1. From the Max Lucado Devotional Bible - Max shared a story about a comedy routine in which two men are talking. One man is telling the other how much he hates a third guy. Because whenever the third guy talks to him, he repeatedly pokes his finger in his chest, hitting him in the same place. But now the aggrieved man has a plan! He confides to his buddy that he's going to prevent the finger-poker from ever hitting him in the chest again! With pride, he shows the man a small bottle attached to a strap which hangs around his neck. The bottle fits under his shirt and hangs in front of the very spot where the aggravating person likes to poke him with his finger. The bottle contains liquid nitroglycerin... Sooooo... the next time this finger-poker comes around....
This story made me laugh... Until I realized I'd sort of been there, done that!
2. Thoughts sparked by David Platt's book, Radical. Platt asks the question - why did Christ shrink back from the Cross? He mentions other martyrs who went to their deaths confident, even singing praises. And then he asks this question: did Christ beg to forgo the cross because He was a coward?? I had to admit, there have been times when I've wondered, after reading about men like John Bunyan or Pastor Wurmbrand, how it could be true that hanging on a cross for a few hours was the worst suffering possible. Even from history, I know that hundreds if not thousands were executed on crosses in Ancient Rome. (Some have been executed on crosses in modern times as well). Yet all my life I've heard that Christ endured more suffering than any other person when he died on the cross. And at times, it just didn't make sense to me how a few hours on a cross could be as bad as being chained in a dungeon for years on end or being tortured in solitary confinement over and over again.
Years ago, our church invited people to fast for three days in January. This could be a food fast or a fast from something like television or whatever. The idea was that we would give up something that is time-consuming (and perhaps anesthetizing like comfort food) in order to seek God's will for our church for the coming year. Having worked with internationals who were Christians, I knew that they all scoffed at the idea of a fast involving turning off the television. Every international friend said that in their country a fast always meant abstinence from food.
The first year we were invited to do the three-day fast, I made it til about 3p.m. of the second day. And that was with some fluids - water, juice. The second year, I didn't make it longer than 24 hours. The idea was that we would meet at church on Sunday morning of the third day and then return that evening to break our fast together as a church body. I remember that after failing for the second time, I drove home from church that morning feeling pretty low. Not because of what anyone had said to me - I didn't try to act like I had fasted and everyone was nice to me. But because the whole week had been characterized by one sin after another. It was one of those weeks where if I felt God was telling me to sit, for some reason, I would stand. Like I could read a verse about watching what I said and then I could go right out and maliciously rip someone apart verbally. That type of week - no big victories; lots of defeat. And this was at a time when God was blessing us in tangible ways.
And then here I was, going home from church having failed to fast when I knew others in the sanctuary were bound to have succeeded. On the way, I stopped at a Christian retreat area, The Oasis, and walked along a hiking trail until I came to a small hill where a plain cross was mounted at the top. Back then, that was my favorite place to pray. As I knelt there, I thought of how God had gone out of His way to visibly bless us in recent days and how I had responded by having an in-Your-face attitude culminating in the 3-day fast which had morphed into one... and I just cried out, "God! You should be angry with me!!! You have every right to just let me have it!!!"
And to my surprise, the answer came: I was angry with you. I did pour out my wrath on you... But Jesus stepped in front of you and took it in your place - I poured it all on Him.
Who am I? Well, really, I'm the guy who could hang a bottle of nitroglycerin around his neck in order to "pay back" someone who has hurt me. A bit short-sighted, shall we say? A nice person who can carry a grudge? A person who loves chocolate more than God? How about a person who can read uplifting thoughts in the Bible and then go out and be petty?
Who is God? He is the just One who can't even look on sin. He is the loving One who sent His Son, His only Son, to take it on the cross for me. And for all the others who have ever lived and wallowed in sin ranging from ax murders to "decent sinners', as Corrie ten Boom would say.
And that's why hanging on the cross was the worst suffering anyone has ever endured and that is why Jesus asked God to release Him from this cup if at all possible.
ANd I would have to add: Jesus not only took my punishment - which is amazing in and of itself, but He also lovingly comes to me and says tenderly, "My Sweet One, let's see now... How about if I just gently remove that little bottle from around your neck? Why don't you let me take care of the Finger-Poker? There... doesn't that feel better already?"
Colossians 2:13 - And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of our flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it to the cross. (I think the NIV says it was nailed to the cross...so thankful!!)