When I came to faith, it was not because I understood right doctrine.
I came to faith because through encountering Jesus in the gospel accounts. It was Jesus whom I found compelling. His holiness, his goodness, his compassion and his mercy drew me through their magnetic qualities.
That is the wonderful testimony of the gospels. As we read them with open hearts and minds, they speak to us as no other. They move us, they confront us. They force us to make a decision about the Jesus who taught like no other, lived like no other, died like no other and was raised from the tomb like no other.
This Easter time I have been reading through John’s gospel once more. For me, the reading of it draws me into the story. Here are real people. Here is Jesus in the flesh.
And it got me thinking, not about our theology of the cross and Good Friday, important though that is, but more about the encounters Jesus had on his journey to the cross. As I reflected on some of these afresh, I felt it took me closer to him, to understanding something of what he had to deal with as he stood alone again and again. And as I have thought about these things, they draw me to a deeper appreciation of one who showed such selfless love when all around showed only their unworthiness for such a friend and saviour.
Let me illustrate what I mean:
John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Jesus must have felt the pain of this desertion. These were people he knew by name. They had followed him along dusty roads with the twelve. Yet the live-changing truth he had come to reveal was rejected even by those who had professed to be his disciples. As they turned away and rejected him, Jesus must absorb the inevitable disappointment and sadness this caused him. Even for friends, for those he had shared daily bread, the divine truth he had fed to them could not be watered down or compromised. Absorbing their desertion he must press on.
In another instance, recorded in John 11:32, Jesus comes to Bethany after Lazarus has died. Before the remarkable drama unfolds at its climax, Mary comes to express her disappointment in him…’If you had been here…’ He absorbs her disappointment and her grief. Yes, triumph will soon follow as Lazarus is raised from his tomb, but her distress has been felt and her tears he will also share. Still, he pressed on.
Then he would soon face the deception of Judas for thirty pieces of silver, soon followed by the desertion of his closest disciples and the denial of Peter. He would absorb these all. We don’t see the cost, but if we think about it, we register it. Friends whom he loved, betrayed him at his hour of greatest need. But though forsaken, still he would press on.
Amongst the chief priests and rulers he would be subject to dishonour. The Messiah King whom they should have worshipped and honoured, was subject to every disgrace they could heap on him.
Even on the cross, there was no end to what he must endure.
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
It seems that he was left exposed and naked. They demeaned him; stripped him of any semblance of self-respect and human dignity. These very people He had created, this one who flung stars into space and put the spirit of life into every living thing. To be brutalised with such venom and savagery by his very creatures. And still, he absorbed it all. Sin and all its deep, deep darkness. He absorbed it all. This is how the prophet Isaiah foretold it (Isa.53) centuries before, speaking of the suffering the Messiah would experience:
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
Jesus took it all. He didn’t retaliate or hit back. He didn’t hate or shout abuse. And he didn’t quit. Love must run its course. For sin and evil must do its worst for love to triumph and overcome.
And yet in the midst of all that unfolds in this most dreadful drama, a small shaft of light pierces the darkness. It is the darkness of the centurion's hardened mind who thought he had seen it all before.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matt.27)
In this extraordinary scene, the very officer of the execution squad declared a faith that minutes before would have seemed impossible.
And so, what of you and me?
Before I finally came to see him on that cross, did I not know that I had also deserted him, rejected his teaching, denied I knew him, dishonoured him and more. Did I not do all of these things?
But as that light pierced my own consciousness, I understood a little of His divine grace to absorb all my failures and sins in his bruised and broken body. The more I grasp this amzing truth the more I am humbled by his immense love and the determination he showed to press on to save such as me, whatever at such great cost.
What love is this?
I am compelled by this love? It has nothing with which to compare. And today it captivates me even more than it did 40 or so years ago when I first professed my faith in him.
Truly, he is the Son of God. I am ever in awe of him. With whom or what can I compare him?
I am convinced. This is truly God in human flesh. This is what true, sacrificial love looks like. Oh how I need and want that love! Oh how the world needs it too!
And as I watch his life ebbing away on the cross, I know that this is not the end. The story is not over, it is only beginning, and I want to be a part of that too. And I know I am invited. We all are!
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