(These are some thoughts that came to me while doing my QT last Thursday, and which I shared at CG on Friday.)
Holy Week is a time when Christians all over the world remember the pain and anguish suffered by our Lord Jesus Christ in the events leading up to the cross and his crucifixion itself, and this culminates in Easter Sunday where we rejoice in His resurrection – the victory over sin and death.
Good Friday is especially poignant in this scheme of things. It’s the day that Jesus was crucified, the most humiliating, inhumane, and painful way to be killed. (For the uninitiated, it is also where we get the word ‘excruciating’ from. True story.) Many Christians thus take it upon themselves to be reminded of this physical torment that Jesus suffered; they revisit scenes from The Passion of the Christ, visually stimulating within them a sense of guilt and remorse at, and consequent gratitude for, the ordeal that He went through.
However, the cynic in me rejects such an approach. But let me first say that I do not see anything intrinsically wrong with it; not only must we never forget, we must always remember the pain and suffering our Lord endured for us. We were bought at a price, and this price was a heavy and painful one. (But this begs the question: ‘Why do we only remind yourself of the cross on Good Friday? We must not just stop there; we must remind ourselves of it everyday.’ However, I would be well-advised to refrain from developing this point here; this would be the subject of another post for another time, perhaps.)
Now with that disclaimer out of the way, I return to my point. The cynic within me rejects such an approach. My situation is akin to that of the smoker who sees the gory image of the lung cancer / emphysema / skin disease on the pack yet knowingly procures the cigarettes despite the warning – he is desensitised to the gore, to the sensational images. I wouldn’t say that I am desensitised to the gore of the cross – Lord, may I never reach that stage – but like the smoker I simply cannot relate to the image; I cannot relate to the immense pain that my Lord Jesus Christ endured. Living in the sanitised, hygienic, sheltered world of the 21st century, the most pain I’ve ever endured would probably be when I tore my ankle ligament – hardly comparable to having nails driven through your hands and feet, suffering a slow death of asphyxiation.
As I came to the Lord in reflection last Thursday, and as I read the gospel accounts of His crucifixion, the cynic in me prevented me from truly relating to the state of my Christ. However, He showed me something that I’d forgotten about, but something all of us can relate to.
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. – Luke 22:20-23
This is the famous scene in the last supper: Christ announces that someone among the disciples will betray him, and they question amongst themselves who would be the traitor. Now even non-Christians with but a smidgeon of bible knowledge would be able to tell you who betrayed Jesus – Judas, duh. This task is made all the easier when it is mentioned by Luke at the start of chapter 22 that Judas had agreed to hand over Jesus to the chief priests for a sum of money. Easy peasy.
But let me put it to you that the answer ‘Judas’ is only partly correct. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples betrayed him. Not one of them stuck with him to the end at the cross. Not even Peter; he valiantly declared that he would go to ‘prison and to death’ with Jesus (Luke 22:33), but alas, we all know how that story turned out. Jesus’ closest friends and companions, with whom he had discipled, taught, had meals with, joked with, traveled, for the preceding 3 years or so all abandoned Him. With the exception of Peter, they all abandoned Him at the garden of Gethsamane; Mark doing so in such haste that he left his clothes behind (cf Mark 14:51-52)
And if this unanimous rejection was not enough, Jesus had to further endure rejection from God the Father on the cross. As He bore the weight of all sin, past, present and future, the hymn tells us “the Father turned his face away.” God the Father, being immeasurably Holy, had to turn away from God the Son at that very point. Ravi Zacharias put it best when he said:
The incredible truth was that at the very moment His Father seemed farthest from Him, He was in the center of His Father’s will.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And this is the point I wish to make. Though we cannot relate to the physical pain and torment that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered, we can relate to the rejection, the abandonment, the sheer loneliness of the cross. I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that I am terrified of loneliness, of being rejected by everyone – it is a trite saying that “no man is an island”, and we all need companionship, or as Finnis puts it, the objective good of ‘sociability’.
Yet Christ endured all of that, for our sake. He was rejected by His closest friends, the disciples, and then He was abandoned (for that very moment, at least) by the closest friend of them all, God the Father.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. – Hebrews 4:15 (emphases added)
I can relate to this. And I will respond to this. Have a great Easter.