The Mississippi Baptist Foundation  |  est. 1943  |  Psalm 24:1
 
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THE CHRIST OF THE CROSS

     Melvin and his family attended the first church I served as pastor. His 12-year old daughter was the first person I ever baptized. Melvin was in his early 30s, stood a little over six-feet tall, had an athletic build, shoulder-length hair, and a short beard. In many ways, Melvin looked a lot like the depiction of Jesus Christ presented in pictures.
     While I was praying for a specific person to walk down the aisle one Sunday morning during the invitation, Melvin surprised me as he moved from his pew and made the short walk to the front of our small sanctuary. Arriving where I was standing, he simply said “I want to trust Jesus for my salvation.”
      Shortly after Melvin’s public profession of faith and with Easter only a few weeks away, we began planning a Good Friday vesper service. I asked Melvin if he would portray Jesus on the cross at the conclusion of the service. He immediately and emphatically responded, “No!”
     Early in the week before Easter, Melvin called me on the phone and agreed to hang on a cross if I thought doing so would be beneficial for the service and those in attendance. Although I was ecstatic I informed Melvin that we had one slight problem…we didn’t have a cross.  Melvin moved into action and secured a large (and very heavy) oak beam from a local sawmill. Melvin and I worked at night sawing and assembling that beam into a sturdy cross.
     Attendees at the vesper service were given a slip of paper and a small nail upon entering the sanctuary on that particular Friday evening. They were instructed to write down something in their lives that needed to be given completely over to Jesus. As the invitation was offered and the instrumentalists began playing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” the curtain (two queen-sized sheets suspended from a length of monofilament fishing line) opened revealing Jesus hanging on the cross complete with a crown of thorns and a torso that was bruised and bloodied.
     Members of the congregation began coming to the front with the slips of paper upon which they had written a sinful action, habit, or relationship. Their “sin” was pierced by the nail and hammered to the cross. All the while, Melvin (as Jesus) played his role to perfection offering what may be the most realistic live portrayal of the crucifixion I have seen as he hung on the cross “writhing in anguish and pain.”
     Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is considered one of four Servant Songs presented in the Book of Isaiah. The
identity of the Servant is one of the interpretive issues long-debated by theologians and Bible scholars. Inasmuch as nearly every verse of this prophetic passage appears in the New Testament, identifying the Suffering Servant of the Book of Isaiah with Jesus Christ appears to be the conclusion of NT writers.
     Isaiah noted that the Suffering Servant was “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (53:3). Against the backdrop of the Suffering Servant presented in this particular Servant Song, this edition of From Daniel’s Den presents a brief portrait of the suffering of our Savior, Jesus Christ. More specifically, Jesus’ suffering was…
  • Visible as he endured physical and emotional abuse courtesy of fists, a staff, and flogging. He then endured the pain of a crown of thorns pressed upon his head and the pain of being attached to and then hanging from the cross, and all of the accompanying insults and verbal barbs (Matt. 26:67-68, 27:26-44, etc.). Isaiah portrayed the appearance of the Suffering Servant as “so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness (52:14).
  • Vicarious as Jesus, the Suffering Servant, was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities …“by his wounds we are healed…” as “…the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6). The apostle Paul echoed Isaiah’s assertion regarding the vicarious nature of Jesus’ suffering with “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Voluntary as he “opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). Although Jewish religious leaders and a misguided crowd demanded Jesus’ crucifixion and Roman soldiers placed him on the cross, Jesus did not suffer on the cross because he had to. Jesus suffered on the cross voluntarily as he displayed unparalleled love for sinful humanity. Jesus declared, “No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative” (John 10:18).
  • Victorious as “my righteous servant will justify many…for he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:11 & 12). Through his brutal suffering on the cross, Jesus was victorious. Why? Because death did not have the final say. Why? Because Sunday and the glorious resurrection would soon arrive!
     Commenting on Isaiah 53:6, H.A. Ironside noted the verse both begins and ends with “all.” Ironside held that the first “all” points to an acknowledgement of humanity’s deep need while the second “all” demonstrates how completely the Christ of the cross meets that need.
     With Melvin hanging on the cross and the congregation singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” I bowed my head and closed my eyes. In the midst of silent prayer, I sensed that someone was standing in front of me. Opening my eyes I saw Melvin’s young son who had come forward to make his public profession of faith in Jesus. I don’t recall with 100% certainty but I am pretty sure that we concluded that Good Friday vesper service by singing…

O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever.

He sought me and bo’t me with His redeeming blood;

He loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him,

He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.

 

Lord, thank you for loving me in such a way that you would suffer and die on an old rugged cross. Thank you for the victory that is mine through the shedding of your cleansing blood. Thank you for being my Savior.  

                                                                                  Daniel