delivered from committing suicide; delivered from addictions; no purpose in life—-felt hopeless, lost, no meaning; in the midst of incredible despair, turmoil or uncertainty and you had no idea what was happening or why, but God sustained you and brought you through; you thought you had everything figured out and God told you to do something else that made no sense from an earthly standpoint; you found strength and peace in the midst of incredible physical, mental or financial difficulty… If any of those are true of you then you have a story, you are a monument, a memorial to the faithfulness and goodness of God, and you can and should tell others what God has done in and through and for you.

The third and final area in which we need to create memorials and reminders is the way that God has worked in and through others. The Scripture is full of stories of how God has done marvelous things in the lives of those who follow Him. Look what He did with Job, with Moses, with Noah, with Daniel, with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, of Gideon, of Esther, of David, of Peter, or Paul, of so many others—those are encouraging to us because they are examples of how God works in and through fallen, fallible human beings in order to shape us to be who and what He wants us to be and to do what He wants us to do. We should study and know those stories because they are reminders to us.

At the same time, there are many other examples post-Bible times, of how God has worked in incredible ways through very ordinary people. Some of the great individuals of Christian history–Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, George Muller, William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, D.L. Moody, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Colson, and so many more. In the day and age in which we live, there are people being persecuted for Christ every day-—and we can pray for them, we can know their stories, we can find encouragement and strength and courage and hope in their willingness to stand firm in their faith even when doing so costs them their life. In Hebrews 11 we see a long list of individuals who accomplished great things for God because they obeyed “in faith.” Paul often referenced other believers in his writings. It is not the purpose of Paul or the writer of Hebrews to hold those people themselves out as examples, but rather to serve as reminders–as monuments or memorials–of what God can do in and through ordinary, fallen individuals who get out of their own way and obey God, following His direction and leading in their lives.

For the child of God, every day can be–every day should be–memorial day.

April 20, 2014

The Day Between

These days there is not much notice or attention generally given to the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Many churches hold Good Friday services to remember the death of Jesus on the cross. Communion is often a part of this service. Oftentimes these services are solemn, which is appropriate given the event they commemorate, but they also include–and tend to end with–a note of hope, looking forward to the service on Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. It is because we know Christ rose again that we can both commemorate Good Friday with gladness and appreciation and that we can, for all intents and purposes, ignore Saturday, “the day between” Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Imagine, though, what that day between was like between the very first “Good Friday” (surely no one then considered it good, with the possible exception of the Pharisees) and Easter Sunday. That Saturday was the Sabbath day, and we know from Luke 23 that the women who would be the first on the scene on Sunday, to discover the empty tomb, rested according to the Sabbath tradition (indeed, the Law). I imagine it was an incredibly sad day, though. There likely would have been no motivation for anyone who had followed Jesus to do anything. They had probably had trouble going to sleep, thinking about the horrible events of the preceding days, and once they had drifted off they are unlikely to have slept peacefully. One the dawn broke and sunlight pierced the room there was probably no desire to get up. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did get up early and go to the tomb to take the spices they had prepared because they loved Jesus so and wanted to be sure that His body was properly dressed. But they surely walked through tears and with heavy hearts. Apparently none of Jesus’ other followers ventured out because Luke 24:9 tells us that when the women returned from the tomb they told “the eleven…and all the rest” about what they had seen and heard.

As everyone who is familiar with the Gospel accounts knows, however, no one believed the women. Luke tells us that “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” We know that Peter and John then ran to the tomb to see for themselves but we also know from Luke that Peter then returned to the group “marveling at what had happened.” I like the way The Living Bible presents this verse; it says Peter returned “wondering what had happened.” The Message says Peter “walked away puzzled, shaking his head.” In other words, despite the fact that he had seen the empty tomb for himself, Peter still did not remember that Jesus had told him, and all His followers, that He would rise again on the third day. Either that or he just did not believe it.

In I Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul writes that if Christ has not been raised from the dead our faith is futile. Easter, Christ’s resurrection, is the event on which the entire Christian faith hinges. It is the defining moment, the difference maker. Christ’s sinless life, the miracles He performed and His death on the cross would have all been incredible but meaningless if He had not risen from the dead. The futility, the hopelessness, that defeatism is exactly what Peter and the other followers of Christ were feeling on that very first “day between.”

Today, however, because we know the rest of the story, the day between is of little consequence. It is just another day. We do not fear it, we do not mourn, we do not dread getting out of bed or wonder what may happen to us if we venture out. That’s because…and only because…we know that Easter is coming tomorrow. We know Christ rose from the dead. And because we know, we have hope, and our hope is not in vain.

April 19, 2014

Jesus Paid It All

Today is Good Friday. I know I am not the only one who has ever pondered why it is called “good” Friday when it is a day of remembering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus was sinless yet He bore the sins of every person who ever lived and suffered an agonizing death to pay a price that no one else could pay. It was God’s love that caused Him to send His Son to earth as a human baby, knowing full well He would die on the cross. It was Jesus’ obedience to the Father and His own love for humanity that motivated Him to go through with God’s plan despite His desire to avoid it if there was any other way. As He prayed in the garden asking the Father to take the cup away from Him He also yielded and told God, “Not my will but thine be done.” The death of Christ is horrific and entirely unfair, but it is also incredibly wonderful. Only because Christ died…and rose again…can any of us have any hope of eternal life.

Elvina Hall’s 1865 hymn “Jesus Paid It All” is one of my favorite hymns, if not my favorite. The words of the refrain are simple yet profound. The sum up completely the fact that the penalty of sin was paid in full by Christ’s death and resurrection. The refrain says this:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Jesus did indeed pay it all, and I do owe Him all. Interestingly, though, my all will never come anywhere close to what He paid. I do owe Him all but even if I were able to give Him all my earthly wealth and live a life full of good deeds I would still never come close to being able to repay Him.

The first verse of the hymn says,

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

My strength is small. It is infinitesimally small, in fact–not even worth mentioning or attempting to measure. Yet, Christ made possible incredible assurance and blessing through His sacrifice and He has offered it freely to all who believe. In Him I can find my all in all. The second verse reinforces the message of the refrain that I owe Him all yet there is nothing I could hope to do to repay Him. It reads,

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

There is truly nothing I have that is of any value. As the Apostle Paul wrote, any human accomplishments I may have are worth nothing more than dung in comparison to what Christ has done for me…and for all who believe.

There are four more verses to the hymn, some more well known than others…

And now complete in Him,
My robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side,
I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.

I learned that last stanza with a different ending and I am not sure which is the one Hall originally wrote. I learned it ending with “Jesus died my soul to save My lips shall still repeat.” Since that’s the way I learned it I suppose it is the one I prefer, but both endings are beautiful and accurate. I will lay down any trophies I may have; another classic hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” mentions this too when it says, “My trophies at last I lay down.” And I suspect I will spend eternity continuing to repeat that Jesus died for my soul…praising and thanking Him for His wondrous love.

Great hymns are great not so much because of their beautiful melodies–though some of them are indeed wonderful. Rather, they are great because they contain great theology; they are are easily-memorable, portable pieces of biblical truth. I think God loves to hear us sing about His love, to praise Him for His goodness, His mercy and His gift of salvation.

And ultimately this is why Good Friday is good…because Jesus did pay it all.

March 30, 2013

The Day Between

Yesterday was Good Friday; tomorrow is Easter. Yesterday we remembered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; tomorrow we remember his resurrection, the fact that He is no longer dead, and the tomb is empty. But how often do we think about today, the day between? Today it probably has little if any major significance, but imagine what the day between must have been like for the followers of on that very first “day between.” The Gospel accounts tell us nothing of what happened that day other than that His followers “rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56), since Saturday was he Sabbath. Interestingly, Matthew records that the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate that day to request a guard for the tomb of Jesus “lest His disciples go and steal Him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead…'” (Matthew 27:64).

Imagine, though, what that Sabbath day was like. There was nothing the followers of Jesus could do to keep themselves busy and try to keep their minds off of the fact that Jesus was dead, because it was the Sabbath, and activity was strictly regulated, most of it forbidden. It was the day to worship God, and it must surely have been difficult to worship God the day after the One Who had proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God had been crucified on a Roman cross. Today, we can celebrate (solemnly) Good Friday because we know about Easter. The death of Jesus Christ is gruesome and horrific but also fantastic, because we know that through His death He paid the penalty for the sins of all who will ask for forgiveness and accept His free gift of salvation. It is also fantastic because Jesus died in order to conquer sin, hell and death, and we know He was not dead for long. But His followers who were sitting around on that very first “day between” had not understood that He was going to rise again, so there was no excited anticipation for Sunday morning. Instead there must have been dread, incredible sorrow, almost a loss of the will to go on living.

We know this because the Gospels record the fact that Mary and Martha prepared spices and returned to the tomb on Sunday morning, something there would have been no point doing if they knew Jesus would not be in the tomb. Luke tells us that they were “perplexed” when they found the tomb empty (24:4). The angel who appeared to them at the tomb asked them why they were seeking the living among the dead. “Remember how He told you…?” the angel asks in Luke 24:6. Verse 8 says they then did remember, but when they went and told the apostles–the very men who had spent three years living with, ministering with and learning from Jesus–the news of Jesus’ resurrection seemed to those eleven men “an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24:11).

The hopelessness that must have gripped the followers of Christ on that first day between still grips many people today, and understandably so. After all, if there is no God, there is nothing beyond the here and now, so what difference does it all make? If Jesus was just a good moral teacher, but He died and stayed dead, there is really no difference between Jesus and many other great teachers who have lived throughout the centuries. Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:54 that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead then our faith is in vain. It is useless, worthless and pitiful.

Thank God that the day between was just that, only a day between two incredible and essential events that changed the world and made possible the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.

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