Why God Killed His Son (pt3)

How could God plan to sacrifice His Son?  How is that a loving, good, and right thing to do to a son whom you love?

[NOTE: This is part three of a four-part series of posts based on a question brought to me by a friend.  If you haven’t yet, check out Part 1  and Part 2.  I hope it’s helpful to you. -Phillip]

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” -Hebrews 4:15

Anyone who has been through suffering can tell you that the comfort and love and encouragement that meant the most to them was that which came from someone who had been through similar suffering, too.  Nothing connects two hearts more deeply than suffering, and the greater the pain, the greater the bond.

Hebrews 4:15 speaks of Jesus as the “High Priest” of a new covenant between God and humanity, one who can “sympathize” with us.

A few verses later, the writer continues, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.  Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.  And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

If Jesus truly loves “His sheep” like He says He does in John 10, then it makes sense that He would want to be able to empathize with them.  We don’t often choose pain only for the purpose of empathy, but if we do find ourselves in that place, we can appreciate that after we ourselves have suffered we can better show love to those who have felt the same way.

Jesus doesn’t want to be a far-off deity who looks on with cold indifference at the human condition.  He wants to enter in to it Himself because of His love and care for us.  Note how the writer of Hebrews highlights the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father in the midst of His suffering, and he was heard.  Not ignored, not abandoned for the long-term, but heard.  What, then, was Jesus praying about?  Surely not for escape or deliverance from the trial, because He Himself said in Matthew 26:53 that He could have stopped the whole thing at any time (“ten thousand legions of angels” is a hefty backup force.)

Jesus did indeed pray that if there was any other way to accomplish redemption for humanity, it would have been His preference.  However, His desire is not to escape pain but to complete the mission of love for which He volunteered and was therefore sent by the Father.  Luke’s Gospel records that “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.” (Luke 22:43)  Jesus’ prayer was answered with strength from heaven, enabling Him to go forward with the plan.

What’s more, Hebrews tells how He “learned obedience through what He suffered, being made perfect.”  It is not that Jesus was lacking perfection, but that through the cross He was given the opportunity to manifest it fully through His voluntary obedience.  It is not obedience if one is forced into something.  That is slavery.  What Jesus experienced was both being chosen and sent by the Father, AND volunteering and initiating a mission of redemption for the fallen humanity that the Father, Son and Spirit all deeply love.

But that’s not all.

To be continued… (Missed the previous posts? Part 1 | Part 2)

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Why God Killed His Son (pt2)

How could God plan to sacrifice His Son? How is that a loving, good, and right thing to do to a son whom you love?

[NOTE: This is part two of a four-part series of posts based on a question brought to me by a friend. Part 1 can be found HERE. I hope it’s helpful to you. -Phillip]

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” -John 10:17-18

At one point or another, most people have heard that “God is love.” Of course, while it doesn’t seem at all loving to intentionally wound your own son, the situation looks different if the son offers himself on his own.

Why would Jesus offer Himself like this, though? Is this an example of undue influence on the part of the Father? After all, Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me…” so perhaps Jesus really doesn’t really want to die, but He is doing it under coercion, more fearful of losing the love of the Father.

This isn’t the case at all.

In another section of the Gospel of John, Jesus says something that is crucial to the equation: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) From Jesus’ own mouth, we see that the most supreme display of love is that act that sacrifices oneself for the good of another, and that is what Jesus wants to do.

Look again at John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus’ motivation is not a fear of losing the love of His Father, but a desire to show His love to us.

Returning to the first Letter of John, from which we get “God is love,” we see this: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Why does the Father send the Son to die? Because the Father loves us. Why does the Son choose to come and die? Because the Son loves us, and the Son loves the Father.

But that’s not all.

For any good parent, they long to see their children achieve the goals they set for themselves. Good jobs, nice families, stable futures, personal growth; these are the things parents wish for their children, because they love them. If a child wants to do something that will fulfill them and bring them joy, any good parent wants the child to have every opportunity to have their dreams come true.

If Jesus is telling the truth, and He truly desires to show His love by laying down His life, then for God the Father to allow and even plan for that is not unloving at all. In fact, to deny His Son the right to lay down His life would be the unloving thing to do.

God the Father plans for God the Son to sacrifice Himself, because that’s what the Son wants to do.

But that’s not all.

To be continued… (Missed Part 1? Click here.)

[NOTE 2: Do you have an e-mail address? Do you want to get updates from phillipgonzales.com in your inbox? Good news! Just use the “Subscribe via e-mail” form above on the right, and you’ll get a new article each day. You can also unsubscribe at any time. Give it a try!]

Why God Killed His Son (pt1)

How could God plan to sacrifice His Son?  How is that a loving, good, and right thing to do to a son whom you love?

[NOTE: This is part one of a four-part series of posts based on a question brought to me by a friend. I hope it’s helpful to you. -Phillip]

GOD IS LOVE. (1 John 4:8b)

It is one of the most quoted and most popular truths of the Bible.  People all over the world –whether followers of Christ or not– smile and nod in agreement, for who wouldn’t want to hear that God is love?

How, then, can such a loving God be willing to sacrifice His Son for His enemies?  It’s all well and good for the enemies, but what about the Son?  Doesn’t He deserve more love from the Father than anyone else?  How can God be good and yet plan to sacrifice His son?

It’s a valid question, and a deeply important one, because if God says He is loving and isn’t, then how can He be trusted, much less loved in return?  On the other hand, if He says He is loving and we can discover that He truly is, then we can take Him at His word after all.

The key to the question lies, unsurprisingly, in the person, the work, and the words of Jesus Himself.  In the Gospel of John, we find Jesus speaking to His disciples about just what type of person He really is, and what is the nature of His relationship with His followers.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
(John 10:11, 15-18)

Jesus makes it clear that He is not being subjected to death unwillingly, but that He is volunteering for the cross.  He emphasizes this again shortly before His arrest, a moment recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:   “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions [72,000] of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)

“God is love,” yes, and while it doesn’t seem at all loving to intentionally wound your own son, the situation looks different if the son offers himself on his own.

Why would he do this?  Is this an example of undue influence on the part of the Father?  After all, Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me…” so perhaps Jesus really doesn’t really want to die, but He is doing it under coercion, more fearful of losing the love of the Father.

This isn’t the case, either.

To be continued…

[NOTE 2: Did you know you can get updates to this and other posts delivered to your e-mail inbox directly?  Just use the “Subscribe via e-mail” form above on the right, and you’ll get a new article each day.  You can also unsubscribe at any time.  Give it a try!]

Kingdom Credentials

What is the sign of “valid ministry” in the Kingdom of God?

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.” -2 Corinthians 3:2

Credentials have always been a big deal.  As a sign of legitimacy in any arena, recommendations from qualified people and certificates from reputable institutions have always been the mark of quality that most are looking for.

But the Kingdom of God has different criteria for credentials.

In the Kingdom, programs and achievements are important, and in many cases necessary, but they aren’t the most important thing.

In the Kingdom, what what matters most is not the projects you’ve accomplished or the positions you’ve attained.

It’s the people you’ve invested in for the glory of God.

So, how’s it going?

The Hurt of Love

Have you ever had one of those painful conversations with someone you love?

“For I write to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love I have for you.” -2 Corinthians 2:4

Love hurts.

Have you discovered this?  Have you felt that ache when there’s something between you and a person you care about that just shouldn’t be there, and you know you’re the one who has to make it right?

Maybe it’s a lover or a friend.  Maybe it’s a parent or a sibling or a child.  Maybe it’s something they did or are doing.  Maybe it’s something with you.

Whatever it is, here’s what it all comes down to: to truly love is to surely risk hurting and being hurt, not because you don’t care, but because you do.  To truly love is to be willing to put aside your fear of rejection, get over your avoidance of conflict, and let go of the fairy tale that everything should always just “click.”

It doesn’t.

It won’t.

We all fall short in may ways and it is love that extends a hand to help the fallen and falling.

Sometimes the hand must be gentle.  Sometimes it must be firm.  Sometimes it must bring relief, and other times, pain, but always with the same ultimate goal: healing.

Love isn’t shown most clearly on the days of wine and roses or when everyone gets along, but in the trenches of life when you are willing to suffer on the behalf of someone you care about and lay down your life for them.

After all, that’s what Jesus did for you.

NOTE: Sometimes people ask me if what I write is always about my life.  Sometimes they get concerned when they read something like this and wonder, “Is Phillip ok?”  Good news, yes it always has something to do with my life, but these posts are usually more about meditations on the particular Scripture passage I’m going through, rather than particular circumstances happening around me.  I have other outlets for that.  😉  Thanks for reading!
-Pastor Phillip

The Beautiful Clothes of Death

What beauty could be found in the ugliness of death?

“For while we are still in this tent [the physical body], we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” -2 Corinthians 5:4

Far from much of the conventional wisdom of his day, Paul does not see death as an ejection of the soul into a naked nothingness.  No, he understands that reality for the believer is just the reverse.

It is now that we are naked, unfinished and incomplete, subject to all manner of forces around us that can strike us like an icy wind assaults bare flesh.

For the believer, death is not losing life, it is gaining even more.  It is not a removal of glory that leaves us as naked souls, but an addition of heavenly majesty that dresses us up better than we ever were before.

Oh, that we would understand and embrace this!  How much sweeter would our mortality seem if we truly believed that death is not our enemy any more, but that because of Christ, it has become a dear friend.

Oh, how tightly we cling to this pale imitation of life we call existence, when it is only a shadow of an existence whose lowest forms put to shame the greatest glories of this one.

May we not so long for this life that we forget what awaits us as believers and followers of Christ.  May we rather face death in any form as a holy thing, a sacred portal into life everlasting with Him.

May we not too quickly seek the clothes of death, but when they come, may we as believers receive them as what Christ has made them by His death and resurrection: beautiful.

The Upside of Mistakes

Jesus is in the redemption business, even for you.

I love questions!  Recently a friend of mine asked one in response to my post, God Has Called You.  “What if a person is where they are because of mistakes they have made; are they still where God called them?

What a great question!

In Scripture, we see that sometimes we DO get in hard places because of our own decisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean God “called” us to make mistakes and end up there, but He IS “calling” us to be faithful to Him in whatever situations we find ourselves, even if the circumstances were the result of our own mistakes.

Think about it.  Peter denied Jesus, and Jesus loved him anyway and used that failure as the fuel for Peter’s passionate commitment to Him later in life. David sinned greatly with Bathsheba and in having Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11), and even though God allowed consequences for David because of his choices (2 Samuel 12), God also used David’s repentant heart to not only lead Israel more faithfully, but to write some of the most beautiful Psalms we have, so that millions of people throughout history could be encouraged (Psalm 51, especially.)

Part of the Good News of Jesus is that He is in the redemption business, using even our deepest failures for His glory and our joy in the end.  He doesn’t call us to stumble, but when we do, He DOES call us to turn away from our sin or look up from our wounds, take His outstretched hand and let Him lift us back to our feet again, this time with a story to tell of His faithfulness.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, THAT is a mission from God!

God Has Called You

Ever wonder why your life looks the way it does?

“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” -1 Corinthians 7:17a

God does not get taken by surprise.

He does not get distracted, look up and see one of His children in some circumstance and exclaim, “Oh no! How did THIS happen?!”

There is always a strong sense in Scripture that we are indeed responsible for our own choices, but at the same time, Paul reminds us that there is a reason we are in the place we are today.

That job or family or location or state of wandering may not be our preference, but God has a purpose in it for His glory and our good.

Our task is to be faithful today, and let Him take care of tomorrow.

Homeless in Fort Lauderdale

Sometimes what we need most is not easy answers, but deeper questions.

The other day, I watched homeless people being served by Christians.

From my perch high atop a parking garage in Fort Lauderdale, FL, I could see the crowd gather, hear the coordinator pray as she started the feeding time and watch as all of these people —with all of their various stories and backgrounds— came together for a moment, then went their separate ways, scattered around the park.

It was both moving and troubling to me.

Moving, because of the way I saw the Christians sincerely trying to help and show love in Jesus’ name.  Troubling because I couldn’t help but wonder how much real help was being provided.

How will this event help the homeless people for the long-term, and how will it make an impact in the lives of the Christians for more than a weekend?  Is this a one-shot deal or part of a bigger plan?  Is it sustainable?

Then I went to Starbucks and saw a similar pageant unfold, just with different actors and costumes and sets.

The people all gather, get what they need, then scatter to their own isolated corners.  Money is exchanged, of course, but there is still no lasting connection except the forming of a habit of consumption.

This is what people do.  We build our routines to feed our needs and stick with whatever works.

Here is what I found myself asking in both scenarios. How does Jesus transcend this, the human condition, to bring something greater than our needful routines? How does the Church provide a conduit for greater things, and how can we be a catalyst for change?

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