AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH
May 22, 2005
IMAGINATION AND REALITY CONCERNING THE CROSS OF CHRIST
This morning, could you imagine the sort of response to be found in some of those who participated at, or near the time of the crucifixion. Chesterton wrote a poem on the donkey used for the King days before His cross, as Zechariah 9:7 had foretold; but we need not stop there.
Let us ponder with the imagination, how various participants MIGHT have felt or responded.
I Empathise with the Characters
To do this, first, envisage yourself as
the CROSS itself and as
As the donkey, you are filled with wonder at the crowds in excited ecstasy at this, the Son of David fulfilling the famed prophecy of Zechariah, coming on an ass’s colt. You sense the movement and the spirit of the thing, and consider sympathetically the One so quietly on your back, happy to bear Him. If the people had not so declared His name, the stones would have cried out! as He said. They later did.
As Peter, you find yourself in guilt from the sin of neglecting honour and courage when Christ was being judged, and you still retain the sting from the moment when He turned and looked on you (Luke 22:61), so that the agony of the cross is in some part shared by you as you realise it is YOUR SIN, and sin it indeed is, even against Him, that He is baring; for you DO trust in Him.
As Mary, you remember the prediction of Simeon when Christ as an infant was brought to be circumcised (Luke 2:22-33), including for Mary the thrust that a sword would penetrate her heart; and indeed it does as the bloom of manhood, the massif of godliness, the Son of God Himself, is laid bare to the bone in shocking hatred and barren murderousness. Yet you look for the end of the matter, hoping and looking for the power of God, though at the time, all seems desolation as your son cries, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit!” (Luke 23:46).
As to Judas, he is already embroiled in fatal guilt and desire; John is hearing the blessed words from Christ, treating him as brother and so son to Mary (John 19:26-27); the Cross if it could experience, would find the horror of the Maker of trees, impaled on one, and the Centurion is watching with a fascinated horror as these Jewish authorities massacre a man so holy, just, true and powerful for good that his soul rises up to bless Him.
II Learn of their Response
In certain cases, we KNOW the basic response, which will let us empathise further.
These include PETER, JUDAS and the CENTURION. Peter warmed his hands - while Christ was being interrogated - at a Temple fire, denying Him, and wept bitterly when he remembered that Christ had foretold he would do this. The rooster crowed twice, Peter denied thrice, precisely as this all-knowing Lord had stated. That should encourage those who have fallen, for Christ knowing well what you will do, has covered you and if you have received Him, will cover you and deal graciously with you, to re-establish you.
Judas was beginning to experience remorse as his strange deed brought nothing but anguish and peril: selling the Saviour is not the prerogative, however of Judas alone!
The centurion is finding a strange movement within, also, the beginnings of the birth of faith, as He sees a Being so sinless, strong and disciplined that it strikes through his fear of death and is soon to bloom, when the thing is over, in faith! “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) he cries, and so do those with Him.
III Watch the End
In Peter’s case, we know what transpired afterwards, as with Judas and John.
He heard that the body was not there, ran to check it out, with John, who however believed when he entered the empty tomb, whereas Peter in his guilt, for the time wondered. Judas is meanwhile coming to his own end, hanging himself, after throwing back the guilt money to the guilty priests, enemy of man with them, and as his mercies were dried up, so his own bowels were notable for falling out, in time.
But Peter did not stop there. There was information concerning the Cross which Christ had relayed to them on the eve of His resurrection, and neither Rome nor priest, nor city nor power in heaven or on earth could prevent it. God said it, gave the devil all the scope in the world to prove Him wrong, asserted expressly that the flesh would not rot (Psalm 16, Acts 2), and all that had to be done, with a thousand years' notice, was to show that it did. But they could not. It was gone.
There had been incarceration and even crucifixion, not mere death. The woman of course as Luke advises carefully found where they laid the body, and Joseph of Arithmathea being known, there could be no possible doubt at all. There was confrontation now, since the soldiers were expressly put there, together with a boulder over the tomb, to prevent any abstraction! In Rome's own way, let the 'dead' (in this case) escape and who pays with his life! It was no small matter which had aroused the city, stirred the populace, concerning the most popular and amazing healer of all time, whose words resounded like rockets being fired, whose comfort delivered even the devil infested and whose ways were beyond reproach.
Could and would Rome and Jerusalem, those two cities and indeed that Empire, with their vested interests, keep a corpse! The thing may seem almost dim-witted to ask, but this is the only question in view. COULD they ?
We shall never know if they could, since it was not a corpse which 'escaped' but the body in which was made incarnate the living God, raised in dynamic vitality, inerodable and transformed in nature, now immortal, beyond death.
When you are guarding the dead, and the corpse is so no longer, but immortally raised, death itself rendered incapable, so that the victorious victim simply continues the life on this earth, Redeemer indomitable as well as compassionate, then as guard, you are out of your depth! Control that ? as well control an atomic bomb with your bare hands after it explodes!
When Jesus Christ who had Himself raised the dead in various episodes, being sent by His Father, with the action and itinerary programmed and published in the Bible, and the performance expressly enabled by God, even the date of His death predicted by in the word of God (Daniel 9:24-27), now proceeded to arise from death, history had now her crown.
Now at last, death itself, not merely in this or that episode, but in the Redeemer, was covered, conquered and met. This horrid signature of mortality, this seal on sin, this ultimate barrier, was broken! To faith, by grace, it was sundered for all who came, through the action of the Redeemer, that divine sacrifice. It was simple if exceedingly painful in its preliminaries of suffering: but following the resurrection, on the often appointed third day, there was displayed as always with the Lord, a thing of precision and of power.
He now simply proceeded to arise, non-rotting from the dead.
As He presented Himself alive, so He presented His own eternal life to all who received Him who unlocked the doors of the grave (I John 1:1-4, 5:11-13, John 1:12, ). What He had done was now available to all, and to those who repenting of the sin barrier, received Him in truth, it will be implemented on the appointed day, just as His day was appointed. Then He will act with the power by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20ff.), evidenced throughout history, focussed in His own resurrection, to be fulfilled in the general resurrection, the call to all who are Christians not in name only, but in faith in Him who calls.
The confrontation as He arose had no small element of surprise, since those to guard the dead have another matter confronting them when the crucified arises, and the God who made man acts to deliver. Moving the boulder while the guards were in deep sleep, something God had used before, and would again in Peter's subsequent escape by angelic work, from prison (Acts 12), He declared LIFE OPEN, and guilt covered for those freely receiving this work from this source, by faith. It surprised the disciples also who could hardly believe until they met the Lord Himself (Luke 24, Acts 15, Matthew 28). The general resurrection will astound many more!
When God spoke in His identified word, the Bible, and in His only begotten Son, by power and spirit identified there was no way Roman Empire or murderous priests could connive or contort themselves to stop it. When from death arises, the epochal power to give life eternal to man, then indeed there is something as real as the creation and as unstoppable. God is unstoppable, but man is now going through the crash barrier in inordinate pride and corruption; and there is no good thing to be gained by that.
Thomas was slow to believe, insisting on practical tests, being absent on the first day of worship, the Sunday of Christ's arising. On the next one, however, the following day of rest, the new Sunday commemorating and exhibiting the resurrection and rest combined, and the one because of the other, he was invited to poke his fingers into holes and to believe, which he did (John 20).
Investigation and clarification, when Christ also ate before them and later gave fish from the fire He had made, for them to eat from their catch: these, with the rest, could leave no doubt.
Can a person doubt the Lord who having spoken to you for three years, now feeds your mouth, delivers His dicta, expounds in detail the scriptures of what was foretold, leaving His resurrected body free for investigation to heart's content! To doubt that, it would be parallel to doubting your own existence, and some contort to do this, though in fact, you could not fail to be there in order to doubt it. Sin is always astounding; but God is always sufficient, never forcing, never failing.
This is how it has been and then came to be, with the wonder of death's defeat now not only exhibited for Lazarus, a source of amazement to all, and of fear to the priests, lest all should follow Christ with works of such divine power (John 11), but through Christ on behalf of all believers.
Elucidation and experience alike led to consummate faith, in which the disciples then acted, for now they spoke boldly and with transparent conviction of what they had both seen and heard, as Peter and John arrested, turned the tables and confronted the angry priests, caught out in their folly through the resurrection of their divine victim (Acts 4:20ff.). These apostles could not be silent without ceasing to be witnesses of the greatest of facts, the most dynamic of data and the most comforting caress to faith, wrought by murder, foretold by the mind of God, taught and exhibited by the raised victim now victorious, and apparent to the senses. Not only so, but He now expounded to them in detail the scriptures He had fulfilled, and put all things, present and to come, in perspective.
So they responded.
IV And You ?
Do you respond with the centurion, to acknowledge Christ as the Son of the living God ? with Peter to receive commission for the work of Christ in your life, as one of His servants, with specifically given tasks ? Or as with Mary, by staying near the Cross ? and by replacing JUDAS with his subversive unreliability, in your scheme of things, by a faithfulness like that of the apostle John!
As to Mary, Luke 24:49 indicates that the women FROM GALILEE stood apart at a distance from the Cross, but John 19:26-27 tells us of Mary near enough to the cross to be told that John was to be as a son to her, and she as a mother to him. It would therefore appear that at some stage she detached herself from the group, just as Peter and John did later, at the time of the resurrection running to the tomb, and Mary Magdalene did, wandering and weeping nearby before she met Jesus. From this precious address to mother and friend, we learn of the need to be CONTINUALLY near to the Lord, not distancing ourselves by selfishness or sin, that of waiting on Him, the Saviour, for His will (Ephesians 5:17). Draw near to God and He WILL draw near to you (James 4:8). That is a promise.
As you ponder further your own response, consider the negative aspect, the way someone might consider the red side of the ledger, the debt and loss, in an unfavourable light. See that you are far distant from the unreliability of Judas, seeing how he could turn the cross into a source of profit; for if One, Christ, died for all, in order that any might receive Him and take His redemption, then all who come to Him are delivered that they might live not for themselves, but for Him! (II Cor. 5:15).
When you come to Peter, however, remember that Galilee meeting. They were out fishing, since they were somewhat at a loss for direction, before the ascension, and there they met Christ. His characteristic way of directing them to fish which then met their nets, attracted Peter who, after being fed by Christ from the fish caught, with the rest, at the fire Christ had prepared, was commissioned.
Are you commissioned ? Peter had to show that he loved Christ first, and only then was he granted the marvel of serving Him with the sheep, adults, and lambs, the children. It is important as a Christian to be filled with the Spirit, indwelt richly by Christ (Colossians 3:16), aware of His presence, alert to His call and ready for service. All do not serve in the same way, but of NONE is it true that the call is LESS in kind than this: To abhor sin, to seek righteousness, to love mercy, to be just and kind and honourable and true, to worship and obey the Lord and to seek in love how best to serve Him. He is the LIVING GOD and has LIVELY WAYS for you to employ in His service (Isaiah 64:5). WAIT on the Lord, not only for deliverance from what offends Him, but for what is His COMMISSION therefore for you.