He said it was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. This Jesus, the man who everyone said was the messiah, said he was going to be handed over to death but I didn’t want to believe it. Here he is. Being paraded through the town as if this is a death to be celebrated. The crown on his head is crooked and the thorns have scraped his forehead. Sweat is mixing with blood as he struggles to carry what will ultimately be his execution station: a cross. The muscles in his legs flex as he steps, one foot in front of another. He doesn’t say a word. He occasionally looks up, but his eyes are mainly fixed to the ground. The guards surrounding him prod him along as if he is some sort of animal. What have we done?? The crowd had a choice. They could have released this Jesus of Nazareth and kept Barabbas but instead it was the other way around. I could claim innocence sense I wasn’t there but really, I’m just as guilty as the rest of them.
My sin and shame is ever present. With every pounding of the hammer, I am reminded of my shortcomings. The nails pierce his skin and my soul pangs in guilt. His slow, painful death, those nails, that sweat, that blood, that crown and thorns, all of it was for me. All of it was for you. He was despised and rejected. He suffered. His cries convict me. I want to hide my face in shame for what I’ve done. This must be a bad dream. People keep mocking him. I say nothing. “Here is Jesus, the king of the Jews” the sign says above his head. He didn’t ask for that crown. A king wouldn’t die like this.
He said it was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. And yet, here he is. This Jesus, arms outstretched, on a cross for you and for me. And for what? What did he do? This is the strangest sign of affection and love I have ever seen. My brain struggles to make sense of this obscure valentine. How and why would one man take all of this on because of me? It is my sin. It is my shortcomings. And he willingly took them on. I don’t understand it. How did this man come to find me worthy of this? I’m not, that’s for sure, but he seems to think I am. He’s on that cross–not me. He’s suffering horribly and is terribly isolated. I want to look away yet I can’t.
Can I honestly say I would trade places with this man? I’m not that strong. I’m not that courageous. I’m not that humble. My sin, the same one that placed him on the cross, is too great and always gets in the way. The wounds in his flesh came from my transgressions. Blood is coming out of him and it is called “love.” I have trouble comprehending how his brokenness will make me whole. How is it that one man took all of this upon himself, willingly. That seems outrageous. I dreaded this moment. I wanted to stop every single step he took towards his final destination. I wanted to cry out or say something. But nothing. Nothing comes out of my mouth. My hands don’t reach to help him carry his cross. My feet stay firmly planted. My sin is what keeps me from moving and yet it is what motivates him. What kind of messiah is this?
I am the sheep that has gone astray and yet God looks for me. I think my way is the best way. I am too quick to judge and to slow to forgive. I want to keep people out of the kingdom. I want to limit God’s love. I want to say “no” when God says “yes” and I want to define comfortable by my standards–not God’s. I am too self absorbed. I abuse the resources God gives me. I hide behind interchangeable veils of self deprecating humor and snide self insults. I self medicate with loathing and anxiety. I doubt my abilities and gifts. I carry unspeakable burdens. How is it that I, a known sinner, could ever be saved? How is it that light will come from the darkness?
He said it was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. Kings and dictators would try and change the world with swords and guns. Who knew that what would really change the world is three nails? Captives will be set free. The naked will be clothed. The hungry will be fed. Justice, love, and mercy will prevail–all because of one man. I can’t stop this now. Do I even want to? It makes no sense, really. I now have to look at the world through this one act, through the lenses of a cross. My world has been turned upside down. What I used to know as fact is now questionable. Love has been redefined. Mercy has been redefined. Victory has been redefined. None of it makes sense and yet there is a comfort in the chaos.
As he breathes his last, I feel my burdens being lifted. I cry. I cry out of confusion. I cry out of gratefulness. I cry out of mourning. I cry out of shame. I cry. And when he cried out “it is finished” I knew he meant his life and the hold that sin has over me and you. I am no longer destined for a life of misery and torture. I am now destined for a life of overflowing grace, beyond my wildest imaginations. And so are you. He said this was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it.