“Who do you say that I am?” – the most important question ever asked – Jesus inquired of his disciples after this query, “Who do people say that the Son of Man [Jesus] is?” He is John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or a prophet, all good answers, but remarkably insufficient. (Matthew 16:13-15) People flocked to Jesus. They sat and listened to him teach. They were healed by His very touch, yet so many missed the reality of who He was. They were like so many today, as I once was, so close to the cross…so far from the Christ.
I had a Pacman watch once. It was sweet and I know I’m dating myself but you do know who Pacman is, right? Well, happy as I could be, I’d sit alongside my parents in church every Sunday playing my Pacman watch, making sure to have the volume off, and I’m sure I set more than a few high scores.
I consider the eternal implications of what was taking place. A pastor with a right heart, I’m assuming, was in the pulpit exhorting the people with all he had, seeking to impress upon them the eternal realities of the risen Christ and here sat young Brad, oblivious and happy, consumed by the digital. So close to the cross…so far from the Christ.
Nearly two thousand years ago, at the behest of the religious authorities, Roman soldiers dragged a man to his death. Following a beating and a scourging, they forced this man to bear his own cross on a dreadful procession to a place called Golgotha where the soldiers nailed Him to a cross, and lifted Him up between two thieves. (Matthew 27:32-38)
After crucifying Jesus, the soldiers took his clothes – contrary to popular depictions, Jesus was likely crucified in the shame of his nakedness as was common to crucifixion – and divided them up into four parts, one for each soldier. But his tunic, an undergarment, was seamless and could not be divided so they said, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” (John 19:23-24a)
These four men, spattered with the Savior’s blood, sat in the shadow of the cross and gambled for the undergarment of the dying God-man. As God poured out His righteous fury and anger against the sin of men upon the Suffering Servant, as Jesus gasped His final breath and declared in finality, “It is finished,” He accomplished what had been promised so long ago. (Genesis 3:15) These soldiers sat nearby, oblivious and happy, consumed by consumption. So close to the cross…so far from the Christ.
On Ash Wednesday, February 25th, 2004, The Passion of the Christ opened in American theaters taking in over $80 million in one weekend. Depicting in shocking detail the violent final hours of Jesus’ dreadful march to the cross, the film went on to become the highest grossing R-rated movie ever. When it finally made it to the dollar theater, Ami and I decided to see what the fuss was all about.
So, one Saturday evening we shared the dank theater with literally one other person to view Mel Gibson’s epic drama. It was every bit as violent as we had heard. I’d read about the purported anti-Semitic themes and could see where they came from and after it was over, we literally sat there for a few minutes, quietly. I felt…absolutely nothing.
I knew, in my heart of hearts, I knew that I should feel something – sorrow, sadness, something – but I didn’t. I just sat there, numb, waiting for a feeling that never came. After a few minutes, Ami and I got up and quietly left. The notion of Jesus paying for the sin of anyone simply meant nothing to me…at that time.
Fast forward a decade and I can scarcely get through the opening scene without welling up and by the end of the film, if I make it that far, I’m an absolute wreck. What has changed? Why do the mere words of the old hymns stir my heart so deeply? Why can I scarcely sing, “He who was and is and is to come,” before being overcome? How has my survey of the cross turned to contemplation of the Christ?
I am what has changed or rather, what has been changed. The Holy Spirit quickened my heart that I might believe and believe I did. Now, as I stand in the shadow of the cross, as I ponder the crucified Lord, I may declare alongside Peter in response to the query,
“Who do you say that I am?”
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
As the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus came as the Anointed One to set free the captives, to liberate the oppressed, to proclaim good news to the poor. (Luke 4) Previously, I viewed the cross from the chains of bondage. Though Christ had paid it all, I had not yet believed, and as such, His sacrifice had not yet been credited to my account. No matter how close I passed by the cross, it meant nothing.
Now though, the knowledge of the Holy, that the Author of all salvation had condescended to the flesh to die on my behalf, that I might be forgiven and set free from the law of sin and death, this knowledge consumes me. I could never again sit in the shadow of the cross and not acknowledge the Christ, the Son of the living God.
So many dwell in the shadow of the cross, maybe even gamble for the garments of the Christ, toying with religion, oblivious to the gravity of it all. So many shuffle aimlessly between distractions, lifelessly squandering precious time, ignoring the reality of a risen Savior.
Would you turn to Him today and believe and declare alongside all the saints, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” You’ll never see the cross the same again. This I promise.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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