Sunday, April 3, 2011

You Call This "God"?

    While planning for "Redeeming Marriage" is still underway, I've been getting back to my reading of "The Cross of Christ", which I wrote about in "I Must Know Him." I've just made it through the foreword and the first 9-10 pages of the opening section, "Approaching The Cross", and it's already given me cause for much reflection. So I thought I'd put some of my thoughts down here in my apartment's laundry room, while waiting for my clothes to go through the drying cycle. The more I read of Stott, the more conscious I am of my ignorance regarding the depth behind Christ and the Cross.

    At the same time, Pastor John delivered two insightful sermons over last week and today. Titled "What Is Truth?" and "Behold Your King!", respectively, they were a detailed look at the Gospel narrative of the events leading up to Christ's crucifixion. Cautioning us that we sometimes come to the Cross and the statement 'Jesus died' too quickly, he wished to provide a detailed backdrop of the historical and cultural context of the events leading up to the actual crucifixion. Together, John Stott and John Neufeld reminded me that like many others, I too am culpable of skimming over the surface, neglectful of the import of all that lies beneath the statement 'Jesus died on the Cross'. In particular, I was reminded of one of the most crucial implications that I need to keep in mind if I want to understand Jesus better by starting at the Cross:

    The Cross is confounding to human intellect, for God chose to reveal His beauty and glory in an essentially shameful and humiliating death on a horrific instrument of torture devised by his own creation.

    Tracing the historical emergence of the Cross as the symbol by which early Christians chose to identify themselves, Stott wrote:

    "The Christians' choice of the cross as the symbol of their faith is more surprising when we remember the horror with which crucifixion was regarded in the ancient world...How could any sane person worship as a god a dead man who had been justly condemned as a criminal and subjected to the most humiliating form of execution? This combination of death, crime and shame put him beyond the pale of respect, let alone of worship...It is probably the most cruel method of execution ever practiced, for it delibrately delayed death until maximum torture had been inflicted. The victim could suffer for days before dying...Cicero in his speeches condemned it as crudelissimum taeterrimumque supplicium, 'a most cruel and disgusting punishment'".

    Reading that, I went back a few pages and reflected on Stott's observation that of all the possible symbols that the early church could have chosen to identify themselves, they did not choose "the crib or the manger in which the baby Jesus was laid, or the carpenter's bench at which he worked as a young man in Nazareth, dignifying manual labor, or the boat from which he taught the crowds in Galilee, or the apron he wore when washing the apostles' feet, which would have spoken of his spirit of humble service. Then there was the stone, which having been rolled from the mouth of Joseph's tomb, would have proclaimed His resurrection. Other possibilities were the throne, symbol of divine sovereignty, which John in his vision saw that Jesus was sharing, or the dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven on the Day of Pentecost. But instead the chosen symbol came to be a simple cross."

    In the process of better trying to understand all that I'm coming across, I'm realizing that I need to develop a better understanding of and respect for the history and traditions of the church over it's 2,000 year history. I think I'm often too dismissive of the sincere traditions and practices of those who have gone on before, without researching their history and asking the all-important question - "Why?". It's sobering as I think of countless men and women of almost two thousand years past who have given their lives under suffering, persecution and ridicule so that the essential truth of the Cross and the Gospel might be preserved, because it was precious to them. I'm so often ignorant of all this, taking so much that I have for granted. I was especially reminded of this in the closing paragraph of the section that I stopped at in "The Cross of Christ":

    "So then, whether their background was Roman or Jewish or both, the early enemies of Christianity lost no opportunity to ridicule the claim that God's anointed and mans' Saviour ended His life on a cross. The idea was crazy. This is well illustrated by a graffito from the second century, discovered on the Palatine Hill in Rome, on the wall of a house considered by some scholars to have beenused as a school for imperial pages. It is the first surviving picture of the crucifixion, and is a caricature. A crude drawing depicts, stretched on a cross, a man with the head of a donkey. To the left stands another man, with one arm raised in worship. Unevenly scribbled underneath are the words ALEXAMENOS CEBETE THEON, 'Alaxamenos worships God.'...Whatever the origin of the accusation of donkey-worship (which was attributed to both Jews and Christians), it was the concept of worshiping a crucified man which was being held up to derision."

    I looked up a picture of this artifact on Google, and have put it below:

"ALAXAMENOS CEBETE THEON" (Alaxamenos woships God)
    As I close this post, I am reminded of the words of Christ in Mark 8:38: "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." The author of the letter of Hebrews encouraged its recipients to endure, "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).

    As incredible as the shame of the Cross is to those who contemplate it, it seems that the greater shame comes upon those who having encountered it, find only an object of comedy and ridicule. 

May I not be ashamed of the road that my Master walked on.

- The Wisdom Seeker