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Precious Sorrow, Beautiful Catastrophe – 2) Predicament
by Bruce Paul
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“Let there be light” said God, and there was light
“Let there be blood” said man, and there was a sea
(Lord Byron)

Crucifixion as a form of capital punishment was originally invented by the Phoenicians but was soon adopted by the Persians and Carthaginians. When Rome finally defeated their long-standing archrivals, the Carthaginians, they implemented crucifixion as a statement of disdain toward their former enemies and as a warning against any who would oppose the state.

Those who were condemned to this form of execution eventually perished from blood loss, impaired circulation, asphyxiation, exposure to extreme environmental conditions, and possibly heart failure. Public humiliation added to the psychological torment of the crucifixion process during the several days it could take before the victim finally succumbed. The level of pain inflicted, the time span this pain had to be endured, and the public display of this torture made crucifixion one of the most grotesque methods ever invented to end the life of a human being.

The Road of Emanuel

Despite the fact that thousands of people were condemned to death by crucifixion, the execution of Jesus of Nazareth may have been the most brutal in history. This innocent man was betrayed by one of his closest followers and deserted by all his disciples, to the point where one of his closest friends denied knowing him.

Jesus stood alone before his accusers to be accosted and humiliated. He was beaten the night of his arrest by those who detained him, struck and slapped in the face later by the religious leaders after their interview and then beaten by the guards that took him to Pilate. Jesus was struck in the face again and again with a rod the soldiers gave him as a mock sceptre, crowned with woven thorns and scourged thirteen times over each shoulder and thirteen times on his back. He was then forced to carry his own cross to the place of his crucifixion, all the time being insulted, scorned and spat on by the same people who were hoping to crown him king just days before.

I’m not trying to be sensationalistic in describing the details of Jesus' death. These are just the simple facts of the Biblical record. The reason we need to understand the extent of the suffering Christ endured is to have a clear perspective of the problem with which God was dealing. You don't use a sledgehammer to adjust the timing of a wristwatch, and Jesus would not have had to die on a cross like this if the human condition was not catastrophic.

The prophet Isaiah wrote this about the Messiah 700 years before Jesus was born - "Just as there were many who were appalled at him - his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness . . . He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted" (Isaiah 52:14, 53:3,4).

Reading the context of this section of Isaiah, it's clear that this passage is speaking of what the Jews foresaw as their Messiah. Further, this description of the Messiah reflects the very image we see of Jesus in the New Testament. Yet, most of the Jewish people of Jesus' time weren't looking for a beaten and crushed Messiah. They envisioned a Messiah who would come as a great king, freeing them of their Roman oppressors. What they could not see was this enslavement by Rome was only a symptom of their real problem. The real problem, which concerned God, was pride and disobedience stemming from their slavery to sin. Man's taskmaster "sin" was the core reason the Messiah was sent into the world.

Without Perfection

If you haven't already noticed, people don't like to talk about the word sin. In fact, few words in any language have the ability to silence conversations and turn people away as quickly as this one. Perhaps the most despised word in our vocabulary, its very existence denies the humanistic belief that people are essentially good. The word comes from an ancient archery term meaning, "to miss the mark", and thus draws the analogy that human’s fall short of the moral perfection of God.

We all treat the subject of sin like we treat the world's pollution problems. We know pollution has harmful effects on our environment, yet it's difficult for us to deal with the waste that leaves our own homes every day. We hide it from our sight in black opaque plastic bags because it is dirty and what's the point of looking at it - out of sight, out of mind. The point is that we never seem to fully make the connection that the world's pollution problem is really a problem with ourselves, just as we never seem to acknowledge that crime and hunger and greed originates from the common source of our own hearts.

We all like to minimize our faults and emphasize the good things in our lives, but when the Bible talks about sin, it clearly communicates that this poison permeates every facet of our being. Every corner of our lives and every part of our character is touched by sin's dark embrace. Even the most kind and honourable motives we have are corrupted by self-serving and egocentric values!

In God's eyes, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (Isaiah 64:6) Rather than being broken by our sin and seeking Gods forgiveness, we trivialize our dark side and call our obvious transgressions an accident or an error. In our eyes, sin is just a mistake.

Man calls it a blunder - God calls it blindness
Man calls it a defect - God calls it a disease
Man calls it a chance - God calls it a choice
Man calls it weakness - God calls it wilfulness 9

Fallen Arrow

According to the Bible, the original sin was actually committed in heaven by an angel we know as Lucifer or Satan. The book of Ezekiel not only shows that Satan was initially created good (Ezekiel 28:15), but was one of God's grandest creations. Speaking of Satan, it reads: "You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty." (Ezekiel 28:12) It even states that Lucifer was, "anointed as guardian cherub [angel]," (Ezekiel 28:14) and shows him to be assigned a place at the heart of heaven.

The time came when this angel stopped focussing on the majesty and glory of his creator and started looking at his own radiance. "Your heart became proud on account of your beauty and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor." (Ezekiel 28:17) This sin of pride grew to its inevitable result - rebellion! Satan said in his heart, "I will raise my throne above the stars of God . . I will make myself like the Most High." (Isaiah 14:13,14) The one who was created would lead a third of the angelic host into a great battle against his own Creator (Revelation 12:7-9). The rebellion failed and all the dark angels were cast out of heaven.

Some people are repulsed by the very concept of evil forces living among us and influencing us. The fact is this celestial drama does sound a little like Greek Mythology 101. Yet, neither the striking horror of the prospect of evil, nor the familiar theme of this story, negates its possibility. Few people in our culture would ridicule the chance of life existing on other planets, and neither would they deny other dimensional realities other than that which we know and experience. Logically then, there should be no reason to disbelieve other life could exist here among us in another dimensional reality.

For those who believe that this account sounds like Greek Mythology 101, we'll point out that the Biblical account is peculiarly unembellished and unapologetic. The Bible simply records the information as it records other historical information. This account also answers a very important question.

There are those who question God's moral ability to judge evil by posing the question, "How could God judge that which He Himself made?" Apparently, however, evil was not created by God but was spawned from the heart of Lucifer. God created freedom of choice for all the angelic host, and free will necessitates the "possibility" or "potential" of evil, but not the fact. The creative act is not the source of evil, for evil rests on the one who used free will to exalt himself.

To Be God

The book of Genesis begins by describing the order in which God created all things, and then focuses on the culmination of all His creative activity - humanity. Adam and Eve would be humanity's organic representatives and are pictured as initially enjoying a special relationship with God. Man was the object of God's affection and God was the object of man's wonder.

This initial state of innocence disintegrated when Adam and Eve transgressed the one commandment God had given them. This is not a story of an old ogre punishing humanity just because they messed up once. This is a tragic account of a gracious God who had entrusted man with freedom, only to be rejected once again.

Adam and Eve had complete freedom in paradise apart from one action, eating the fruit from one tree out of an entire forest. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat this fruit but the real reason for man's failure was not just enjoying a little lunch. The origins of humanity's fall resulted in pursuing the serpent's promise "when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). The root of sin's inception was a determination to be like God, which was the very sin that had corrupted Satan.

Like a drug that causes genetic mutation in all of one's descendants, this pride poisoned all of Adam and Eve's children. We call this inherited flaw sin, and every person that has descended from Adam and Eve has been born with this defect. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. "The lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understands, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Psalm 14:2,3)

The Bible's portrait of what sin is and what sin has done to mankind is far more disastrous than many would like to think. Adam and Eve became slaves to their own egos in this blatant act of self-service. Falling into the error of the Ptolemaic system, man placed himself in the center of his universe with everything else, including God, rotating around him. Augustine wrote, "sin is believing the lie that you are self-created, self-dependent and self-sustained".10

Man's slavery to his own ego resulted in death, as turning away from his life-giver meant relinquishing life. "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." (Romans 5:12) Sin, as it does today, took man further than he wanted to go, and cost more than he wanted to spend. "In a distorted sense, the promise of the serpent was fulfilled in that we humans now had the knowledge of good and evil. The deception lay in that humans could not feel remorse over the perversion of evil from the height of a holy estate. We would only be able to idealize good from the pit of a darkened condition."11

Our conscience can now give us a sense of what is right, but we can never attain our own ideals. We see social disintegration everywhere because slavery to our egos results in moral confusion. Apart from Biblical values giving us consistent and fixed absolutes about what is right and wrong, we ignore our conscience and become self-indulgent. Morality becomes an issue of convenience, for in turning away from God, we have turned away from His truth. We have lost our desire to know and obey God's values because we are too consumed with exalting and justifying our own egos. We discard our moral compasses and then deny ever being lost.

Revolution of Restitution

So, it is "fitting", that in being pinned to the cross, Jesus would be recognized as an enemy of the Roman State, an empire which whole-heartedly pursued the fruit of the sinful nature. Christianity is counter-cultural and Christ came not to become the head of the established world system, but to change the lives and hearts of people who live in the world. This egocentric ailment that permeates the human heart could not be remedied with the exercise of a few religious rites or a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for its roots run far too deep and its damage is too extensive.

The symbol of Christianity is not the guiding beam of a lighthouse or the refreshing waters of a fountain, but an instrument of death and suffering. Sin is a disease that requires radical surgery and the cross testifies to the severity of the prognosis. The cross is a great road sign in life's journey warning us that the ways of this world lead to death, and even our own hearts have somehow become twisted. It urges us to understand that we cannot make it ourselves. We need help!

A marquee diamond may have a brilliant blue color, be perfect in clarity and without flaw. But to the untrained eye this precious gem could be passed off as a worthless piece of glass. However, if you place a black piece of velvet behind the diamond, the dazzling exhibition of colors would quickly reveal its uniqueness and worth.

So too, the love of God expressed through the cross of Christ needs to be contrasted with darkness of the human heart in order to appreciate its excellence. Pausing in life and recognizing the truth of our own sin is the most difficult step one makes to enter into friendship with God, for our pride demands we reject this. Yet, this most difficult of steps is a prerequisite of the scriptures and the clear message of the cross.

Bruce Paul is a Christian business man, father of three, lay apologist, and freelance writer. He is a principle of Faith-Friends, a new portal concept to promote local Christian ministries and Christian business people in the marketplace, one community at a time. http://www.faith-friends.com/

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