The Reminder of the Cross

Today is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ. There seems to be great confusion over exactly what happened on that cross and why it is such a pivotal event in human history. Many think that the cross is another tragedy of social injustice as an innocent man was executed unjustly. Others think it is a sad case of religious martyrdom, a good man who faced an unfortunate death. Yet the importance of Good Friday is monumental. The tragedy of that day was not that innocent Jesus was hung by violent, barbaric men, but that Jesus was crushed by the will of His Father. As we reflect on the great wonders of the cross – that horrific place of shame and judgement – we must remember why it is Jesus came into this world and why it was that he had to die. As a result there are a few things we must remember carefully as we mediate on the meaning of Good Friday.

The Cross Reminds Us of Our Condemnation

In the 21st Century most of us recoil at the doctrine of sin. We don't want to believe that there is anything fundamentally wrong with us or with humanity. We live in a culture in which we hate to be told we are wrong, let alone that we are deserving of judgement. Yet, the Bible teaches clearly that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). Despite our modern presumption of naive optimism we have about our lives, the Scriptures speaks the truth that many of us do not want to hear. We are sinners who are condemned before God and deserving of His just and righteous wrath.

The cross is a reminder of our own condemnation. As we remember what Jesus went through on the cross we must remember he did so in our place. It is my sin that nailed him to that tree and it was my judgement that Jesus endured. As we look to the cross we are reminded of the wretchedness of our sin and how costly and deadly the punishment for our sins truly are. Our sin was so detestable and horrid that the only way it could be paid was through the death of His son.

The Cross Reminds Us of our Redemption

The cross not only stands as a reminder of our condemnation but as a reminder of our redemption. It was God's great plan before the foundation of the world to redeem a people for his own possession. It was God's zealous desire to spread his glory through a people that led him to send His son Jesus on the greatest rescue mission the world will ever see. Jesus entered into this world not to be just a moral teacher or a great example, but the savior of the world. The way the Messiah achieved our salvific victory was through his fatal defeat.

The cross became the symbol of Christianity for good reason; it is the a constant reminder of the great love of God towards us in the crushing of his son. It is a vivid reminder of the great cost of redemption.

The Cross Reminds us of the Love of God

There is no greater indicator of the love of God towards us than the cross. The cross is the objective reality of God's love. It cannot be doubted or thwarted. We do not have to guess if God loves us; he demonstrated his love for us at the cross. As His suffocating body hung gargling blood in horrific torture he endured the suffering as joy for us. As Jesus tells us "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13) or as John reminds us "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (1 Jn 3:16).

The Sorrowful Joy of Good Friday

The response to the cross should be a sorrowful joy and a mourning worship. At the cross we see our spiritual poverty and we weep over the deadly price of our own sin. Yet we rejoice in worship that God in his unshakeable love for us sent Jesus to die in our place.

As John Stott wrote in his classing book The Cross of Christ, "As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both ‘I did it, my sins sent him there’ and ‘he did it, his love took him there'". Yes, the cross was something done by us and for us. It was our sin that placed him there but it was the love of Jesus that took him to the cross.

As you reflect over these humbling truths this day, remember the treachery of your sin, the lavish expense of your redemption, and the objective proof of God's love for you – the cross of Christ.

Yet also remember that "weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps 30:5), and that as his body lay in the grave, resurrection is coming.

3 Ways to Preach a Bad Funeral

I must admit. I am a newbie to the whole funeral thing. I've done a few gravesides and a few services, but by no means am I an expert. But as a pastor, you will have those time when you will have to comfort and encourage a grieving funeral. Over the course of my time on earth I have seen some powerful encouraging preaching at funerals and some that made me wish I was in the casket. Funeral sermons can be life giving or life draining to those grieving.  Although I am still learning how to preach a good funeral sermon, I do know three ways to preach a bad funeral sermon.

1. Talk Only About How Good the Person Was

In your funeral sermon if you spend the whole time talking about how good the person was and not how good Jesus is, you've got a serious problems. One of the reasons moralism has so powerfully crept into the church is because pastor propagate it in sermons, particularly funeral sermons. I have heard whole sermons (often well received by the congregation) that discuss how many good things the person has done with absolutely nothing about the goodness of Jesus. Pastor, don't distort the gospel by holding up moralism before the family and congregation. Only talk about the goodness of the person to point to the goodness of Christ. Our righteousness is filthy rags. Don't hand out filthy rags of moralism to grieving people, give them the pure white robe given by the righteousness of Christ!

2. Talk About Heaven Without Jesus

The way heaven is talked about in may funerals is nothing more than religious materialism. Great emphasis is given to the streets of gold and your own personal mansion. We even speak about reuniting with loved ones. However the emphasis in our speaking about heaven is in the wrong place. The chief reward isn't stuff, it is Jesus. Yet so often in funerals, Jesus being there is just a footnote on a grand health and wealth caricature of heaven. What makes heaven wonderful is that we will stand, clothed in the righteousness of Christ and be in relationship with the holy sovereign King of the Universe. We will see His face with unveiled faces. That is what makes heaven wonderful.

3. Sentimentalize but Don't Evangelize

At no other point in people's lives are they more aware of their own mortality than at a funeral. There is no better place to share the hope of the Gospel than standing over the hollow of death. Yet, many pastors fail to preach the Gospel. Deep in our souls we know that death should not be, yet death happens because of sin. Yet God, in his great mercy put in place a rescue plan to save sinners through the death of His son Jesus Christ. Through the death of Christ our sins are paid for and victory has been accomplished, even over death. The Gospel rings in power at the last chime of a person's life. Yet, the Gospel is neglected in so many funeral sermons in exchange for empty and vain sentimental anecdotes. If you seek to comfort the people gathered to grieve preach the Gospel. It is the only hope as we stand before death. Warm fuzzys of sentimentality might last for a day, but the lasting comfort that comes from the hope of the Gospel endures for eternity.

Pastor, if you avoid these three things you are well on your way to preaching biblically faithful and eternally helpful funeral sermons. Funerals create unique opportunities for a pastor to minister in people's greatest need. Steward this opportunity well. Honor the deceased, comfort the grieving, and above all else preach the Gospel.

What other things should pastors not do at a funeral? What are some positive things you have seen pastors do at funerals? Share your thoughts with us all in the comments below!

Personal Reflection on the Home Going of Yates Pittman

I don't often do this, but below is an excerpt from my personal journal that I wrote this morning after I heard about the passing of a precious friend and church member, Yates Pittman.  Death has a way of deepening our spirituality as death reveals the reality that each and every one of us will one day face.  Death, especially unexpected death, forces us to take a hard look in the mirror and forces us to reflect on the meaning of life, death, and eternity.  Below is a journal of my thoughts and reflection on the death of a great Christian man who has had considerable influence in the lives of the congregation of Forest Hills Baptist Church.  I thank God for men like Yates, and I am praying heavily for his family and our church who are currently mourning the loss of such precious life.   It is has been a strange past 12 hours. I walk into church Sunday Night, ready to enjoy the service. When I arrive, I get summoned that Pastor Ray will not be there, that he is at the hospital with Yates Pittman. Yates, an older faithful gentlemen in our church, fell while playing with his grandson. Come to find out, it was a very serious head trauma and he fractured his upper spinal cord. So there I am, called to always be ready to preach the word, I preach from Psalm 46 to a scared and concerned congregation.

I preached the same text I read over the body of Yates' brother just a week ago. A powerful psalm of comfort and strength. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble". I preached as best I could without notice or preparation.  I stressed to the people that we do not fear, because God is our refuge. When tragedy strikes us, God is a person we can run to for comfort.

After the service, the news we were getting wasn't very good. Yates probably wasn't going to make it. The doctors gave hims 15% chance of coming through this. They eventually medivac him to Greenville to see if the injury could be repaired. With all the countless medical innovations the past century, life is still in the hands of almighty God. He gives and he takes away.

I went to bed last night praying for this dear man and his family. I spoke with Yates that morning a church, healthy as ever. You never know when your last day will be. You never know what will be your last moments. Life is a fragile thing. We are mere seconds away from eternity. Most of us tend to think we are invincible, that we cannot be broken and that we cannot die. A lot of times we think we are superman flying to and fro from our busy schedules assuming we are impervious to the shadow of death. However, this is simply not the truth. We are fragile creatures who at any moment may be standing in the gap of eternity.

As I woke up just an hour ago, I received news that Yates had indeed went to be with the Lord. The shadow of death had overcome him, but our Lord Jesus Christ provides the victory. For me, his death serves as a bitter reminder that death hangs over my life, ready to take me at a moments notice. I do not know how long the Lord has given me on this planet. I do not know how long he will let me preach the wonderful Gospel. I do not know how many years he will give me with my precious Kaitlyn and my future children. What I do know is this: My life is in his hands, and he has been more than gracious and good to me. If he takes my life today, He has done me no wrong. My life is His. It has always been His and it always will be. At the end of the day, just as the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians, "to live is Christ, to die is gain".  I have no fear of death. I will not fear my last breath. Why? Because Christ is my refuge. He has protected me from the power of death by absorbing my death for me. He has overcome my sin and liberated me from my condemnation. How gracious and good is my God. Jesus, the lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered. He has won my life and is victorious even over death. To God be the glory!

How Jesus Handled Grief


Jesus Experienced Grief

Losing someone we love really hurts. Grief often takes over and like a vine, begins to choke the life out of our soul. Our emotions are numb. Tears don't seem to stop. All we want to do is be alone and be by ourselves. Losing a family member or a friend is a very personal and emotional experience. Even Jesus himself experienced the gamut of emotions that comes with losing a friend. When Jesus' friend Lazarus dies, he weeps. Even though he knew he would raise Lazarus back to life, he was still overwhelmed with emotion that he just began to cry. Jesus teaches us that it is ok to grieve. It is ok to cry.

Jesus not only lost his good friend Lazarus to death, he also lost his dear friend and cousin, John the Baptist. John the Baptist died a terrible death. John was arrested by Herod, because John was vocally disapproving of Herod's sin. However, after the debase Herod watched a teenage girl's seductive dance, he gave her the opportunity to ask for anything. At the influencing of her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the greatest born of men, died by beheading at the request of a teenage girl. John's disciples took care of burying his body and they went to tell Jesus.

Jesus Responds to Grief

In Matthew 14:13, we are told that when Jesus heard the news about John, he got on a boat and went to head to a desolate place. You see, Jesus was grieving. He was heartbroken to hear what happened to John. And Jesus wanted to just spend some time alone, praying and thinking. You have to wonder what thoughts were running through Jesus mind when he heard the news. I imagine that he must be thinking about his mission, the cross. Jesus knows that what happened to John the Baptist is going to happen to him. Jesus knows that he came to die for the sins of humanity, and he knows that the cross is coming. I'm sure hearing about the death of John made Jesus painfully aware of his coming death, and filled with emotion, he just wanted to be alone with His father.

So Jesus gets in the boat and heads to a desolate place. However, the crowd hears where Jesus is going. So they travel by foot and meet Jesus on the other side. As Jesus is approaching the shore, he sees the crowds gather, waiting for him to arrive. You almost feel kind of sorry for Jesus. The guy just wants to get away to mourn the loss of his friend, and he can't get away. Life is like that isn't it? It never slows down. You lose your family member or friend and your back at work the next day like nothing ever happened. All you want to do is get away and be by yourself and grieve, but the demands of life don't allow it. Life just moves to fast.

Put yourself in Jesus' shoes for a second. How would you respond to seeing the crowd on the shore? You might think, "Really God, ministry now, I just want to be alone!". You might even hate these people, wishing they would just all go away. However Jesus doesn't respond in either ways. Jesus sees the crowd and he has compassion on them and he immediately got to work healing their sick. Although Jesus grieves the loss of his dear friend, his grief empowers him for ministry. In the midst of his emotional pain, Jesus turned outward instead of inward. Rather than turning in on himself and thinking "woe is me", he turns outward to serve and to love the crowds.

Our Grief Empowers us for Ministry

What does Jesus tell us about how to handle grief? He tells us that we must use our grief for ministry. We must be so very careful that in our mourning we don't turn our sorrow in to self-pity and loathing. Our sorrow empowers us to love and serve others. All that hurt, all those emotions you feel, take them and use them to show compassion on people who desperately need the love of Jesus. In your brokenness, God is able to use you to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. In your desperation, your dependence on Jesus serves as a powerful testimony to this lost and dying world. It is ok to grieve. It is ok to cry. It is good to mourn for lost loved ones, but may our emotions turn outwards to radical, Gospel driven, compassion.

It is Finished: Why Today is a Good Friday

Today is Good Friday.  It is the day we remember the horrific crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  It is a day we remember his scourging of the whip.  It is a day we remember the mocking roars of the crowd.  It is the day we remember hands and feet nailed to a cross.  It is a day we remember the most tragic day in history.  For it is the day that humanity killed God. It is the day the humanity killed its own savior.

You might be thinking, how is it possible to call this day good Friday?  How could an unjust execution of an innocent man be called a good day?  The answer to that question reveals the mystery of God's will from before the foundation of the earths. God, as he often does, takes the worst situations and uses them for His glory. It is God who takes the greatest evil, the brutal crucifixion of Jesus, and brings the greatest good. For we know from the Scriptures that Jesus’ death was for you and for me.  The sinless Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. At the cross, Jesus took on the sin you've committed and paid the price in your place.

Jesus didn't deserve to die on that cross.  You did.  I did.  But it was by God's great and incredible mercy that he sent His own son into the world to absorb the wrath that you deserved. That is what makes this Friday so good.  That on the cross when Jesus cried, "It is finished!", he spoke the truth.  That because of the death of Christ our sin has been paid for.  We no longer have to experience the fires of hell because Jesus saves us. Your debt to God has been paid.

For those of us who have faith in Jesus as our Lord and our Savior, we have experienced the forgiveness of sins.  If you have yet to taste the grace extended to you in Jesus, what are you waiting for? Fall on your face in desperation because of your treasonous sin. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Live the rest of your life for His sake and for His glory!

Why would you wait to taste of this grace?  Don't get lost in distraction. Trust Jesus today. For it is by his death we are saved.

Today, as we remember the death of our Savior and Lord.  May we be reminded of our desperate state in our sinfulness, and may we remember the extravagant love God has for us.  May we fall in profound humility and be overflowed with a sweet worship.  For as Jesus said, “It is finished”.