Here we are, at the crossroads.
People can skip along the seemingly happy path of Jesus’ life, tra-la-lalling along as he laughs with his disciples, feeds the masses, teaches the people of God’s love, heals the diseased, and calls out the hypocrites. The sky is bluer than blue, the grass greener than green, the meandering stream is crystal clear, flowers are everywhere, and the birds are filling the valleys with song. We skip even higher and faster as our smile widens to world-record dimensions, then… we fall flat on our face, loosening our teeth and smashing our nose.
Dazed, we start to swear, before we remember that Jesus is right there, “What the hellll…p me up please Jesus,” we slur through smashed lips. “Who put that big ugly block in the middle of our heavenly path?”
But, it is not a block that we stumbled over. It is an instrument of torture and execution devised by the Roman Empire of ancient times. It is a cross, and strangely, Jesus is not at all surprised to see it here–on his path.
The cross is what makes us stumble. It is the fork in the road. Do you doubt that? I guarantee: people will click on this post and bail on it right here because I mentioned the cross.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.. 1Cor 1:18
It isn’t the virgin giving birth that people can’t believe. That is nothing compared to creation itself. It isn’t all the miracles–blind men seeing, paraplegics walking, dead men living. That is all child’s play for the God who set the universe in motion. Our reason for not believing that Jesus is who he claimed to be is not that we can’t believe in miracles, it is that we can’t accept the gruesome picture of Jesus on the cross, knowing it was our sin that put him there. So we deny it.
I get it. It is a hard thing to think about, even when you believe it is ultimately the best thing that could have happened, for you.
The details are gruesome and I will skip them for the most part, but it won’t be tame. The Gospels themselves skip the details, but then, the people of first-century Israel had seen these things before.
Pilate had Jesus flogged, or scourged, hoping it would satisfy the bloodlust of the Pharisees and their supporters in the unruly mob. First-century Roman floggings were notoriously brutal, and often the recipient of these floggings did not survive. Yet, despite the ghastly sight of a freshly scourged Jesus standing next to the Roman governor, and the very good chance that he would not survive without a miracle, the Pharisees would not relent. They screamed at Pilate, “Crucify him!”
Jesus would not make a case for his life, and the crowd made Pilate nervous. In Matthew, it says that an uproar was starting. Finally, after repeatedly trying to get the Pharisees to back down, he surrendered Jesus to their will and ordered his soldiers to crucify Jesus. So, after the soldiers, inconceivably, beat him yet again, they marched Jesus to a hill outside Jerusalem’s walls. There, Jesus laid down on a cross and allowed himself to be nailed there, feet and hands. The soldiers then wrestled the cross upright somehow and presumably dropped it into a well-used hole.
The wounds and pain of the scourging, the beatings, the crown of thorns mashed onto Jesus’ head, and the loss of blood all combined to weaken Jesus considerably before he ever made it to this bloody hill. So, within a few hours he was near the end. Still the Pharisees mocked him, trying to justify the unjustifiable. Yet, Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Throughout Jesus’ earthly life he was connected to God the Father; they were one. However, in his final moments, Jesus did not seem to feel the Father’s presence. Matthew says he managed a loud voice to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” John, the only one of Jesus’ disciples who wasn’t hiding behind a bush somewhere, records Jesus as saying, “It is finished.” Then he died.
I believe there is a perception out there that Jesus was, or is, weak. Let me ask you this; What requires more strength; to endure horrible suffering to save those you love–or to crush your enemies, ending your own suffering while knowing it will cost your loved ones their lives? Laying waste to your enemies, knowing you can’t lose–or sacrificing yourself to pay their debt. Do you see sacrifice as weakness? A debt was owed, and Jesus stepped in to pay it. A stronger thing was never done.
The Gospels are the beating heart of the entire Bible. This is what it is all about. It is not about a surly and vengeful God wanting to condemn us. It is about a God who loves us so much that he would do anything to save us. It is about Jesus loving us so much that no matter how badly he wanted out, he walked towards it all, fully knowing what was in store.
Stay tuned. We are not done yet. A.J.