• QUOTE FOR TODAY

    "God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation…Therefore let us bring our affections into line with His, and, for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose."
    -- John Piper

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  • James 2:14-17

    What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

    In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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The Reality of the Cross

We’ve all seen the images of the cross.  You know the ones I’m talking about: If you think about it for a minute you can picture the silhouette of the cross against a blazing sunset.  Maybe you’ve seen the three crosses atop a distant mountain with an inspirational verse adorning the clouds.  We’ve all seen the miniature cross hanging from a rear view mirror or on a bumper sticker.  I for one am rather tired of it. I suppose these images can serve as a reminder for someone somehow, but am finding those images wholly ineffective as I consider what Christ did.

The cross is an instrument of torture.  Those two beams combined in that exact shape become a tool of punishment and ultimately an apparatus which is used to bring about death.  Crucifixion is an ugly, horrible, humiliating way to die, and I don’t believe it serves much purpose to keep showing these rosy pictures of an empty cross casting a shadow over a grassy plain somewhere.

C. Truman Davis wrote an essay describing the crucifixion in some detail.  You can read an adaptation here , but let me quote a small portion for you:

As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. The compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues – the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasps, “I thirst.”

This follows the mocking, the flogging, and the painful walk to Golgotha.  When He arrives at the place of the crucifixion, Jesus has to deal with the nails and then the eventual raising of the cross.

I’m just not sure how we justify some of the images that we see on a daily basis when we have any understanding of what the cross really represents.  Don’t get me wrong…we need to see the cross, but we need to see it for what it represents.  It’s really quite ugly.  It has my sin all over it. It has the sin of the world all over it. It has Christ’s blood all over it.  If you can’t look at it and see that, I’m not sure what good it is doing you.

Part of my discontentment with this whole thing comes from two passages.  In Matthew 14 and again in Luke 16, Jesus tells us that we have to take up our cross and follow him.  May I openly say that I have no desire to go through what Davis quoted above?  But Jesus said it so it must have some application for me.  Only recently have I gained some perspective.  This perspective comes from one verse in Matthew. Read verse 32 of chapter 27:

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.

My take here (and maybe I am wrong) is that Jesus didn’t have the strength to carry his own cross.  He started out with it over is shoulder, but was unable to go on.  His earlier references telling his followers that they had to carry their cross seemed to conflict with the fact that Simon carried Jesus’ cross for him.  Did Jesus contradict himself? I don’t think so.  I think he was pointing out that in our own strength we cannot carry our cross. 

The imagery amazes me. Well before his death on the cross, Jesus is telling his followers that they need to take up their cross and follow him. They didn’t know that he would be hanging from a cross in just a few weeks. Everyone knew about the cross. I am certain that they all witnessed a crucifixion, and knew of its horror. Yet with that knowledge and understanding Jesus points out that if they want to follow him, they have to carry their cross. And I have to carry mine….knowing full well that I can’t go more than a few steps without him taking it from me. I still have to bear it, but I need to do that in His strength and not my own. This surrender can only come when I have been drained of all my strength and self reliance and I give it up to him. Oh, there’s another reality. That’s the reality of the empty tomb. For my money if you want to remember what Jesus did for you, go find a small rock in your garden somewhere. Tie a string around it and hang it from your rear view mirror right next to the cross. Yes, He died for you, but three days later that stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty.

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