Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Resurrection and the Life

I hope over the course of this week to examine the Cross and the Resurrection from several different perspectives. However, in this brief article I wish to focus on just the facts.

It had been a long, sleepless, prayerful night and it was about to turn into the longest day of Christ's brief life. Earlier that evening he had observed the Passover meal with his inner circle of disciples: Andrew, Bartholomew, the brothers James and John, Judas and Judas Iscariot, Matthew, Peter, Phillip, Simon, Thomas, and Thadeus. These men had gone from being his mere students to becoming his closest friends...his family. Yet, even at this time, one of them was to betray him. Christ had known all along that Judas was going to turn him over to the authorities, but he loved Judas all the same. We may never know what all was going on in Judas' mind. He had been empowered to work miracles - heal the sick, cast out demons, etc., - and he had done those things. He had broken bread with Lazarus after witnessing Lazarus' resurrection from death - a miracle performed by Christ. He had helped gather the remaining food after two miraculous feedings. After so much, Judas still betrayed him. While Christ knew all along that this would happen, it still must have broken his heart to know what his friend was about to do.

Judas made an early departure from the meal that night and Christ shared an intimate meal with the remaining 11 men. They fellowshipped with one another and they sang together (oh, how I would love to hear the Savior sing!). At the end of the meal, Christ rose up and did something rather odd. He washed the feet of these 11 men. This demonstration of humility and love still affects us today. I imagine that the eleven men never forgot the emotion of that moment as they had their feet carefully cleaned by the Almighty. That example of love and humility probably stuck in their minds for the rest of their lives. But all that was a mere foreshadow of the example of love and humility that they were to see unfold during the next 18 hours so.

Christ was betrayed by Judas within a few hours of the exit from the upper room. His friends looked on helplessly as they watched the soldiers march him off into the darkness. They were afraid to be sure, but they still hadn't come to fully understand what was about to happen.

The long drawn out trials end with a confusing verdict. Although the magistrate, Pontius Pilate, was unwilling to pronounce Christ as guilty, he was also unwilling to pardon him. The sentence was passed. Death by crucifixion - a horrible punishment reserved for the worst offenders of the law of Rome. A most humiliating, agonizing, slow, painful death. But before Christ would see his cross, he had more humiliation to face.

The beating he took with the Roman cat-of-nine-tails at the hands of a man who was very skilled in its use must have been horrific. His flesh was ripped open. Some have said that these floggings were so severe that it wasn't uncommon for a man to die in the midst of it. Christ survived this incomprehensible beating, but it wasn't all over yet. In addition to the horrible scourging he endured, he was humiliated even further. Men lined up and spat on him. Some beat him with their fists as he was blindfolded. They would yell to him to predict who was about to hit him, and then they would strike him. Some grabbed his beard and ripped it out of his face - presumably, chunks of his flesh followed. They wove together some branches of a thorn bush into a "crown" of sorts. These thorns were thick and more than an inch long. They took this makeshift crown and beat it into his skull - the thorns not only penetrated his head, but he likely suffered a concussion as a result of the beating to get the crown embedded into his skull. Yet, he "opened not his mouth". Somehow, Christ maintains consciousness, but the worst is yet to come.

He endures the laborious trip to Golgotha, bearing the cross-beam section of his cross across his shredded back. Then, he was crucified. Nailed and hung high for all to see. For the next 6 hours Christ would bear our sins in all its ugliness. To Jesus, the worst part of this entire episode - worse than all the physical pain, abuse, and suffering - was the moment where he was ripped apart from the Father. The agony he must have felt at that moment is beyond anything we can possibly comprehend. For all eternity he had enjoyed perfect union with the Father. During his life on earth, he still enjoyed that constant fellowship, but now he found himself battered and torn, bruised and bloody, and for the first time....all alone. For the first time in eternity, Christ was completely separated from the Father. He was now torn inside and out and we hear him scream, "Eloi, Eloi, lama, sabachthani?". Almost immediately after realizing that he had been torn from the Father, he was able to utter his last words on the cross..."It is finished."

This is a moving story and worthy of reflection. It's good to look at this gruesome scene from time to time and remind ourselves of what the Lord did for us that day. It's profitable for us to see just how ugly all of this vulgar that our sin demanded this. Let us not forget the blood of the Holy One that was poured out for our salvation. The ugliness of it all should put into mind the ugliness of our sin. No, my friends, let us not look away from the cross - take it all in. But remember, it's all meaningless if not for what happened 3 days later.
Wednesday night Christ's lifeless body is carefully wrapped by a few of his closest friends and carried to a tomb. A great stone is rolled in front of it and some Roman soldiers are placed there to guard it. But that wasn't enough to contain the one who claimed that He was the Resurrection and the Life!
This picture of an empty tomb should garner up stronger feelings and emotions in the Christian than anything else we can imagine. While the cross is beautiful in that Christ bore our sins there and he became the only sacrifice that was sufficient to satisfy God's just wrath, the empty tomb is even more beautiful! For the empty tomb points us to the reality that our Savior defeated death. He is Life - He was able to resurrect himself from death. Nobody else has ever done that and nobody else ever will. There is victory in that tomb, dear friends! If not for the resurrection, the birth, life, and death of Christ is of no more effect for us than the birth, life, and death of Moses or one of the prophets.
Ah....but here's where it gets real exciting! His resurrection gives us life! The incomprehensible part of all this is the fact that Christ literally became sin for us so that we might become his righteousness. Dear friend, if that doesn't put a little more spring in your step, you've got a real problem!

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