Thorns and Nails

It appears as though all the world were focusing on Mel Gibson's latest movie. I have not seen the movie, but I have learned from friends and family who did that it is a graphic re-presentation of the terrible physical abuse heaped on the incarnate Son of God. From what I am told, the filmed images of Jesus' pain and suffering were so realistic that many in the theaters were emotionally deeply moved, many to tears. One expression I have frequently read and heard is that viewing the film left some in the audience “emotionally drained” at the end.

As I have said, I am innocent of direct experience of this movie and therefore must rely on the comments of others for information about it. From those third-party comments, I have gotten the clear impression that the film appears to suggest that it was the unspeakable physical abuse Jesus was forced to bear that qualifies Him to be the Savior of fallen man. Should that in fact be the case, then I charge that the movie apparently so beloved of many well-known Catholic and evangelistic figures is a deliberate deceit.

Jesus is not my Savior because He suffered torture and a terrible death at the hands of Rome. Jesus is not my Savior because some of His own people turned against Him and demanded that He be executed. Jesus is not my Savior because He died on the cross.

Jesus is my Savior because, in obedience to the Father, and in accordance with prophecy, He took upon Himself the full burden of the sins of all mankind. When He was scourged and nailed to the cross, He took upon Himself the sin debt of every man, woman and child who ever lived or would live. And He paid that sin debt in full.

Jesus is my Savior because He willingly paid the debt that I owed to God for having sinned against Him—a debt that I never would have been able to pay myself. When Jesus died, my debt to God was marked “Paid In Full.” When He rose up again, He gave us a foretaste of what would be the fate of all who in faith believed in Him as the Son of God.

Such a little thing in comparison to the reward: Just believe in your heart that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate Son of God come to redeem fallen man. And yet so few appear truly to believe. Many would add to what God has asked of us in exchange for His forgiveness; thus manifesting their unwillingness to believe. Do you believe that so great salvation could be so easy? Or do you believe that you must earn your way to God's mercy? Think about that as part of your nightly prayers.

My friend Randy Davis sent me something he wrote a couple of years ago. I believe that it is appropriate to post that article here.

Thorns and Nails

By Randy Davis

The Lord's Supper is framed by two acts of betrayal. These men represented the very worst and the very best of the followers of Jesus. Yet, they both betrayed him. And both acts demonstrate how utterly alone Jesus was as he became the sin bearer of us all.

It is evident in all four Gospels that Jesus was very deliberate as he celebrated this last Passover with his closest disciples. Jesus knew. He knew the significance of the times, he knew that he was about to die, he knew that the disciples did not understand and could not comprehend that he was about to die as a sin offering for sinners. We cannot begin to understand the burden he was under.

The preparations for the Passover had been made. Jesus and the disciples gathered in the rented room to celebrate the Passover. Matthew frames the Lord's Supper with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Judas is a corrupt character. There have been many who have tried to redeem him, but I see no redeeming qualities. His failure was a soul failure, something that was a part of his very being.

Judas' problem was the love of money. He was greedy and a thief. In the verses before, Matthew told of the woman who broke the alabaster vial of costly perfume and anointed the head of Jesus as he reclined at the table. Matthew says that the disciples were indignant at the waste. This was expensive, maybe worth two or three years wages. The perfume could have been sold and used to feed the poor. Mark tells us that it was just some of the disciples. John, who wrote his Gospel some years later, noted that it was Judas who did most of the grumbling. The reason for his concern was not the poor. Judas was the treasurer, he kept the money box and he would steal from it. Judas would steal from his fellow disciples and from Jesus. Anyone who will steal from God will do anything.

It is interesting to note that Matthew goes from the incident with the perfume straight to Judas taking a bribe from the chief priests. The chief priests were out to get Jesus but did not want to do it in public. They would take Jesus at night, away from the Temple and the crowds. But, where would Jesus be? They figured out who was the weakest link and it was Judas. He loved money and he had a price. Thirty pieces of silver was all it took. From then on, Judas was looking for a way to betray Jesus into the hands of those who sought to kill him. It was during the supper that Jesus exposed Judas, though the disciples did not understand. Judas went as far as to deny that he was the one!

They all would betray Jesus, but not as Judas would do. They would not sell him out, but they would all fail him. Jesus was heavy of heart knowing that he would die in a few hours and bear the sins of the world. Luke gives a very unflattering tidbit about that moment. They were all grieved at the thought of betrayal and asked, is it me? And soon they got into an argument about who is the greatest! Jesus is sharing with them the deepest moment of his life and the most important moment in human history, and they get distracted by petty arguments about who is the greatest.

The other side of the frame is Peter. Peter is the bold one, probably the oldest of the disciples. He would draw the sword and use it when they came to arrest Jesus. But, Jesus told Peter that he would deny him. If Judas represented the worst element of the disciples, Peter represented the very best. He was the leader of the disciples, one of the inner circle of three who were particularly close to Jesus. Yet, Jesus told Peter you will betray me.

Peter, of course, was shocked that Jesus would say such a thing. He was shocked and hurt. But Jesus said that before the rooster crowed at the first morning light, Peter would have denied him three times. Never, never would it happen, said Peter. But it did. Peter had a failure of nerve; fear overcame him. A servant girl accused him of following Jesus and he got upset, cursed and swore and denied him three times.

Within this frame, Jesus is pouring out his soul to his disciples. It was Passover. Passover was the celebration of God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt. It was the blood of the Passover lamb that marked the Israelites as belonging to God and death did not visit their household. Jesus is our Passover Lamb and our atonement. His body would be broken for us. His blood would be poured out. And it is his blood that cleanses us, it is his death as our substitute that sets us free. It was such a radical event that it would mean a new covenant, a new agreement between God and man. Salvation history had waited for this terrible moment. All of the redeemed, those before the cross and those after, depended on what was about to take place.

We cannot really understand how truly awful this idea was to the mind of a first century citizen. Many would reject Jesus because they could not understand how God could become flesh. Others could not comprehend how one man could become the substitute for all others. And there was the total shame and humiliation of it all. He died a cursed death on the cross–the place of death for those who had committed the worst evil crimes or who were cursed by God.

Jesus went where no one else could. Only the God-Man could bear our sins. When the supper was over, they went out on the mountain to pray with Jesus in his agony and the disciples went to sleep! Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him. The temple guards mocked him and placed a crown of thorns on his brow. The council of priests and scribes questioned and rejected him. Pilate passed him off to Herod and Herod scorned him. The elders condemned him to death. The people shouted crucify him! And the Romans nailed him to the cross. And Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Even God forsook him.

You and I stand somewhere between Peter and Judas. We are the thorns in his crown and the nails in his hands and feet. Someone else may have passed the sentence and swung the hammer, but we put him there. It was for our sins that he bled and died. His death was our sacrifice, our atonement, our Passover. Jesus died for you and me.

Thorns and nails, humiliation and suffering, imputation of sin and condemnation, agony and death –as we break the bread and take the cup, we remember, with all the saints of all the ages, we remember what he has done.

Matthew 26: 20-35

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