Posts tagged easter
In 1930, Commander Bukharin journeyed from Moscow to Kiev. His mission – to address a huge assembly. His subject – atheism. For a solid hour he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity, hurling argument and ridicule.
At last he was finished and viewed what seemed to be the smouldering ashes of men’s faith.
‘Are there any questions?’ Bukharin demanded. A solitary man arose and asked permission to speak. He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist. The audience was breathlessly silent as the man surveyed them first to the right, then to the left.
At last he shouted the ancient Christian greeting, ‘Christ is risen!’ The vast assembly arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of an avalanche, ‘He is risen indeed!’
One of the problems with all the events surrounding Easter, as we celebrate them year after year, is that our hearts and minds grow dull with the familiar re-reading, re-telling and re-hearing of the story and we lose something of the force of them. I have been personally helped this year as I have had the privilege of teaching the doctrine of the atonement twice in recent months and it has brought home to me with a freshness, some of the important details. Three aspects have especially struck me forcibly and these were highlighted again, just this morning, as I read a remarkable piece by Rick Gamache at Desiring God. It left me drained, speechless and in tears. You must read the whole thing – here.
Suffering. My tolerance threshold of viewing scenes of suffering and pain is extremely low and I naturally recoil from anything with depictions of violence and blood, however much I can convince myself that it is stage managed or articifical. That makes the reality of the physical sufferings of the Lord all the worse. They were indescribably real and agonising and while we must not wallow in the gore of it all, as it were, neither must we shy away from the chilling horror of what the Saviour silently endured. We often thoughtlessly talk about the “blood of Christ” as if there was, in the natural red bodily fluid that flowed through the veins of Jesus of Nazareth, some mystical power to cleanse, when what we really mean is the death of which the shed blood was the evidence. Jesus’ blood was, biologically speaking, no different from any other human’s but what was significant was the violent, brutal way in which his life was taken and his blood shed. In the Old Testament, the most common and wide use of ‘blood’ is to indicate violent death; and in the New Testament, in the majority of cases, a violent death is implied. That process of blood spilling didn’t begin at Calvary, it began in the garden as Jesus prayed and then gathered shocking momentum in the Praetorium. Gamache expresses it perfectly: “
“Next, Jesus was stripped and his hands were tied above his head to a post. A large, shirtless Roman legionnaire stepped toward Jesus fondling a short whip. Several heavy, leather thongs hung off the handle weighed down by the small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The muscles in the legionnaire’s back and arms bulged as he brought down the heavy whip with full force again and again and again across Jesus’ shoulders and back and buttocks and legs.
“The Jews would have been more merciful — no more than thirty-nine lashes. But the Romans extended no such mercy. And the balls of lead yielded large deep bruises. Then the bruises were eventually broken open by the endless blows. The thongs cut through the skin and then they cut deeper into muscles. From behind, Jesus no longer looked human. His skin hung in long, bloody ribbons of tissue.”
Substitution. You simply cannot begin to understand the doctrine of the atonement unless you accept the element of substitution. It goes all the way back to the Old Testament sacrifices which were meant to be prophetic pictures of the work of Christ. In the ritual of sacrifice the victim took the place of another and the guilt of the sacrifice was transferred by the laying on of hands. In his article, Gamache brings this out powerfully as he ‘hears’ the Father accuse the Son of all the sins of all those for whom he is suffering and dying:
“Son of Man! Why have you sinned against me and heaped scorn on my great glory? You are self-sufficient and self-righteous — consumed with yourself and puffed up and selfishly ambitious. You rob me of my glory and worship what’s inside of you instead of looking out to the One who created you. You are a greedy, lazy, gluttonous slanderer and gossip. You are a lying, conceited, ungrateful, cruel adulterer. You practice sexual immorality; you make pornography, and fill you mind with vulgarity.”
I confess I found this hard to read, yet it is the truth. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Thank God for the penal substitutionary element of the atonement. As Dinsdale Young put it, “Every day I live, yes every day, this possesses me more and more completely in mind and heart – that that death was a substitution. I know it is an old-fashioned word, a word that is spurned in some quarters. I confess that it satisfies my guilty conscience and comforts my troubled heart, and gives me joy in my religion incomparable when I look up and say, he took my place. I cannot understand it. But he did it; He bore my sins in His own body on the tree.”
Sovereignty: Christ was not a helpless victim, overpowered by his enemies and executioners. There was never a moment in all that he endured when he was not in complete control. Indeed, as Gamache makes clear, the physical strength needed to inflict the excruciating pain on the Saviour was, at that very moment, given to the soldiers by their ‘victim’.
“Two men take hold of his hands. The soldier on his left yanks his arm as far as it will go. But the soldier to his right is gentler. Jesus turns to him. It’s the merciful centurion again. He picks up a cold spike and places it to Jesus’ wrist. Then he picks up a hammer. Their eyes meet. Eternal Love shines forth again, and the centurion is undone. He looks away and lifts his hammer. In that moment Jesus hears his own word of power: the word of power that holds the merciful centurion in existence, the word of power that causes the hammer to be. He’s speaking it all into being: the soldiers, the priests, the thieves, the friends, the mothers, the brothers, the mob, the wooden beams, the spikes, the thorns, the ground beneath him, and the dark clouds gathering above. If he ceases to speak they will all cease to be. But he wills that they remain. So the soldiers live on, and the hammers come crashing down.“
Unlike the helpless sacrificial lambs of the Old Testament, Jesus’ life was not taken from him against his will, he gave it, determining the very manner in which it would be taken and choosing, by his own divine appointment the very moment of his death – “he gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). “…I lay down my life…No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down..” (John 10:17-18).
And all of this unspeakable, unimaginable suffering; this innocent, sin-bearing substitution and this stupendous, breathtaking sovereignty – was for me!
If having read Rick Gamache’s article, you can cope with more, then watch this powerful video clip (HT: Niddrie Pastor) Some of it is painful to watch but then so would the event have been!