Like a sapling he grew in front of us, Like a root in arid ground… a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering …. And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings in peace and through his wound we were healed –excerpts from Isaiah 53.
Our Jewish neighbors began their Passover celebration on Wednesday evening and our Muslim friends are observing Ramadan this month–what a convergence! May Jesus bring peace and harmony among all of us and impact an end to this awful war in Ukraine!
I’m going to rely on two articles from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading companion Bread and Wine that now has a broken spine in need of a chiropractor.
The first one was written by a favorite author, Henri Nouwen, that gives us the title of this blog– that Jesus was “handed over ” to death for us. This happened in the garden of Gethsemane when he was arrested. And Nouwen noticed that not only is Jesus “handed over” to Judas, but also from God! “God did not spare his Son but “handed him over” to benefit us all (see Romans 8:32). Many of us are “handed over” beyond our own wishes or wants too. The former president was just handed over to the court beyond his own wishes, wants, desires and will. When was the last time that happened to you? It happened to me this past March 8th when I was told by the DVV that I could no longer drive. That’s kinda painful, ya know–as I’ve been driving for 62 years, since I was seventeen. So, ask yourself, when was the last time you were handed over to someone or some event against your will? And can you unite that experience to Jesus on the Cross?
Now this second article offers a very different point for our consideration. It’s an article entitled Naked Pride by the Rev. John Stott, a distinguished Anglican priest and theologian. . .
The essence of sin is human beings substituting themselves for God while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us all. Humans claim prerogatives that belong to God alone while God accepts penalties that God should not have to endure—only humans.
As we gaze upon the cross this Good Friday— either one in our home or the one at the end of our rosary or just the one printed in this blog if you have no other—we can gain a clear view both of God and ourselves. Instead of inflicting on us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured that sentence in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the “scandal”,which means, the stumbling block of the cross.
For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely there must be something we can do to make amends? If not, we give the impression we’d rather suffer our own punishment rather than of seeing God through Christ to bear it in our place.
Our author tells the story of a play by George Bernard Shaw entitled Major Barbara (1905) about an incident at the alleged West Ham shelter in which Bill Walker, “a rough customer” arrives one cold January morning drunk. He gets himself into trouble there and seizes a girl by the hair and strikes her, cutting her lip. He’s mocked by the other residents because he didn’t have the courage to take on the “bloke” that he’s jealous about. Bill’s conscience and pride nag him until he can no longer bear the insult. He decides, in a kinda cockney accent, to spit in the guy’s eye, or if not, “git me aown fice beshed.” (Get my own face beaten.)
But his opponent refuses to cooperate, so Bill returns shamefaced. He comes back to the group and lies, telling everybody, he spit in his eye to which one of the girls calls out, ‘Glory Allelloolier!”
The girl who was injured tells Bill that she’s sorry and he didn’t really hurt her, which makes him angrier still. “Aw down’t want to be forgiven by you or by anybody. Wot I did Aw’ll pay for.
He tries another ruse. He offers to pay a fine that one of his mates just incurred and produces a sovereign.
“Eahs the manney. Take it; and let’s ev no more o your forgivin and pryin (prayin) and your Mijor jawrin me. Let wot Aw dan be dan and pid for; and let there be and end of it. This bloomin forgivin and neggin and jawrin mike a menn thet sore that iz lawf’s a burden to im. Aw won’t ev it. Aw tell yer. Avve offered to py. Aw can do more. Tike it or leave it. There it is.”—and he throws the sovereign down.
And so, our author sums up . . .
The proud human heart is thus revealed. We insist on paying for what we’ve done. We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that that somebody else should be God himself is just too much to take for some people.
We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves.
Rev. Stott, an Anglican priest, and renowned theologian, states that only the gospel of Jesus demands such a self-humbling on our part. No other religion or philosophy deals with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore, they come to a “cheap” conclusion. In them, you and I would be spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator has borne the punishment instead of us! We would not have to be stripped absolutely naked.
But . . . but we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing absolutely naked before God.
Think about that for a moment. You and I will have to take off our shoes and socks. Our shirts and pants or our dresses.
Our undershirts or our bra.
Our skivvies. And stand absolutely naked with your private parts and all.
Rev. Stott continues: It’s no use trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness and gaze on the Lord wearing our filthy rags in spite of us.
And then . . . and then allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness and light.
Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn Rock of Ages . . . .
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to your Cross I cling
Naked, come to for dress
Helpless, look to you for grace
Fool, I to the fountain fly
Wash, Savior, or I die.
And now here’s my prayer . . . .
Dear God, We give you thanks for sending your Son to us.
He has lived among us–become one with us–borne our griefs.
He became obedient unto death to bear our sins and pay our debts.
Yet we were ungrateful and turned our backs to goodness and love.
Forgive us, Lord for the hardness of our hearts.
Turn us back to you to your love and forgiveness.
And please help us bring an end to this terrible war in Ukraine.
Be especially with those who are sick
and those who courageously care for them.
And let us once again share in the joy of your Risen Life!
We ask this as we ask all things through Jesus Christ our Lord!
And now, before you go, here’s the hymn: He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Click here.
If you would like a commentary on the Passion story of St. John’s gospel you can find it here: click here
John Stott Naked Pride In Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing co. pp. 217-221. From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515 // Henri Nouwen, “From Action to Contemplation” from “A Spirituality of Waiting by Henri J. M. Nouwen in the The Weaving Reader, ed. by John Mogabgah, Copyright by the Upper Room, Used by permission.