Standing on This Side of the Cross
My thoughts on this side of The Cross.
Three days have passed. The sun is just breaking the skyline. Her face is puffy. She's been crying since they arrested Him. The ache in her gut is worsening by the day. She is broken- hearted. Shattered. Tears dripping off her nose, arms crossed, she walks out of the house. A while later, she finds herself walking toward the tomb. Drawn. As she gets closer, she squints. Something isn't right. The soldiers are gone and the massive rock has been moved. The hole -- where they laid the body -- is dark. Feeling her way, she steps in. In the shadows, a pile of bloody linen at her feet. The place where they had lain Him is nothing but a stone shelf. Vacant. She clenches her fists and her anger flashes. Somebody stole his body. The tears return.
Back at the house, he couldn't sleep either. The memory of his first, second and third rejection haunts him. His own words echo in his ear. He is consumed with shame. Belted at his side, his sword is still caked with the blood from the ear of the servant of the high priest. He is making plans to use it again.
She turns, and there in the corner is a man sitting with his legs crossed. His countenance is like lightning. His clothes white as snow. Mary gathers her composure, "Where have you taken him sir? If you'll just tell me..." His response to her is akin to a man filing his nails with an emory board. He glances up, over his reading glasses, “My dear, why do you seek the living among the dead?"
She protests. Fists tighter. ”But, where is he? Please sir."
He takes off his glasses, leans in, smiles. A beautiful and long pause. "He is risen." Then he says four of the greatest words ever spoken in the English language. "He is not here."
She turns, torching the dirt beneath her feet en route to the house. The first person she encounters is Peter. He is hanging his head, hand on the hilt of his sword. He is stewing. Planning a rebellion. "Peter! Peter!” She pounds his chest. “He's alive!"
Peter is shot out of a canon. He is big, strong and covering some ground. He reaches the stone and dives through the hole, landing next to a pile of bloody linen. He buries his hands in it. The napkin that had been placed across Jesus head and face had been folded and set off by itself -- taken off by the wearer as if to say, "I have no more need of this."
Word spread. The day passed. They have spent the day reminding each other what He said. Putting together pieces of the puzzle. They are growing giddy with expectation. Something has been kindled.
That night, the eleven all gather. Behind locked doors. Voices are raised. Buzzing with hope, they are talking over each other. Mary told what she'd seen. "Their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them." Slowly, hope trickles into their conversation. "What if..." And, ”Remember when he said…" And, “Do you think that’s what He meant?”
Their last image of Jesus was a man dying in anguish, screaming out at the top of His lungs. Helpless. Powerless. His body ripped and torn. Inhuman suffering. In their minds, Jesus had lost.
Now turn the camera. Look down from The Cross.
The moment he died here, His work wasn't over. Jesus Spirit climbed down off that Cross and -- cloaked in the sin of all mankind -- He descended into Hell where there was a party underway, an orgy, unlike any seen in the history of this world or any other. I realize that the picture I’m about to paint is not in scripture and maybe theologically suspect but just work with me here. Jesus descends the stairway and walks through the gates of Hell where demons and spiritual forces of wickedness throw stuff and run out of the crowd and punch him or stab him with a sword or whip him or thrust a spear completely through Him. They have been wanting to get their hands on him for a long time. The pandemonium rises as he approaches the throne where Satan has placed himself. The raucous is at a climax. The evil horde has created a mosh pit and they are foaming at the mouth because they think they are about to feast on the body and blood of Jesus the Christ.
The only one not enjoying the party is Satan. He knows the prophecies. He knows The Word quite well. He used it against Jesus when he tempted Him a little over three years ago. While He’s been working toward this day, he's also been dreading it.
Jesus and Satan have known each other a long time. Lucifer was cast down like lighting and Jesus tells us he saw it. I have no way of proving this but I think Lucifer was one of three archangels, created by God the Father. The other two are Gabriel and Michael. Lucifer’s sole purpose was to tend to Jesus. To be at his beckon call. To serve Him. But, this just a hunch.
So, there's Jesus -- standing on the witness stand in the courtroom before Satan. All of evil is salivating at the coming final blow which they know will eradicate Jesus once and for all. In their mind, they have salt and peppered the body and are turning him over the spit. They can taste him.
But a funny thing happens here.
In my mind, it is here -- in the very pit of Hell -- that Jesus strips off the sin of mankind that has masked him. Like a dark blanket, or cloak, he rips it off his shoulders and back and thighs and hurls it like Haley's Comet at the throne on which Satan has parked his fat self. The light shoots forth from Jesus body and the darkness rolls back like a scroll. Demons screech and writhe. Those closest to Him go up in smoke. Literally. 10,000 degrees fahrenheit in less than a second. Just dark spots on the dirt where their souls once stood. Satan turns and kicks it into high gear, cowering. He's defeated. Powerless. Dethroned. Toppled. He’s a punk. His kingdom is crumbling all around. Jesus, who 'upholds all things by the word of His power,' says 'Stop' and Lucifer can't move. He knows what Jesus came to get. Jesus reaches down and grabs the keys dangling on Lucifer’s belt. "I'll take those." Then He places His foot on Satan's head and neck and speaks. His thundering voice sounds like many rushing waters. Or, the waves breaking at Pipeline. “From this day forward, all debts are paid. All past, present and future claims are cancelled. Forever."
Satan writhes as Jesus’s heel presses Satan's mouth into the maggot-filled dirt of hell. Satan raises a finger. "But, what about that scum-sucking sinner, Charles Martin?"
Jesus grinds his heel, and squeezes his hand like a sponge. Given the hole in his wrist, it should have produced blood. At least a drop. But there is none. Not one single drop. He is bloodless. He held nothing back. He left it all topside. Jesus shakes His head, ”Nope."
"But, what about that thing he did..."
Jesus cuts him off, ”Paid in full."
Satan reaches in his pocket and holds up the record of my wrongs of which I was and am guilty. Every last one. The claims were true then. They’re true now. Jesus reads it. "Yep. You got them all. Actually, you missed a few. And, they’re all true. But..." Again, he held out His hand. Another squeeze of the sponge. Still nothing. "These claims are revoked. Your hold on my son is broken.”
Jesus wrote in blood on the walls of the court of hell -- "Be it know from this day forth...all is forgiven. It is finished.” Dangling the keys, he turns and begins walking out.
The defeat was absolute. The victory complete. Irrevocable.
This right here, this moment, this is the picture I like to think about — of the victorious conquering king. This is where we see Jesus with feet of burnished bronze, eyes of fire, white hair, fire coming from his mouth, his sword girded on his thigh. This is where -- in my mind -- that heavy, lumbering, splinter-laden cross, the nails still dripping with my saviors blood, is snapped like a toothpick. Reduced to splinters.
It doesn't hold Him anymore.
Jesus walks out through the prison of cells in the deepest dungeon of Hell where His people have been held in bondage. Slavery. As He walks by, every lock clicks, shackles fall off, every door flings wide. Jesus speaks over His shoulder, "And all these…they’re mine.”
Prisoners, long held captive, begin screaming at the top of their lungs. "Long live King Jesus!” Some are too tired and sick to walk or raise their hands or even open their mouths. Jesus enters each cell, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead come to life. The shepherd in search of the lambs that were lost.
Having set the captives free, Jesus had only to return home to His Father where the party of the age was warming up to be held in His honor. His Father is standing at the door, staring a far way off, awaiting His return. The band is tuning up. Jesus has a one-way ticket. All He’s got to do is punch is and yet, He doesn't. He takes a detour. He returns here.
This begs the question. Why?
He first appears to Mary, Peter, the eleven, over five hundred brethren, James. All the apostles. Saul. And then for the second time -- some time later -- John — the one whom He loved — on the island of Patmos. From them, from their words and reactions, we are able to piece together a pretty good picture of Jesus on this side of the cross.
When I look at who He met with and what He said, I am convinced that Jesus routes his trip home through earth for one singular reason -- on The Cross, He could see their faces. His last memory was of them. Their pain. He knew their hearts were breaking and yet, He wouldn’t go without mending them.
Without fanfare or loud trumpet, He meets Mary. He knew she just needed a hug. He appears to James. This James is not the disciple but His younger brother who until that moment had not believed in His deity. Following this meeting, we get the magnificent book of James and James goes on to lead the church in Jerusalem. He lets Thomas stick his fingers in each hole. He meets with all the Apostles.
The one that gets to me is Peter on the beach. In their pain, those closest to Him have gone fishing. Jesus builds a fire on the beach and waves them over. Peter falls at His feet barely able to utter the words. “Lord, I’m so sorry…” Jesus kneels, face to face. He could not be more proud of Peter. He speaks tenderly. “Peter, do you love me?"
Peter feels the sting of his betrayal. He nods. ”You know I do."
"Feed my sheep."
Then Jesus asks him two more times. Many interpret this as a scolding of Peter. I don't see it that way. With each question, I see Him scooting closer, his voice lowering. Finally, on the third time, He presses His forehead to Peter's, "Hey...do you love me." Jesus on the beach with Peter is a reminder. An affirmation. It’s a rebuilding. Jesus does this because He knows Peter's heart is torn — rent — down the middle. This is the conversation in which Jesus sews it back together. Want proof? Read Acts 2.
Just after daylight this morning, I woke and ran to the cross. Kicking up dirt. It's empty. Pile of linen. Guy sitting in the corner recognizes me and returns to the stick he is whittling. "You again."
I look around.
He whispers. "He's still not here. Hasn't been in a long time."
Finally, I get my nerve up and ask him. "Mind if I look around?"
He waves his hand across the room.
Finding nothing, I ask in desperation. "Okay, but, you see I was born here and now. Two thousand years later. So, tell me, who is Jesus on my side of the cross? I mean, today. Right now. For me?” He raises an eyebrow and glances over my shoulder.
Behind me, the light grows. Like a coming headlight. Or, lightning bolt. I'm afraid to turn and look. The hair raises on my neck. A voice whispers, "Charles, you know my names. What are they.”
A feeble whisper. “You are the Brightness of the Father's Glory. The exact representation of His nature. The Ancient of Days. The Lion of Judah. The Lamb upon the Throne. The Bright Morning Star. By You all things were created. You are Before all things. The Faithful Witness. True. Holy is Your name. You are the First and the Last. You are Alive Forevermore. The Firstborn from among the dead. The Ruler of the Kings of the earth. You hold the keys to Death and Hades."
He is laughing. Nodding. He leans closer. “Good. What else?”
I shrug. Trying to find the words. What’d I leave out? I stutter, “You are…”
His breath on my neck, his arm around my shoulder. “Charles…I am undefeated. And you are forgiven."
Where the Cross of Friday brought me to my knees, the empty tomb on Sunday brings me to my face. It is too much. It demands a response. I bury my face in his chest. "You did that for me?"
His arms wrap around me and I feel him nodding. Moments pass. ”Yes. Yes, I did that for you.”
Words fail me here. What can I possibly say? What can I give?
A while later, I find myself outside the tomb, leaning against the stone, a pile of linen in my lap. "Jesus, can I ask you something?"
“The writer of Hebrews says 'for the joy set before You, You endured the cross and despised the shame,' but…what was the joy? I mean, really. We were still sinners. What got you through..." I point to the blood on the linen. "This."
A smile. He lifts my chin. Wipes my tears with His thumb. "You."
I come back here every year to this stone for perspective. To be reminded. Why? Because you and I live in world that does not always make sense — where the dragon has been cast down and he is making war with the children of the woman and he is in a great fury. His time is growing short and he is spinning himself out of control, trying to take as many as he can. He is beyond redemption and we are headed to a banquet at which he has no seat.
This stone reminds me — between now and His return, we wait with baited breath for a trumpet to sound, when Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes. This Hope is the anchor of our souls. Sure and steadfast. It enters the presence behind the veil. Right now, right this very second, My Jesus is seated next to His Father, praying that our faith will not fail. He is pulling for us. They are setting the table.
Today is Sunday. This is the other side of The Cross. The stone is rolled away.
And He is not here.