Author Archives: Andy Baker

Red Letter Day: You Will Be With Me

Today we continue our series on the final words of Jesus on the Cross, by looking at the words Jesus said to the criminal being crucified next to Him. 

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43

When I was in middle school one of my friends was dating a girl whose parents were members of the fanciest country club in our area. One day our entire “posse” was invited to spend a day at the club. As a thirteen-year-old, this was like being given a ticket to paradise. We got to play the PGA Tour-caliber golf course, eat at the five-star restaurant, swim in the indoor pool, have uniformed waiters bring us whatever food we wanted, whenever and wherever we wanted it, and more. Best yet, we didn’t have to pay for anything! All we had to do was say “I’m with Amanda” and everything was handled. 

To a far greater extent, this is what it’s like to have Christ as our Savior. Even though we don’t deserve an eternity in His perfect Heaven we are given it solely on the basis of confessing Jesus as Lord. “I’m with Jesus” completely changes our eternity. It’s really a mind-boggling concept. God gives us guidelines for how to best live life (scripture, commandments, etc.), and we repeatedly choose to do the opposite. The price of that sin is an expiration date on our lives (death). Yet, look at what Jesus chose to do. He CHOSE to remain on the Cross, to suffer and die so that we may join Him in paradise. And, to top it off, he didn’t even make it difficult to join him. As it is written in 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

That’s it! Jesus suffered and died to pay for our sins, and all that is asked in return is that we confess our sins to Him. This Lent, I pray that we can all take the time to do two things. First, that we may all bend a knee and ask God’s forgiveness for the sins of our lives. Second, that we may all find time to praise God for the gift of His mercy and eternal life. For it is only because of his grace that someday we will enjoy the perfection of heaven, perhaps even uttering “I’m with Jesus.” 

 

Red Letter Day: It is Finished

It’s officially the start of baseball season, which is always one of my favorite times of the year. For many years I entered each season hoping against hope, as I’ve been a Cubs fan all my life. The old Cubbie phrase “hope springs eternal” was my Facebook status for many years, as I hoped against hope for a Cubbie World Series. Yet, a couple of years ago they FINALLY ended their drought and won the World Series. For me, all the years of waiting and suffering were over once and for all when they carried that trophy off the field. 

As we continue our series on the final days of Jesus we look at Jesus declaring “it is finished.”

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

When Jesus uttered these words he was not only saying his life was over, but that sin and death were defeated once and for all. Because of the work Jesus did on the cross we have the perfect hope of eternal life, a hope that no one can take away from us. 

  1. Hope really does spring eternal: I used to live on a lake in Wisconsin, and every winter the frigid temperatures froze the lake nearly solid. All except one small section near our house. That’s because a small spring fed into the lake there, and between its warmer water and constant movement that small section never froze. No matter what happens in our lives, disease, economic collapse, depression, the death of loved ones, etc. our lives never freeze completely over. Even in the most wretched of circumstances God’s hope is constantly bubbling up in our lives. What is that hope? The promise that He made to us—eternal life 1 John 2:25. It is the GUARANTEE we have of eternal life in a perfect heaven. No matter what goes wrong in our lives (and trust me, plenty of things will) no one can ever take away the guarantee of eternal life we have because of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross. As long as we confess our sins and believe in Him the ultimate reward is already on reserve for us. 
  2. We need to celebrate eternal life daily: Not to be mean, but it’s kinda sad that the greatest joy I’ve ever witnessed in others is due to the outcome of a baseball game. Let’s be honest: we take God’s grace for granted. We sit around and bemoan our situation in life, and we forget to celebrate daily the reality that we’ve been saved for all eternity. Here’s what Paul tells us in Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Let’s take time EVERY day to praise God for what He has done for us, and to let the gift of God’s grace flood over us. 

Red Letter Day Part 3: I am Thirsty

Today we are continuing our Lenten series on the final words of Jesus as he suffered and died on the cross. Today’s words come from John 19:28-29:  After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

About six or seven years ago I decided to bike the High Trestle Trail near Ankeny. I had just bought a new carbon fiber bike, and was fairly convinced I was king of the world, so the 100-degree temperatures did not scare me. A friend had told me it was a 25-mile ride, so I planned accordingly. When I hit 15 miles, and was not near the end of the trail, I realized I had misinterpreted my friend. I thought he meant it was 25 miles roundtrip, while in reality its 25 miles out and another 25 back. At this point a wise person would have turned around, realizing they didn’t have enough water for a 50 mile trip on such a hot day. A stubborn and pride swollen fool, however, presses onward convinced of his might and invincibility. I eventually ran out of water on a section of the trail without any water sources. The experience of getting that thirsty and dehydrated is one I can do without experiencing again! I soon lost my energy, could barely pedal, and had to resort to walking my bike. All I could think about was water as my body got progressively weaker and weaker. By the time I reached water my body was so dehydrated that it kept throwing it back up. I eventually had to call 911 and have an ambulance come and give me fluids intravenously. It was a scary reminder of how necessary water is to human life. 

When I hear Jesus say he is thirsty in this passage I am reminded that without Him we would be thirsty for all eternity. Just like we would die without water, without the living water of Jesus eternal life in God’s perfect heaven is impossible for us. I think this is one reason hardly anyone seems satisfied in life, regardless of their financial wealth and possessions. God didn’t create us to only thrive off of worldly things, but to need the living water of Christ. It is only Christ who can truly satisfy and provide for us for all eternity. Jesus teaches us this in John 4:13-14:

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. 

This lent, I pray that your wants and desires can be quenched by the living water of Christ Jesus. Instead of spending so much effort searching for worldly satisfaction, let the eternal gift of living water be that which truly satisfies you now and forever more. 

 

Red Letter Day: Father, Forgive Them

This lent we are walking through the final words that Jesus uttered before dying on the cross for our sins. We find today’s words in the heartwrenching story found in Luke 23:32-34. 

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:32-34

While I have never suffered anything in the ballpark of crucifixion, I have had a couple of scary moments in my life. One was in a triathlon in Chicago, with an open water swim in Lake Michigan. The water was 59 degrees with 20 mph winds, which made for extremely hazardous conditions. To top it off, it was a pier start, meaning your body has no time to acclimate to the water. About 30 seconds in I switched from trying to achieve a good time to simply attempting to make it out alive! Another scary moment was when our family flipped our SUV on our way home one Christmas. We spun out of control long enough, and flipped enough times, for me to realize this could be it. It was a pretty scary moment. 

Notice what I thought about each time? Myself. Maybe in the back of my mind my family was there, but I was pretty much concerned with self-preservation. Contrast that with Jesus. What is he concerned with as he dies an excruciating death on the Cross? Forgiving others. In the midst of all that Jesus is concerned with others receiving forgiveness. Yet, many of us (including this writer), struggle to forgive others in substantially less trying circumstances. We have a harder time forgiving someone who cuts us off on the road or, even worse, violates the sacred rules of the Oskaloosa McDonald’s drive-through lane (I have not been there for five years, but drive-through budgers drive me crazy!). Yet God, who created our world perfectly, and watched our sinfulness mess it all up, was willing to suffering and die so that we may be forgiven. If God can forgive, why can’t we? 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

I really encourage you today to take a few minutes to forgive someone you’ve not yet forgiven. Maybe it’s for something that happened yesterday, or something 30 years ago. Let’s not forget Christ’s example this lent, and instead forgive those who have wronged us. 

Red Letters: Judged in our Place

I’ve recently found myself defending the idea of lent, as it has a number of negative connotations in Nicaragua. I believe Lent is important because it is a time to prepare for celebrating the greatest gift we have ever received: the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The events of Good Friday and Easter are so important that it’s not enough to celebrate them for only a day or two. As we head into Easter, I want to encourage us to spend time preparing to celebrate the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Christ Jesus. In my devotions during this season I’m going to focus on the final words of Jesus on the Cross, as I feel reflecting on them will help us begin grasping the greatness of the gift Jesus’ has mercifully given us. 

The first phrase I want us to reflect on comes from Matthew 27:46:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We can get hung up here on why Jesus would ask this question. Let me offer two possibilities. First, Jesus was actually experiencing pain on the cross. Yes, Jesus was God in human form, but he could also experience pain and suffering. His crying out shows that he actually suffered on our behalf. Second, the question he asked is (in my opinion) as much for us as it was for God. Why did Jesus have to die? Allow me to explain in the form of a story (which I long ago borrowed from a source I can no longer remember). 

Imagine you have come to the end of your life and you awake to find yourself being taken into a giant celestial courtroom. You’re seated at the defense table, while to one side of you is an impeccably dressed prosecutor. Over many days this prosecutor describes each and every one of your sins, leaving not the slightest misstep unmentioned.  As the hours and days drag on you become ever more hopeless, realizing that you are indeed guilty of each and every sin you are accused of. After days of accusations, the prosecutor rests his case, and the judge raises his gavel to make his decision. He quickly and authoritatively declares you guilty. But then something strange happens. The judge steps down from his podium and walks towards you. He rather forcefully pushes you out of the way and declares “this person is guilty, but I will take their punishment.” He then turns to you, points towards heaven, and says “child, you are now free to enjoy eternity in my Father’s House.” 

Why did Jesus have to die? Because only the judge can be judged for the sins of the world. Jesus is the Judge who is judged in our place. He alone can judge the world, and He chooses to step in and take our punishment because of His love and grace. Thanks be to Christ, who loving chooses to be judged in our place. 

 

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