It Is Finished!

At noon darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. But the rest said, ‘Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.’ Then Jesus shouted out again and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. The Roman officers and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, ‘This man truly was the Son of God.’” Matthew 27:45-54It had been a long night. Jesus went from a celebratory meal and time of worship with his apostles to a garden where he prayed urgently and in anguish that God would excuse him from this dreaded task. There in the garden, one of his own gave him up to the guards and religious leaders. His closest friends abandoned him. He was beaten almost to death, tried in a kangaroo court and condemned to death by a frightened and savage Roman official. In all of this, no one stepped forward to defend him. He was very much alone.

And now it has been a very long day. For the soldiers, it has been a day of waiting. Waiting for the men on the crosses to die. Waiting to see what this strange man’s followers will do. For the handful of Jesus’ followers, it has been a day of disbelief and mourning. How could this be happening? Isn’t he the Messiah? The Messiah isn’t supposed to die! For Jesus it has been a day of pain and suffering. Push up against the stakes in his feet to breath, release against the stakes in his wrists in exhaustion.

Suddenly, darkness falls across the land; a strange, oddly quiet darkness that makes the guards uneasy. Just as the darkness becomes unbearable, from the cross Jesus cries out, once and then again. The earth trembles violently striking terror into the hearts of all who are watching. In the distance, the veil in the Temple rips from top to bottom. And then silence. It is finished. For his followers, however, the waiting continues.

Are you in a dark period of your life? Have you been betrayed by a spouse or a friend? Perhaps no one has stepped forward to defend you against a vicious accusation or your own family members have turned against you due to some unfair misunderstanding. Are you in extreme pain, barely managing to take that next breath? You may feel alone, but you aren’t. Jesus has been right where you are. He is with you right now. You are in that time of waiting just like the disciples were on that day so long ago. Are you struggling with your faith? So were they. It’s a dark time. It’s a quiet, reflective time. Hold on. Sunday’s coming!

The “Beauty and the Beast” of Media

I love movies. I love going to movies, reading about movies and movie stars and reading books that are made into movies.  I don’t go often but when we do, I am all in for the adventure of the evening. Over the last few weeks, it has been very interesting to watch, listen and read about two new movies that recently arrived at theaters. The first movie is The Shack and the second is Beauty and the Beast. I’m not going to tell you that you should or should not see either of these movies. That is your choice. I’m also not going to tell you all that is wrong with them. I do want to talk about the way we can use books and movies to talk about Jesus in our culture.

People have been refusing to see these movies on matters of principle. The Shack tells a story using God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in very unusual ways. Beauty and the Beast has a scene that could change the entire perspective of a beloved movie. These are not bad reasons to decide not to go to a movie. But they aren’t necessarily good reasons either.

The Shack is based on a book that debuted at least ten years ago. It was a hotly discussed topic then and it has been a hotly discussed topic over the last month. The movie is about a man who suffers a terrible loss then meets God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit who help him deal with his doubt and pain. It is not theologically sound at all. It isn’t necessarily well written. But it is a story that touches the hearts of every one of us. We have all suffered loss that left us with doubts and pain that we can’t pull ourselves out of. For that reason, it is a compelling book and is now a compelling movie. I don’t want to give away any of the details of the movie but there is one section of the movie where Mac, the lead actor, is put into the position of being a judge. It is one of the more painful parts of the movie. As I watched this I couldn’t help but think about how often I put myself in that position and try to judge people in my life. I am not sure I ever thought about what it means when I put myself in that seat.

Beauty and the Beast is a Disney film that is beloved by many people. It is a wonderful tale of a man who is turned into a beast and the Beauty who falls in love with him despite his fearful anger and beastly looks and redeems his life. This movie is the first live action telling of this story. There have been numerous posts on various social media sites about a scene in the new Beauty and the Beast that will change the way we look at this story. Because of this, there are many Christians who won’t go to see the movie. I read a blog today by a mom who loves this story and was eagerly awaiting the release of this movie so she could share the story with her young children. She thought about it and prayed about it and finally decided they were going to go ahead. On the way to the movie, she asked her children to ask themselves one question while they were watching the movie: “Where do I see God working in this character?” This one question stayed foremost in the minds of all three of them during the movie and they had an amazing conversation after the movie about God and how he works in our lives.

As Christians we can become very insulated from our society and our culture. If we don’t interact with our culture, how can we go out and talk to them about Jesus? If we don’t understand the things they are dealing with or we are afraid to come too close to them in their pain, how can we show them that Jesus cares and can heal them? We can use media to learn about the issues that are facing our world and to talk about how God works through those issues to touch the hearts and lives of those around us. We can also use media to help our children see God in very concrete ways.

Scripture tells us in 2 Timothy 1.7 that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  He will give us the tools we need to share our faith with our culture. Let’s step out in courage and assurance that God is with us. He has won the battle.