I must admit that I floated through my early life oblivious to the true meaning of the cross for Christ. Yes, I knew he died for me, but I was in my late twenties before I recognized the significance of that sacrifice. I don’t know whether my Sunday School teachers and ministers just didn’t explain it or if I didn’t understand what I was hearing, but for the first twenty-five years of my life, I thought Christ arose again just to prove he was God’s son. Yep! That’s what I got out of a life of church attendance.
Then someone recommended I read Max Lucado’s book, Six Hours One Friday.
What was I missing? A LOT!
Christ was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The Israelites knew they couldn’t sustain the perfection of a sinless life, so they sacrificed the best of their flocks and harvests in order to appease God, but an animal really couldn’t wipe out all of their sins. It took Christ to do that. As he hung on the cross, he cried out: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me!” (Matthew 27:46).
What did Jesus mean? At that point, Christ took the sins of everyone–past, present, and future–on his shoulders. He became an abomination to God, the Father. God is holy. He can’t look upon sin. For the first time in Christ’s existence, God turned his back on him.
Have you ever entered a house where you expected someone to be home, but you knew the minute you entered the door that no one was there? You could feel it, couldn’t you? There’s an absence of presence, of spirit. It’s a lonely, eerie feeling, especially when you expect that person to be there. I can’t imagine what the absence of God feels like. It must be a gazillion times worse than that emptiness we feel when a loved one is gone or far away. This is the pain and torture that Christ cried out about, not the physical, but the spiritual.
This is hell.
When you understand this, the night he spent praying in the garden before his arrest takes on new meaning.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
I don’t believe he prayed about the pain and suffering his physical body would go through. I believe the cup represents his separation from God as Christ bore the sins of the world. Did specific people and their sins cross his mind at this time? Did he think about Cain? Did he remember David and Bathsheba? Did he consider how Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed? Did he think of me? Did he think of you?
I believe he did, and that’s why he adds, “not as I will, but as you will.” Even with the yawning, painful separation from God looming in his future, Christ accepted his role in our salvation. Even when he returned to Peter, James, and John and found them sleeping instead of maintaining watch with him, he still loved them and loved us enough to accept his part in our salvation.
I don’t know that I could accept such a burden when the very people I’m sacrificing my connection to God for are unable to honor one simple request in my hour of need. Luckily for us, I’m not the one who had to make that choice.
It does remind me that I should sacrifice for others. Christ came to be a servant, laying his life down for us…but most importantly he took our sins as his own, suffering through hell in order to make us white as snow in God’s eyes.
What does it mean for you?