Sunday, February 21, 2010

More than the Cross...

It is amazing how many times we can hear a story and not fully get it! This morning at church, our pastor gave a message titled "Cup of Wrath" where we dug into Mark 14:32-42. Here Jesus goes to Gethsemane with Peter, James and John in order to pray before Judas' betrayal that leads to Jesus' death on the Cross. I am sure I still don't even fully get it, but both my wife and I agreed that some light bulbs went off for the two of us after today, some more connections have been made and more of those coins have dropped.

I have believed that Christ died on the Cross for my sins ever since I accepted that truth when I was a teenager, but ever since then I have had some confusions around the whole story of Christ's death and how that death on the Cross was enough to cover my sins. I always understood that the physical torture and pain he went through during the whole story of the passion - being whipped with claws and beaten to within an inch of death, and ultimately having the nails driven through his flesh and bones to pin him to a tree made into a cross after he had carried that cross all the way up the hill to the place in which he died - displayed that Jesus really suffered physically for us, for me. I have even heard explanations of when Christ cries out "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" - which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (from Mark 15:34), that he cries this out because God turns away during this time before Jesus breathes his last... but I don't think I truly understood the implications of this - or how Jesus really suffered.

In Luke 12:4-5 we see Jesus himself say "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." In these verses, we see that Jesus is clear about not fearing death in the body - this means that the physical torture and death that Jesus went through, although difficult for us to truly comprehend, was not the real torture or death that paid for our sins.

What was Jesus so desperately praying to God about in Gethsemane? What greatly distressed him so much to the point of sweating blood (as Luke, the doctor, describes it)? Was it the physical torture and death he was about to face? Was it the Cross as too many of us see it, where he physically died for us? No! It was so much more than this...

You see, part of the difficulty I had with this whole story was this idea that Jesus' death on the Cross paid for my sins - paid the price for God's righteous judgment on me, on all of us, for choosing to live apart from Him. It didn't make sense that a physical death would pay for the penalty I truly deserve, which is eternal death - eternal separation from God... HELL!

This leads us to think more about what hell is. I have heard different sects speak about how Jesus had "descended into Hell, and on the third day rose again..." but this didn't make sense to me either, especially when Jesus himself on the cross told the thief that put his faith in Jesus "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." If Jesus says "I tell you the truth", I am positive he meant what he said and the thief would that day see Jesus in paradise. So this, to me, contradicted the idea that Jesus descended into some abyss with lakes of fire... etc. But, it would make sense that Jesus would in fact experience what hell actually is - separation from God - and also the suffering that results from that. The spiritual death that Jesus experiences here is what ultimately pays the price for each one of us!

It might be hard for each of us to imagine complete separation from God, but that is what Jesus experienced when he truly died on that cross that day. This is what causes Jesus the anguish when he is in Gethsemane, this is what causes him to cry out in true pain, quoting Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus at that moment was taking on all our sins - all my sins - and because God cannot be in the presence of sin, Jesus felt hell, separation from God. This experience of separation from God would be more difficult for us than we could ever imagine, or ever want to imagine. Imagine the suffering Christ experiences through this, the fact that Jesus knew what the full presence of God was, so he not only felt what we would feel, but it was magnified infinitely because he actually knew what he was missing. It makes it all the more amazing, this amazing grace.

This is the price that was paid for me. This is how much he gave to show that He loves us. It is truly amazing if you take the time to think deeply about this, especially as Easter is fast approaching. Let us not just remember the physical pain that Jesus suffered for us... but remember the much more painful, deep spiritual suffering, the real death that Jesus died - separation from God, the Father. This is what Jesus faced for us on that day when he paid the ultimate price for us.

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