A Suffering and Triumphant God Sayings from the Cross, Part I
Dr. Valson Abraham
The true character of a person is most revealed in what he says and does in a crisis.
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus helped people when they were helpless. By emptying Himself of glory and becoming human, Jesus became helpless on the cross.
Now, he was despised and rejected. His own people spurned Him. Even the religious and moral leaders who should have recognized His purity hated Him. Even His closest disciples (including Peter who proclaimed his staunch loyalty to Jesus) became cowards and deserted Him in His hour of need. No film has adequately portrayed how Jesus died on the cross. Perhaps Mel Gibson's “Passion of the Christ” comes closest, but even this realistic portrayal cannot do justice to Jesus' ordeal on the cross.
Death on a cross is a nightmarish way to die, perhaps the most cruel form of death devised by men. It was reserved only for the worst of the worst and was often preceded by whippings that literally ripped open bodies and exposed the victim's bones. The bleeding victim hung naked before crowds of jeering people as vultures waited nearby for him to die.
In India, people ignorant of Jesus' story see these events unfold on the Jesus Film, leading up to His crucifixion, and they moan, weep and shriek in anger and despair. Instinctively, they know that a terrible injustice is taking place.
Up to now, these people have seen only goodness in Jesus. If anyone deserves the highest karma, or the right to lead His people, it is Jesus. But now, even the greatest moral leaders of the day demand the unjust death of a just man.
These repulsive facts about Jesus' death make Jesus' first words on the cross most astonishing to an Indian audience: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” For most Indian people raised to believe in karma, forgiveness is not even thinkable much less possible.
Jesus is placed between two thieves. Like the mob, one thief, deserving of death, mercilessly curses at Jesus, who is totally innocent. Silently, Jesus bears this wretched humiliation until the other thief recognizes the absurdity of this situation. Probably uttering a profanity, the second thief rebukes the first thief. “We receive the due reward of our deeds,” he scolds him, “but this man has done nothing wrong.”
He turns to Jesus to say, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Even in His deep agony, Jesus recognizes the heart of repentance in this hell-bound thief and again utters unthinkable words of redemption: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
A third time, Jesus demonstrates His selfless love when He sees His mother, Mary, at the foot of the cross. His disciple, John, has overcome his cowardice to join Mary. Concerned for the welfare of the one who obediently bore Him, only to now know the arrows of despair, He says to her, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He turns to John and says, “Behold your mother!” From that hour, we are told, John met Mary's needs.
Only after He has looked to the needs of others does Jesus cry out the awful question we all face when life's absurdities overwhelm us: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
None of us escapes the senseless trials of life. Neither did Jesus. As Isaiah said, “Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows…He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Only once does the taunting mob speak the truth: “He saved others, but He can't save Himself.” If Jesus had come off the cross (as He could have done) and struck His mockers dead (as He had every right to do) every one of us would know only eternal death and hopelessness.
Even in this moment, when God turned His back on His Son, He was thinking of you and me.
What greater message does anyone have for the hopeless? Let us make sure they get that message.
Father God, I thank you that you were thinking of me when you gave your Son to die on the cross. Help me to better get the message of the cross to those who have yet to hear it. In Jesus' Name.