The Darkness of the Cross
The first action of God in the act of creation was to send light to overcome the darkness that once was our entire universe. In the recreation of souls, God once again sent light to overcome the spiritual darkness that blinds the soul to His great goodness.
From the instant Adam and Eve sinned, a spiritual darkness overcame the souls of men. That spiritual darkness culminated on the Friday of our Lord’s crucifixion. Just as God saw the darkness of the earth in Genesis 1:2:
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the water, so Jesus saw the darkness in man’s souls when he was arrested in the Garden.”
“Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him. Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”
As Jesus’ human body—beaten, tortured and naked—hung on the cross of wood, God sent darkness across the whole land from twelve noon until three p.m. when Jesus breathed His last breath. God magnified His Light by sending the darkness. This was a very unusual darkness. The darkness was a metaphor for the spiritual reality that was taking place. There was one Roman Centurion who received the message of the darkness and could see by the way Jesus died that He was the Son of God.
The One who created the sun to give us light and energy caused it to stop shinning, fully exposing the darkness of the souls of men (Luke 23:45). The darkness that surrounded the cross was a message to all gathered there and to all who read about the events of that day. God showed us the darkness of this event in many ways. The Gospels tells us graves were opened, and the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom at that moment in time.
None of us is immune from the darkness of our souls. God created a sun to give us light and energy to live on the earth. God has also sent His Son into the darkness of our souls to be the light and energy our souls were created to need.
A Roman Centurion received the message God sent through the darkness that day, but the Pharisees and elders seemed to miss the message once again. Do you receive the message of the darkness of the cross? Do you recognize the darkness in your soul and let Christ’s light in?
Bonus Tea Time for Your Soul Lenten Section:
Jesus’ Dirty Bleeding Feet
Tuesday, March 11
I spent some time meditating on the cross of Christ and I discovered a lot about me and even more about how much He loves me.
The first thing I noticed as I meditated was how dirty Jesus’ feet must have been as they writhed, crippled with pain in their distorted position nailed to the cross. His already dirty feet were further desecrated by the blood that first trickled, then oozed, and eventually dried and crusted over after the dirty nail had penetrated both of them. I imagine His toenails and the crevices of His feet lined with streams of dirt and blood.
I remembered the two Marys in the movie The Passion of the Christ. I remember distinctly that they bowed before Him as he hung on the cross, partly in respect, but mostly in overwhelmed heartbreak. Their grief was so crushing they could hardly stand. There was scene where His mother Mary reached forward and kissed the only part of His body she could reach—His bloodied feet. When she drew back, her mouth was smeared with His blood. I remember thinking at that point in the movie that her action and blood smeared mouth should be a hideous sight, but it wasn’t. I thought to myself, I would like to kiss His bloodied feet too.
I could not take in the whole cross, only His feet. At first I saw only how blood- stained, dirty, and distorted they appeared. Then I noticed something that startled me. More revealing than the blood was the dirt on His feet, collected from the roads of earth Jesus had walked in order to show His love for me. The dirt was built up by days of not being washed, from His journey from garden to court, from court to the cross. Then it hit me. Jesus’ feet were in such a state, yet all the while the disciples’ were sparkling clean. How do I know that the disciple’s feet were clean? Because Jesus had just washed them the previous night.
No one washed Jesus’ feet, and so they hung, seeming inhuman the way they were placed together one on top of the other with a nail forcing them together, a sight made more hideous by the blood and the dirt. Jesus dirtied His feet so ours could be made clean.
Jesus’ feet themselves almost take on the shape of a cross—the way they had to be laid one on top of the other so the pain would be searing as He pressed down on them to fill His lungs with air.
What does all this mean? First of all, I only have begun to meditate on the cross. His feet themselves display the enormity of His love. When will I be ready to take in the entire sight? It was important that the disciples had their feet cleaned by Jesus that night. Jesus is the only one who can clean our feet. He takes on the dirt that should be ours. Jesus is willing to dirty Himself for love. Now I grasp the beauty of Romans 10:15 better, “And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
He Was Not Broken
Wednesday, March 12
I was given communion in an intimate gathering and I was asked to say, “This is His body broken for you,” as I offered the bread to my neighbor. I just couldn’t say it. I don’t like to be rebellious or anything, but my heart could not say those words when Psalm 34:20 says, “He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken,” and Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12 specifically told the partakers of the Passover meal not to break the bones of the lamb. John 19:36 says, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of his bones will be broken.” So I said to my neighbor, “This is His body which was given for you.”
Now it wasn’t like the others who said, “This is His body which was broken for you,” were doing anything wrong. They were fully receiving the meaning of what communion is about—a grateful remembrance of what Christ did on the Cross for us. They also weren’t saying, “These are His bones that were broken for you,” which would have been in direct contradiction to Scripture. In fact, the statement made could be true in the sense that His heart was broken for you and His heart was contained within His body. I’m sure there were many other physical parts of His body that were broken in the process of crucifixion, but there was one thing we know for sure and that is that His bones were not broken. That is a fact. That was important. That is important for us to remember!
Why? Have you ever asked yourself why it was so important that Jesus’ bones were not broken? Why did God absolutely guarantee that Jesus Christ would not break a bone on that cross? It was customary when the Romans were through making a mockery and a sensation of criminals during a crucifixion to break the bones of the criminals to hasten the death process and get the whole thing over with. When the criminals’ bones were broken, they could no longer push up on their feet to allow air into their lungs. That day, it was the Jews who asked Pilate to break the bones of the criminals so that their bodies would be dead and taken down before their Holy Day. John 19:33-34 tells us that they broke the bones of the two criminals, and when they came to Jesus they saw that He was already dead; to confirm this fact, they pierced His side. God purposed that His Son would be pierced for our sins, but never on this earth would He allow His Son’s bones to be broken.
I’m sure you are waiting for me to give some sound theological reason that His bones were not broken. I don’t have an answer except to say that it is important to notice this. I want to notice it. I want to celebrate it. I want to ponder it.
In my pondering I have had a few thoughts. God the Father sent His beloved Son in Whom He was well pleased to die for our transgressions. He was willing for His Son to be mocked, rejected, beaten, inhumanely treated, and ultimately to suffer one of the most heinous deaths that mankind could think of, but He was unwilling under any circumstances for His dearly beloved Son’s bones to be broken. Was this one act to keep us from the utter despair of our sin against Jesus? Was this His sign that in the midst of this grand chaos He is still in control and nothing that was done was done without His foreknowledge and His willingness? Does it explain that if God was not willing the crucifixion could never have happened? Was it God’s one comfort for Himself? Did He allow the immense suffering His Son endured on our behalf except the torture of a broken bone?
I’m really not sure. But I want to be sure to wonder. I want to be sure to remember. I want to be sure to celebrate that in all that Jesus suffered for me. I can be blessed that not one of His bones was broken.
The Women of Easter
Thursday, March 13
The first time I remember feeling sorry for the entire male race was the morning of my daughter's birth. My husband was ecstatic. He was bouncing off the walls with excitement. He called everyone he could think of, in spite of the fact that she was born at 3:29 a.m. As I lay in the bed watching him I realized that as happy as he was, he could not know the feeling I had of cooperating so closely with God in this act of His creation. I don't write this to bring pain to those women who have longed to be mothers and are not. I do write this to highlight the special and unique way God created us as women. He created us uniquely to enjoy the intimacy of relationship on a level different from a man. This fact about us as women shows in the events of Easter.
The second time I feel grateful for my status as a woman is when I reflect on the events of Jesus’ Passion. I'm proud of my sisters who stood so courageously at the cross, who dared to mourn publicly for Him, and who insisted on giving Him a proper burial. The women of Easter represent faith, trust, loyalty, and compassion during the darkest days of their spiritual lives. The women shine at Easter. Their example of devotion to Christ is rewarded by God. God chose Mary Magdalene as the first witness of His resurrection, even though women were not considered credible witnesses in that day. Jesus said that everywhere the Gospel is preached the action of Mary of Bethany (anointing His head with costly perfume) would be remembered.
Of Jesus’ seven statements from the cross, one was spoken to His mother. The longest discourse of Calvary was spoken to the women who were mourning for Him as He walked the Via Dolorosa (the road of suffering). He told them not to weep for Him, but for themselves as He prophesied the destruction of the temple that occurred in AD 70. Henry Gariepy writes, “With all the record of opposition to Jesus, there is not instance written of in which a woman opposed Christ. No women ever forsook, betrayed, or in any way expressed enmity against Christ. Rather they followed Him, opened to Him their homes and hearts, bathed His feet with their tears, anointed His head with perfume, and now as men dragged Him to His death, they showed the compassion of their sorrow and wept for Him on His way of martyrdom.” Before I claim too much credit for the women of Easter, I must admit that due to the customs of that day, it was not as dangerous for a woman to stand up for Christ as it was for the men. There were men who remained faithful to Christ during these dark hours; John was with Him all the way to the cross, and Nicodemus and Joseph made arrangements for His burial.
The events in the lives of women at Easter reveal the way women devote themselves to relationships. Women hang in there when things get tough. It also exposes women's deepest pain. No doubt that this day Mary was remembering the words of Simeon spoken thirty-three years earlier recorded in Luke 2:35; “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” She knew this day was coming, and although she dreaded it, she wouldn't have missed it. She needed to be there for Jesus, for God and for His disciples.
The lesson for women at Easter is to ask ourselves; “Have I devoted myself fully to relationship with Jesus Christ above all other relationships? Have I have been loyal, compassionate, and trusting of Jesus in the dark days of my spiritual life? Would I have been among these women of Easter who so beautifully demonstrate all that God wants from us—a heart devoted to Him?”
The Day that Changed the World
Friday, March 14
After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimatha, with great courage (Mark 15:43) went to Pilate and requested Jesus’ body. Not only was Joseph a man of courage, he was also a prominent member of the council, and generous to give Jesus his own new tomb, which had been cut out of the rock (Matthew 57:60). He wrapped Jesus in linen, rolled a stone to close the entrance and left. The women watched everything he did, then they too left the scene. Although they had heard Him say over and over that He would rise again on the third day, none of them seemed to remember this. None set up camp around the garden tomb waiting to be first to witness this glorious event. Perhaps we would have no eyewitnesses at all, if it weren’t for those vexing religious leaders who went to Pilate and demanded a guard to prove that Jesus could not rise from the dead. (Matthew 27:57-66) So confident were they that the stone would not move, they sealed it with wax.
The rest of Jesus’ disciples spent Holy Saturday keeping the law of the Sabbath. (Mark 15:42). Sabbath began at sundown that Friday night, and although their hearts were broken their obedience to God’s law was compulsory. I’m sure they didn’t feel like rest; I’m sure they would rather have planned a proper burial with the right rituals, herbs and tears. Maybe some wanted to plan their defense, an uprising, a campaign to fight injustice. Yet, their law insisted that Sabbath was a day of rest. According to the law, Friday was the day of Preparation, and Saturday was a day of rest.
Friday was a day of getting ready for the rest. That Friday had been immensely busy for Jesus. The preparations were torturous. Before Jesus could rest, He endured trials, injustice, mockery, beatings, whippings, and ultimately the crucifixion. After such a day of preparation, this Sabbath promised to be the greatest Sabbath ever. It was the first Sabbath that the Three-in-One could be absolutely certain that the possibility of salvation for sinful man was unmitigated! What a rest that must have been in heaven!
You remember on the seventh day of creation God rested. Henri Nouwen writes; “There was a deep rest around the grave of Jesus. On the seventh day, when the work of creation was completed, God rested. ‘God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he rested after all his work of creating.’ (Gen. 2:3). On the seventh day of the week of our redemption, when Jesus had fulfilled all he was sent by his Father to do, he rested in the tomb, and the women whose hearts were broken with grief rested with him.” (Henri Nouwen, Walk With Jesus, Orbis, p. 88)
And then came Sunday. The women eager to properly anoint their Savior with herbs, rushed to the tomb as soon as it was daylight. These women became the first to witness the reality of the day that changed the world. The time for rest was completed and now it was a day for worship and celebration. It was the day the disciples and followers of Christ got their first glimpse into what really happened on Friday. It was the day everything began to make sense. All who traveled to the tomb found it empty except for messengers from God. Mary was blessed to meet Jesus face to face on that day that changed the world. Henri Nouwen writes “As these things took place, new words broke out of the silence of Holy Saturday and touched the hearts and the minds of the men and women who had known and loved Jesus. These words were: ‘He has risen, risen indeed.’ They were whispered from ear to ear as an intimate message that could be truly heard and understood only by a heart that had been yearning for the coming of the kingdom and had recognized its first signs in the words and deeds of the man from Nazareth.” (Nouwen, p. 94)
He is risen! He is risen indeed! It is my deepest prayer that these words have true meaning in your heart. I pray that you have understood and received the message of Easter. I pray that your life has been changed by the day that Christ proved to all His victory over sin on your behalf. I wish you a joyous and blessed Easter Sunday!
Naked and Unashamed
Saturday, March 15
I really don’t like to picture Jesus on the cross. I know He has conquered death and the cross has now become a thing of beauty, but I can’t fully accept the beauty of the empty cross without first wholly embracing the ugliness of it. Mel Gibson gave me a vision in his movie The Passion of the Christ. My mind took in another aspect after reading an article in my alumni magazine. My alma mater has a painting of the crucifixion on display. The artist, a Bryan College alumnus, painted this scene to depict the reality of the Bible’s descriptions, rather than the beautiful museum renderings. The artist felt it was vital to paint Jesus without clothing since the Bible says that they took His clothes from Him.
I can understand why other artists would rather give at least an ounce of dignity to the blood-smeared, unbecoming, dying Christ. Just a little loin cloth to cover His nakedness makes sense. As I pondered Jesus naked on the cross, I realized that I wanted Jesus to be clothed for me, for my sake. I want to make the cross less humiliating for me to look at. I don’t want to think of Jesus hanging naked. I don’t want to face the utter inhumanness of mankind and a deeper darkness of the reality of sin.
Jesus, however, was naked and unashamed. Unlike the first Adam, our second Adam brought dignity to His nakedness. He was born into this world naked and died naked too. And as my son taught me when he was five years old: “When Jesus came into the world, they wrapped Him in cloths and when He died they wrapped Him in cloths.” Jesus evokes profound thoughts. The cross crosses my mind in newer and richer ways every year. I don’t want to think of Jesus naked on the cross, but Jesus was willing to experience the shame of the cross to reveal our true shame and show us the reality of our own nakedness.
Looking at a naked Jesus on the cross should produce shame in us. We look upon a shameless One and come face to face with our own nakedness. None of us would want to be naked and nailed to a cross for all to mock. Jesus chose that fate so He could finally cover our naked, shameful condition. Jesus isn’t the One who is shamed by His nakedness; it is we who are brought to our senses when we see that Jesus was stripped for us to help us see our nakedness in the light of God’s holiness.
Job seemed to accept his own naked condition. After losing his children and all his possessions in one day he commented, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). It’s not Jesus’ nakedness that should turn our eyes away in shame; it is how Jesus’ nakedness reveals our nakedness, our own inability to save ourselves. The One who conquered death made a true covering for us. God pictured this in the garden after Adam and Eve sinned when He shed the blood of an animal and made garments for them to wear to replace their pitiful fig leaves. The clothes of this world will not last. We must clothe ourselves in Jesus’ righteousness or we will be forever naked and ashamed.
The Crucifixion painting is displayed in the library of Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. The artist is Robert Meredith.
Palm Sunday in Heaven
Sunday, March 16
It might just be me, but there is something that I just love about Palm Sunday. I remember the excitement at church as we children were lined up and each given a perfectly shaped palm branch. Palm Sunday was an exciting Sunday in the life of a child growing up in our church. All the children would be paraded through the church waving our palm branches. I knew it was special, I just didn't know how special.
I suppose growing up in Florida, the beauty of a palm tree can become commonplace. Not for me. It is my favorite tree on the earth. I live in Dallas now where Palm trees do not grow naturally (although that doesn't stop people from trying to grow them here). Whenever I travel to a location where palm trees flourish, I feel a little sense of being home in some way. Places where palm trees grow are some of my favorite places in the world.
I don't think I realized it at the time, but this sense of awe for the palm tree has a deep spiritual connection to me. Honestly, as a little child I don't think I thought much about honoring God as I was walking around and through the church in a line of children waving my palm branch to smiling parishioners. It was more about fun. Of course the boys usually made weapons out of them and the teachers were constantly having to correct their behavior. The girls, in general, were not tempted by this behavior; we turned them into fans to keep us cool or to pretend we were princesses. No, the spiritual significance didn't hit me until much later.
The triumphant entry to Jerusalem is my favorite part of Passion plays. This is the way it should be. Sure, a few things are out of place. For instance, Jesus is on a donkey, not a grand carriage pulled by royal horses; but the people’s response to Him—now that was what was right about it. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people laid down their coats for Him and His donkey to walk across. Then some of them tore down palm branches and laid them down.
What an exciting day. Don't you wish you could have been there? Wish no more. I've got exciting news for you. There will be a day when you can wave your palm branches before your King. And this time things will be exactly as they are supposed to be. Revelation 7:9-10:
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
We will get a chance to praise God the way we should, the way we remember each Palm Sunday. There will be a time when we can celebrate Palm Sunday for eternity. Even if you can't find a palm branch, take some time to imagine a multitude praising God as you go through this day.
Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Respond to Dr. Newman's article