Malankara World Journal
Malankara World Journal
Holy Week Special 3
Good Friday - Holy Saturday

Volume 2 No. 69 April 5, 2012

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Crucifixion
 
Table of Contents
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1. Editor's Note

2. Bible Readings

Bible Readings for Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

3. Sermons

Sermon collection for Good Friday. Also included is a special collection of sermons based on the 7 words spoken by Jesus Christ on the cross.

4. Resources for Meditation and Reflection

5. Featured: Good Friday Homily: I Thirst

As we listened to the Passion of our Lord according to John, we might have missed it. We might have missed two simple and beautiful words. Right before He died, right before Jesus breathed His last, He said; "I thirst," two simple words. ...

6. Why Did Peter Weep Bitterly?

This is what Peter saw: he saw his sin and he saw the response of Christ Jesus, the judgment of love and mercy. He saw that Jesus went to his death by his own power. Before such tremendous love what else can one do but weep bitterly? ...

7. The Spit of the Soldiers

Spitting isn't intended to hurt the body—it can't. Spitting is intended to degrade the soul, and it does. What were the soldiers doing? Were they not elevating themselves at the expense of another? They felt big by making Christ look small. ...

8. Reflections on Good Friday

Good Friday is the bleakest moment in the Gospel story. Reading the story of Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion today, we have the benefit of knowing that it's all leading up to the triumph of Easter. But to the Jesus-followers present at the scene, it must have seemed that the world as they knew it was falling apart. ...

9. Who Will We Take on Good Friday?

Christ stands before us, the crowd, again this Good Friday. Who will we take? Do we want Barabbas, the robber, or do we want Christ, the savior? Jesus makes no promises to come in the way we expected. God is never limited to the usual ways of acting in our lives. But God is constant in love. Christ is ever compassionate. Who do we want in our lives this time? They are waiting for our answer...

10. It is Finished

One of the last things Jesus said on the cross was, "It is finished." At that moment, it certainly looked like the end. It looked like it was over. But I believe that wasn't just a statement of fact, it was a statement of faith. He was saying to Father God, "I've done My part. I've fulfilled My destiny. Now, I've got total trust and confidence in You that You are going to finish what You started through Me." Even though it looked like the end, in reality, it was only the beginning. ...

11. Recipe: South Indian Yogurt Fish (For Easter)

12. Seed of Promise

Jesus would walk the long, lonely road to the cross. Rather than taking the way of self-preservation, he would offer his life, like a grain of wheat. He would die; he would be buried in the darkness of the earth, but as a result he would bear much fruit. Despite what lay ahead of him, and despite the trouble in his soul, he affirms, "For this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." ...

13. The Death of Jesus

When on the point of expiring, Jesus placed before his eyes all the sufferings of his life—the poverty, fatigues, pains, and injuries which he had suffered—and, again offering them all to his Eternal Father, he said, All is now accomplished—all is consummated. All that the prophets foretold of me is consummated; in a word, the sacrifice which God expected in order to be appeased with the world is perfectly consummated, and full satisfaction is made to the divine justice. ...

14. About Malankara World

Editor's Note
This is the third special for the Holy Week. Today's edition of the Malankara World Journal will cover Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the Saturday of Good Tidings. The last of the special will cover Easter; we hope to publish it on Saturday.

From my childhood, I always felt that Good Friday is something very special. The services are long; but it never felt long. The kanji at the end of the service really feel very tasty. We are busy doing the prostrations (Kumbideel); trying to find a place to do it is a challenge as the church is full. One year, I tried to stay outside in the tent made to accommodate overflow crowds. There was plenty of space for 'kumbideel'; but after a dozen prostrations on the small pieces of rock pieces on the ground, the skin of the knee just gave way and it started bleeding profusely. I went back to the church; the choir mat carpet felt much more comforting!

What we have in the US is a luxury compared to that. I get special spot as part of the service team in the front. So, no need for competing for the space any more!

Good Friday is also the time we recognize how beautiful our liturgy is. The first procession is symbolic of Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha. After a look at the priest carrying the cross on his shoulder, it is difficult to stop crying. The second procession is a funeral procession. The most sorrowful scene of all, the Mother of Jesus crying near his dead body. She is asking Jesus, "My beloved son, why did you let them do all these things?" Does she remember at that time what Simeon told her when she took the baby Jesus to the temple for presentation that "a sword will pierce through her soul." Nicodemus and Arimathea Joseph are preparing the dead body for burial.

In the sadness of the occasion, most of us miss out the transformation that took place in the liturgy. The first procession had the theme of a sad occasion. No ceremonial dresses. Just a shameful journey.

But the second procession is a true celebration. Jesus had died on the cross. It was the mission of Jesus. Although He had pleaded with the father to take the cup (of sufferings) away from him in Gethsemane, he remained obedient; he overcame all temptations and completed his mission. The centrality of the plan for the redemption of mankind was for Jesus to die on the cross and for Him to resurrect on the third day. Jesus has conquered death by dying on the cross. So, the church conducts this procession as a true celebration. In fact, the church started this day although we "officially" call the Pentecost Day as the Birthday of the Church.  Ceremonial dresses for the participants; bells, marwasas indicating the presence of the angels, etc. add colors. It is just beautiful in symbolism!!

Orthodox Church does not display crucifixes in the church. The reason is that, for us, Easter is the most important day. The symbolism of the empty tomb reinforces our faith. He is Risen! As St. Paul said, 'If Christ hasn't died on the cross and resurrected on the third day, our faith is worthless.' So, we have a live savior and not a dead savior. That is what makes Christianity unique; no other religion has a savior who has conquered death.

Holy week is the time to reinforce that faith. Cross became the symbol of Christianity; it reminds us that Christ has paid the price for our sins so that we can have free grace for the asking and believing. Our Lord is not an an angry and vengeful God; He is a God of Love and Mercy. Our God weeps for each of us like Jesus did when he went to the tomb of Lazarus. He keeps tab of each of us. Not a single strand of our hair will fall from us without His knowledge and approval.

Two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI stated while conducting the "Stations of the Cross" on Good Friday:

"The Cross of Our Lord embraces the World, his Way of the Cross goes across continents and times. We are all involved in this way. We don't have the possibility to be neutral in the Way of the Cross. Pilate sought the way to be neutral, to be far off, and it is exactly this way he took a position for conformism and against justice."

"In the mirror of the Cross, we have seen all the sufferings of today's humanity. But we have also seen stations of consolation. We have seen the Mother who remains faithful on till death and beyond death. We have seen the bold women before her Lord without fear of proving her solidarity with the suffering."

"In this way, we have been invited all along to find our own place, to find with these great persons the path with Jesus, the path of goodness, truth, courage and love."

This Good Friday, please contemplate on the mystery of the cross and the sufferings of our Lord. Try to understand the liturgy. While singing the most popular Mor Aprem's Bovooso, or while listening to the long Sedara prayers, try to identify what Jesus went through. It is not tough to follow. The gospel readings tell us exactly what happened during that period. So, listen carefully and meditate. Identify with Christ.

Only a very few days remain for the Holy Lent. I do not know about you; but breaking the Lenten period into one week at a time made it look short and more manageable!

Wish you a blessed Good Friday and Easter.

Dr. Jacob Mathew

This Week in Church
Bible Readings

Good Friday

Gospel Saturday (Saturday of Good Tidings)

Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_Great-Lent.htm

Sermons
Sermons for Good Friday

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for Good Friday

Special: Sermons on The Seven Last Words from the Cross
Malankara World has several eBooks containing sermon selections based on the last 7 words spoken by Jesus on the cross. Read and meditate.

The Seven Last Words from the Cross
by Edward F. Markquart

Faith, Works, and Grace: Addresses on the Seven Words from the Cross
by Arthur Chandler, Bishop of Bloemfontein. London, 1920

Blessing and Ban from the Cross of Christ: Meditations on the Seven Words on the Cross.
by Morgan Dix. New York, 1898

The Temple of His Body:Good Friday Addresses on the Seven Words from the Cross
by Edward Allan Larrabee, 1905

The Calls of the Conqueror: Good Friday Addresses on the Seven Words from the Cross
by Edward Allan Larrabee, 1908

The Words from His Throne: A Study of the Cross
By the Rt. Rev. Charles Lewis Slattery, D.D., 1927

I Thirst. - The Fifth Word from the Cross
by Most Rev. Fulton J. Sheen

Three Words from the Cross
by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

The Seven Last Words from Cross
by Edward F. Markquart

More Sermons

Features

Resources for Meditation and Reflection
Featured: Good Friday Homily: I Thirst

by Fr. Andrew

We adore you O Christ and we praise you, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world!

As we listened to the Passion of our Lord according to John, we might have missed it. We might have missed two simple and beautiful words. Right before He died, right before Jesus breathed His last, He said; "I thirst," two simple words.

We would be mistaken if we think that these words only refer to a physical thirst, that His mouth was dry. We would be mistaken if we think that these words simply meant "I love you," they go much deeper than that.

I thirst, Jesus says. These are not words from the past but living words, spoken here and now to our hearts! Do we hear your name? Is He thirsting for us? Until we begin to understand these two simple words, we won’t know who He desires to be for us. When we begin to live our life hearing, feeling, and answering the thirst of Jesus with all our hearts. We could spend our whole lives asking our Lord to show us what He means by, "I thirst."

All through Lent we examined our hearts, our consciences. Lent was a time for us to go to confession. Lent was time for us to focus on our sins and our need for salvation. Today is a day to wonder at the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Today is a day to marvel at the mercy of God on the cross. Today is a day to pray about the thirst of Jesus Christ.

And if we do not understand, let us ask our Blessed Mother to pray for us. She was at the foot of the cross and she heard Jesus say, "I thirst." Let this be our prayer as we wait for Easter, as we wait for the Resurrection.

We adore You O Christ and we praise You, for by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

Why Did Peter Weep Bitterly?

by Fr. Daren J. Zehnle

We know that Christ Jesus is "the light of the world" and that wherever there is light there is warmth (John 8:12). The warmth of Christ emanates from the fire of his love. Therefore, whoever is in Christ is warm and knows love, and whoever is not in Christ is cold and is without love.

After the arrest of Jesus, "Simon Peter and another disciple [whom tradition says is John] followed Jesus" (John 18:15). John must have followed Jesus more closely, for he sent the maid outside the gate to let Peter inside (cf. John 18:16).

Upon entering the courtyard, Peter declares, "I am not" one of Jesus' disciples. Immediately thereafter, we are told, "Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves. Peter was also standing there keeping warm" (John 18:18). Why is Peter standing at the fire and where is John?

Peter remains at the fire and there denies knowing Jesus twice more. Now he feels the cold of the night air because, like the slaves and the guards, he has extinguished the fire of God's love through his three-fold denial.

John, though, did not deny Christ and so he did not stay with the others at the fire; his heart was not cold but was warm with the love of – and for – the Lord. John follows Jesus so closely that he is present with Mary and the other women at the foot of the Cross. So intently did the fire of divine love burn in him that he would not be separated from his Master and Teacher (cf. John 13:13).

What, then, became of Peter after "the cock crowed" (John 18:27)? "Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: 'Before the cock crows you will deny me three times'" (Matthew 26:75). He then "went out" (Luke 22:62) and "broke down and wept" (Mark 14:72) "bitterly" (Matthew 26:75).

Only minutes before, Peter adamantly proclaimed, "I will lay down my life for you" (John 13:37). Then, in the garden, Peter seemed willing indeed to lay down his life for Jesus. When Judas arrived with the "band of soldiers and guards from the chief priests and Pharisees" (John 18:3), Peter took his sword, defending not himself but his Master (cf. John 18:10).

What did Peter see when the cock crowed that made him weep bitterly? He is a man of action, not tears. What did he see?

He must have recalled that day when Jesus first called him. Peter said to him that day, "at your command I will lower the nets" (Luke 5:5). After the very large catch, Peter "fell at the knees of Jesus and said, 'Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8). To his humble and honest admission, Jesus said, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10).

Peter recalled the many times he failed to serve and follow his Master and he knew, in that instant, the depth of his sin.

He realized, too, that Jesus "was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Peter knew that "we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

This is what Peter saw: he saw his sin and he saw the response of Christ Jesus, the judgment of love and mercy. He saw that Jesus went to his death by his own power. Before such tremendous love what else can one do but weep bitterly?

Peter could not bring himself to look upon Jesus but fell to the ground weeping in fear and love. In that moment the fire of divine love was rekindled in him and he was no longer cold but warm.

You need not live in cold and darkness any longer. Come to the Cross and see your salvation! Come to the Cross and see what Peter saw: the face of God, the face of love. Come to the Cross and weep bitterly for your sins, that you, too, may have the fire of divine love rekindled in you. Amen.

The Spit of the Soldiers

by Max Lucado

The whipping was the first deed of the soldiers.

The crucifixion was the third. (No, I didn't skip the second. We'll get to that in a moment.) Though his back was ribboned with wounds, the soldiers loaded the crossbeam on Jesus' shoulders and marched him to the Place of a Skull and executed him.

We don't fault the soldiers for these two actions. After all, they were just following orders. But what's hard to understand is what they did in between. Here is Matthew's description:

Jesus was beaten with whips and handed over to the soldiers to be crucified. The governor's soldiers took Jesus into the governor's palace, and they all gathered around him. They took off his clothes and put a red robe on him. Using thorny branches, they made a crown, put it on his head, and put a stick in his right hand. Then the soldiers bowed before Jesus and made fun of him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on Jesus. Then they took his stick and began to beat him on the head. After they finished, the soldiers took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. (Matt. 27:26–31 NCV)

The soldiers' assignment was simple: Take the Nazarene to the hill and kill him. But they had another idea. They wanted to have some fun first. Strong, rested, armed soldiers encircled an exhausted, nearly dead, Galilean carpenter and beat up on him. The scourging was commanded. The crucifixion was ordered. But who would draw pleasure out of spitting on a half-dead man?

Spitting isn't intended to hurt the body—it can't. Spitting is intended to degrade the soul, and it does. What were the soldiers doing? Were they not elevating themselves at the expense of another? They felt big by making Christ look small.

Allow the spit of the soldiers to symbolize the filth in our hearts. And then observe what Jesus does with our filth. He carries it to the cross.

Through the prophet he said, "I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting" (Isa. 50:6 NIV). Mingled with his blood and sweat was the essence of our sin.

God could have deemed otherwise. In God's plan, Jesus was offered wine for his throat, so why not a towel for his face? Simon carried the cross of Jesus, but he didn't mop the cheek of Jesus. Angels were a prayer away. Couldn't they have taken the spittle away?

They could have, but Jesus never commanded them to. For some reason, the One who chose the nails also chose the saliva. Along with the spear and the sponge of man, he bore the spit of man.

The sinless One took on the face of a sinner so that we sinners could take on the face of a saint.

From He Chose the Nails: What God Did To Win Your Heart
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2000) Max Lucado Source: Upwords with Max Lucado

Reflections on Good Friday

Good Friday is the bleakest moment in the Gospel story. Reading the story of Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion today, we have the benefit of knowing that it's all leading up to the triumph of Easter. But to the Jesus-followers present at the scene, it must have seemed that the world as they knew it was falling apart.

One of the challenges of reading the crucifixion story two thousands years after the event took place is that it's difficult for us to empathize with its participants. From our perspective, the Easter crowds seem insanely fickle; Jesus' disciples seem utterly clueless; the members of the Sandhedrin contemptibly evil; Pilate laughably corrupt.

Those things are true. Nobody except Jesus behaves well in the Good Friday story. But it's these very people-fickle, clueless, evil, corrupt—that Jesus died for.

The truth is that we have much in common with the fools and villains of Easter. The wonder is that Jesus loved them, and us, enough to submit to foolishness, injustice, and death. The miracle is that three days later, he rose from the dead to offer us salvation. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

If you haven't read the complete story of the crucifixion recently, today's a perfect day to revisit it. Here are the four Gospel accounts of the story. You can read the full text in Malankara World:

Matthew 26:14-27:66
Mark 14:12-15:47
Luke 22-23
John 18-19

Who Will We Take on Good Friday?

by Rev. Beth Quick

Scripture: John 19, selected verses

It's always eye-opening to hear a passage of scripture and try to place one's self into the scene. Who are we in the story we hear? In this passage, there are many characters from who to choose. Are we a soldier? Are we Pilate? Are we Barabbas? Or do we seek to emulate Jesus, and try to put ourselves in his place? Yet, if we think a little more realistically, if we were really living during the life and passion of Jesus, chances are we would simply be another person in the crowd. One of the masses of people gathered to watch the unusual events that were taking place in Jerusalem. We might find ourselves as fishers, healers, traders, or tax collectors. Ordinary people, living in a world with one extraordinary person in our midst, the one called Jesus.

Fortunately, one did not have to be in Jesus' inner circle of disciples or companions like Peter, James, John, Mary or Martha, to be touched by his ministry, to wonder about who he was, and to follow the events of his life. Jesus' might have spent more time with certain people, preparing them for leaderships, but his ministry was for the people, for the crowds who seemed to gather around him where ever he went. His parables, his healings, his miracles - these were all done among the expectant, watchful crowds. When Jesus was baptized by John, it was done among the people, where all were coming to be baptized also, not off in some separate, private place. The Sermon on the Mount, containing some of Jesus' best-remembered teachings, were given on the hillside for all to hear. Where ever Jesus went, even to seek a moment of reprieve, the crowds followed him. Weary though he was, we read again and again that Jesus had compassion on them, and reached out to them despite his fatigue. He fed them thousands at a time, and healed multitudes.

Can't you imagine the long lines of people forming for just a moment with this mysterious man? And of course, the crowds were present on that festive day of Jesus' entering Jerusalem. Imagine the excitement of an impromptu parade, the fun of celebrating something for once, even under the pressures of Roman occupation, economic hardships, and struggles on every side. The crowds were there, waving palms, shouting hosannas, and welcoming Jesus. And now the crowds are present again - not eagerly waiting to hear his teaching. No longer hoping for healing. Not waving palms or spreading out their cloaks for him. Yes, the crowds are still here, but now they are demanding, with hatred and anger, that Barabbas, the criminal, the trouble-maker, the robber, be released to them instead of Jesus, the one who healed, fed, taught and loved them. What had happened in such a short time to turn the mood of the crowd so drastically? What changed their mind about this Jesus? Didn't they want him as their king just a few days ago?

We are all too familiar with the betrayal of Judas, all to ready to condemn him for his treachery, but what about the crowds? Aren't they guilty of betrayal too? Jesus stands before the crowd, the same man as just a few days before. He proclaims the same gospel that he did from the start. He shares the same message, the same teachings of love. He looks on them with the same compassion, even unto his death. Jesus didn't change, didn't waver, didn't go through some transformation. And yet, the crowds responded to him so differently now, here, as Jesus stood before Pilate. Are we a member of this crowd? If we can see ourselves in the crowds of Jerusalem, then we must not see ourselves only as the ones who celebrated his arrival with palms, but also as the ones who stand around him today, shouting to condemn him, pushing to convict him, ready and willing to betray him, choosing even despised criminals over him. Suddenly, being one in the crowd is not such a small part after all. In our lives, in our faith journeys, are we sometimes like the crowd in Jerusalem?

One day we respond to God with joy and celebration. We sing songs of praise, we worship, we commit to God. We ask God to heal us and protect us. We study God's Word, ready to learn God's teachings. Like the crowds who followed Jesus everywhere, we say that we will follow where ever God leads us. And then, like the crowds in Jerusalem, we find ourselves giving up on God as quickly as people gave up on Christ. The crowds in Jerusalem were upset with Jesus. He wasn't the kind of leader they were hoping he would be. They wanted a king, ready to fight for their freedom. Here was his chance, standing before Pilate, to claim his kingship. Yet, Jesus gives ambiguous answers at best, makes no struggle to fight back or even to escape. He talks about kingship, yes, but he claims kingship not of this world. This isn't the Jesus the people wanted. Enraged, they turned on him. We are like that crowd. We have expectations of who God is and what God is supposed to do for us. Yet, God moves in ever mysterious ways, working and loving in ways we can't see. And when it doesn't happen how we want, we become enraged with God. We turn on God. When we can't fit God into the box we've formed, into the role we've created, we simply reject God altogether. Give us something else instead, we cry. We don't want this God.

Christ stands before us, the crowd, again this Good Friday. Who will we take? Do we want Barabbas, the robber, or do we want Christ, the savior? Jesus makes no promises to come in the way we expected. God is never limited to the usual ways of acting in our lives. But God is constant in love. Christ is ever compassionate. Who do we want in our lives this time? They are waiting for our answer...

It is Finished

by Joel Osteen

"I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns" (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

One of the last things Jesus said on the cross was, "It is finished." At that moment, it certainly looked like the end. It looked like it was over. But I believe that wasn't just a statement of fact, it was a statement of faith. He was saying to Father God, "I've done My part. I've fulfilled My destiny. Now, I've got total trust and confidence in You that You are going to finish what You started through Me." Even though it looked like the end, in reality, it was only the beginning.

Remember, when things look dark in your own life, dare to make a declaration of faith and say, "It is finished." What you're really saying is, "God, I know You are going to finish what You've begun in my life. You are going to turn things around.

I know that You are giving me the breaks that I need. Let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!" Keep looking with your eyes of faith knowing that He is faithful, and He will finish what He's started in you!

A Prayer

Father in heaven, thank You for Your faithfulness in my life. I thank You that You will complete what You've started in my life. Today I choose to put my trust and hope in You knowing that You are working behind the scenes to bring victory to every area of my life in Jesus' name. Amen!

Recipe: South Indian Yogurt Fish (For Easter)
Ingredients

Fish - 500 gms (about 1 lbs)
Curd (blended smooth) - 2 cups
Mustard Oil - 4 Tbl.sp
Flour - a little
Bay Leaf - 1
Cinnamon - 1
Cardomom - 1
Ginger (ground to paste) - 2 pieces
Onion (ground to paste) - 1
Red Chilly Powder - 2 tsp
Turmeric Powder - 1 tsp
Cummin Powder - 1 tsp
Sugar - 1 tsp
Salt to taste

Directions

1. Cut fish onto cubes, or as traditional cross-section.
Roll pieces separately in flour.
Heat 2 Tbl. sp oil.
Fry fish till pale golden.
Drain and keep aside.

2. Add remaining oil and fry bay leaf, cardamom and cinnamon.
Add ginger, onion, chilli powder turmeric and cumin.

A little water may be added if it becomes too dry.

Fry for a while.
Add blended curd.
Simmer on slow fire till oil comes up on top.

3. Add fish with a little water, salt and sugar.
Simmer till gravy is thick golden.

More Recipes/ Cooking Tips at Malankara World Cafe

Seed of Promise

by Margaret Manning

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself, alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."(1)

His hour had come. He had walked among them, taught them, performed miraculous signs, and he had loved and cared for them. But now, his hour had come and the cross lay ahead of him. The "hour" he faced would be filled with trial and suffering: "Now, my soul has become troubled and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour?'"

Jesus would walk the long, lonely road to the cross. Rather than taking the way of self-preservation, he would offer his life, like a grain of wheat. He would die; he would be buried in the darkness of the earth, but as a result he would bear much fruit. Despite what lay ahead of him, and despite the trouble in his soul, he affirms, "For this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name."

Of what was transacted there on that cross, there are many theories.(2) In formal theology, these "theories" attempt to get at the very nature and the very essence of what Jesus accomplished through his death. For theologians, atonement studies are a fertile field of inquiry because the meaning and impact of the atonement are rich, complex, and paradoxical. One theory, for example, suggests that the atonement stands as the preeminent example of a sacrificial life. Other theories argue that the cross is the ultimate symbol of divine love, or that the cross demonstrates God's divine justice against sin as the violation of his perfect law. Still other theories suggest the cross overcame the forces of sin and evil, restored God's honor in relation to God's holiness and righteousness, or served as a substitution for the death we all deserved because of sin.

While the nature of the atonement may include a portion of all of these theories, Jesus' statements as recorded in John's gospel indicate that his death would be a path to abundant life resulting in the production of much fruit. And in this case, Jesus doesn't construct a theory of the atonement, but instead chooses an agrarian image to indicate what would be accomplished in the cross. "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified... unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:23-24). Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century theologian and preacher, wrote that this passage of Scripture is rich with paradoxical statements describing the nature of atonement:

"[P]aradox is this—that his glory was to come to him through shame...[that] the greatest fulness of our Lord's glory arises out of his emptying himself, and becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross. It is his highest reputation that he made himself of no reputation. His crown derives new luster from his cross....We must never forget this, and if ever we are tempted to merge the crucified Saviour in the coming King we should feel rebuked by the fact that thus we should rob our Lord of his highest honour."(3)

Spurgeon expands on the paradoxical nature of death bringing forth life. It is only through the cross, just as a kernel of wheat must die in order to produce a harvest, that new life in Christ and reconciliation with God are accomplished. Most powerfully, Spurgeon notes that "this teaches us where the vital point of Christianity lies, Christ's death is the life of his teaching. See here: if Christ's preaching had been the essential point, or if his example had been the vital point, he could have brought forth fruit and multiplied Christians by his preaching, and by his example. But he declares that, except he shall die, he shall not bring forth fruit."(4)

We see this paradox borne out every spring. Dead bulbs ugly, brown, and buried in dark soil all winter burst from their earthen tomb green with life and bright with color. Their glory disguised in ugly packaging, and one bulb producing green leaves and flowers in abundance. So it is with Jesus's passion and death: glory and abundance come out of sorrow, shame, death and suffering. Encased in the cross of Golgotha is a beautiful, life giving seed.

Long before the beauty of Easter morning, a tiny kernel of wheat dies; it lays buried seemingly dead underground. This is a great paradox, but one in which we can come to glory, one in which we can find our lives.

See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ere such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?(5)

References:

(1) John 12:24.
(2) The following theories of the atonement are based upon Millard Erickson's Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983), 781-823.
(3) "The Corn of Wheat Dying to Bring Forth Fruit: John 12:23-25," Charles H. Spurgeon, Farm Sermons (c 1875)
(4) Ibid.
(5) "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," written by Isaac Watts, 1707.

Source: A Slice of Infinity; Margaret Manning is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

The Death of Jesus

by Alphonsus Liguori

The amiable Redeemer approaches the end of life. My soul, behold those eyes grow dim; that beautiful countenance becomes pale; that heart palpitates feebly; that sacred body is abandoned to death. Jesus, therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said, "It is consummated" (John 19:30).

When on the point of expiring, Jesus placed before his eyes all the sufferings of his life—the poverty, fatigues, pains, and injuries which he had suffered—and, again offering them all to his Eternal Father, he said, All is now accomplished—all is consummated. All that the prophets foretold of me is consummated; in a word, the sacrifice which God expected in order to be appeased with the world is perfectly consummated, and full satisfaction is made to the divine justice. It is consummated, said Jesus, turning to his Eternal Father: It is consummated, he said, at the same time turning to us. As if he had said, O men, I have done all that I can do, in order to save your souls and to gain your love. I have done my part; do you now yours. Love me, and be not unwilling to love a God who has gone so far as to die for you.

And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

These were the last words which Jesus spoke on the cross. Seeing that his blessed soul was about to be separated from his mangled body, he said, with perfect resignation to the divine will, and with filial confidence, Father, to you I recommend my spirit. As if he had said, My Father, I have no will; I do not wish either to live or die. If it is pleasing to you that I continue to suffer on this cross, behold, I am ready; into your hands I consign my spirit; do with it what you will. Oh that we also would say the same when we meet any cross, leaving ourselves to be guided by the Lord in all things, according to his good pleasure! … .

Yes, my Jesus, in your hands I place my life and my death; in you I abandon myself entirely, and I recommend my soul to you now for the last moments of my life. Receive it into your wounds, as your Father received your spirit, when you expired on the cross.

But behold, Jesus dies. O angels of heaven, come, come to be present at the death of your God. And you, O sorrowful mother of God, approach nearer to the cross, raise your eyes to behold your Son; look at him more steadfastly, for he is about to expire. Behold, the Redeemer already calls on death, and gives it permission to come and take away his life. O death, he says, perform your office; take away my life and save my sheep. Behold, the earth trembles, the graves are opened, the veil of the Temple is rent in two; behold how the violence of his pains deprives the dying Lord of strength, of the natural heat, of respiration; his body is abandoned to death; he bows down his head on his breast, he opens his mouth, and expires: And bowing down His head, He gave up his spirit (John 19:30). Go forth, O beautiful soul of my Savior, go forth; go to open paradise, which has been hitherto shut against us; go to present yourself to the divine Majesty, and to obtain for us pardon and salvation.

The crowd, turning to Jesus, on account of the loud voice in which he spoke these words, look at him with attention and in silence; they see him expire, and, observing that he is motionless, they exclaim, He is dead—he is dead. Mary hears this from all the bystanders, and she also says, Ah, my Son, You are dead.

He is dead. O God, who is dead? The author of life, the only-begotten of God, the Lord of the world. O death which was the astonishment of heaven and of nature! A God to die for his creatures! O infinite charity! A God to sacrifice himself entirely! To sacrifice his delights, his honor, his blood, his life; and for whom? For ungrateful creatures. And to die in a sea of sorrows and insults, and in order to atone for our sins. My soul, raise your eyes, and behold that crucified Man-God. Behold that divine Lamb sacrificed on that altar of pain; consider that he is the beloved Son of the Eternal Father, and consider that he has died through the love he has borne you. See how his arms are stretched out to embrace you; his head bowed down to give you the kiss of peace; his side opened to receive you. What do you say? Does a God so good and so loving deserve to be loved? Listen to what the Lord says to you from the cross: My Son, see if there is any one in this world who has loved you more than I, your God, has loved you?

Ah, my God and my Redeemer, you, then, have died, and died a death the most infamous and painful. And why? To gain my love. But what love of a creature can ever compensate the love of his Creator, who has died for him? O my adored Jesus, O love of my soul! How shall I be ever able to forget you? How shall I be able to love anything but you, after having seen you dying through pain on this cross in order to atone for my sins and to save my soul? How can I behold you dead, hanging on this tree, and not love you with all my strength? Can I think that my sins have reduced you to this condition, and not weep always with intense sorrow for the offenses that I have committed against you?

O Jesus … remember that you did promise that when you would be elevated on the cross, you would draw all hearts to you. Behold, my heart, softened into tenderness by your death, will no longer resist your calls. Draw all its affections to your love. You have died for me, and I wish to live only for you… .I thank you for the light which you give me, in making me see in these wounds and lacerated members, as through so many lattices, your great and tender affection for me… My Jesus gives himself to me, and I give myself entirely to him… .Come, O Holy Spirit, and inflame our hearts with the love of you.

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