An Encounter in Darkness

A few years ago a friend was spending a few days with me, and one night while we were watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, she became visible upset at the excruciatingly bloody portrayal of the crucifixion. Understandably, it’s a hard to watch gut-wrenching movie, but so was the actual event. As the movie ended, my friend concluded, “No father would have allowed his son to endure such torture.” It was then I learned that her spiritual views include a range of spiritual beliefs and practices including male and female deities. She also do not believe Jesus is God’s son, but simply a prophet. However, we should not be surprised because this is the argument of many intellects. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and the Pharisee were a group of educated, religious leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites. But Nicodemus recognized he may not have all the answers, so he went to Jesus in the dark of night to be enlightened, and he received the absolute purpose of the Gospel. That day, an encounter and this one short verse that even a child would be able to remember: “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NLT) positioned Nicodemus in the Light. He was not changed because of an intellectual debate or physical proof, but an open mind and heart to understand who God is and to receive Him.

I wonder now what the effect or consequence would be, should the total humiliation and wondrous majesty of the cross were to headline every newspaper around the world one Easter Sunday. I wonder if it would give us cause to examine ourselves to discover the alarming darkness and shocking evil that lies within us. I wonder if we would allow ourselves time and thought to discover the heart of God and how full of love it is for us, and have always been. Would we see ourselves in the crowd crying, crucify him! Would we, individually and collectively, concede we are no better than those who nailed Christ to the cross that day? But more importantly, would we come to understand and accept that nothing in all of creation reveals to us more about the heart of God and the heart of man than the unimaginable suffering, humiliation and death of Jesus. Not even King David’s disturbingly prophetic and graphic account could not fully describe what Christ would endure hundreds of years later.

Now, consider for a moment the day you invited God into your life. Perhaps you were so broken that you felt trapped and hopeless with no one or nowhere to turn. Maybe you were traveling down a self-destructive path thinking there was no outlet, no release from the pain and suffering. I have often looked back on that significant day as a young child, and I remember how alone I felt and how I anxious I was about the Christian journey. I remember the legalism that robbed me of the joy of getting to know the heart of God. Today, I imagine what the world, but especially the church would be like if the humiliation, the compassion and the grandeur of Calvary were truly understood as more than an historical event or merely a day of remembrance. The crucifixion is not a mystery to deliberate or a tragedy to grieve. It is not something that was done to a beaten, weak and helpless Christ. The cross is a declaration of love unimaginable. It is the ultimate self-sacrifice to cleanse the wickedness of man’s sinful heart, and if we understand and appreciate the difference Calvary made, Christianity cannot be empty and love cannot be restricted.

Yet sadly, much of the continue to feel excluded from God’s compassion and love, and not willing to believe “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). But what a difference a day makes! One day in the darkest hour of human history, the purpose and the power and the glory of Christ could not be denied! One day, God’s amazing love penetrated our hearts and deposited a seed of faith and hope and a deep desire to honor Him by living a life that reveals love and gratitude for the One who gave His life that we might live. Three women did:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome brought spices so they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they say that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away (Mark 16:1-4).

On resurrection morning, driven by love and gratitude, three women without the physical strength or social rights and privileges assigned to men in biblical days, did what they could. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome were motivated to honor their Lord by anointing Jesus’ body with spices. These women could have run and hide as most of the disciples did. Instead they followed His body to the tomb and they prepared spices, believing they would have the opportunity to anoint the body that was broken for them. These women did not worry about the huge boulder that could hinder them from achieving their goal. They did not hesitate because of the Roman guards they would encounter. They were clearly not deterred by any foreseeable difficulties, but with love they pushed forward, and because they ceased the moment and used the opportunity they had, they were the first to see Jesus after He was rose from the dead. The songwriter put it perfectly when he asked:

Amazing love, how can it be?

That you, my King, would die for me

Amazing love, I know it’s true

It’s my joy to honor you.

Easter Sunday should be personal, because looking down from the cross, Jesus did not see a crowd; He saw you and He saw me, all worthy of redemption. Recently I went to see the movie “The Shack.” I had read the book a few years ago and was excited to see the characters come alive on screen. However, I did not expect to be so affected by the message of personal pain, love, renewal and hope. A poignant point in the movie was when the main character accused “God” of forsaking His own son on the cross, when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46 NIV)? It was then God showed his own nailed pierced hands, affirming He was right there with His Son on the cross, just as He is with each of us in our pain and suffering. One day makes the difference! Allow it to make the difference in your life.

 

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