SENSE-ING THE CROSS – JESUS FEELS!
Luke 22:39-44, 23:18-33
Matthew 27:35, 45-46
February 18, 2018
When Shaun White won the gold medal in the halfpipe snowboarding competition with a nearly perfect run at the Winter Olympic Games this past week, many of his younger competitors were surprised to see him weeping afterward with joy. To them, Shaun White, age 31, is some mythical, god-like, superhuman figure. He’s always ultra-cool. He never expresses emotion.
And yet, here he was, crying into his mother’s arms. He had survived a near fatal crash last October in a competition in New Zealand, and had trained so very hard to get back. He’s truly an amazing athlete.
We tend to treat certain people – be they athletes, actors, musicians and other celebrities – as above and beyond ordinary existence. We forget that, with their five senses, they experience the world as we do.
Above all, as Christians, we often forget that Jesus, to whom we attribute divine status, was also quite human. We journey to the bunny-hopping, jellybean joy of Easter without ever contemplating what our Lord endured in sacrificially demonstrating God’s love for us.
The word passion originally stems from a Latin word meaning suffering. When we speak of the Passion of Christ, we are talking about the road of pain Jesus traveled upon on his way to and on the Cross.
Lent calls us to ponder the passion of Jesus.
In the 2nd century there was a heresy knowns as Gnosticism that plagued the early church. Among their many unorthodox beliefs, Gnostics maintained that Jesus only appeared to be human – that he was not a physically-real person.
We in the 21st century also practice a modern day, indifferent Gnosticism. We look upon Jesus as some ancient Marvel Comics-type storybook superhero with little relevance to our daily life.
And yet, Jesus was as human as he was divine. I would submit to you that it is the humanity of Jesus which truly makes him relevant to us. He is God with us, having lived among us, experiencing the grit and grind of life as we know it.
Over these Sundays of Lent, we are going to seek to grasp a deeper, transformative understanding of what the passion of Jesus is all about – what Jesus senses on his journey to and on the Cross – what he sees, what he hears, what he smells, what he tastes and, yes, today, what he feels.
In Luke’s gospel, we read:
18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”….
20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
JESUS FEELS THE EXCRUCIATING PAIN OF ANTICIPATION
Have you ever known there was going to be a dark valley of suffering and struggle ahead of you…and that there was no way around it?
Whenever I go for a checkup with my dentist, Dr. Teri Baisey, she laughs when I break out in a cold sweat. I have a phobia of dentists. It’s leftover PTSD from my childhood.
You see, growing up in Chase City, VA, we were not exactly the epicenter of cutting-edge, pain-free dentistry. My dentist was a former Army practitioner by the name of Dr. Hubert H. Harris. My mother would inform me a week ahead of time about an impending appointment with him.
Dread is an overwhelming shadow. I could not sleep at night for an entire week thinking about what was coming up. By the day and time of the appointment I would be physically sick with fear. You see, Dr. Harris administered Novocain from a needle out of an autoclave that was dulled from years of use. I could not bear the pain. So I chose the lesser of two evils…having my cavities drilled out without any anesthesia. And I usually had 3-4 cavities.
Dr. Harris’ dental equipment was gleaned from some ancient dental flea market. The drill had belts and pulleys. It turned about 10 revolutions per minute. Sounded like the starter on a car with a dead battery. Dr. Harris would drill a while, then stop to take a smoke break.
On one occasion, when he hit a particularly sensitive nerve, I bit his finger. He slapped me. You talk about the Little Dental Shop of Horrors! It was an ordeal of torture. He should have had a sign on his door that read “abandon hope all ye who enter here!”
And to this day, I live in terror of dentist appointments.
When you know suffering is coming, the dread becomes overwhelming.
We cannot begin to fathom the depth of our Lord’s dread. Jesus knows instinctively that the storm clouds of violence against him are gathering quickly. He knows that his declarations about and demonstrations of God’s inbreaking kingdom have upset the pious apple cart of religiosity practiced by the scribes and Pharisees. He knows that the Roman government takes a dim view of radicals who stir up the locals during Passover time. He knows that his life is going to end quite violently and painfully, as a cross looms on the horizon.
We see sweat fervently falling as drops of blood from our Lord’s cheeks and chin as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He pleads with his heavenly Father, “If you are willing, take this cup of suffering from me. Yet not my will, but yours, be done!”
Jesus feels the excruciating pain of anticipation, of knowing what is in store for him. He has witnessed, like most other citizens of Roman-occupied Palestine, the horror of watching his countrymen die of crucifixion. And the dread of it is a draining, overwhelming shadow upon his own heart and soul.
JESUS FEELS THE EXCRUCIATING PAIN OF AFFLICTION
The nurse points to that chart with the little faces and asks you, on that scale of 1-10, what is your current level of pain compared with the worst pain you’ve ever had.
Can you recall the most intense pain you’ve ever experienced? What was it? Childbirth, kidney stones, injury from a car wreck? Was the pain psychological or emotional? The death of a loved one. An ugly separation or divorce. A slandering accusation.
What Jesus had anticipated has indeed come to pass.
In Luke 23 we read that Pilate orders Jesus to be flogged following his arrest and conviction. Then Pilate washes his hands of Jesus, permitting crucifixion to follow. These matter-of-fact statements hide unfathomable horror.
Jesus is stripped naked and tied to a whipping post. Two burly Roman soldiers rhythmically lash Jesus with leather strips studded with sharp pieces of iron, lead and glass, ripping shreds of skin, cartilage and muscle off of his back and rib cage, each crack of the whip echoing off the stone walls surrounding the courtyard. He is reduced to a bleeding mass of disfigured flesh.
He screams in agony. 39 lashes are his punishment.
Pilate allows the soldiers to mock him by wrapping him in a purple robe and thrusting a crown of thorns into his scalp His arms are tied to a heavy wooden crossbeam. He is kicked and pushed forward in a gruesome parade up the steepest path in Jerusalem, along with two other criminals.
The crowds lining the streets jeer and spit. At one point, the procession comes to a sudden halt as Jesus collapses under the weight of his crossbeam. The soldiers force a foreigner from Cyrene in the crowd to carry it the rest of the way.
The destination is a garbage dump outside the city gates—a place called the Skull, Golgatha. It is there, at the intersection of two busy thoroughfares, that these three will be crucified, as an example to all who pass by.
They are brutally flung to the ground. Iron pierces flesh. Spikes are driven through the wrists of each man, impaling them to the crossbeam. Another spike is driven behind their Achilles heels, attaching their feet to the vertical poles. The agony is beyond comprehension
Crucifixion is the vilest form of execution ever invented by mankind. You die by slow suffocation. Over time, your body becomes paralyzed by pain and exhaustion. You can no longer lift your diaphragm to breathe. And so, you die, gasping for breath.
From nine in the morning until three in the afternoon, Jesus feels the excruciating pain of this affliction. But, perhaps even worse,
JESUS FEELS THE EXCRUCIATING PAIN OF ABANDONMENT
I know of very few parents who have not been stabbed in the heart at some point by their teenaged son or daughter with the words, “I hate you!” You have had to set a limit or impose a punishment out of unconditional love for them, and that is their response.
Perhaps in some small way we can grasp the hurt of Jesus. All he ever came to offer was unconditional love, and that unconditional love is now met with uncontrolled hatred.
Jesus hangs on the cross, with the weight of the world’s sin hurled upon him, and he faces it alone. Although he is surrounded by a motley crowd of people, he is alone.
When I make my rounds as a chaplain in the hospital, there are two types of patients my heart absolutely aches for:
There is the patient I see lying in bed with a room full of family members and friends, all chatting cheerfully with each other, but totally ignoring the one who is suffering. The one who should be receiving attention is completely forgotten.
Then there is the patient I see lying in bed without a family member or friend to sit by his or her side. That patient is forsaken, left to face the suffering in tearful isolation.
Have any of you been that patient?
Then you can perhaps feel a bit for Jesus as he looks down upon a crowd of onlookers – some jeering, some enjoying the bloodthirsty spectacle, some totally indifferent, gambling for his clothing, shooting craps below. He’s totally forgotten.
And then that soul-searing moment comes when Jesus, feeling the weight of the sin of all humanity, becomes separated from his heavenly Father. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries out in desperation. He is alone. Jesus is forsaken that you and I would not be forgotten, that somehow in all this we might recognize God’s saving love for us, and respond to that love. It’s hard to get our minds and hearts around, but that is what God’s grace is about.
Yes, though Jesus is the Son of God, he is also the Son of Man. He is divine, yet human. And he feels.
Sense-ing the cross, He feels the excruciating pain of anticipation.
Sense-ing the cross, He feels the excruciating pain of affliction.
Sense-ing the cross, He feels the excruciating pain of abandonment.
Scripture tells us it did not have to be so. Our Lord could have called down legions of angels and obliterated all of sinful humanity.
Yet, Jesus chooses to feel the pain. He chooses to feel the pain that you and I might find the power to overcome sin and learn to love as God loves. He chooses to feel the pain that you and I might find the power of life, abundant life, for now and for eternity.
Jesus’ hope for us is captured in the words of Hebrews 12:1-4:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
And all God’s people said, “Amen!”