Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thank You, LORD Jesus. Take me home.

The Edge of Eternity

It was the darkest day in human history. A long stream of travelers flowed steadily into Jerusalem; some were carrying lambs. Many worshippers were absorbed in a vigorous discussion. Even the religious leaders seemed distracted from the Passover. The restless atmosphere was like the very edge of a storm!

A lonely man slumped low in his hopelessness and depression. All consciousness of time was lost as he stared emptily at the wall before him. Fighting despair, he wondered at the milling crowds. Was he so easily forgotten? Not one soul seemed to care whether he lived or died. His breath caught and his chest quivered as a gnawing fear continued to grow within him. He worked his sweaty palms together, wondering if he could bear such tension. Then startled by footsteps approaching, his heart skipped a beat! Fighting to gain composure, he vainly searched for an escape. “Is there anyone who can help me?” he wondered. Then the guard led him to an old rugged beam and motioning harshly he growled, “Pick it up!” His knees felt like water. Stooping low, his shaking hands reluctantly lifted the heavy timber. The death march had begun. Let’s listen as this fearful man unveils his account:

“People line the streets as far as the eye can see. I gaze at a sea of faces from every walk of life. It seems like this procession is marching towards the very edge of eternity! We labor hard toward Calvary’s mountain to begin our final assent.

Just when I’m really gasping for breath, I note that I’m walking upon a blood-sprinkled trail. At last we pause. Looking down, I stare at a fresh stain where a deeply wounded body must have fallen. Weary and dizzy, I raise my head to focus on the prisoner ahead. His appearance just chills me way to the bone! How can He even stand? For a moment my own misery is nearly forgotten as I marvel! Long thorns are forced into the scalp of the beaten frame. His features are not very clear. The face looks somehow familiar, but it is swollen and bruised beyond recognition. ‘So this is Barabbas the revolutionary and murderer,’ I reason. But no! A priest gloats, ‘This is Jesus, the lowly carpenter from Nazareth! Does He look like a King to you people? Well, He is going to die for His sin!’ Then some rough brutes grab a man from Cyrene and force him to bear the cross of the Nazarene. Heavily, we march on…climbing Golgotha! My face is drawn and tight. My stomach churns in terror! How unnerving! The place of execution is just above us!

Women are weeping. The Nazarene stops and I strain hard to listen. ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me,’ He says, ‘but weep for yourselves, and for your children . . .’ Then I hear an explosion of cursing from a third prisoner! Someone else boasts loudly how Barabbas is free. My breast burns as my anger boils into rage! Barabbas walking the streets? Why would these fools set him free? Why loose that murdering scoundrel instead of me? Well then, it seems to add up that this Jesus must bear even greater sin!

We’ve reached the summit of the place of ‘The Skull!’ A blinding frenzy consumes me! Recklessly, I strike out with all my strength and battle for my life! The soldiers knock me heavily to the ground. Their hard knees crush me mercilessly into the dirt. My blood nearly freezes in my veins as I turn and see the hammer! Terrified, I shriek out for mercy! Oh! Tears blind my eyes! I nearly faint as my limbs are being anchored to the wood! One at a time, spikes impale me and hold me fast! I groan and sigh in failure, nauseous as the pain shoots from my extremities. The agony is unbearable as I’m lifted from the earth! I might understand the death penalty, but not this dreaded crucifixion! Why this? My bones are slipping out of joint! Oh that the earth would swallow me alive!

The rejection is intolerable and the humiliation so appalling! I see menacing looks in the eyes of the crowd. Then looking toward the Nazarene, I pause as my heart is strangely stirred. I’ve never seen such eyes! How do they appear so kind? His sorrow seems to be for the others across the face of the hill rather than for Himself!

A group is gathering at the center cross. The religious leaders exclaim, ‘He saved others; himself he cannot save! If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in him.’ I join in while mocking and cursing Him vehemently! We challenge this Jesus to perform a miracle and to set us free. Why He must be a liar; yet the sign above Him does read, ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ Well then Jesus must be a lunatic; yet He is silent! He is not intimidated by the threats. Will He cry out for vengeance? He is naked and suspended high as they gamble for his clothes at His feet. Will He call upon angels? I’m shocked as He looks towards Heaven as I have never heard such compassion! A lump forms in my throat as I hear His cry! It sounds like a sob drawn from the depths of His soul, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ How admirable! What incredible honor! It seems somehow that the just is interceding for the unjust! Surely, I’m a guilty sinner; but could it be that this Jesus is truely the Lord?

Jesus speaks again. Tenderly He bids farewell to His weeping mother! Then He entrusts her to a caring friend. Absorbed in my self-pity, I’ve been numb for a long time toward the needs of others. What compassion as Jesus is touched by their grief!

We criminals have different views of the One hanging between us. We both see His torn body -- the dried blood, the brightly flowing rivers and the swelling pools beneath the God-Man’s cross! We see His flesh as the skin was viciously whipped to shreds, much as a victim mauled by lions! Suddenly a new pain sears and burns within my breast! It comes straight from Heaven bringing a keen awareness! Jesus is the Messiah! I recognize Him now; Jesus is Christ the Lord!

The man on the far cross mocks, challenging the Lord to save Himself and then us! His only concern is for his own hide! I force myself higher upon the nails impaling my limbs. Breathing deeply, I rebuke him with all my might! I cry, ‘We must fear God! Our guilt deserves condemnation but Jesus has done nothing wrong!’

I have nothing to offer God now to satisfy Him; no good works, no baptism, no lamb, and no reputation! How is it that God saves sinners? What was it the priests were saying to Jesus? -- ‘. . . then we will believe!’ Ah! That’s it! My body trembles with a new excitement as a ray of hope rushes into my soul! I feel so deeply I can hardly speak. I choke haltingly, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest to thy kingdom!’ The King will have a kingdom! He will live again! Oh, for God’s mercy! Tears flow freely down my face and I cry as I have never cried, hearing Jesus respond, ‘Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise!’ Amazing grace! How can it be? Hallelujah! I've been forgiven! What a Saviour!

My skin tingles as the peace of God overpowers my fear! Even here I know a joy in living and feel the grace to die! Imagine! Jesus came to die so I can live! He is categorized with the depraved and hardened criminals! He is classified with cursed sinners and numbered with the wicked! As my substitute He is bearing my sin to set me free! Known criminals, revolutionaries, and murderers are executed upon this mountain. Yet the One who walked earth’s shores, who never did a dastardly deed and never committed a sin, identified with me! ‘Thank You, Lord Jesus! Who am I that You are mindful of me? Thank You God, thank You! Lord Jesus, I will praise You forever!’ As I turn to further express my gratitude, I hear Him speak, ‘I thirst!’ Could it be that the One who made the rivers and seas agonizes without a drop to cool His tongue? It’s as if the vengeance of Almighty God is upon His Son!

Suddenly the earth is veiled in darkness! The suffering Son of God is hidden from the malicious eyes of His tormentors. Chaos breaks out across the hill as people call to each other from the darkness. Then I hear the lonely orphaned cry of the only-begotten Son of God! ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ A horrible thought grips my heart; Jesus’ fellowship with the Father is broken as never before! His sacrifice for my sin is the reason that He is suffering alone!

A new horror steals into my soul! I’m so scared! I feel as if the battle of the ages is taking place all around me, right here! It seems that all of the forces of hell have gathered to converge upon Mount Calvary! My heart breaks as the beloved Jesus courageously battles alone. The holy One is bearing all of my iniquity! I plead and pray, ‘Let Jesus prevail!’ No gladiator ever fought so bravely. The destiny of the world hangs in the balance! Then as Satan takes his final blow I hear the cry of the Champion, ‘It is finished! Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!’ As the darkness lifts, my heart is so utterly broken! What a wretched sight! It defies my words to express it! What have we done? Beside me hangs the limp and tortured form of the greatest Man who ever lived! And for the first time in my life I have discovered unconditional love!

All of a sudden an eruption of movement rocks the ground! The earth quakes, heaves and rolls! Great stones are dashed to pieces! People are scrambling for safety! Who will escape the wrath of God by fleeing to Jesus Christ for mercy! Surely God is satisfied with the work of His Son!

I hardly noticed him approaching! An awe-stricken soldier is looking up from the foot of the middle cross. I’m encouraged as he speaks thoughtfully, ‘Certainly this was a righteous man!’ I hang in awful pain, but I’m grateful while overlooking the panorama of Jerusalem. This has been a most pivotal day! I wonder, will the masses ever identify Who is the real Passover Lamb? Who will tell them how the Lamb of God bore our sin on this Golgotha altar?

I agonize as a fever builds in my brow. I think I see that one who hammered the nails. Then I hear the other thief pleading, ‘Please! Not my legs!’ followed by a sickening thud, the howl of pain and breaking bone. A soldier spears Jesus in the heart, but He was already gone! I’m so amazed and humbled as blood and water flow from the broken heart of the Lamb of God!

‘Oh, Lord! It has been such a long day for me! Now I know that You are available for every trusting soul! Thank You for meeting this poor old sinner in my hour of despair! Death was approaching but You showed me that it was not too late! Rejection was breaking my heart but You made me acceptable before God! I was overwhelmed with loneliness but You embraced me as a friend! I hated You but You loved me to Yourself! Sin brings death but You gave me eternal life!’” There is a loud crunch and his breath catches. He gasps, “‘You have set me free, Lord Jesus, You have suffered alone so I will never have to suffer again! How I need You so much! My whole destiny is in Your precious and battered hands! It's hard to . . . breath. It won't be long . . . and all of the trauma will be over . . . ! I’m coming . . . to Paradise . . . ! Home! – to You, Lord Jesus! Ah! Take me home!”’

And as is true for each of us who dies in the Lord, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints!” Ps. 116:15.
– C B 9/97

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