Here’s a mystery about life: why is it that some of our most difficult experiences produce the greatest growth, maturity and successes for us? Here’s another one: why do two different people go through nearly identical experiences, and one comes out of it a better person while the other one ends up bitter, twisted and wreaked?
I think there might be something very important to discover about life in the answer to these questions.
In fact, this may be a primary key to unlocking our capacity to be transformed into the person we were created, and then rescued by Jesus, to be! Hard things in life are everywhere; we can’t avoid them. Bad things happend to good people all the time. If we can understand what is going on, and how to live our lives so that these things produce life instead of death in us, that has got to be a good thing!
Here’s the punch line: the answer has everything to do with the Cross.
When I bring up the topic of the cross I know that for some people I’ve just stepped across the line into the strange and incomprehensible world of religious jargon and odd theological ideas.
“Obviously,” you may say, “by ‘the cross’ I must be referring to Jesus’ cross which the New Testament claims was used to kill him, even though he was innocent of any crime deserving death—the preiminent example of bad things happening to good people! But, how can an event that happened to someone who was living so far away and so long ago have any real affect on the life I’m living now?”
First, its important to recognize that when the New Testament refers to the cross (Jesus’ crucifiction at the hands of Roman soldiers) it is reporting about an actual historical event, not a mere spiritual principle, a philosophical concept, or mythical story.
This is very, very important for us. The premise of the New Testament account is that Jesus’ death on the cross was an actual place in time and space where God was present and at work. While the things that happened to Jesus were so horrible that we can hardly conceive of them, nevertheless God was right there with Jesus and at work.
Why is that important? Simply this: when we face our own horrible experiences we need to know that God is with us and at work in our lives, too. I’m not talking about ‘with us’ in some vague, hyper-religious, ‘warm and fuzzy’ way, like we might say to someone who is about to face something difficult; “I’m with you, man!” when they are actually quite alone in what they are about to face.
I mean God is with us, both present and at work, really. I’m not alone, even though I’m suffering. This hardship or pain is not pointless, even though it may not make any sense. God is with me and I can trust him. I have reason to be confident of this in my own case because he was with Jesus in his.
Second, the New Testament claims that God was working while being present with Jesus during his ordeal, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. This is another basis for hope and builds further on what I’ve just said about God’s presence. If we can see that we not alone in our trials, maybe we can trust God to accomplish something that we know we can’t do on our own! Again, if he did this through Jesus experience, we have reason to expect the same in our experience.
So, what did God accomplish through Jesus’ suffering and crucifiction?
- Hebrews 9:23-28 (among other texts) claims that on the cross Jesus’ brought onto himself the inevitable judgement we all stand to face in the age to come. In other words, through Jesus’ death on the cross God placed the judgement for our sins on him in our place, so we might be forgiven and not have to face that judgment ourselves. What we were absolutely powerless and incapable of doing anything for ourselves, he did for us.
- I Corinthians 11:25 says that he also managed to set in place the new covenant relationship that the ancient Jewish prophetic writings had been predicting and hoping for. In otherwords, on the cross God opened the door to us for intimate, personal relationship with himself. Again, none of us could have made that happen. No amount of human religion, ceremonies, self sacrifice, asceticsm or good deeds could ever bridge the gap between our small, human lives and the awesome, incomprehensible entity that created everything there is out of nothing. Instead, he did it for us. Amazing!
- Colossians 2:15 reports that on the cross, God dealt the overwhelming blow to the true enemy of humankind, Satan. Jesus went around Isreal and demonstrated that he had authority and power over demonic beings and all of their doings. On the cross, we are told that he utterly and completely defeated them. The Satanic realm gave it their best shot, and Jesus’ took it and shook it off.Here in the West where our scientific mindsets pretty much deny and ignore the reality of the spiritual world (except in fantasy and imagination), we aren’t immediately in touch with our helplessness before these powers; that is not the case in other parts of the world. There are many people who are all to aware of the fact that they are virtually helpless to defend themselves against these powers on there own. It is good news indeed to learn that there is one who has overcome them all!
- Finally, I Corintians 15:26 promises that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is in effect and will ultimately prove to be the defeat of the ultimate enemy, death itself!