Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
“Man of sorrows, what a name
For the Son of God who came”
So wrote Philip Bliss picking up the theme of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”
I don’t know whether you watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ. If you did you will not have forgotten it. The violence was extreme…the camera never looked away. How realistic it was I do not know, but just reading through the 4 gospels as they take us from Gethsemane to Calvary, then undoubtedly Jesus suffered in a multitude of ways.
Betrayed by Judas
Abandoned by his disciples
Disowned by Peter
Arrested on no evidence
Mocked by his captors
Beaten and blindfolded
Tried before the Religious leaders, Pilate and Herod
Mocked and ridiculed again
Condemned by the mob
Sentenced by a man who proclaimed his innocence
Flogged with a lead-tipped whip
Crowned with a crown of thorns
Mocked and taunted…again
Spat on and teased with a stick
Carried his own cross until another is forced to help
Given wine mixed with bitter gall to drink
Nailed to the cross
Soldiers throw dice for his clothing
Passers-by shouted abuse and mocked him on the cross
The religious leaders mocked him on the cross
His side was pierced by a spear.
And how does Jesus respond to all of this? Well there’s never a flicker of anger, remorse, self pity.
Throughout the whole process he meets suffering with grace.
He washes the disciples feet, he shares a meal with his friends, later on he restores Peter, he forgives his executioners, he ensures his mother is cared for, he accepts the penitent thief.
It is almost as though at each and every blow that is landed on him, whether physical, emotional or spiritual Jesus, by his actions, wrests back the initiative, as if to say, whatever it looks like I’m in charge here!
But a word of caution; we must be careful not to render the sufferings of Christ and his subsequent crucifixion as something much smaller and less significant than it is. We tame it and strip it of it’s power if we say that what we have here is the greatest example of how to face up to unjust suffering with generosity, equilibrium and a forgiving spirit and leave it at that. In his Screwtape Letter CS Lewis has the senior devil, Screwtape writing to the Junior devil Wormwood, “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.
The cross is so much more demanding, significant and transformational than simply being the model of how to endure with good grace. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Isaiah 53:10 which reads, “But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.” Isaiah 53 in its original Old Testament setting was a prophecy relating to the nation of Israel as God’s suffering servant but in the New Testament is seen as a Messianic prophecy fulfilled by Jesus.
You see it wasn’t through the combined actions of a treacherous disciple, a group of fair weather friends, a hostile clergy, a timid Governor, a puppet King, a baying mob and a troop of soldiers that Jesus was put to death it was because it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and because he gave up his life. Jesus had already said “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” John 10:18
Always it is God taking control, God taking the initiative. Yes human response is important but only becomes important because we actually have something to respond to.
Why does God take the intiative? Well he has to for ‘there was no other good enough’.
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23
And the Good News is this,
“Christ died for our sins”….”just as the scriptures said. He was buried and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the scriptures said.”
So whatever you do with the cross…don’t ever diminish it, don’t ever turn it into something less than it is. The cross is God, Father, Son and Spirit taking the initiative in recreating his good creation, in renewing humanity and in smashing evil and death once and for all.
That’s why we can say, ‘In the cross of Christ I glory towering o’er the wrecks of time’.