As Worship Leader, Randy Wolfe bared his heart in testimonial praise to the liberating power of God’s grace for a fallen man this past Sunday, it got me thinkin’. With a passion that found my heart melting in gratitude for the same grace that had been applied to my own fallenness, certainly I wasn’t alone in feeling something deep within fall prostrate before the Cross of Calvary as he sang, “No Longer Slaves”.
Next, co-pastor, David Griffin, took the congregation to the very foot of the cross. Losing sight of the man standing on the platform before me, the words he spoke brought into focus the man who occupied my spot on the cross – Jesus, and it wasn’t at all pretty; to the contrary, it was gruesome and shocking, far more hideous than what Hollywood had ever depicted on screen. The body of the man suspended between the heavens above him and the earth below that day was nearly unrecognizable to those who stood in witness. Was it indeed a man? Exposed bone, muscle, and internal organs made visible by ripped away flesh had distorted his bludgeoned figure to a grotesque rendering of something that appeared human, but some may have wondered if it really was. His own mother and committed followers who though at risk of being next were devoted enough to not abandon him stood in shock and disbelief; contempt perhaps, but what could they do? Most likely a bounty would soon be on their heads if not already, and they would be fugitives in hiding; Men on the run whose fate would be the same.
Once, as he looked ahead down the road, Jesus had said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV), but no one really understood what he meant by that, at least not then. His disciples probably thought he spoke of that long awaited moment when he would set the record straight, put the Romans under foot and usher in the promised kingdom of God. Soon, he would take his place on the throne of David to rule and reign over Israel lifting her to her rightful place of prominence in the world; it was going to be glorious, or, so they thought. Dying a condemned criminal wasn’t the picture rolling around in their head at the moment he uttered those words.
Golgotha, the place of a skull – how befitting the name. It could well be called Vulture Hill, the place where scavenger birds hang out awaiting their next meal. Repulsive the thought – Yes, but a reality check for anyone who may think crucifixion something marginal, that the cross was anything less than sickening.
Interestingly, 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (NIV). The apostle’s assessment is correct, what happened on Golgotha’s hill that day as Jesus hung on the cross makes no sense at all. Looking from a purely human vantage point, “foolishness” is a good word, applicable.
Why would the God of all creation care what happens to us? That was David’s question in Psalm 8:4 when he asked, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (NIV). When one stops and thinks through the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and the crucifixion itself, what unfolds is not at all human. Out of the entire New Testament narrative concerning the events in his life, the most difficult to wrap our minds around is not altogether his display of power over nature when he changed the water into wine or cursed the fig tree so that it withered and died. It isn’t his healing the sick, opening blinded eyes, causing the lame to walk, the dumb to talk or the deaf to hear. It’s not even his raising the dead to life. But the way he responded to Pilate, those who carried out Pilate’s orders, the ones who nailed him to the cross, those who consented to it and those who stood around gawking and mocking his sufferings; that’s what truly lies beyond our ability to make sense of.
Struggling to breathe, insults accompanied by sticks and stones hurled at his mangled body, he opens his swollen lips to curse his slaughterers, to pronounce condemnation on humankind? No! to pray for us.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV).
Who would do that? Not me. I’d be praying God to rain down fire on the lot of them. Roast ‘em – slowly. May the fiery pits of hell consume every last one of them. That would be my response. I mean, nobody would pray forgiveness to be granted to his or her executioners, but somebody did. Yes, it is foolishness, farfetched indeed when seen through the eyes of human nature. But through the eyes of God, the cross is the means, the only means, whereby we are reconciled to him.
Though speaking of the future invasion and captivity of Israel by the Babylonians, Jeremiah 8 sees the people of God in dire straits. “Is there no balm in Gilead”, Jeremiah asks (v. 22). Nothing to heal the poisoned waters of v. 14 or the snakes bite of v. 17? Nothing to ease the hunger of v. 20; is there not a doctor to help (v. 22)? No, not then, not yet. But in a time to come, that healing balm would run red, the precious blood of Jesus would be that balm, sin’s cure, all sin, past present and future, but only when mixed together with the Lord’s words – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
The cross of Calvary, the blood of Jesus is the means by which forgiveness is made possible, it is the vehicle, the carrier of God’s grace. But before forgiveness can be appropriated, it must be offered and received. Thus, we understand that what on the surface may appear “foolishness” is essential. Had Jesus not said those words, mankind would be without hope, eternally and irrevocably lost. And should you think you had nothing at all to do with it, that you, like Pilate, can just wash your hands and be free from guilt – think again. You placed Jesus on that cross, I put him there, and it was for both you and I that he prayed.
The Cross, foolishness to those who perish, but the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 1:16).
♥Inspired by the message from the “Last Words” sermon series preached by co-pastor, David Griffin, of the Community Life Church (c|Life) in Forney, Texas on February 7, 2016. To view this sermon or learn more about Community Life Church go to http://www.clifec.com.