Tag Archives: Suffering

God’s People, part 159: Crucifixion

Read John 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’…Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.” (Mark 15:34, 37 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

fullsizeoutput_2d7Part 159: Crucifixion. I am a huge fan of and collect films portraying the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I own the of the original black and white Cecil B. DeMille 1927 silent film, King of Kings. I own many of the films following that from the 60’s such as The Greatest Story Ever Told starring Max Von Sydow through the latest one, Son of God starring Diogo Morgado. In fact, I not only own and love it, but the very first Jesus film I can remember watching was the 1961 remake of the King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter on TV with my family on Easter Sunday.

Honestly, up until the late 90s and early 2000s, most of the films really toned down the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I certainly understand why. Crucifixion is not a good way to have to die and with the heavy censorship of films and music that was in place prior to the late 90s, no one wanted to risk making the crucifixion more realistic. That and many producers knew that Christian audiences would not appreciate it either. They wanted wholesome films with little to no violence and sterile language. So, there was no way that they were going to gore up the crucifixion.

Rather, those films focused more on Jesus’ life and teachings, and they toned down and almost sterilized the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While these films are all great films in their own right, the unfortunate consequence of censoring the suffering and crucifixion of Christ is that it takes away from the real sacrifice that Christ made.

Thankfully, that began to change with the 1999 Jesus miniseries starring Jeremy Sisto. While that film did not lay it thick with the gore, when Jesus was crucified he can be heard screaming in agonizing pain and blood can be seen splattered on the cross and dripping from his wrists. Again, not too much…but enough for you to cringe at the thought of what was happening. Then, by 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ and went to town on showing Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. The film was so hard to watch, and so powerful, that people left the theater with the same full bucket of popcorn they went in with. It was the film that brought me back to my faith in Jesus, because it made me truly and deeply reflect on why Jesus would go through with that.

Without belaboring this, crucifixion was a terrible way to die. First, before one ever made it to the cross, they victim of crucifixion would be punished for the crimes they had committed. They would we whipped and beaten. The Jews had a law that a person should be whipped no more than 40 times minus one. Whether the Romans adhered to that or not is unlcear, but by the time Jesus would have had to carry his cross, he would have been severely beaten, bruised, bloody, and his flesh torn from the shards of glass and rock that hung from the flagella at the end of the whip.

Then there was the crucifixion itself. The criminal would have had to carry the cross beam up to his/her place of crucifixion. He then would have been laid down and his arms would have been tied to the beam, followed by the hands/wrists being crucified. The cross beam would then be raised up, with the body intact, onto the vertical beam which is already erect. Once the cross beam was in place nails would have been driven through each of the ankle bones into the sides of the cross, and a sentence would be placed above the head of the crucified. In Jesus case, it read in Latin (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum), in Greek (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων), in Hebrew read right to left (יֵשׁוּעַ מִנַּצְּרַת, מתי כז 3‡מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים), and in English (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

The crucified would spend hours, if not days, lifting his/her body up to breathe out and lowering his/her body to breathe in. Eventually, due to exhaustion, the crucified’s own body weight would crush his/her lungs and they would suffocate to death. It was a slow, laborious death that no decent person would ever wish upon anyone. This is how Jesus died.

In the modern Western world, we have been privileged to not have to witness such executions. Even when we execute criminals, we do so in a way that is judged to be the most “humane” way possible. When reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and death, let us be challenged to NOT succumb to our privilege; rather, let us truly reflect on what he went through and let us come to the foot of the cross and lay our sins and shortcomings bare to the one who gave it all, and suffered the worst death imaginable, for our sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle in Galatians 2:20 NLT

PRAYER
Lord, as we approach Lent, help me to have the strength to be honest with myself and you regarding my sin so that my sins may be once and for all crucified with Christ and I may be free of their burdensome weight. Redeem me, for I am yours Lord. Amen.

The Sermon, part 11: Fifth Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind.” (Leviticus 24:19-20 NLT)

embracingtheevildoer-passionofthechristContext, context, context shall be the prescription of the day. Anyone who reads these devotions knows that I believe context is key in properly undestanding anything. So it is here, in Jesus’ fifth antithesis, which hyerbolizes the Hebrew Scriptures, mixing it with conventional wisdom in order to show the extreme reversal in the Kingdom of God.

To start off, there is absolutely no command in the Torah or anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures for one to hate his/her enemy. With that said, there are plenty of instances where it is said that God hates evildoers and, using conventional wisdom, it would follow that if God hates evil doers then so should God’s children. Right? Well, according to Jesus while God is no fan of evildoing, God also does not believe that fighting evil with evil is the way to go.

In order to make a point of this, Jesus utilizes three examples, of which I hope some context will shed light on. In Jesus’ world, the right hand was the power hand. The left hand was the hand that one used to wipe themselves following doing “their business”, it was the hand that was seen as being the “unclean” hand for the obvious reasons. Thus, in Jesus’ culture, you didn’t shake with your left hand, you didn’t eat with your left hand and, for sure, you didn’t punch with your left hand. Well, you didn’t if you intended to knock someone out.

With that said, if one’s right cheek is being hit, than one must assume that, in this culture, that was a backhanded blow. More of an insult than something that would produce real injury. Jesus’ response is that if one insults you in a stinging way, that you should turn the other cheek and invite injury as well. This isn’t because Jesus loved getting injured or that he wanted to see his followers get injured, but that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildoer rather than retaliates.

The second example is a court case where the court decides that one must give the plaintiff his/her “shirt”, which was really a long nightshirt-like main garment, as settlement for a law suit. Jesus commands his followers to not only give the shirt, but also his/her cloak as well. Of course, If one did that they would be standing in the courtroom COMPLETELY NUDE! This isn’t meant to be taken literally, per se, but shows that God’s call for embracing the “evildoer” goes far beyond the requirements of the law (Exodus 22:25-26).

For the third example, Jesus utilizes was a political reality in his time period. It was legal for Roman soldiers to demand that a person show them the way to where they were going, as well as even carry some of their stuff for a specified distance. In fact, Simon of Cyrene was ordered to carry the cross of Jesus during his belabored march to calvary (Matthew 27:32). Jesus states, once again, that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildower not through retaliation, but by doing for the evildoer even more than what is required by the law.

This may all seem quite a bit confusing; however, it is important to understand that Jesus sees the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven, which is used synonomously) to be the complete antithesis to the Kingdom(s) of this world. To retaliate, to seek vengeance, to be violent is not God’s way but the world’s way. To put it more starkly, retalition/vegneance/violence IS SATAN’S DOMAIN and completely antithetical to the way of God. Yet, it must be said that EVIL is NOT absolute and God’s Kingdom will win against it.

How, you might ask? By embracing those who do evil against you, by loving them and, who knows, by potentially winning them over with God’s love. Even if that is not the end, God is defeating evil because, in those who refuse to participate in evil, LOVE IS CONQUERING. The idea is this, evil can only win in our lives if we choose to participate in it.

The question going forward is this, how seriously do we take Jesus on this? Do we, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pfc. Desmond T. Doss and others, take Jesus seriously or do we have a line that we will NOT cross in follownig him? Will we embrace our enemies and those who do evil toward us, will we show them love in return for their hate, or will we fight evil with evil? This does not mean we should “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6), as we will later see, nor should we go out of our way to be hurt by evildoers; however, if evil is done to you, what will be your response?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I couldn’t picture Christ with a rifle killing people.” – Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, U.S. Medal of Honor Winner, Conscientious objector.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live as Christ taught me to live. Give me the strength to resist evil by embracing and loving the evildoer. Amen.

Repent and Believe

Read Hebrews 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV)

repentAndBelieveToday is Ash Wednesday, and we are entering into the Christian season of Lent. During Lent, which is a forty day period that lasts from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, we enter a period of fasting and of reflection. Christians have traditionally marked the beginning of the Lenten journey by having Ash imposed on their foreheads, a dark and gritty reminder that we are both mortal and tainted by sin. As the ash is marked on the foreheads or hands of the faithful, people are told to “repent and believe the Gospel.”

This year, Ash Wednesday is having a different meaning to me. When I think of the ash that I will no doubt be imposing on the heads of countless people, and of the ash I will have imposed on my head, I cannot help but think of the Jordanian pilot who was lit on fire at the beginning January. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the twenty-one Christians who were mass-executed this past weekend. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the countless people who have been killed throughout the centuries and millenia for religious differences.

Recently, at a Christian breakfast, President Barack Obama called on Christian leaders to show humility in the face of the imminent threat that ISIL poses to the Middle-East and beyond. He called them to remember what Christians did during the Crusades, during the Inquisition, during American slavery and segregation. Some Christians got upset at this because, while there is no denying that some Christians have done some pretty evil things in the name of Christ, they believed his call to humility only served to play into the propaganda of the ISIL organization.

While this point can be argued, what can’t be argued is that many terrible things have been done by many people in the name of their religion. Honestly, with or without Christian history, people would be killing and maiming in the name of their beliefs. What is sad about this is that most of these belief systems speak much more about the need for peace, love, compassion, humility and mercy than they speak on the need for killing and maiming. But all religious systems can be, and have been, interpreted in ways that “justify” doing great acts of evil.

Rather than getting outraged about being called out on the atrocities of the past, we should be outraged about the atrocities of the present. Rather than pointing at the past as a way of reminding others of what people long dead have done, we should be reflecting on the ways in which we can help to stop the sins we are committing right here and right now? We don’t have to look at the middle-east to see that we have been complacent in the face of suffering, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a sagely oracle to realize that such complacency has us far away from the heart of the Gospel.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, Christ is calling us to repent and to believe the Good News. Let us repent of the ways in which we have been complacent, and let us begin to live into the Gospel as if we ACTUALLY believe in it! Let us begin to live in solidarity with those who are suffering. Let us pray for the countless Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others who are being put to death because of their beliefs. Let us begin to treat others with the respect that should be afforded all human beings, who are created in the image of God. If we live in such a way, we will have truly received the Lenten message and will have begun our journey to the cross. It is there, and only there, that we will truly die to ourselves and resurrect into a new and glorious life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” – Thomas Carlyle

PRAYER Lord, today I repent and ask for you to reveal your Gospel within me so that I may believe and follow it. Amen.