Good Friday Homily

We are here today to commemorate the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the kind of thing you say at a funeral, isn’t it?

There’s a strange relationship between life and death. They are opposites, like hot and cold, left and right, dark and light. But even though they’re opposites, they’re always close by, right near each other. You can’t live very long without encountering death.

Sometimes our encounters with death are weird and even kind of funny. I’ll never forget the first time I accidentally ran over a squirrel with my car. It wasn’t my fault! He ran right out in front of me! I felt sick, literally nauseous, for the rest of the day. I think I even called my mom and cried.

Sometimes death has a unique way of making us thankful. I’ve experienced that when hunting, or even when shopping at the grocery store. It’s a strange truth that in order for us to live, something else must die.

One of the more common reactions to encountering death is feelings of guilt and regret. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought: Oh no, I should’ve stopped by to see them again! Why didn’t I call them one more time?… I don’t know why I seem to always feel that way. Guilt is such a strange reaction to encountering death, but it’s common.

I felt guilty when my grandmother died. What made it so bad was that I didn’t feel sad. She had Alzheimer’s and was on a downward slope for years. I felt more relief than anything, which in turn made me feel guilty for not feeling sad. I later realized that I didn’t need to feel guilty because I had already mourned her.

The longer we live, the more we see that life and death are always close to each other. They live right next door to each other and they wave daily as they go out to get the morning paper.

Like I said, encounters with death can sometimes make us thankful or even be kind of funny. But far more often they are confusing and disorienting. We instinctively know that death means something is wrong. We automatically recoil and flee. We often say things to each other like, “Thank God everyone was OK! I’m so glad it didn’t turn out worse.”

Death nearly always feels unjust, like something was unjustly stolen away from us. Because something was stolen away. Death is a thief that finds us all. Even Jesus.

 


The story of Jesus can be summarized like this: The God who made us, the one who gave us life, has entered into our space, our life, the whole human experience. He shrunk himself down, took on gills, and dove into our aquarium.

His primary goal in doing so was not to teach us how to be good fishes and do the right thing. Rather, he became one of us to face what we face, all the fears and challenges; to embrace our guilt and shame in the face of death; and to repair the rift between life and death, once and for all.

From the beginning, Jesus knew exactly where his life was headed. He predicted all of it: that he would be arrested and by whom; that he would be tried and convicted; that he would be executed on a cross and buried for three days. He told friends and followers about all those things beforehand, on several different occasions.

Given that he knew all of that, consider the readings from Matthew’s Gospel you’ve heard this evening (Matthew 26.36-27.56), and notice what Jesus did in the face of it all.  Facing all that he faced, Jesus chose to go anyway. The eternal Son of God somehow made himself vulnerable to human whips, chains, and even death. He knowingly walked into the tornado. He did not fight it; he embraced it.

Sure, he went into it all with fear and trembling. With all that was about to happen to him, how could he not? He prayed that if there was any other way, he could do that instead. Meanwhile he was sweating and even bleeding with fear. Yet he never wavered or changed course. He walked right into the tornado.

That’s something so different and unexpected. I mean, if you knew you were going to be arrested, would you have entered Jerusalem? If you were on trial, would say nothing? If you were being unjustly executed, would you be more concerned with God’s silence than the crowd’s mockery and condemnation?

Not one of us would choose to endure what he went through. We would do anything we could to avoid it. But he did the exact opposite of what anyone would have expected. He willingly embraced it all. He walked right into the tornado.

 


If you are not a Christian, I hope you’ll hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’s last days and think: this is something unusual. Who would choose this and why? I hope you’ll continue to investigate the person of Jesus Christ. Come back on Easter and hear how he addresses the uncomfortably close proximity between life and death.

If you are a Christian, then you’ve heard these stories before. It’s always a challenge to hear old things in new ways. I hope that in these next couple days, in the darkness before the dawn, you will consider how to translate Jesus’s last days into your own.

Because we are walking toward our last days too. Unlike Jesus, we can’t see exactly what lies ahead. But we’ve all lived long enough to know that our last days are likely to be challenging.

Last December, the well known writer and radio broadcaster, R. C. Sproul, died. He once wrote this:

I recently heard a young Christian remark, “I have no fear of dying.” When I heard this comment I thought to myself, “I wish I could say that.”

I am not afraid of death. I believe that death for the Christian is a glorious transition to heaven. I am not afraid of going to heaven. It’s the process that frightens me. I don’t know by what means I will die. It may be via a process of suffering, and that frightens me.

I know that even this shouldn’t frighten me. There are lots of things that frighten me that I shouldn’t let frighten me. The Scripture declares that perfect love casts out fear. But love is still imperfect, and fear hangs around.

I would guess that most of us feel similarly. But despite all fear, Jesus calls us to press forward. We are to follow him through both life and death, to embrace them as he did, and to see how he has forever altered their relationship.

Paul the Apostle called death the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15.26) and asked, who will deliver me from it? (Romans 7.24) Another quote from R. C. Sproul puts it well:

When we close our eyes in death, we do not cease to be alive; rather, we experience a continuation of personal consciousness. No person is more conscious, more aware, and more alert than when he passes through the veil from this world into the next. Far from falling asleep, we are awakened to glory in all of its significance.

For the believer, death does not have the last word. Death has surrendered to the conquering power of [Christ].

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What is Reformed Theology?

I was recently asked to write about, what is Reformed theology? This is what I wrote:


The distinctives of Reformed theology are best understood historically, theologically, and practically.

First, understood historically: Reformed theology was born from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. When Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the many other Reformers emerged as internal critics of the practices of the medieval Roman Catholic church, they reintroduced and reemphasized teachings from centuries before that had been overshadowed by the traditions of Rome.

As the Reformers’ teachings gained traction, new theological traditions emerged, mainly Lutheranism in Germany and Scandinavia; Anglicanism and later Methodism from the Church of England; and the Presbyterian and Reformed churches of Scotland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The spiritual descendants of the latter group are historically described as Reformed.

Second, understood theologically: The best-known theological emphases of the Reformation are the “Five Solas,” each of which is still central to Reformed theology. Reformed theology is biblical — “sola scriptura”; the Bible alone is the written Word of God and is the only rule to direct us in glorifying and enjoying Him. Reformed theology is Christ-centered — “solus Christus”; there is no salvation apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. Reformed theology emphasizes faith — “sola fide” — in God’s grace alone — “sola gratia.” Reformed theology teaches that we, and indeed the entire universe, were created for “soli deo gloria” — the glory of God alone.

In addition to the Five Solas, Reformed theology emphasizes a big view of God. He is the creator and sustainer of all things; apart from him nothing was made that has been made, and it is in him that we live, move, and have our being. He is fully sovereign over all his creation, even down to the thoughts and actions of all his creatures, and he governs everything for his own glory.

Third, understood practically: Reformed theology’s big view of God means we should respond to him with reverence and trust. We should be reverent because God is not to be taken lightly. His commands are good, and they are the way of life. We ignore them at our own peril, partly because ignoring them means choosing a way of self-inflicted suffering, and further because he is a jealous God who will not allow his creatures to steal his glory.

Reformed theology’s big view of God should also cause us to trust him, because he knows us better than we know ourselves, and he knows the paths he has laid out for us. We can walk or wait, depending on our circumstances, in confidence, knowing that the God we follow is both great and good. We can obey him in faith, knowing that even when he leads us through a valley of shadows, he is there with us to guide and comfort us.

While none of these distinctive beliefs are exclusive to Reformed theology, this combination of emphases is unique to our tradition, and we are deeply grateful to those from whom we have received this faith.

Personal Testimony

I was recently asked to write a personal testimony. This is what I wrote:


I was born just two years after my parents became Christians. They had both been raised around the church, but they did not know the grace of Christ until they were recovering from a time of great personal turmoil. One night after they had become engaged, my hippie aunt shared the gospel with them, and they began to follow Jesus. They immediately became members of my aunt’s OPC church, where they were married a few months later.

I was born into and baptized at that same church, where we were members until I was about 13. Along the way, my dad became a deacon and then an elder. He has continued to serve as an elder in OPC and PCA churches ever since.

By God’s grace, I am a child of the covenant: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe Jesus was my Savior. I used to think my testimony was boring, but now I am thankful that I never went through the kinds of grief and pain that make for an “exciting” testimony.

Anyone who walks with Christ over time will be taught the depths of their sin and reminded of their need for Jesus, and I am no exception. He has humbled, corrected, and encouraged me innumerable times. I have seen his faithfulness, and even though I am unfaithful, I love him and will follow him through death and into the life to come.

Recipe: Sopa de Ajo con Huevos

Need a good meal for a wintry day? Try this easy, delicious soup recipe.

Sopa de Ajo con Huevos
(Garlic Soup with Poached Eggs)

Serves 5-6

For soup:

1/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
8 cups chicken stock
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
8-10 eggs
1/4 cup chopped parsley

For Rice:
2 cups white rice
2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp salt
3 cups water

1) Heat the oil over medium heat in a 6-quart pot. Add the mashed garlic and sauté until golden, 1-2 mins.
2) While the garlic cooks, start rice ingredients in a rice cooker.
3) Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Back down to a simmer for 5 mins. Add salt & pepper.
4) One by one, crack the eggs into a ladle and slowly dip them into the broth. Add parsley. Cook for 5 mins.
5) Put a scoop of rice in one side of the bowl. Add one ladle of broth (scoop low to get the garlic!). Add 1-2 poached eggs. Enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from p. 84 of this marvelous cookbook:

The Cuban Table

An Epiphany Prayer

A prayer for the day of Epiphany, by Karl Barth:

Lord, our God, dear Father, you have loved the world, in that you sent your only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life. Write this on our hearts and minds now, and enlighten our understanding that in his death, the old person in each of us is also dead, and that in his resurrection, the new person is born in each of us. Teach us to believe and in faith to go from death to life. You loved us first. Do not leave us in lovelessness, in indecisiveness, and in the cold.

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Imagine a New Story

From Rankin Wilbourne, Union With Christ:

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Most of us have wondered, at one time or another, if we were switched at birth. “Are those really my parents?”

Now, imagine if your parents are mean and critical, that you have always been a disappointment to them and they to you. But then, one day, you find a dusty trunk in the attic. You quietly pick the lock and open the trunk and discover papers that prove you had, in fact, been abducted as a baby. These aren’t your parents after all–they’re criminals!

You discover your real mom was a painter at the Sorbonne in Paris and your real dad was a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and a professional baseball player. And you say to yourself, “Of course, this explains everything! I am extraordinary! I knew it all along.” You also read that they are fabulously wealthy and have a lavish inheritance waiting for you.

It’s a fantastic story, but you get it. Such a discovery would cause you to reinterpret everything about your life: where you came from, your true identity, your capacities and capabilities, the resources available to to you, your future, and your destiny. After that day, your life would never be the same. You would come down from that attic with new eyes for everything and everyone. Your whole life would feel new, changed, and invigorated.

But here’s the thing–it had always been true. It was the truth underlying your life even before you discovered it. It was rooted in history, and you had the DNA to prove it. It was true while it was hidden from your sight. But it didn’t change your life until your eyes were opened to it…

Union with Christ tells you a new story about who you are. If you are “in Christ,” you too have been given a new identity. God has called you into a new life, rooted in a history that predates you, anchored in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You discover who you are “in Christ,” and you are given the DNA to prove it, the Holy Spirit. You once were lost, but now you are “found in him” (Phil. 3:9).

This truth can change everything for you, but living in this reality will require your imagination. The Christian message is simple enough for a child to understand. At the same time, the Bible says that because of the new life you have been given in Christ, “from now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:16 NRSV). Coming to see your union with Christ is like finally putting on a pair of desperately needed glasses–Wow! Look at that! We see ourselves, and everything else, with new eyes.