I’d like you, in your mind’s eye to picture a man. A young man in his early thirties. Pretty average looking and not especially remarkable to look at.
This young man is from the Middle East so he has dark hair, a dark complexion and he’s of average height which, in his day and age would have been around five and half feet tall. In a crowd of his peers, he wouldn’t stand out.
A life of manual labour and a simple diet have made him pretty fit and healthy. Slightly muscular even, with strong workman’s hands. I like you to have a clear mental picture of this young man.
On the day in question however, he looks very different.
Since the previous evening, he has been betrayed by a close friend, questioned all night, found guilty, hideously flogged and then sentenced to die a criminal’s death.
He’s hungry, his mouth is dry, his hair is dirty and is plastered with sweat to his tear-streaked face.
His robes are now ragged, filthy and cling, blood-soaked to the terrible open wounds on his back.
And in his utterly exhausted state, he will soon be forced to carry the heavy instrument of his own execution, through a crowd baying for his blood, uphill to the place where he will suffer a painful, degrading and very public death.
And he is utterly innocent of any crime.
His name is Jesus Christ.
And he did this for you.
Because he loves you.
But if Jesus was God incarnate, why was it necessary for him to undergo such suffering at all? He had walked on water, turned water into wine and healed the sick, so couldn’t he have just done another miracle and given himself superhuman strength or immunity to pain?
Well yes he could have done, but chose not to.
He chose to experience all of the pain and humiliation of this terrible death in its unadulterated reality. He had prayed in Gethsemane for God to take the bitter cup from him but then abandoned himself to the Father’s plans. He chose to experience it as we, who deserved that fate, would have done. When offered the pain-dulling mixture of wine and myrrh, he refused, ensuring that not one moment of the pain of the experience would be taken from him.
And even in his most desperate moment as he hung, nailed to the cross, he had to endure the abusive words of onlookers, religious leaders and even his fellow condemned prisoners.
“He saved others but can’t save himself!”
“Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so that we can see and believe!”
He had to watch the greedy soldiers, casting lots for his clothing. Itching to have what may have been a valuable souvenir.
Jesus could have saved himself, could have stopped all of this, but chose not to. And once again, I say – he took on this burden, suffered in this way, for you, for me, for each of us.
Now consider the instruction given earlier by Jesus that his followers should take up their own cross and follow him. In the face of having witnessed his horrible suffering, it must have been a challenging thought for them, as indeed it should be for us.
But Jesus wasn’t asking them or us literally to sacrifice ourselves on a crucifix. Christianity would have been a short-lived faith if the early disciples had followed the command to the letter.
What Jesus does want, is a total sacrifice of our lives. He is asking us to commit totally to following him, just as he committed totally to his destiny for our salvation. Jesus asks us to surrender every aspect of our lives to him. Our families and relationships, our finances, our careers, even our health. He asks us to leave behind anything that we put between him and ourselves and to repent of our sinful ways.
It’s not the grudging sacrifice of the pressed man he wants though, but the willing sacrifice of a loving servant. And then, having sacrificed ourselves, he asks us truly to become his followers and to rely on his love for us and his provision in every aspect of our lives.
It’s probably not about walking away from your job tomorrow morning. But it is about starting every day by abandoning yourself to Jesus and following the paths that he opens up for you.
What is really needed is for the knowledge of what Jesus did for us to descend that short distance from our heads to our hearts. For us to have a deep and personal understanding of why and how we have been saved.
I think that when we start to understand the significance of the sacrifice which Jesus made, we are only left with the option of surrender.
And so I urge you to consider, prayerfully what your personal response will be.