No pain, no gain. No cross, no crown. No suffering, no inheritance. That’s the way it is.
In the United States there’s a gravestone with a simple inscription on it that says: “I want to stand where you’re standing.” And under the inscription is an account of an incident that happened during the American Civil War.
A 19 year-old soldier was part of a firing squad assigned to execute a man found guilty of treason. As the soldier took aim he was horrified to see that he knew the man. He lowered his gun and went over to his captain and said: “I know that man: he has a wife and children at home. If I shoot him, I not only end his life but their lives too. I can’t do it.”
Everyone understood that the punishment for treason was death: the price had to be paid…but after a short discussion they came up with a plan. They agreed that the young soldier could take the condemned man’s place. So the 19 year-old marched up to the captive and said: “I want to stand where you’re standing.”
The prisoner took off his blindfold and walked away free: back to his wife and family and the rest of his life. But his freedom came at a great cost to the young man who had chosen to die in his place.
Similarly, that story gives us a glimpse of what Jesus achieved on the cross. The price for our rebelling against God, our sin, is death. And as Jesus went willingly to his death for us, as if he was saying to each one of us, “I want to stand where you’re standing.” Jesus’ death bought forgiveness and freedom for everyone who accepts what He has done for them. Jesus died – to use the very words he used himself – “as a ransom for many.”
Rico Tice & Barry Cooper, ‘The Real Jesus’ booklet, page 7-8, New Malden: The Good Book Company
Here’s an anonymous piece of prose that’s been around for some time, called, ‘The Long Silence’:
At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.
‘Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. ‘We endured terror… beatings… death!’
In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. ‘What about this?’ he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. ‘Lynched … for no crime but being black!’
In another crowd a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: ‘Why should I suffer?’ she murmured. ‘It wasn’t my fault.’
Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.
So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most: A Jew, a Negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.
Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth, as a man!
‘Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence.
Why do we call Good Friday ‘good’? Because Easter Sunday proves that what Jesus accomplished at the cross is “good news” for all who believe and trust in him. Just before Jesus took his last breath he said, “It is finished” – not ‘I am finished!’ It was job done not game over! Good Friday would not be “good” if it were not followed by Easter Sunday. Remember things didn’t look good at the crucifixion but hold on… it might be Friday but SUNDAY IS COMING!
“Jesus came as our substitute. He endured crucifixion for us. Cicero (the Roman politician) described crucifixion as ‘the most cruel and hideous of tortures’. Jesus was stripped and tied to a whipping post. He was flogged with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp jagged bone and lead. Eusebius, the third-century church historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: the sufferer’s ‘veins were laid bare, and… the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victims were open to exposure’. He was then taken to the Praetorium where a crown of thorns was thrust onto his head. He was mocked by a battalion of about 600 men and hit about the face and head. He was then forced to carry a heavy cross bar on his bleeding shoulders until he collapsed, and Simon of Cyrene was press-ganged into carrying it for him. When they reached the site of crucifixion, he was again stripped naked. He was laid on the cross, and [crude nails were driven into his hands and feet]. He was lifted up on the cross which was then dropped into a socket in the ground. There he was left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. He hung there in unthinkable pain for six hours while his life slowly drained away. [It was the height of pain and the depth of shame.] Yet, the worst part of his suffering was not the physical trauma of torture and crucifixion nor even the emotional pain of being rejected by the world and deserted by his friends, but the spiritual agony of being cut off from his Father for us, as he carried our sins.”
Nicky Gumbel, Alpha: Questions of Life, Eastbourne: Kingsway (2007), p.44-45
In 1863 an ordained priest by the name of Joseph Damian was inspired by the example of Jesus to go and help a leper colony on one of the Hawaiian Islands. The people there had been banished without family, friends or any sort of help. The priest went to live among them. He buried the dead, cleaned the water system, built homes and set up a school, a hospital and two church buildings. In 1885 the lepers were stunned when he started a sermon one Sunday with the words, ‘We lepers…’ He too had contracted the disease. This man was prepared to go to those lepers and show them love, even though it meant becoming one of them. And that is what God has done for us. He became one of us to take our place, and His sacrifice on our behalf means that all those who repent and believe are cleansed, justified and forgiven. One preacher, attempting to explain the concept of being ‘justified’, said: “It is God accepting me ‘just-as-if-I’d’ never sinned. We are guilty but are declared not guilty.”
Source: Mike Cain, Real Life Jesus, p.50
Some ten-year old boys, led by Johnny, were always making fun of an old man, tormenting him and calling him names. “Here comes old Rattlebones,” they’d call out teasing him whenever they saw him on the street. “Rattlebones, Rattlebones, moves as though he walks on stones”, was the usual taunt.
Then one day there was a knock at Johnny’s door and his mother went to answer it. There, standing on the doorstep and smiling warmly, was Old Rattlebones himself. “Oh, my goodness it’s you!” cried Johnny’s mother with obvious joy. “Please come in, come in,” she beckoned him. “Johnny. Johnny, come quickly,” shouted his mother, “come and meet the man who once saved your life.”
Johnny appeared but then immediately froze when he saw who it was. Putting her arm around Johnny’s shoulder, his mother continued, “Remember I told you how, when you were a baby, your pram rolled down the hill and fell into the canal? This man here, without any regard for his own personal safety, jumped into the icy waters to rescue you.” Then pausing slightly, she continued, “He saved your life that day, but the exposure to the icy waters left his health so severely damaged that he has suffered from chronic arthritis ever since!”
Overcome with guilt and shame, Johnny looked up at the man who had saved him. “Please forgive me,” he said, “I didn’t recognize you. I had absolutely no idea who you really were. I didn’t know it was you!” – We need to recognize Jesus for who He is – our rescuer, our Saviour.
R. Ian Seymour
Jesus was born a man because he had to die as a man on behalf of all mankind. Jesus acted as our substitute. He came to die in our place, to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice on our behalf, taking our sin upon himself at the cross. Jesus died to pay the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to.
I read an emotional story some time ago about a little girl, Lucy, who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year old brother, who had thankfully survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. He hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath and the said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.’
Well, as the transfusion progressed, he lay in a bed next to his sister and smiled, seeing the colour returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die straight away?’
You see, being so young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor: He thought he was going to have to give her all his blood!
In a sense that’s what Jesus did for us. Each one of us has a serious disease – it’s called ‘sin’! Each one of us needs to be saved. Jesus is the only one who can save us; he sacrificed himself and has paid the price with his own blood. This is the gospel; the good news of salvation and it’s a free gift to all who can accept it.
Jack Canfield & Mark V. Hansen, Chicken Soup For The Soul, Florida: Health Communications, p.27-28
We used to play a game at summer camp in which we would blindfold one of the kids and have him or her run through a wooded area, relying on a friend for verbal directions to help navigate. “Turn to the left; there’s a tree coming! There’s a log in front of you – jump!” – Some kids would not trust the verbal directions whatsoever. They would shuffle their feet and walk very slowly, even though their friends were shouting that the way was clear. Other kids would trot along, and a few would go like gangbusters. All the kids, though, had to fight the urge to tear off the blindfold so that they could see what was ahead. It takes a great deal of courage to follow another person’s lead… It takes enormous courage to follow God’s leadings in the Christian life. Some of his callings demand the best that you can summon. Some of his tests stretch you to the limit. Some of his adventures evoke great fears and doubts. Spiritual courage is what’s needed.
Bill Hybels, Who You Are When No One’s Looking , p.16-17
Following Jesus is costly; it involves personal sacrifice. Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” He did not say, “Pick up your cushion and sit back in your armchair!”
In the gospels there are seven things recorded that Jesus spoke as he suffered on the cross:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
“Dear woman, here is your son” (John 19:26).
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
“I am thirsty” (John 19:28)
“Tetelestai” – it is finished! – It is done; it is paid! (John 19:30)
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)
The Story of the Praying Hands: Late in the 15th Century, two young wood-carving apprentices in France confided to each other their desire to study painting. But such study would take money, and both Hans and Albrecht were poor.
Finally, though, they had a solution. Let one work and earn money while the other studied. Then, when the lucky one became rich and famous, let him in turn aid the other. They tossed a coin and Albrecht won. So while Albrecht went to Venice, Hans worked as a blacksmith. As quickly as he received his wages he would forward money to his friend.
The months stretched into years – and at last Albrecht returned to his native land, an independent master. Now it was his turn to help Hans. The two men met in joyous reunion, but when Albrecht looked at his friend tears welled from his eyes. Only then did he discover the extent of Hans’ sacrifice. The many years of hard labour in the blacksmith shop had calloused and bruised Hans sensitive hands. His fingers could never again handle a painter’s brush.
In humble gratitude to Hans for his years of sacrifice, the artist, the great Albrecht Dürer, painted a portrait of the work-worn hands that had laboured so faithfully in order that he might develop his talent. He presented this painting of ‘praying hands’ to his devoted friend. It has since become familiar to millions of people.
Source: The Best of Bits & Pieces, 1994, New Jersey: The Economics Press, p.161-162
In ‘The Cross of Christ’, John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in my imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerable thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of this.”
John Stott, Through The Bible Through The Year, Abingdon: Candle Books (2006), p.269
There’s a story of a pastor in the US who introduced a visiting speaker to his church… an elderly preacher walked up to the pulpit and told this story: ‘A father took his son and his son’s best friend on a sailing trip when a storm overturned the boat sweeping them all into the ocean. The father managed to scramble on to the upturned hull and grabbing the rescue float and line he had to make the most painful decision of his life – which boy to throw the lifeline to and which one to sacrifice. He knew his son had accepted Christ but his best friend hadn’t. In anguish the father yelled, ‘I love you son,’ and threw the rope to his son’s friend. By the time he’d hauled the boy back to the capsized boat his son had disappeared beneath the waves. His body was never recovered. The father knew his son would step into eternity with Jesus and couldn’t bear the thought of his friend facing eternity without Christ.’ At the end of the service a teenager approached the old man and said, ‘That’s a nice story, but what father in his right mind would sacrifice his son’s life in hope that the other boy would become a Christian?’ ‘You’ve got the point,’ the old preacher replied. ‘But I’m standing here today to tell you, that story gives me a glimpse into what it must have been like for God to sacrifice His only Son for us. And I also understand, you see, because I was that father, and your pastor… he was my son’s best friend!’
Source: The UCB Word For Today, 30/5/2009
We remember ‘The Feeding of the 5000’ because it’s one of the most famous of Jesus’ miracles (recorded in all of the four gospels). In John’s account we are told it was a boy who came and offered to give up his own food – 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fish – 5 bread sticks and 2 fish fingers, if you like! – Jesus took a child’s lunch, a kid’s meal: food for one to provide food for all! One willing sacrifice and all are provided for. Now that’s got a familiar ring to it, hasn’t it?
I remember reading a story about a wounded soldier. In hospital the doctor said to him, ‘I am sorry you lost your arm.’ To which the soldier replied, ‘I didn’t lose it. I gave it.’ – Jesus didn’t lose his life; He gave it. Jesus said I am the good shepherd who chooses to give his life for his sheep (John 10v15).
Jesus said, “Tetelestai” [it is done not I am done] – its job done not game over!
At the cross it’s as if God says, ‘Over my Son’s dead body will you have to pay for your sin.’
And when I think that God
his Son not sparing
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Evangelism Wk 3 Uncover Mark Roll Away Your Stone