Waiting to die. Nothing before me. I was lost. No compass or map. No sun to show direction. Just utterly lost. No purpose. No meaning. I must have taken a wrong turn sometime in the past, somewhere back on the journey up this trail. I had relied completely upon myself, needing no-one else. I knew something had been missing, but I had ignored that thought. Looking after my own wants and desires, I took little accounting of others’ well-being. I admit life was mostly about me. Yet there was an emptiness, and that, I had ignored as well. But surely it isn’t my fault that I found myself in a bad place! Where was this God my mother and grandfather talked about? I had shaken my fist at the sky in anger.
“You don’t exist and I hate you.”
I had always been right. I just didn’t make mistakes. Yet there must be something more. No, that’s silly, this is all there is! Me, Myself and I. Live for today, for you only get one chance at life. “I am my own man. I‘ll do it my way!” I shouted my arrogant mantra. “Take pleasure while you can before it’s too late.”
Darker and colder. Hope is fading…….Wait. The trail splits up ahead, but I can’t tell which way would be best. My superior intellect should be able to divine the right way. Intuition. Deduction. Maybe I can get back in the game. Yes, the Universe will tell me the way. I’ll meditate. “Ohhhmmmm.” I’ll close my eyes. Breathe deep – let it out. “Ohhhmmmmm.” “Find the way, before it’s too late……..too late……………….too late…………………………..”
Suddenly I find myself on a rocky, dusty, mountain trail.
The sky is dreary and the air is heavy with the feeling of an impending storm. I’m not alone on my ascent up the mountain. There is a man struggling to carry or drag something on the trail above me. As I draw closer to him I notice that he is struggling with a heavy wooden cross. His robe is soiled, and dusty, and heavily bloodstained. His straining face is shining with sweat and his features are wracked with excruciating pain. In surprise turning to shock, I notice that a wreath of long, cruelly sharp thorns has been pressed into the skin of his scalp and forehead. Rivulets of blood are slowly trickling into his eyes and down his bruised, battered cheeks. One eye is nearly swollen shut. He doesn’t seem to know I’m here.
I stop as he loses his footing and falls to one knee in the rocks. Breathing hard – nearly panting, he manages to rise and lift the cross to his shoulder but it is apparent that his strength is failing. It seems urgent that he reach the summit with that cross. In an unusual moment of pity, I wonder if there is anything I can do to help him. I’m not without compassion, am I? But no, he is probably some sort of criminal who doesn’t deserve my help and, anyway, I wouldn’t want to get into trouble. The same men who have hurt him could very well do the same to me. Yet torture of this kind is sort of disturbing no matter who he is or what he has done.
He is nearing the top of the dry, barren mountain. I follow him with a sort of morbid curiosity and watch as he shuffles painfully across a flat area until he stops, pauses, then half shrugs and half throws the cross off his shoulder onto the hard ground. He drops with painful exhaustion onto his hands and knees over the heavy wooden cross. His fingers come away covered with his lifeblood when he touches his punctured forehead. He places his shaking hand upon the crossbar and turns his face toward me. Then he stares right into my eyes and one corner of his mouth lifts in just a hint of a smile. Blood is dripping from his wounded head onto the cross. I am so startled that I look away in confusion and embarrassment. I do not know him, yet this pitiful man acts like he knows me. Frightened, and not knowing why, I turn away and quickly walk down and around a small hill until I find a cave-like formation in the rocks where I can be out of the wind and hopefully sheltered from the gathering storm.
I sit with my knees bent and my arms around them. Thinking. Wondering. Who was that man? What is he doing? Why? The wind had been raging but suddenly it becomes completely still. The light begins to fade. In a short time it is completely dark and I am desperately afraid, for I know it is only midday. If I move I risk falling into a hole or off a cliff.
“Helllp! Someone, please help me!” Silence….. Impatient, I take a few tentative steps, carefully feeling for safe places to put my feet. I take a few more steps but a ledge of rock shifts under me and I find that I’m sliding down a slope. I manage to grasp the edge of a large, flat rock as I slide past it. The edges of the rock are sharp, cutting my palms as I try to hang on. Now I am hanging in the air by the tips of my fingers.
“Hellllllp!” I cried again. “For the love of god, someone, anyone. I’m falling. Save me. Oh my god, save me.”
A small light appears below my feet. A glow like a small candle. Greenish yellow. I look down and see that my feet are just above a solid, flat rock so I drop onto it. Now what?
“You’re welcome” someone says. “Now come, there is something you should see. Just be quiet and follow me.”
“Who are you?” No reply. The tiny light moves across the rock such that it lights a path for my footsteps. I can tell that we are circling upward and to the right. “Thanks for the help. I thought I would die!”
“Yes, you would have. Shhhhh”
I follow and reach a flat place. The light moves away from the ground and stops near a pair of feet. The feet are nailed to a post with a huge iron spike! Oh, my lord, I need to get away from here! The light winks out. But, I can’t get away if I can’t see. Maybe I’m hallucinating. Let me awaken from this nightmare! The light appears higher up. I see a hand nailed to a crossbeam. I can’t look. Someone has nailed this guy to the cross he was carrying!
I’m horrified. This is too much. “Let me go! Get me out of here!”
Now the glow moves across the beam until it reaches a vertical post and I see a sign with words written on it in a foreign language. Beneath the sign I see a wreath made of thorns upon a head which is hanging down. Then I’m shown the man’s other hand – also pierced with a nail. So much blood. I feel ill and kneel on the cold stone. Obviously it is the same man I followed up the path.
“Who is this poor man?”
“Soon you will know,” the voice said softly.
“What has he done to deserve this?” I whispered.
“Nothing. He has done only good. What you see is innocent blood. Now we must move away so that he can finish what he came to do – what has to be done that only he can do.” I follow the light behind a large boulder then stand and wait.
The light is gone again. It is still dark as midnight. No stars or moon or sun.
“ Don’t leave me. You still there? ”
“ I Am.”
“What is that stench?”
“ Be still, it’s coming. They are all coming.”
The smell of dead things hits me. Sulfur. Every foul smell I have ever smelled hits me. I see it coming beyond where I think the crucified man is. It is black. More black than the dark. So black that it stands out against the darkness. It is floating like a hairy, spiny blanket and reminds me of a sting ray the way it moves through the air. Terrifying sounds begin to blare from the thing. A cacophony of screams, wails, and growls. The sounds of terror and of war and of hate. It opens its yawning maw revealing row upon row of sharp yellow teeth. Anything that got near that vicious mouth would be snatched in and cut to bits.
“What in the world is that?” I asked, terrified. Whatever it is I think it sees me. It is between me and the cross and it is looking to devour me like prey. I am paralyzed with fear. Then the man on the cross intervenes. He says something I can’t understand as though speaking directly to the predator. I hold my breath. It turns toward him. What a relief!
“ It is something you have never understood. Close your eyes so that I can make you see a little better.” With that the light appears like a small oil lamp, touches me on the forehead and then over my heart, and disappears. Something inside me says “That is the first sin.” Now the hideous thing is settling onto the cross for I can see its outline wrapping around the outline of the cross and the figure of the man. I hear the sounds of a violent, gasping struggle. Sin seems to be trying to suffocate him and crush him with its considerable weight. It seems to burn him like strong acid yet he appears to be neutralizing and absorbing it.
I breathe a sigh of relief until I see more sin coming from all directions heading straight for him like wasps with stingers bared. They attack him like the first, only by the hundreds, millions, billions. The expanse of the dark sky is filled with them. Piling onto him. The man is in agony beyond my understanding. This is no ordinary man.
“How can he endure this nightmare? Isn’t it enough that he has been tortured, and hangs there bleeding to death? Now he has to be attacked by these monstrosities?” As if in reply all I can hear is the muffled sound of weeping. I can’t help but weep myself and sink to my knees under the constant streams of unspeakable things passing overhead. I curl up and cover my ears. All the while the inner voice is comforting me. Giving me small insights. Keeping me from going crazy with terror. “How long have I been here?”
“Nearly three hours.”
“This is horrible, why do I have to watch this? Worse yet why is it happening to this nice man if, as you say, he is innocent? What in god’s name is going on?”
“This mysterious, wondrous man is receiving all the blasphemy, all the malicious thoughts and deeds, all the selfish ideas and cruel acts that ever happened and that will ever happen. He is absorbing them somehow. To his very marrow. I am not even certain exactly how He is doing it. It is supernatural, for he is beyond nature now. And there’s even more to it than that. He is becoming sin. And yes, you spoke well, He is doing it all in God’s name. I know that a multitude of angels could be called to help Him, but He knows He must do this alone – completely and terribly alone. This is the only way – to trade places with you – to endure what you could never endure. He who has been perfect is ready to give up everything He holds very dear – even His relationship with His Father and His eternal life in Heaven and He is doing it all for you. He is becoming what he despises most to save you. You did ask to be saved, remember? This poor guy, as you call Him, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! No one can come to the Father except through Him because of what He is doing right now! You are seeing Lord Jesus, the one and only Son of God, in His finest hour. Giving His utmost. Giving His all for His brothers and sisters. He is working toward His own destruction. Yes, you are right. It is almost too much for even me to bear.”
I still had my doubts.
“ Are you telling me that this Jesus, God, Heaven stuff is real?”
“ What do you hear inside?”
I sat in stunned silence and listened…. In a very small voice I heard myself say “Yes, I’ve been so wrong……..”
“Stand up, you should see this”
I stood. The last of the black abominations was being taken in. Save one. It was massive. Uglier and nastier, more foul-smelling and noisier than any of the others. I shuddered. “What in the world is that?” There was a long pause……..
“Don’t you know?…………….That one is yours.”
Hanging my head and through my sobs I confessed. “Yes, it is so full of unforgiveness, and selfishness, and every other bad thing. Yes mine is the worst. I‘m so sorry.” Just the weight of my terrible sin alone should have crushed Him yet he bore them all. I don’t understand.”
“He accepted your punishment. Now you are almost free. Your ‘lifesaving’ is a gift from Us, but there is just one more thing you must do. I’ll see you soon, there’s something I must do too.”
“Us? Who?…. Wait !…. What do I do now?!!
“Choose. Life and death have been laid before you. Of course Life is preferred. Who is your Lord? We have great hopes for you, but the choice is yours and there can be no compromise. Choose.”
I stand here in shock as the sky’s light begins to return. Am I witnessing my first dawn? I turn to Him. The cross seems worn and bent. He seems almost……..
But even now He is dying, and with His last breath I hear Him declare loudly, not in defeat, but in triumph:
“IT IS FINISHED!”
All creation seems to be groaning and weeping. Nooooooo! How can this be! I can’t lose Him now! All Heaven and Earth is wailing in protest, the thunder is deafening and an earthquake is throwing me into the air. My landing is sure to hurt, but I’m not afraid for suddenly belief overtakes me. My fear is gone. I believe that I will be delivered to safety and the name of my Savior is Jesus Christ, Messiah, Son of God. Immanuel. God With Me. I believe, and everything has changed! But, oh, how I wish He weren’t gone. I so would have liked to talk with Him…… Noooooooooooooo!!!
I can’t watch as they take His body away. I simply stay in a fetal position behind my boulder and wonder in awe – and in deep sadness. For another day, maybe two, I just wait and think. Why do I feel light and new. My burden is gone but so is He. I should be sad and I am, but somehow this air is clean and fresh. Are those birds that I hear? Why do I hear someone singing?
Toward dusk, I stand and walk to the cross. The cuts on my palms are open and bleeding again and they hurt. Standing at the foot of this horrible post, I feel small. I can hardly bear to look at it, yet something catches my eye. There is something written there behind where His wonderful, pure heart once beat. He must have done it when he collapsed atop the cross and smiled at me. There are words in a foreign language with my name under them. Another is there beside mine. I see crimson hand prints on both sides of the cross where his hands gripped it. I don’t know how it could be that the blood is still fresh, but it is. Impulsively I stand on my tiptoes, stretch, reach upward and place my hands over his hand prints. Mercy, Lord! Instantly a circuit is completed! My hands are held firm! His blood enters my cuts and there is no more pain. Not in my hands nor my heart. Connected by blood, I feel His presence! He is my Savior. My Lord Jesus! I am His and He is mine! A bright, white light wraps itself around my feet and travels up my legs. Engulfing. Permeating. It reaches my chest, then the top of my head. I feel clean and new and whole. The feeling of a warm blanket descends upon my head and, as it slowly falls, wraps me in comfort from head to toes. My whole body – my whole being – tingles with joy as though sparkling light is becoming a sensation inside me. I lift my palms from the cross and, like a child, raise them to the sky. I have chosen. He is alive in me and I live in Him. At last I know who and whose I am, and why. “Thank you Father, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Jesus!” I just sit at the foot of the cross and weep for a long time…………..
I awake at dawn smiling , whispers of sunshine warming my face. I’ve slept soundly all night and remember dreaming that I enjoyed a banquet in a palace full of beautiful people. After an amazing meal, there was a party. Everyone there smiled at me. All through the night we had such fun singing and dancing……
Whispers. The little Light was back bouncing all over the ground and over me. Excitedly it announced, “Happy Happy Morning! He is alive, indeed it is true! The stone was not as heavy as it looked! He rose from His grave. All that He gave up has been restored to Him. Everything! Even now He walks among His people. He knows of your choice!
He wants to talk with you! Come quickly!”
I was already running! “My Savior Lives!”
A season later, I am a different person now – a new person with a new heart. It’s hard to explain, yet simple. My fears and doubts are gone. Selfishness is replaced by love. I know meaning, yes, and purpose. And there is this joy – this amazing joy! I look at my cupped hands. They are completely healed, and in them is the little bubble of Light. I ask it, “I wonder what those words meant. The ones on the cross, in the blood that doesn’t ever seem to dry. What would He write to me in His own blood?”
“Don’t you know? Can’t you guess? My child , it’s in Aramaic. He is saying
“I LOVE YOU”
Oh my dear Lord! Now my Father and Creator and I can talk and have fellowship. He tells me I will always be His and that He will always be mine! He said I could keep the little Light which led me to Him and which helped me to see when times were darkest. My Lord still loves to show me my page in His Book of Life.
It says: “(Len, grandson of David) — Acquired December 2, 2004 AD at 9:33 am central time. On that day Father and I danced and sang with him and all Heaven and the angels rejoiced until half-past eternity!”
(He has a great sense of humor!)
Acquired! Wow! And that’s how I learned that I am not my own, but that I was acquired – purchased by His blood and paid for by His carrying my sin away ! Acquired and purchased not as a mere possession, but redeemed as a treasured son, brother, and heir.
Not my own! Entirely His!
Oh, and about that name beside mine on the cross written in His blood. My dear friend, haven’t you guessed? Do You not know?