TruthTexts Article: Lifted Up and Weighed Down

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Written and Posted by Timothy Smith

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Lifted Up and Weighed Down

Continued in “God Has Given Proof”


TruthText:

Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross, so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God’s approval. His wounds have healed you. (1 Peter 2:24 GW)


And he personally bore our sins in his own body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and be alive to all that is good. It was the suffering that he bore which has healed you. (Phillips)


... Because he was punished, you were healed. (WE)


Genuine followers of Jesus will frequently bring up the subject of the cross, and the death of Jesus. And while they may mention how horrible a death that was, they seem happy that it happened. They call it “Good Friday.” The horrible execution of a completely innocent man is treated somehow as a joyful event. Either believers are sadistic and murderous, or they see something in the cross that has eluded the rest of the world. It’ll take more than a minute to explain this. Along the way, we will look at why Jesus’ execution is so different from any other death, and we will settle once and for all exactly who is guilty for His death.


In the world we live in, it is an almost daily occurrence to see footage of someone being beheaded, burned alive, or even crucified, often for being a follower of Jesus. There’s no shortage of cruelty and savagery. We find ourselves getting numbed by it all, and we can’t even wrap our brains around the pain the victims must have felt, so we thrust the images aside and focus on something else. Then someone mentions the death of Jesus, or even goes into detail about the excruciating pain involved in a crucifixion, and we almost feel like shrugging it off. So what’s different about this execution, and what makes it, for believers, the pivotal event in human history? It’s just another senseless killing by cruel people. We must be exaggerating it, right?


What makes Jesus’ death so different is Who He was, and the fact that He was also suffering from a burden far more painful than the nails that pierced his hands and feet. Paul refers to this: “What we preach is God’s wisdom. It was a secret until now. God planned for us to have this honor before the world began. None of the world leaders understood this wisdom. If they had, they would not have put Christ up on a cross to die. He is the Lord of shining greatness!” (1 Cor.2:7-8, NLV) Jesus, the one on the cross, was the Creator, the Author of life! John, one of His disciples, described Him this way, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” (John 1:10, NIV)


Perhaps a preposterous (and made-up) example will help explain a serious truth. Pretend for a moment that I’m a bratty ten year old, and I stick out my foot to trip my sister, and instead find the First Lady or the Queen of England sprawled at my feet. I just committed something infinitely more significant than a little trick on my kid sister! Of course, the execution of Jesus on the cross is nothing like my silly example. Yet there was a universe of difference between the two robbers who were being crucified that day and Jesus. One of the robbers recognized this when he told the other, “You and I are guilty. We deserve to die because we did wrong. But this man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:41 ERV) Actually, this Man had never done anything wrong, having lived a perfect life, and having pleased His Father the whole time. Factor in that, and Jesus’ role as Creator, and you begin to see how much more important this death was than any other, before or since.


Crucifixion, as a means of death, was the most painful method that the Romans had ever used, because it took a long time to die, with practically every nerve and every system in the body experiencing unbelievable pain, sometimes for days! It was cruel, sadistic, and 100% effective. The cross was a symbol of shame, disgrace, and failure. Except to the followers of Jesus, who have made it a symbol of their faith, who attach it to the top of their places of worship, who wear it proudly around their necks, and then use it as a place marker when they are buried. What on earth could be victorious about such a symbol? It is as if we put a hangman’s noose, guillotine, or electric chair around our necks. Creepy! Allow me to explain why we do this with a story from my high school days.


I lived in a boarding high school, due to the fact that the little school in my distant village in Alaska maxed out at eigth grade. One evening, two men from the Baha’i faith came to talk to a group of us boarding students in the dorm lounge. The Baha’i believe that all religions are supposedly equal, but naturally, they assert that theirs is more equal than the others. The men began to talk to us about how precious the words and teachings of Jesus are to them. And then one of them stated that the death of Jesus was one of the great tragedies of human history. I was new at sharing my faith, but I said something like, “Isn’t that what the devil thinks? That’s where he lost, isn’t it?”


The men sort of hemmed and hawed for a few moments, and then a young woman who didn’t quite understand what they were saying piped up with, “Can we talk about the Blood of Jesus? Do you believe that there is power in the Blood of Jesus?” Although she certainly didn’t talk much like a theologian, or even a pastor, it was amazing how her question left those cultists completely tongue-tied. Although they tried to keep talking with us, they suddenly could barely get their words out, and left soon after. Even us two youngsters in the faith could understand that the cross represents victory for us, not tragedy. How amazing that both of us cut to the heart of the matter without fully realizing it.  


The source of our victory as believers was obtained through Jesus’ death on the cross. It was crowned by the triumph of the empty tomb and risen Lord. The key to this seeming paradox lies in what was actually done for us on the cross. As a man, Jesus accomplished what every other crucified human ever accomplished; he died in excruciating physical pain. That much is obvious. But Jesus was suffering in a far more painful way, a suffering of the Spirit. He felt an agony that no other person could ever feel, a weight that no other person could ever be made to bear. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, who had lived for all Eternity in perfect union with his Holy and Righteous Father, willingly took upon Himself all the blame and guilt for every act of rebellion, every evil thought, and every single work of darkness ever committed by the human race. He took, on Himself, the punishment for every sin that you and I have ever done. Our text message at the beginning of the chapter reads, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)


In the Bible that Jesus read, the Jewish believers were required to kill an animal such as a sheep or bull, as an offering to God. It served as a bloody reminder that our sinful acts deserve death, and an innocent animal was made to die, symbolically in our place, for our wrongdoing. And so Jesus was called “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29, NKJV) Peter explains it this way: “This is true because Christ suffered for our sins once. He was an innocent person, but he suffered for guilty people so that he could bring you to God. His body was put to death, but he was brought to life through his spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18 GW) Peter also reminds us that we could never have paid our way out of our guilt: “Realize that you weren’t set free from the worthless life handed down to you from your ancestors by a payment of silver or gold which can be destroyed. Rather, the payment that freed you was the precious blood of Christ, the lamb with no defects or imperfections.” (1 Peter 1:18-19 GW)


There are no adequate words to describe the horrible experience of the Son being separated from the Father, but it was as though the entire physical universe was in danger of coming apart. Legions of God’s angels were standing by, ready to press delete on the whole human experiment. But Jesus went through with it. Jesus cried out from the cross, in his human family’s home language of Aramaic, quoting David’s Psalm 22:2. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Paul helps to explain this mystery when he writes, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21 NKJV) It is expressed elsewhere in the Bible in the language of a legal transaction, where the Holiness of Christ is given to us, and the sinfulness of our souls is given to Him. That is why John explains in his first letter to believers, “We should live in the light, where God is. If we live in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood sacrifice of Jesus, God’s Son, washes away every sin and makes us clean.” (1 John 1:7 ERV)


Everyone who was a first-generation believer in Jesus, including every New Testament writer, lived in a culture where a cross was regarded as an object of shame, a symbol of death, a place where criminals were executed for their crimes. Yet notice how they referred to the cross and crucifixion after Jesus’ death and resurrection! The cross is for us a symbol of liberation and victory. Paul expresses this dramatically: “We know that Christ, who was brought back to life, will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once and for all to sin’s power. But now he lives, and he lives for God.” (Romans 6:9-10 NIV)


Paul associates his own new life in Christ with that cursed symbol of shame, the cross. In a section of his letter to the believers in Galatia, he explains, “I may consider that I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old “I,” but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live, I live believing in the Son of God, who loved me and sacrificed himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 Phillips) The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gives one of the clearest explanations of why the cross represents victory, and not shame, for believers: “We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. He suffered death on a cross. But he accepted the shame of the cross as if it were nothing because of the joy he could see waiting for him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.” (Heb. 12:2 ERV)


Jesus spoke of His impending death on many occasions, but His disciples were either clueless or strongly resisted the idea, understanding His words only after He had risen from the dead. On one occasion, Jesus explained the purpose of His coming death: “I will be lifted up from the earth. And when this happens, I will draw all people toward me.” Jesus said this to show how he would die. (John 12:32-33 ICB) If Jesus knew that He would eventually go to the cross, who should be blamed for His death? In Acts 2, Peter explains to the crowd on the first day of the Church that they were guilty of handing Him over to the Romans, and that the Romans put Him to death.


But Peter was speaking here specifically to some who had actually been in the crowd and had called for His death. Misguided people throughout history have attempted to use this passage to blame all Jewish people for killing Jesus. Take out the word “Jewish” and emphasize the word “all” and you’d have it about right. If Jesus’ death bought forgiveness for us in today’s time, then all of us must be guilty of nailing Him to that cross. And if being to blame for Jesus’ death was so unique to one group of people, would Peter have been attempting that day to bring those exact people to faith in Jesus, to join all the other believers in our New Life? No, it’s clear that we are all equally guilty, and all of us can have forgiveness and a Living Hope simply by trusting our lives to the Crucified One.


Another way to explain this is with a classic science fiction story I read years ago, in which some mad scientist invented a time travel machine. He began taking groups of people back in time to witness great events in history. Naturally, the crucifixion of Christ was very popular, so he went there many times. Until one day, standing at the foot of the cross, he looked around and found that all the people in the crowd had his face! Who killed Jesus? You did, and I did, and Adam, and Cleopatra, and Gandhi, and your sainted grandma, and every human who ever had breath since leaving Eden – we are all equally guilty of killing the Lord of Life.


Christ’s ultimate sacrifice was because “All have sinned, and fall short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV) Another translation says simply, “Everyone has sinned. No one measures up to God’s glory.” (NIRV) As Isaiah wrote, predicting what would happen to the coming Messiah, “Each of us has gone his own way. But the Lord has put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done.” (Is. 53:6 ICB) It’s like trying to pole vault across a great chasm from Earth to Heaven. Hitler gets ten feet out, you or I might get fifteen feet out, and a few might achieve thirty feet out. But all of us, equally, end up at the bottom of the canyon! Jesus is the bridge between God and Man. Jesus is the only way Home. That is what the cross represents to us.


Take Action!

Be sure to look up the verses in this chapter in whatever translation of the Bible is the easiest for you to understand.* Read the whole section that each verse came from, and make sure that the words I have said about them are true. Once you are sure that I have given you accurate information, ask yourself the questions. Finally, ask God to show you what you should do next.


What makes the day we remember Jesus’ death “Good Friday”?


Who is to blame for the death of Jesus? Why?


What other pain did Jesus suffer, even worse than the pain of the cross?


Why is the cross, an old symbol of the execution of criminals, now thought of as a symbol of victory?


Think of someone who feels that he or she is good enough for Heaven. What should you say to that person?


Think of someone who thinks that he or she is too guilty to be accepted by God. Is there good news to share?


* I use many translations of the Bible in these articles. Any of them would serve to support the points made in the chapter. All verses with no listed translations are my own paraphrase; please check with your own Bible to be sure I got the right idea.

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