Friday, April 10, 2009

At Just the Right Time

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

                        Romans 5.6

Look, the Lamb of God!

When Jesus leaves home to commence His ministry, He goes to be baptized by His cousin, John, who baptizes followers as an induction rite into his Messianic sect. From all appearances, it seems Jesus intends to be baptized as John’s disciple as well. But the Baptist sees Him approaching and announces, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1.29) He tells his followers, “This is Who I’ve been telling you about, the One I promised would come.” The moment John's waited for his entire adult life arrives at last.

The day following Christ’s baptism—during which God the Father and Holy Spirit confirm His divinity—John meets Jesus while walking with two disciples. Again, he says, “Look, the Lamb of God!” John’s followers change their course without hesitation to follow the Lord. They invite themselves to spend the day with Him. Late in the afternoon, one of them, Andrew, interrupts the visit to find his brother, Simon Peter. “We have found the Messiah,” he tells Peter and brings him to Jesus. Things fall into place rapidly; in a matter of days, Jesus assembles a core group of disciples who instantly abandon their livelihoods and homes to go with Him. There’s no planned itinerary. No religious organization or charity subsidizes Jesus’s work. The disciples sign on without completely knowing what His mission's about, what it will demand, and where it will lead. They have no idea in three years they’ll stand beneath a cross, helpless, horrified, and grief-stricken, as their Master, the Lamb of God, dies to take away the sin of the world.

Hard to Conceive

Living in civilization’s most free, advanced, and prosperous period (to date), it's hard to conceive how readily the disciples—with Mary Magdalene as well as perhaps another two to three dozen unnamed men and women—abruptly leave families, quit jobs, and forget personal ambitions to follow Jesus in blind faith. On the other hand, in this era of pervasive evil, gross inhumanity, and global communication, it’s equally hard to conceive why God chose first-century Palestine as the optimal time and place to enter, and forever alter, our story. Yet placing both of these impressions in perspective gets us to the answer.

Jesus appears when, for the first time in history, one empire occupies and rules the entire Western world. Caesar’s legions have conquered every nation on the map, and no group feels more impotent and oppressed by Rome than the Jews. Hardscrabble life under pagan dictatorship holds little promise. Hope for the promised Deliverer runs high. Leaving everything to follow Christ asks an enormous price but takes minimal thought. It also invites great risk. In this smaller, slower world, a band of devotees rousing public interest in a new King draws ongoing attention on a scale unimaginable in our culture of information overload and short attention spans. In 1 A.D. Palestine, however, everything He does and threats He poses to the Roman and religious regimes are major news.


These factors are part of what Paul means when writing, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Jesus’s entrance couldn’t have been more timely, nor His death more perfectly planned to reach an angst-ridden generation and irrevocably shake the world's foundations. From first to last, He described His purpose by linking its profound implications for each believer with its global impact. “I came,” He basically tells Nicodemus in John 3.16, “to redeem the world one-by-one.” In John 16.33, He explains we all will experience personal problems. “But take heart,” He says, “I have overcome the world.” And just prior to His ascension, He tells the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8) But Calvary's inheritance, its personal relevance and worldwide reach, transcend fixed dates and sites. In Paul's view, "the right time" is also the moment each individual recognizes his/her powerlessness and claims Christ's gift of grace. In 2 Corinthians 6.2, after citing a Messianic prophecy of acceptance in Isaiah, he's very insistent about this: "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." It's always just the right time.

Today, as we reflect on The Passion in all its brutality and majesty, let’s move the cross from its ancient setting to our personal past. Whether decades ago or yesterday, each of us has gone to Calvary. Like the disciples, we stood helpless, horrified, and grief-stricken, as we beheld the Lamb of God surrendering His life for our salvation. We came to the cross because we were powerless, oppressed by unwelcome influences in a world without hope. We bowed in shameful sorrow, trusting in Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance. We believed His promise in John 6.37 with our entire beings: “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” 

Roman and religious conspirators executed the historical Jesus nearly 2000 years ago. But Christ the Redeemer defies time and space. Calvary exists for the ages, calling any and everyone away from weakness and despair. The cross stands, will always stand, as love's pinnacle, where the powerless receive life-changing strength and the oppressed find world-changing hope. Day after day, minute after minute, souls in need come to Calvary and discover neither its power nor beauty even slightly diminished by centuries of human history. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us.

The cross stands, will always stand, as love's pinnacle for the powerless and oppressed.

(Tomorrow: Surely)

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