Remember the Cross

We all love happy endings.  We love when the prince comes and rescues the princess; we love when the evil step-sisters get what’s due them; and we love when our team wins the Super Bowl.  But sometimes in our excitement to experience the happily ever after, we fast forward to the end of the story instead of starting from the beginning.  In fact, this is so common in our culture that a man named Paul Harvey created a radio show just to give us the rest of the story!  Why?  Because sometimes, in order to fully appreciate the “happily ever after” we need to hear the whole story.

And so it is with the Easter story.  Oh, we all know the G-rated version of the Easter story, but most of us just want to rush to the empty tomb and forget about the not-so-nice part of the story.  But without a TRUE understanding of the rest of the story, we cannot fully appreciate the empty tomb in the happy ending.

So come back with me 2000 years ago to the Holy Week in Jerusalem.  Let’s pick up the story where Pontius Pilate has washed his hands of Jesus and handed him over to the angry crowd.  By this time Jesus has already suffered a great deal:  Judas has betrayed him and the other disciples have abandoned him, the palace guards have “spit in his face and struck him with their fists.” (Matt. 26:27); and he has been subjected to unlawful trials in which he is falsely accused of blasphemy.  Here is where the story becomes even more unbelievable.

Now in the hands of the angry crowd, Jesus is stripped completely naked in front of a large crowd of soldiers, his hands are tied to a post above his head, and a Roman legionnaire steps forward, mockingly delivering the first blow of the whip, a whip made of several strips of leather embedded with sharp pieces of bone and lead.  The first few blows rip into Jesus’ flesh.  One, two, three, four, five.…39 lashes later, Jesus’ skin is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is a mass of torn bleeding tissue.

Oh, but the soldiers are not done yet!  They can’t believe their good fortune!  They have permission from the higher-ups to pulverize a KING!  And not just any king, but the King of the JEWS!  And so their tortuous rampage continues.  They throw a scarlet robe across His bleeding shoulders and place a staff in his hand for a scepter.  To complete the kingly outfit, they construct a crown of thorns and pound it onto his head.  All the while they continue to mock him, spit on him, and strike his head over and over with the staff they have placed in his hand.  Finally, beaten and battered beyond recognition, the guards violently rip the robe off Jesus’ back, the robe that has now glued itself to the strips of flesh.

After putting his clothes back on him, the soldiers stand Jesus up and tie the 110 pound cross bar of the cross on his shredded shoulders.  Then they begin the 650 yard journey along the Via Dolorosa.  The crowd is mocking him, and the guards continue to spit on him and beat him.  There are people everywhere, watching, but Jesus is alone.

Part way to Golgotha, Jesus stumbles and falls from the weight of the cross beam, the copious amounts of blood loss, and the excruciating pain from his beatings.  An onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, is ordered to carry the cross for Jesus the rest of the way.

They reach Golgotha and Simon drops the cross beam.  Once again, Jesus is stripped naked.  The guards throw him back on to the cross beam with His bloodied shoulders scraping against the wood.  The soldiers waste no time in driving the 6 inch wrought-iron nails through Jesus’ wrists and into the wood.  The cross bar is lifted into place on the vertical post of the cross which is permanently in the ground.  His left foot is then pressed against his right foot and another long nail is driven through both feet and into the wooden cross.  A sign is nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Dr. C. Truman Davis describes what happens next:  “At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain.  With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward, and thus air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled.  Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.  It was undoubtedly during these periods that He gasped, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  And finally, six long and excruciating hours after the crucifixion began, Jesus cries out, “It is finished.  Father!  Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Some time later, when the soldiers come to break his legs to hasten his death, they notice he is already dead.  But just to make sure, one of the soldiers pierces Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  In the medical world, this escape of water indicates that Jesus has not died from suffocation as is usually the case in crucifixions, but rather, he has died of heart failure, aka, a broken heart.

Finally, His mission of atonement is complete.

And here is where we reach our happy ending:  Jesus is risen!  Because of that fateful day 2000 years ago, our sins are dead and we have new life!  Don’t let a romanticized version of a beautiful wooden cross standing in the middle of a daffodil patch minimize what Jesus did for you and me!   Don’t allow the cross to become a cliché in your life, its meaning as empty as Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning!

Yes, the death of Jesus is horrific and painful to talk about.  But if we don’t ever visit Jesus’ death and acknowledge that our sins put him on the cross, we will never fully appreciate the empty tomb in the happy ending.  And without the empty tomb, there IS no happily ever after!

I want to challenge you to not let your Easter celebration slip by without thanking Jesus for taking your place on the cross.  Thank him for carrying all your sins and failures to the grave and leaving them there when He rose again.   And thank Him for showing his love for you through the REST of the story.

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