Update: Lisa learned yesterday that a request has been made to extend her contract here in Loma Linda, Ca. (for how long we don’t know). Should that happen – she will request time off to go home and be with our daughter and son-in-law in time for the grand baby. This is part and parcel of travel jobs in that we never know from one assignment to the next how long we will actually be in one place. We will keep you posted.
I miss teaching the Bible. For years I taught Bible studies at my church and miss the great conversations and discussions that would be generated. Today I am doing something a little different with our blog – a Bible study. If you want to go ahead and click off until our next post – feel free. For those who want to keep reading – my hope is that this will generate enough interest that you will read the scripture for yourself.
In a few weeks (God willing) we will be home to celebrate Easter with our family and friends at our home church. Lisa and I have missed the activities around our church and church family as we have struggled to find a church to settle with here in Loma Linda. And as they say – there is no place like home. Lisa and I are flattered knowing that people have followed our blog that don’t know us personally and being able to connect that way with strangers is really amazing. It is with that in mind that I share the fact that we are Christian in our beliefs and the impact of Christ on our lives and our faith in His providence has sustained us in our travels. If that turns some away from reading our blog we are sorry. It is just who we are.
Recently I have been giving thought to the cross of Christ and spending time reading again the passion story as it is in scripture. In my studies I have re-discovered some marvelous truths and have been challenged with some facts that make me question some of the things I have believed in the past.
1. Did Jesus really ask God to not make him go to the cross? I have always been told that Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane over whether to go to the cross or not. This common interpretation is that Jesus was begging God to not make him suffer. But is that what he was praying? I have a problem thinking that Jesus ever asked God to change his destiny. Jesus had foretold his death to his disciples numerous times (Mark 9:31) and even in his prayer He said, “let this cup pass from me not as I will but as Thou wilt.” Furthermore we read in Matthew 26:53 Jesus telliing his disciples who are ready to fight over his arrest, “do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” In other words Jesus is saying all he would have to do is ask God to deliver Him and He would. I conclude then that Jesus never asked God to take away the cup. To say Jesus asked to get out of going to the cross really is a problem for me. I believe Jesus was saying – let this end quickly not the way I want but the way you want.
2. Did Jesus carry His cross? In Matthew, Mark and Luke we find the person of Simon of Cyrene being chosen by the soldiers to carry Jesus cross. Tradition has it that Simon was a black man from an area of Africa which would be Libya today. We just don’t know. But the question I have is whether Simon really carried Jesus cross for Him. The symbolism of the cross is so significant in that we know Jesus had to go to the cross – and go alone. It was on Him and Him alone that the burden of sin was placed. I struggle then to think how having a human being carry Jesus cross for Him works into that symbolism. But maybe that is not what really happened. If I try to pick up a ten foot beam and drag it along the ground – it will be a struggle. If someone steps behind me and lifts the beam higher than I can lift it – I now am carrying the full weight of that beam. I believe that is what happened with Jesus. Knowing that he was already slumping from the beating He had recieved, I have to assume that when Simon lifted the back of the cross – the back was higher than the front which Jesus held. This forced Jesus to carry the full weight.
3. Can we really grasp the horror of crucifixion? Movies and depictions of the crucifixion have tried to capture the suffering of what dying on a cross was like. I just sense there is no way that can be done accurately. According to historians – many died due to the flogging – exposing ribs and bones to the extent that they bled to death before going to the cross. Jesus lived for six hours on the cross and in that six hours he was forced to push up on the nails in his feet to catch a breath or else he would have suffocated. Can we really fathom the level of Christ’s suffering?
4. How many men were crucified with Jesus? Tradition tells us that Jesus was with two other men who were also crucified. However, when you do a parallel study of the gospels and look at all the facts – it may lead you to believe as I do that Jesus was one of four and possibly five crucified. Consider the facts:
Matthew: In chapter 28 verse 38, the scripture says “At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.” That would seem to be evidence enough that there were only three. But hold on. With this verse we can only conclude that Jesus was between two robbers. So we know there was at least three men crucified including Jesus and that Jesus was “between two robbers”. But maybe there were more.
Mark: The account of the crucifixion in is very close to that of Matthew with the description of Jesus being crucified between two robbers. See Mark 15:27.
Luke: Here we find more detail regarding two of the men hung with Jesus. Luke describes these two as “criminals” and goes on to tell of the conversation between them with one “hurling abuse” at Jesus while the other is described “rebuking” the other criminal for his insults. Is it possible there is a difference between “criminal” and “robber”? Perhaps there were two robbers and two criminals along with Jesus.
John: Now it gets interesting. In John 19:18 we read, “There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between”. In the original text the word “one” is not there. This would lead me to believe that there may have been five crucified. After Jesus had died on the cross – John describes the soldiers coming to break the legs of those being crucified (which forced their suffocation since they would no longer be able to stand up on the nails in their feet to catch a breath). John 19:32-33: “The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him. But coming to Jesus when they saw that He was already dead they did not break His legs.” If I follow those verses carefully I have these soldiers walking down the line of crosses breaking the legs of those still alive. If I am to assume there were only three – why would they break the legs of one – skip Jesus – break the legs of the other and then come back to Jesus in the middle only to find him already dead? Putting all this together I conclude that Jesus was, in fact, crucified between two criminals and two robbers for a total of five. Does any of this really matter? Nope. But maybe you will now read the story for yourself and ask these questions.
5. “It is finished”. These are (to me) the most powerful three words in scripture. What is finished? Where common interpretation of this verse is that Jesus is saying simply – his earthly life is finished, I happen to think He is saying far more. The work of Jesus is finished. We cannot add to or subtract from His finished work. His work on the cross and His suffering and death in our place – reconciles once and for all our broken relationship with God who now sees us, His children, as blameless and without condemnation – not based on our ability to ever please Him – but based on Jesus finished work on the cross. Romans 9 says it best – “Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God.” If we are trying to earn God’s love – forget it! It has been earned for us. I love Christian speaker Steve Brown who on his radio show will offer listeners three free sins. I get his point. We are sinners and that will not change on this earth. But scripture says our lives are now hidden in Christ. In other words – when God sees us – He sees Jesus. We are free indeed. So live in that freedom. The grace of the cross is the greatest truth known and yet one hard for many to accept. It is a grace earned at a great cost (even “violent” according to Michael Card) and the last thing we should do is cheapen it by trying to “earn” it.
6. Why was the stone rolled away? Did Jesus need the stone to be moved in order to come out of the tomb? Absolutely not! The stone was rolled away not for Jesus to get out – but for us to look in and see that it was empty. And that empty tomb is the great conundrum for the skeptics and atheists today. They can deny Jesus was the Son of God. They can call Him a fraud and a fake. But they have never been able to explain that empty tomb.
Recently I read a powerful quote from Christian theologian Robert Capon. “If Jesus did not arise from the dead then nothing else matters. And if Jesus did rise from the dead then nothing else matters.” I love that!