who is to blame?

“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whole we have now received reconciliation.”
Romans 5:6-11
When my mother called to tell me a jumbled story through tears that my brother was dead, I was driving our minivan with my family on a hot August afternoon. 
It was the minivan I was reluctant to get in the first place, the same one that this same brother had told me was cool, that he liked it. That had made it easier for me to drive.
The back was full of my four kids eager to go see a movie. My husband in the passenger seat immediately knew that this normal Saturday was no longer that.
He pointed, as I talked loud and out of control, for me to pull over.
Nearly 11 years later I can’t drive past that spot without recalling the moment.
He got in the driver’s seat and I reeled as I processed what she’d told me.
I told him through irrational cries and screams that Jed had been killed in a wreck.
The rest of the way home left my children disappointed and confused in what was the closest I have come to an out-of-body experience.
Nothing made sense.
I screamed and cried and flailed my arms, scaring everyone in the van I’m sure.
I remember thinking what is wrong with me? Why am I out of control like this? This isn’t even how I cry.
It was unfair, illogical and I could barely understand how it was late in the afternoon and my mom heard from a brother three states away before we knew just down the road that my brother had died in the wee hours of that same morning.
My brother was dead.
All I could think now was that I had to get to my mom and dad. Someone could make this make sense but it was not me.
We would later all slowly assemble the pieces from people there.
A late night with buddies, outside of a bar, resulted in a joy ride in an empty parking lot in a God-forsaken Jeep.
The suspected high and intoxicated driver would walk away barely scratched asking the other passenger from the back seat to lie with him and blame the dying man for the wreck.
When the awful realization hit the driver that not only had he wrecked his car, but that one of his friends would not get up, fear and overwhelming guilt must have wracked his body and mind.
Let’s blame the guy that is dying. The frantic need for escape from consequences, from instant guilt. It was only fitting. He had to hide, to find a cover for this awful mess leading to death.
Suddenly like the Adam of old, in a garden far away, a finger pointed to someone else.
We have all been there.
That moment before sin is extraordinarily tasty and desirable—the excitement, the rush. Letting go of inhibitions for that wild moment of self-gratification. 
We don’t want to admit it, but it’s so pleasurable we go back again and again.
Let’s feel the air as we go little faster and take this speed bump.
Taste this juicy, dripping, ripe fruit with me.
Just one more shot.
Send that message to someone that doesn’t belong to you.
Tell that story that was to remain untold.
Watch those images of uncovered people, filling the mind with sin again.
The moment is so delectable.
That instant after, however, is unnerving like nothing else.
Pain, despair, guilt and fear is like hitting the pavement hard. 
When I let grieving subside for the moment and I want to point and blame I think of this modern day Adam and what he has done to my brother. He was seeking a story that would cover him and free of him of shame and certain death.
Adam of old pointed to Eve who pointed to a serpent cunningly wrapped around a tree.
That serpent began it all by pointing to, questioning God. 
A serpent on a tree blamed the Creator. 
The same Creator who would go on a tree and take the blame.
In sadness and desire to find peace, I want someone to blame. I point to Adam and guilt and sin and realize suddenly that I too am a guilty woman looking for covering and pointing to a dying man. 
When I am looking for someone to blame, I am just trying to cover my own shame.
I want hurt to subside, the kind caused by others, the kind caused by me.
I think of pieces of gravel from the hard ground in a lonely parking lot where lies are told.
It calls to mind a body torn by shards of gravel, rock glass embedded in a whip. A body that was beaten bare. It was the body of the only, truly innocent One and I was there pointing and blaming Him.
When my heart strays so far away and I think thoughts I shouldn’t think, I watch things I shouldn’t watch, I say things I shouldn’t say and do things I shouldn’t do, deep down I am aching in the aftermath for covering. 
So I point.
I make up stories.
I blame. 
I blame Him. 
The only one who doesn’t deserve the rotten end of a made up story still takes it.
He died on the tree for me while I was still a sinner.
He hung there struggling to breathe in a body He created using final breaths to say I forgive You.
As we approach Easter and I go back in my mind over JP’s sermons approaching the cross, I once again see this is all there is.
This is where forgiveness is given and received.
This is where we are exposed and at the same time covered.
This is where blame is given and taken. 
This is where death is swallowed up in victory.
Three guys in a Jeep and Jed was the only one who knew Jesus and the only one who would not survive. 
Someone finally made this make sense.
And yet, Jed did survive. He survived because his own guilt and shame were covered by the One who truly took the blame. 
Jesus took it and when He died, it died with Him. 
And because He rose again, we will also rise.
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lifted up

Wrestling and writhing uncomfortably in the night, he had no ability to be still. Something about this Man in this place was simply undoing this leader of the Jews. His education in the rabbinical law should have dispelled the discomfort. His knowledge should have been enough but there was something about this Man he could not avoid and he knew it.

So in the dark he went searching and for what he was not completely sure. Hid did however know there was only One place to go for the answers he needed.

Nicodemus approached Jesus in the night. His timidity was overshadowed by his restless heart. He knew his own education would likely be ridiculed if he were seen turning to the Man who was not appropriately educated. This expert among the Jews was seeking deeper truth and this Man might be able to reveal it in the dark. What Nicodemus did not yet know was that this truth can not be hidden. This truth is the Light of the world and cannot be covered by the dark.

Jesus cut to the heart and plainly revealed the need of Nicodemus who struggled to follow the teaching.

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus rebutted.

Patiently, the true Rabbi led this searching one where he had to go. Carefully the Light of the world cut through the clouded reasoning with an example Nicodemus would fully comprehend. Jesus used Nicodemus’ OT knowledge (Numbers 21) to give a glimpse of himself.

Moses in the wilderness with the Israelites who have once again forgotten their rescue, their faithful God. Relieved of their slavery, led out on the way to a promised place, they grow impatient and cry out “why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die?” These people insinuate that God is not good. It is the lie that leads us to doubt, fear, lack of gratitude. It is sin. So the fiery serpents slither in and the poison of doubt takes hold. Some die, and again, the cry for help rises. Again gracious God relents in love.

Moses was instructed to put the fiery serpent on the pole.
Moses lifted it up.
People looked and lived.

Now Jesus calls Nicodemus to look to Him and live. Jesus tells him that He, the Son of Man, must also be lifted up.

Serpents spouting poison was not a new story. Nicodemus knew it full well. That story went even further back. The lie could be traced to Genesis. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1)

It began with the serpent in the garden casting doubt, insinuating God is not good. In their moment of weakness, a man and a woman believed that lie was true. They took the poison lie and ingested it. This fall they took for us all. The Israelites couldn’t stomach it. We now still sputter and choke and gag on the lie.

When Adam and Eve recognized they were bare before God, exposed, they took to hiding from His presence in the trees. That deep and wide chasm ached and the poison instilled fear and insecurity where once was rest and trust.

Mighty God was not through with them, with us, when by all standards He should be. Refusing to send them out exposed, He took the life of an animal to cover them, cover shame. Driven from the garden for their own protection, they fled to a dark world–one that now still writhes and groans for relief, redemption, and rescue.

So greater rescue was coming and Jesus wanted Nicodemus to catch the vision.

Like Nicodemus in the dark, we look for answers. We are drawn to the Light. When we draw near, we are able to see. And if we get close enough, we see the Son of Man lifted up. If we dare to look upon the dreaded tree, we will find our rescue. For it is on that tree that Jesus became the ugly insinuations and held fast while the evil one writhed and fought.

He dispels the lie.
It was crucified there.
He was willing to take on the lie, the insinuations, the sin as He remained there suffering on our behalf. There is no way to miss the truth when you look at the Son of Man lifted up: 
God is good. God loves us.

And the Son of Man was again lifted up, lifted in life. He rose from the fall, from the death that overshadowed us all. The night is gone. The lie is not true. He has purchased the rescue we all need. Our lack has been supplied. Our nakedness has been covered.

This year’s art show theme is “lifted up.” We are seeking entries that reflect this idea that can be traced from the garden, to the Israelites wandering, to the death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you would like to participate, please visit cotachurch.com for details on how to enter. The deadline for entry is March 4.