Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday

Watched the Passion of the Christ today. This was the first time I'd ever seen it. What better day to watch it than on Good Friday? The day that we commemorate Jesus' crucifixion. I am very grateful to my friends who came to see it with me even though they'd seen it before - I do not think I would have dared to go alone. To be perfectly honest I think the reason why I did not see it the first time round was that I was too afraid. Most people will watch the movie as a graphic depiction of a historical event. They might not even agree with how entirely historical the events of the movie are. Sure, Jesus suffered and died, but that was it. How could he rise from the dead? Nobody rises from the dead. Nobody except God.

I don't agree with every single part of the movie - I think Mel Gibson overdoes the violence and includes too many bits which are not in the Bible proper but derive more from Catholic tradition. But I believe that most of the events depicted did happen - that Jesus was the Son of God who descended to earth, that he taught widely during his earthly ministry, that he was flogged and then crucified, surrendering his life on the cross, only to rise again three days later.

The night before he died, Jesus ate with his disciples one last time (The Last Supper).

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26: 27-28)

Jesus died in our place, taking the punishment that we deserved, so that we can be reconciled to God. For the essence of sin is separation from God and rebellion against His authority, above all else. It is separation from everything that is good, pure and true.

I know that very many people say that they do not believe that people are innately sinful, they cannot believe that people are innately sinful. But personally, looking at the state of the world today, and more often looking into the reaches of my own heart, I always think this cannot be all that there is. In the very eloquent words of Miss Stacie Orrico - there's gotta be more to life. And in the words of the very awesome Switchfoot - we were meant to live for so much more.

But Christianity isn't doom and gloom and condemnation - it's the greatest hope of all. God's love for us is the greatest love of all. Because despite our undeserving brokenness, we are already redeemed.

For a fuller exposition please see: "Two Ways to Live"

I must confess, the reality of Jesus' sin-bearing substitution is something that I constantly grapple with. Sometimes I think that my finite mind simply cannot comprehend God's infinite mercy and grace. I believe that it is only with Jesus's death on the cross that God is both just and merciful. He is just in that he rightly judges us all guilty of sin, but he is merciful in his abundant forgiveness of it.

I recently read a very helpful illustration of what it meant for Jesus to die on the cross that I would really like to share with you. It's a bit long but please bear with me; I promise it's worth it.

Joshua Harris, who's written many awesome books on relationships, recounted this dream he once had.

The Room

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features except for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings.

As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read "Girls I Have Liked." I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn't match.

A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named "Friends" was next to one marked "Friends I Have Betrayed".

The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. "Books I Have Read," "Lies I Have Told," "Comfort I Have Given," "Jokes I Have Laughed At." Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: "Things I've Yelled At My Brothers." Others I couldn't laugh at: "Things I Have Done In My Anger," "Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath At My Parents." I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.

When I pulled out the file marked "Songs I Have Listened To," I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn't found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented. When I came to a file marked "Lustful Thoughts," I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.

An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: "No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!" In insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn't mattered now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it.

Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore "People I Have Shared With About My Belief In Jesus." The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key. But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus.

I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn't bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn't anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn't say a word. He just cried with me.

Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card.

"No!" I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was "No, no," as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn't be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood. He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don't think I'll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, "It is finished!"

I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.

Thanks for reading to the end.

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