Uncategorized

Why A Cruel Cross by Elizabeth S Mason

All have strayed and all are lost, Sadly Jesus bore the cost; In His own body on the tree, He deeply suffered for you and me. Lloyd Mason

“He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the chosen one.”’ Today we also may ask, why didn’t Jesus, God the Son, save himself? Why would a loving God allow his son to be tortured and slaughtered? For the answer, we have to look at Jesus’s purpose on earth which had its origins in the beginning of the Bible. The account of Adam and Eve is often seen as a myth, because it was written in story form, as is oral history. It certainly was written centuries after it occurred and attributed to Moses. Even though it appears to be very simplistic and metaphorical, there are some important concepts within it that tie the message of the Bible together. Adam and Eve, however, were recognised by St Paul as real people, not mythical constructs. They were a new species, innocent as newly born babies, given an idyllic place in which to live and the freedom to organise their own environment but there was one restriction God placed on them: ‘“…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”’ After Adam and Eve had done precisely what they were instructed not to, they ceased to be innocent. Saint Augustine of Hippo believed that the tree symbolised the process by which God created the universe, so when Adam and Eve, in their wilfulness, chose to interfere with this, they showed their disrespect of God’s work. Because of the choice they made, God couldn’t trust them to access divine privilege. Therefore, he said, ‘“…for dust you are and to dust you will return.”’ The implication of this is that had not Adam disobeyed God, then he would not have died, so death became a consequence of his and Eve’s actions. Jesus was born as an ordinary human being but with extraordinary powers. St Paul referred to him as ‘…the last Adam, a life giving spirit…’ However, he didn’t have the same advantage as Adam because he wasn’t born in the Garden of Eden, a special idyllic oasis in the world, protected from the ravages of nature; instead it was into the world in which Adam and Eve were exiled after they disobeyed God: a world where all matter is recycled by any means possible, without any reference to health and safety. ‘So the Lord God banished [Adam] from the Garden of Eden…’ Adam and Eve’s disobedience had consequences for their offspring, as all had to suffer the same separation from God because the virus of sin entered the human soul: ‘For all have sinned…’ Consequently, none of Adam and Eve’s descendants were able to re-enter Eden in case they ate ‘…from the tree of life…’ and so would be able to ‘…live forever…’ At the entrance to the Garden of Eden God placed: ‘…cherubim [angels] and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life…’ We see that only those who obey God can have eternal life. This is probably because all creation would cease to exist if God’s rules of nature were destroyed. Unlike Adam, though, Jesus obeyed God as he was one ‘… who committed no sin…’ Nevertheless, being subject to the forces of nature, he had to suffer from the consequences of Adam’s disobedience: death. So why did Jesus come to earth as a human and so suffer death? St Paul tells us that God, ‘…made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…’ St John records Jesus’s words to a Pharisee, Nicodemus, saying: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ God, therefore, through Jesus, gave humanity a second chance to choose whether or not they wanted to obey him and if they did, then they would be able to live eternally. So, it was made possible for everyone to escape the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, which is eternal separation from God. Jesus died, therefore, because he chose to live the life of an ordinary man, albeit without sinning: a life which always results in death. This was the only way God could link this world to Heaven. Another difference between Adam and Jesus was that Adam was ‘…of the dust of the earth…’, whereas Jesus was a ‘…man… of Heaven’ , as Mary gave birth to him through divine intervention. Notably, we’re not given specific details as to how Adam was formed from earthly dust or exactly how Mary, a virgin, conceived. However, we do know that as a divine person, Jesus had powers beyond those of ours because he could change the molecular structure of liquid through using only his mind, seen when he changed water into wine, control gravity by walking on water and heal many illnesses, using only his command and touch. He could even bring people back to life as he did when he raised Lazarus from the dead, a man who had been entombed for four days. However, he never used any of his powers for himself. Like Adam, Jesus was tempted by the devil, whom Jesus referred to as, ‘“…the prince of this world…”’ which gave him the power to tempt everyone. Unlike Adam, though, who succumbed to temptation, Jesus resisted it. After fasting in the wilderness, Jesus was hungry, so being in such a weak physical state, he was taunted to use his powers for his own needs: ‘“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”’ Jesus refused by saying, ‘“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ Therefore, he chose to obey God and not use his powers for himself, rather than satiate his basic need of hunger. This first temptation was tailored to Jesus alone, as no one else could have the power to turn stones into bread: to change mineral into vegetable. We learn from astrophysicists that some amino acids, the seeds of organic life came to earth in the form of rocks; however, even with our advanced scientific knowledge today, humans can’t turn minerals into organic life. We can’t transform the molecular structure of matter. However, we see that Jesus had the power within himself to do this, for he had the power of the creator and so was tempted to use this special power for his own needs; here we see that for Jesus this would be a sin. The third temptation was also individual to Jesus, for the devil challenged him to jump down from the top of the temple, allowing the angels to catch and protect him, ‘“…they will lift you up in their hands…”’ No ordinary person could be tempted to do this, as they couldn’t expect angels to rescue them. Again Jesus refused, telling Satan not to test God. The attraction Satan offered here was spectacular fame and glory with the accompanying adulation. However, the second temptation was very similar to the one Adam and Eve received, so here Jesus was tempted as a human being; the devil promised to give Jesus everything he could see from a high mountain: ‘“All this I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.”’ Jesus refused by saying: ‘“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’ For Adam and Eve, ‘…the serpent…’ (the devil) promised them that they would, ‘“…not certainly die…”’ but become, ‘“…like God…”’ Supreme power was the bait in both cases. Humans are only able to experience reality within a time frame, with a beginning and end where matter changes form over time, for we have no conscious experience of anything else. Within our imaginations though, time can be manipulated, as we see in science fiction where time machines can travel between the past, present and future. It would seem then, that our imaginations are linked with eternity because we learn that Eternal God in the form of the risen Jesus Christ is not bound by time, as he, ‘…is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ We have a ‘…God of love…’ who ‘…doesn’t change…’ It would seem probable then, that God could view the future as we view the past. Through our knowledge of history, we can learn all the details of how Henry V111 murdered two of his wives but we have no power to stop him, nor are we in any way responsible for his actions. In the same way, God, who is not bound by time, can view the future. He can see which choices humans make and their consequences but he isn’t responsible for them. This would explain the prophecies of the suffering of the Messiah and the knowledge Jesus had of his own death. Because the devil, the spirit in charge of the world, is evil and tries to thwart God’s creation, God works through the humans who are dedicated to him and his laws of love, justice, equality and peace. However, he is limited by the power of free will which has been given to all humans, as we see in Adam and Eve. Free will is an integral part of love, the essence of God, for we can’t truly love if we manipulate the ones we love. If some of us choose to be ruled by the devil, instead of God, then God has to find alternative ways to overcome the consequences of these people’s actions. Jesus, the Messiah was the alternative to Adam. He came to earth to live as an ordinary human being who followed God throughout his life. The writer of Hebrews tells us that in order to free humanity from the power of the devil: ‘[Jesus] …had to be made like them, fully human in every way… that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ As a human being, he had to die but the manner of his death, as I see it, was not decreed by God but by the devil. A God of love couldn’t inflict the pain and torture that Jesus endured, only the destructive devil could do that. Deceitful manipulation couldn’t be an action of a God of love but this played a great part in Jesus’s crucifixion. Caiaphas, high priest at that time, didn’t understand that Jesus was the Messiah but viewed him as a threat to the security of an occupied Israel. He said: ‘“…it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”’ This was true irony, for Caiaphas believed that the death of Jesus would appease the Romans, so they wouldn’t take reprisals against all the Jews for the many followers Jesus had. If this was the reason, although it was admirable that he was concerned for the survival of the Jewish nation, he failed to follow the sixth commandment not to kill and so he didn’t protect an innocent man. He may, however, have had selfish reasons, as Jesus criticised the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, thus challenging Caiaphas’s authority. If this was so, then he was breaking the second commandment, making his own pride more important than God’s laws. Whatever his intention, he was sinning. His actions, therefore, were used to inflict an agonising death on the Messiah: someone the Jews were eagerly awaiting to give them their freedom. Ironically, his words to the Sanhedrin were true in the long run, because Jesus’s death was followed by his resurrection which opened the way for all mankind to be reunited with God. His death didn’t have to be torturous though, for without the intervention of evil forces, he could have died peacefully in his sleep and still been resurrected. This was unlikely to happen, though, at a time when the princely rulers of the world were imperial, brutal, tyrants. There were probably two ways Jesus, as a human being, could have avoided his death at that time: one was to fight the guards who came to arrest him and if he had won, he would have sinned by breaking the sixth commandment not to kill; the other was to leave Jerusalem, refusing to take Judas with him. In each case, he would have had to hide for the rest of his life and flee to another country, because the Jewish authorities were determined to execute him. His ministry would then have been discredited. As he wanted to fulfil his purpose, he had to stick to his mission and face the evil hurled at him. In Gethsemane, Jesus, knowing what was going to happen, prayed for God’s help: ‘“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”’ I believe God answered his prayer by giving Jesus the help he would give any other person who worshipped him and went through evil. Throughout the Bible God promised to give strength to those in trouble who trusted in him, as we see in the Psalms: ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.’ God didn’t give Jesus any special privileges because he had to live the life of an ordinary person. The first temptation illustrates this, as we see that it would have been a sin for Jesus to use his powers for himself, even though he was starving. It would seem that the only way to link human beings to eternity and so to God was for a sinless human being, albeit God’s son, to live and eventually die, and then be resurrected as a physically changed human being. However, had God treated Jesus as a special human and given him help no ordinary human would receive, then Jesus would no longer have been God in human form but God in heavenly form on earth and so would not have been able to tie humanity with God’s eternity through his death and resurrection. He would not have fulfilled his purpose here. ‘Jesus declared … “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ Had God the Father given God the Son permission to save himself and miraculously descend from the cross but had not given the same privileges to other believers who were in similar or worst situations, such as the Christians whom the Romans fed to beasts, then how could God have any justice, or love his neighbour as himself? The words Jesus taught would have had a hollow ring and people would have said and would still say that his teaching was hypocritical. So how did God the Father answer Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane? Firstly, Jesus had the strength not to hide from the soldiers who came to arrest him but the courage to allow Judas’s kiss, which identified him, thus protecting his disciples from arrest. We don’t know why Judas decided to betray him. He sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver but he might have been given a lot more if it was just the money he wanted. After all, the chief priests were looking for an opportunity to arrest Jesus away from the crowds, with whom he was very popular. Perhaps Judas was trying to force Jesus’s hand to lead the Jewish people in a revolt against Roman occupation, which is what the Zealots wanted. Whatever his reason, he was complicit in the death of Jesus, an innocent man, thereby also breaking the sixth commandment not to kill. As Jesus was being arrested, fighting broke out but he took no part in it. Instead he stopped it by healing the damaged ear of the high priest’s servant, which Peter had cut off. He did this so no one would be harmed. Then, when questioned before the high priest and Sanhedrin, Jesus had the courage and strength to remain silent, except to affirm the power of God and his identity: … the high priest … asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer?” … But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. “…Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of Heaven.” After saying this, the council condemned Jesus for blasphemy, so for punishment, they presented him to Pilate to be put to death. However, Pilate, finding out Jesus was a Galilean, sent him to Herod, under whose jurisdiction he fell but Herod didn’t condemn him, although he did mock him. Therefore, we find out that no ruler, who had the power, wanted to execute Jesus. Pilate’s wife thought Jesus was guiltless, so she tried to persuade her husband not to condemn him because he was an ‘“…innocent man…”’ She’d had a dream about him and we know that God had spoken to good people before in dreams. At the birth of Jesus, Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him that he should take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. However, as much as Pilate was willing to let Jesus go free, he didn’t because he was more scared of Caesar than of true justice. The Jewish authorities shouted: ‘“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar’s.”’ Pilate wasn’t prepared to sacrifice his comfortable living standard in order to protect an innocent man. After the chief priests and their followers cried for Jesus’s blood in place of Barabbas’s, Pilate further illustrated how he felt about Jesus’s guilt, for he washed his hands, saying: ‘“I am innocent of this man’s blood.”’ He then handed him over to be crucified. We see that God’s hands were tied by the misguided, selfish, evil choices of others. Nevertheless, Pilate gave Jesus the status he believed belonged to him, for he wrote above his head on the cross: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’, despite the objection of the chief priests who wanted him to write: ‘“… [he] claimed to be King of the Jews”’. After Jesus had been beaten and humiliated, he was taken to Golgotha to be crucified. The soldiers then ordered Simon of Cyrene from the crowd to carry the cross for him which he did, thus assisting Jesus when he had been weakened by brutality. When hanging on the cross, Jesus didn’t become bitter, for he had the love of God within him, which was shown when he prayed for his executors by saying: ‘“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”’ Of the two thieves with whom Jesus was crucified, one believed in and supported him when the other mocked him: ‘“But this man has done nothing wrong … Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”’ Then we see that Jesus, although suffering and dying in agonising pain, still had the forgiving nature and power of God when he assured this thief that: ‘“…today you will be with me in Paradise.”’ John tells us that there were people loyal to Jesus, supporting him by the cross: four women and ‘… the disciple whom he loved …’ Here we see the dying Jesus’s consideration for his mother because Jesus was able to ask his beloved disciple to take care of her for him: ‘“He said to his mother, Woman here is your son”…He said to the disciple: “Here is your mother.”’ Jesus then had the assurance that his mother would be cared for after his death, thus reducing his stress regarding her wellbeing. Afterwards, Jesus cried out that he was thirsty, so someone by the cross gave him wine vinegar to drink on a sponge attached to a long twig, so his pain would be eased. As noted above, Jesus was taunted on the cross because he wouldn’t save himself: ‘“He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”’ This challenge, the final temptation, was very much like the third temptation, explained above, in which the devil taunted Jesus to spectacularly throw himself off the temple and be saved by angels. Jesus answered this by quoting scripture: ‘”It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”’ Likewise, Jesus answered those who taunted him on the cross with Scripture. He remembered a Psalm which could console him in his plight, in the same way that many people, over millennia, have remembered comforting Psalms. He began to call out Psalm 22 which begins with: ‘“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ This would seem that God had forgotten him but, although the Psalmist begins with this desolate cry, he ends on a positive note of hope: ‘For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help … He has done it.’ Jesus’s last words were: ‘“It is finished.”’ He had done it. Jesus had kept his dignity throughout. He never cried, begged for mercy, or recanted. He remained loving and caring throughout all of this horrific ordeal. His spirit was never broken, only his human body. His suffering and death took less time than it did for others, because a soldier was about to break his legs to shorten his life but didn’t because Jesus had already died. He was spared the extra suffering. After his death, he still received support from those around him. A centurion by the cross admitted: “Truly this man was the Son of God” Pilate was asked for Jesus’s body which was then wrapped ‘… in linen cloths with myrrh and aloes’ and placed in a new, nearby tomb by two faithful, respected men: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, a Pharisee. His human remains were lovingly cared for. Here we see that not all the Jewish leaders were his enemies. Jesus had lived a human life as a sinless man and God had treated him as he would any other human being who believed and trusted in him. He’d had no special privileges, only the love, comfort and help God promises to everyone who truly worships him, including help given through other holy, devoted people and scripture. The consequences of Jesus’s obedience to God was seen on the third day when he arose from death, leaving an empty tomb. He appeared to others and then ascended to Heaven. Afterwards, the Holy Spirit was given to all receptive humans, to help everyone access God’s grace through believing in Jesus. Now life with God, after death, was and is accessible to all believers. The damage that Adam and Eve’s sin had caused was rectified for all time.

Copyright by Elizabeth S Mason The right of Elizabeth S Mason to be identified as the author of the Work has been asserted by her in March 2019 accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Bibliography

Cox B.& Cohen A. (2011). Wonders of the Universe, Chapter 2, ’The Origins of Life’. Collins. p135 ‘Holy Bible’. New International Version. eBook Mason L. (2001). A Breath of Fresh Air, ‘His Face Was Marred’. Paladin. p121 ‘Wikipedia the free encyclopedia’. eBook

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *