Out of the depths of depraved humanity unfolds a living narrative complete with a living human being made in the likeness of sinful flesh. This image had been painted aforetime upon the fresco of prophetic lips with bits and pieces of descriptive glory. This narrative was not implemented as a result of unexpected circumstances; this narrative had been carefully crafted and set in unchangeable and indefatigable motion by the divine decree of Almighty God. The mystery of this narrative is unfathomable, from the love which propelled it, to the human instruments that were allowed to become players in that which was entirely divine.
The mind boggling scope and perfection of creation gives way to the mind boggling scope and perfection of destruction. Creation, hoisted up and presented upon the glorious scaffold of the power and authority of God’s creative command, this creation suffers the indignity of man’s willful disobedience to that very same Word. The scaffolding collapses under the weight of such colossal evil, and all hope seems forever lost. Enter sin, enter sickness, enter death.
Why in God’s dear name did He ever choose to create such a wasteland of wickedness? And when will God destroy such an unrighteous landscape and attempt to create something that obeys and worships Him? Surely God was finished with mankind after Adam’s representative sin. Surely God would withdraw His love and allow this creation to be consumed by the sheer force of His own righteous wrath. God’s justice must be fulfilled, and man’s disobedience must be avenged eternally. Why should God care, and even if He does care, what could He do about it?
And out of utter darkness there appears a light. Very dim and just a flicker, but a light nonetheless. Even before God sheds blood and clothes Adam and Eve with coats of skin, God makes this prophetic and redemptive promise:
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
I am not clear as to how the Jews interpreted such a promise, but its full impact cannot be understood without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. The phrase “the seed of the woman” is paradoxical since the woman does not have a seed. However, the Spirit that wrote those words takes another step through Isaiah and proclaims:
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
A further light; an increase in illumination; a prophetic incandescence. God is guiding His own narrative and is incrementally revealing it to those whose ears can hear and whose hearts seek Him. We now have pieces that say the seed of the woman, and a virgin, and even the name of God, Emmanuel. Although still cloudy and unclear, the pieces begin to form a coming reality, that when complete, will testify of this glorious plan which stood perfect and pristine in the waiting room of history before the first word of creation was even uttered.
Although there will come many hints and shadows, and even some bold prophetic images, without the Holy Spirit the Old Testament saints can only cling to the slaughter of animals and the promise of Almighty God. The angelic hosts are privileged to announce the final act of God’s eternal plan, however the central figure would still be understood through the prism of a national messiah. Peter would identify Christ but misunderstand His mission. And to misunderstand why He came is to misunderstand the entire plan.
We anticipated golden chariots and a celestial promenade that would come with great power and by sheer force usher in God’s redemption. Perhaps God would sacrifice a trillion lambs at one time and make atonement for the sins of mankind. Perhaps he would sacrifice one lamb for every sin. Perhaps God would bring a celestial lamb, created with a spiritual body that was colossal and beautiful, and with all of heaven and earth watching, God would sacrifice this stupendous lamb for mankind. We could only imagine the enormity of God’s redemptive plan!
Quiet. In the obscurity of history and with no fanfare or even respect, a baby is born to a peasant girl in the insignificant town of Bethlehem and in the aroma of an animal shelter. This cannot possibly be God! The culmination of the divine plan surely cannot begin with this humble birth from a daughter of Judah. It is beyond anything that can be understood and it defies the sensibilities of God’s people. No one had been listening and no one was there. Only Mary, giving birth to a son while still a virgin, pondered the meaning of it all. Joseph had been spoken to in a dream, but it was surely still a mystery to him.
A son is born from the loins of Judah. Angels and prophets and voices from heaven would surrender clues to His identity, but His mission would remain for the Holy Spirit to reveal. No one understood the resurrection since no one saw His coming death. And no one even caught a glimpse of what kind of death He would have to endure. That God would use a Roman instrument of punishment and death in His plan was beyond incredulous. Israel awaited their Deliverer who would defeat the power of Rome and return their nation to a place of power and glory. No one knew.
But now the curtain is opened, and the light shines brightly. God anoints the Baptist with a knowledge that is more wonderful than any man born of a woman could ever understand. The man, Jesus, is announced as “the lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world”. The pieces begin to fit and the light becomes brilliant. God does care about His fallen and rebellious creation. His kindness, His grace, His truth, and His miracles all speak of His identity. But still hidden is His mission and what it will take to accomplish it. No one could imagine that a brutal Roman cross will be the instrument of redemption.
The scientist sees God as a power, mathematical and ordered. The philosopher sees God as a concept and a mystical centralized intelligence. The lawyer sees God as a judge and a law maker. The rich man sees God as the creator of wealth. The astronomer sees God as a celestial orchestrater. There are many other images that man’s mind conjures up about the nature and character of God, but no one would have seen crucifixion as a revelation of God and His love. Death was something to be avoided and surely could never touch God, the giver of life.
But redemption had a vicious price tag, and there was no room for a bargain. That God knew all this before He ever created man is both a mystery and a revelation of His infinite love and goodness. Of what value is your love and goodness if it remains coiled up inside you and is never allowed to be a blessing to others? It would be nothing more than a section in a divine profile. But authentic goodness desires, and in fact needs, to be loosed upon others. And given the situation man was in due to his own deeds, the goodness and love that man needed must be described as redemption.
The redemption of mankind did not come with several different plans from which God could choose the most convenient. There was only one way, and that way was littered with humiliation, mocking, suffering, torture, bleeding, and even death itself. Death? God and death? That is the mystery for all eternity. How can God, the eternal and all powerful Creator of all that is, die? And yet wrapped up in this eternal plan of redemption is a glorious mystery which would become the focal point for either faith or rejection. God would become a man; sinless, born of a virgin, having miraculous powers, but a man nonetheless. And this God-man would stand as the eternal Lamb upon which all sin, past, present, and future would be placed. The millions of animals that were slaughtered in the Old Testament were only models, temporary players in the many prophetic rehearsals that depicted a coming event so mystifying, so disconcerting, and so glorious that it would change human history and change the eternal destinations of anyone who believed.
He walks the land of Palestine for 33 years doing good and even miraculous works. He even gives a small peek into His passion, but still He is a curiosity, an enigma, even to those who love Him. He refuses all advise and has in His heart an agenda, a mission, from which He will not deviate. When Jehovah instituted the Passover Feast in Exodus, He new there would be one universe shaking Passover that would arrive while Pilate was in power. It would be a day of reckoning, and much animal blood would be spilled in Jerusalem. Long lines with lambs draped around shoulders would wait their turn outside the Temple. The traditional spectacle would be repeated that day just as it had for thousands of years. But this day was different…very, very different.
While the line of worshipers moved slowly toward the Temple altar, a Lamb moved slowly toward an altar made with wood. Acting as His own priest, this Lamb does not flinch or run away, but He methodically moves toward the altar which had already made a place for Him. Perhaps He would recognize these Roman planks since they had been hewed from a tree He Himself had made. He lays upon the altar, and a Roman soldier raises his hammer and nails this lamb to the intersected planks. The altar is raised to heaven with a thud.
This Lamb must suffer.
You want to see God’s love? Open your eyes and see this Lamb writhing in excruciating pain. Do not for one second render that pain as purely physical, oh no, this Lamb endures the pain of the world’s sin. How that works is a gigantic mystery, but rest assured the pain associated with sin is meted out without measure. True to His nature and mission, Jesus asks for forgiveness for those who are crucifying Him. That alone cannot be fully understood.
Gaze at the grotesque figure of an innocent man, tortured and bleeding, and receive God’s love. Redemption is being paid at the ultimate price, and somehow, someway, God is being glorified in the death of His only begotten Son. I have seen several people die in my lifetime, but the most horrifying sight I have ever seen is watching my mother suffer for 5 hours and eventually die. I was there, I watched it, and it changed me.
It was not until several years later that I became a believer. I have thought about and meditated upon the cross many thousands of times since I became a believer in 1975. I have imagined my Savior being mocked and brutalized, and I have known He was thinking of me. It is in those times of meditation and reflection that I feel most unworthy and most grateful. I did not deserve what He did for me, and in light of the many times I have failed Him since I believed, I will never be worthy. But through this execution Jesus opened a portal to eternal life and has by His labor alone made me worthy. The greatest work of righteousness I have ever done could never add one ounce of value to the cross.
This has been a long post, but it always seems that when I speak of the cross I am flooded with inspiration. I am empowered by its majesty, by its bloody glory, and by the One who adorns its wooden grandeur. I am undone by its selflessness and sacrifice, and I am made whole by its redemptive power. I am reduced to brokenness by it unrivaled splendor, and I am granted the privilege of worship. I see bruises and scars; I see wounds and lacerations; I see gashes and stripes; I see thorns and swelling; I see slits for eyes and a beard massacred; I see a spear’s mark and I see impaled hands and feet; I see a chest heaving and lips gasping for air; I see spittle and matted hair; I see blood almost everywhere; and I see the physical demonstrations of unfathomable pain. And I see death.