Agape Love: 1. The highest form of love. 2. The kind of love demonstrated by Jesus Christ towards God, His father, and towards us, His followers. 3. Love that is demonstrated towards another with no thought of personal gain. 4. Selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love.
“God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He even gave His One and Only Son Jesus, so that whoever believes in, trusts in, clings to and relies on Him, shall not perish or be lost but shall have everlasting and eternal life.” (John 3:16)
It’s Easter again – a time to celebrate! But celebrate what? A four day long weekend? Hot cross buns? Bonus penalty rates at work? Chocolate Easter eggs? Or the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
It’s been a while (for lots of reasons), but I finally went to church last night. My husband Tim went to church too, but our experiences couldn’t have been more vastly different.
I joined with thousands of others, mostly young, at the final night of the 2014 Planetshakers Awakening Conference in Melbourne. The lights were flashing, the music near deafening and the hype astounding as people chanted out the name of Jesus over and over, stamping their feet, whistling, clapping their hands, dancing and cheering. It was a phenomenal experience and I would challenge anyone who thinks Christianity is dead or dying to attend a conference like this to see that Jesus is indeed still being worshiped and praised (especially by the next generation).
Tim sat in a circle with 24 other people, mostly old, at a “Holy Thursday” service at his parent’s traditional Uniting church. The only lights were the individual candles each person held, the music was an old hymn on a CD player and there was no hype or hysteria. Just complete silence. Only one person spoke and the words were taken directly from scripture. But the name of Jesus was heard loudly over and over as the Word was read. By Tim’s account, it was a powerful experience.
So this morning, Good Friday, we sat and chatted about our different experiences and Tim said something about “Maundy Thursday” and I was like, “what the heck is Maundy Thursday?”
I didn’t grow up in the church but I attended a private girls’ school where twice a week we filed into the large assembly hall and the choir sang two hymns, prayers were read and the Bible was quoted. It makes me think of that saying “just because you sit in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than if you sit in your garage you will become a car”. Although I went to a “Christian” school, it didn’t make me a Christian. When I did become a Christian (ironically, not long after Easter of 1988), I attended a modern contemporary church that, on the whole, ignored some of the age-old traditions and customs of Christianity – traditions such as Advent, Lent and Maundy Thursday – and I’ve written previously about how I am beginning to see the importance of continuing to observe some of these traditions in our modern worship expression.
So, because I like to know “why”, I did a bit of research about Maundy Thursday.
It is apparently observed by Christians around the world on the Thursday before Easter. Often called “Holy Thursday”, it marks the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples prior to His betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Generally Maundy Thursday observances take on a more solemn tone and focus on two primary rituals as portrayed in the biblical accounts of the Last Supper. The first is when Jesus washes the feet of His disciples prior to the traditional Passover meal and He says: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” The second ritual also comes out of the Last Supper and it is the taking of communion which is when Christians replicate Jesus’ giving of bread and wine to His disciples during their final meal together. “As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then He broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘Take this and eat it, for this is my body’. And He took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, ‘Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many’.”
So there was Maundy Thursday.
And then there is Good Friday. Today.
According to the Bible, guards were guided by one of Jesus’ disciples, (Judas Iscariot) to find and arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas told the guards that whomever he kissed was the one they should arrest. Following his arrest, Jesus was interrogated and sent to a man called Caiaphas who was the high priest where the Sanhedrin had assembled. (To save you having to Google it, the Sanhedrin was the supreme judicial and ecclesiastical council in Jerusalem at the time.)
Conflicting testimony against Jesus was brought forth and finally the high priest said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” And Jesus replied, “You have said it…” Then the high priest said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What therefore is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!”
The Sanhedrin then took Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate and Jesus was charged with subverting the nation, opposing taxes to Caesar, and calling himself a king. Pilate authorized the Jewish leaders to judge Jesus according to their own law as he found no basis for sentencing. Pilate referred the case to the ruler of Galilee, King Herod. Herod questioned Jesus but received no answer and so Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. Pilate told everyone that neither he nor Herod found Jesus to be guilty but just to make sure, Pilate ordered Jesus to be whipped and then released. The crowd were still calling for Jesus’ death chanting out “Crucify him!” but Pilate’s wife had seen Jesus in a dream and she forewarned Pilate to “have nothing to do with this righteous man” so Pilate decided to release Jesus.
The chief priests of the Sanhedrin then informed Pilate of a new charge, demanding Jesus be sentenced to death “because he also claimed to be God’s son.” Pilate questioned Jesus again and still declaring him to be innocent, Pilate washed his hands in water to show he has no part in the condemnation. Nevertheless, he still handed Jesus over to be crucified in order to forestall a riot among the people and ultimately to keep his job! Jesus was then sentenced to death and made to carry his cross to the site of execution called The Place of the Skull. In Latin it is called “Calvary” and in Hebrew it is called “Golgotha”. There he was crucified alongside two other criminals.
For six long hours Jesus agonized on the cross and during his last three hours on the cross, from noon to three o’clock in the afternoon, darkness fell over the whole land. Then with a loud cry, Jesus called out “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”. He then gave up his spirit and died. There was an earthquake, tombs broke open, and the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. The guard at the site of the crucifixion was heard to declare “Truly this was God’s Son!”
What a story!
I get to the end of the Good Friday ‘story’ and I ask one question.
Why was Jesus crucified? Why did He have to die? Why was a 33 year old Jewish carpenter nailed to a wooden cross? Why did He, with hardly any complaint, carry his own cross to his own execution? Why did He accept the pain and degradation of His punishment? Why? Why? Why?
I’m a Christian so I (apparently) know the answer to that question.
“So that He could bring God’s forgiveness for my sins.”
But what does that even mean?? What does it mean that “Jesus died for my sins?”
Even after 25+ years of journeying with God, the explanation is, although quite simple, a difficult one to grasp.
Without Jesus’ death on the cross for my sins, I would not have the promise of eternal life because Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
It is in this very statement that Jesus declares the reason for His birth, death and resurrection—to provide the way to heaven for sinful mankind, who could never get there on their own.
So I guess if you don’t believe in salvation, and eternity (heaven or hell) is of no importance to you, then Easter will hold no meaning to you other than a long weekend full of Easter eggs and hot cross buns. And that’s okay.
BUT…if you’re just a little bit hurting and hungry, or just a little bit lost and lonely, maybe this is a message you need to explore this Easter.
I can’t really understand it because I don’t love the way He does. I can’t really explain it because it’s not something easily explained. So when I don’t ‘get’ it, I just remind myself of This. One. Thing.
God loves me.
And Jesus died on the cross so that I would know how much God loves me. Because that’s what Agape Love is all about – a love without limits.
God doesn’t love me because of who I am or what I can do for Him – God loves me just because He does. And because of His incredible sacrificial, selfless, unconditional love for me, He allowed His only Son to die in my place so that I can be forever free from the hurts that I carry and the mistakes that I’ve made.
Jesus’ death on the cross over 2000 years ago guarantees God’s forgiveness.
His resurrection, and my belief in Him, guarantees my eternity.
One church simplifies it like this:
The Cross = Love.
I like it.
I ‘get’ that.
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