April 10, 2020

The Perseverance of Christ on the Cross

My prayer is that even though we are physically quarantined, we might be spiritually liberated like never before. That in the hours leading up to Easter, as we fix our focus on Christ on the cross, we’ll be awed afresh by the glorious manifestation of God’s love – immeasurably wide, unspeakably high, unfathomably long, indescribably deep.

Christ on the cross represents all of that and more. May our eyes be opened wide!

In the category of “more,” I wonder if you’ve considered the role of perseverance in relation to God’s love, and Christ on the cross? Frankly, I hadn’t – at least not seriously – until early last week, when John Messer, executive leader for the Great Lakes Region of the RCA, talked about the importance of perseverance in Christian leaders.

This got me thinking …

By the time Jesus took to the cross, God had endured over 40 centuries of sin from the people He created. And since the time Jesus took to the cross, God has endured around 20 more centuries of sin from the likes of us.

If you’re keeping score, that’s over 6,000 years of sin – one sin stacked on another.

And every one of these sins – every one of my sins – is an act of rebellion against God that points to a wholesale rejection of God. And yet, miraculously, amazingly, God determined to give sinful people like you and me His one and only Son, so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

In these last few days before Easter, let us fix our gaze on Christ on the cross.

And as we do, let us wrestle with a question that most of us are all too quick to gloss over:

What ultimately drove Jesus to the cross?

Most often, our kneejerk response is that our sin put Jesus on the cross. But that’s not entirely accurate, is it? Because while our sin created a crisis – separation from God – it’s ultimately not the reason Jesus went to the cross. In fact, nowhere in scripture do we read that Jesus died for our sins. Rather, we read that Jesus died so that we might be forgiven of our sins.

The truth is that our sin problem didn’t have to be God’s sin problem.

God could have chosen to end the history of humankind with Adam and Eve – no Abel, no Cain, no Abraham, no Moses, no Mary, no Joseph, no you, no me … nobody.

But God didn’t do that.

Instead, God made our sin problem His sin problem. And this means that our sin didn’t ultimately put Jesus on the cross.

God’s love put Jesus on the cross. And love won.

Love won when Jesus – betrayed, denied, condemned, crucified – cried out, “It is finished” – an exclamation point on a long journey of perseverance.

But don’t miss that prior to “It is finished,” in John 19:28-29 we read:

“Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.”

And then, with scripture now fulfilled, comes verse 30:

“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’”

Jesus persevered until the end. When He said “I thirst,” it was to fulfill Psalm 69:21. And it was only after Jesus made sure that the scriptures had been fulfilled that He pronounced His work finished and gave up His spirit.

The whole of Jesus’ life is a testimony to perseverance.

But on the cross, Jesus’ perseverance is simply astounding.

Consider that in Matthew 27:34, just before Jesus is nailed to the cross, we read:

“They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall, but after tasting it, He refused to drink it.”

Why did Jesus refuse to drink it? Because in those days the gall they put into wine was made from bitter herbs, which would deaden a person’s senses and dull their pain. For Jesus, this was not an option. Perseverance demanded that He experience the brutality of the cross in all of its splendor.

(As an aside, note that in John 19:30, when Jesus drinks the wine vinegar, there is no mention of gall being added. Jesus drank the undiluted wine to fulfill scripture. And He did so on His terms, without gall to lessen his suffering).

As we consider Jesus’ perseverance, let us remember this also: No one took Jesus’ life from Him; Jesus simply gave it up. Jesus died because he chose to die, something He made clear in John 10:17-18, when He told a group of religious leaders:

I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”

Finally, there is an additional aspect of Christ’s perseverance on the cross that is nothing short of stunning.

In Luke 23:44-45, we read:

 “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.”

I suppose it could be mere coincidence that a solar eclipse took place at the exact time Jesus hung on the cross, but the odds of that are infinitesimally low. Why? Because this eclipse had to have been a total solar eclipse, which is necessary for darkness to come over a large area – “the whole land.” And scientists estimate that for a given location, a total solar eclipse only takes place once every 360 to 410 years. So the odds of a total solar eclipse just happening to take place in that place and at that time are ridiculously low.

This wasn’t about random chance, it was about divine grief – about God turning away from both Jesus and the world He created. Jesus was alone – denied, betrayed, and brutalized by people – but far worse, completely cut off from His Father.

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” 

As hard as it is for you and me to deal with social distancing at this time, what Jesus experienced on the cross was more excruciating than we can begin to imagine.

Social distancing is hard; divine isolation is unfathomable.

Jesus was completely, utterly alone while literally bearing the weight of the world.

Yet, miraculously, Jesus persevered.

It is finished. 

Father, forgive me for buying the lie that any ability I have to persevere is because of my own strength, my own willpower. Forgive me for overlooking that you are the author of perseverance, and that any ability I have to persevere is because you persevered in love for the sake of sinful people like me.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
(Eph. 3:20-21)

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