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Forgiveness: What Will You Leave at the Cross?
The hill is quiet now. Not still but quiet. For the first time all day there is no noise. The clamor began to subside when the darkness -- that puzzling midday darkness -- fell. Like water douses a fire, the shadows doused the ridicule. No more taunts. No more jokes. No more jesting. And, in time, no more mockers. One by one the onlookers turned and began the descent.
That is, all the onlookers except you and me. We did not leave. We came to learn. And so we lingered in the semi-darkness and listened. We listened to the soldiers cursing, the passersby questioning and the women weeping. But most of all, we listened to the trio of dying men groaning. Hoarse, guttural, thirsty groans. They groaned with each rolling of the head and each pivot of the legs.
But as the minutes became hours, these groans diminished. The three seemed dead. Were it not for the belabored breathing, you would have thought they were.
Then He screamed. As if someone had yanked His hair, the back of His head slammed against the sign that bore His name, and He screamed. Like a dagger cuts the curtain, His scream cut the dark.
Standing as straight as the nails would permit, He cried as one calling for a lost friend, "Eloi!"
His voice was raspy, scratchy. Reflections of the torch flame danced in His wide eyes. "My God!"
Ignoring the volcano of erupting pain, He pushed upward until His shoulders were higher than His nailed hands. "Why have you forsaken Me?"
The soldiers stared. The weeping of the women ceased. One of the Pharisees sneered sarcastically, "He's calling Elijah."
No one laughed.
He'd shouted a question to the heavens, and you half expected heaven to shout one in return.
And apparently it did. For the face of Jesus softened, and an afternoon dawn broke as He spoke a final time. "It is finished. Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."
As He gave His final breath, the earth gave a sudden stir. A rock rolled, and a soldier stumbled. Then, as suddenly as the silence was broken, the silence returned.
And now all is quiet. The mocking has ceased. There is no one to mock.
The soldiers are busy with the business of cleaning up the dead. Two men have come. Dressed well and meaning well, they are given the body of Jesus.
And we are left with the relics of his death.
Three nails in a bin.
Three cross-shaped shadows.
A braided crown with scarlet tips.
Bizarre, isn't it? The thought that this blood is not man's blood but God's?
Crazy, isn't it? To think tat these nails held your sins to a cross? Absurd, don't you agree? That a scoundrel's prayer was offered and answered? Or more absurd that another scoundrel offered no prayer at all?
Absurdities and ironies. The hill of Calvary is nothing if not both.
We would have scripted the moment differently. Ask us how a God should redeem His world, and we will show you! White horses, flashing swords. Evil flat on his back. God on His throne.
But God on a cross?
A split-lipped, puffy-eyed, blood-masked God on a cross?
Sponge thrust in His face?
Spear plunged in His side?
Dice tossed at His feet?
No, we wouldn't have written the drama of redemption this way. But, then again, we weren't asked to. These players and props were heaven picked and God ordained. We were not asked to design the hour.
But we have been asked to respond to it. In order for the cross of Christ to be the cross of your life, you and I need to bring something to the hill.
We have seen what Jesus brought. With scarred hands He offered forgiveness. Through torn skin He promised acceptance. He took the path to take us home. He wore our garment to give us His own. We have seen the gifts He brought.
Now we ask, what will we bring?
We aren't asked to paint the sign or carry the nails. We aren't asked to wear the spit or bear the crown. But we are asked to walk the path and leave something at the cross.
We don't have to, of course. Many don't.
Many have done what we have done: More minds than ours have read about the cross; better minds than mine have written about it. Many have pondered what Christ left; fewer have pondered what we must leave.
May I urge you to leave something at the cross? You can observe the cross and analyze the cross. You can read about it, even pray to it. But until you leave something there, you haven't embraced the cross.
You've seen what Christ left. Won't you leave something as well? Why don't you start with your bad moments?
Those bad habits? Leave them at the cross. Your selfish moods and white lies? Give them to God. Your binges and bigotries? God wants them all. Every flop, every failure. He wants every single one Why? Because He knows we can't live with them.
I grew up playing football in the empty field next to our house. Many a Sunday afternoon was spent imitating Don Meredith or Bob Hayes or Johnny Unitas. (Didn't have to imitate Joe Namath. Most of the girls thought I looked like him already.)
Empty fields in West Texas have grass burrs. Grass burrs hurt. You can't play football without falling, and you can't fall in a West Texas field without getting stuck.
More times than I can remember I pulled myself out of a sticker patch so hopelessly covered that I had to have help. Kids don't rely on other kids to pull out grass burrs. You need someone with skill. I would limp to the house so my dad could pluck out the stickers -- one by painful one.
I wasn't too bright, but I knew this: If I wanted to get back into the game, I needed to get rid of those stickers.
Every mistake in life is like a grass burr. You can't live without falling, and you can't fall without getting stuck. But guess what? We aren't always as smart as young ballplayers. We sometimes try to get back into the game without dealing with the stickers. It's as if we don't want anyone to know we fell, so we pretend we never did. Consequently, we live in pain. We can't walk well, sleep well, rest well. And, oh, are we touchy.
Does God want us to live like that? No way. Listen to His promise: "This is My commitment to My people: removal of their sins" (Romans 11:27).
God does more than forgive our mistakes; He removes them! We simply have to take them to Him.
He not only wants the mistakes we've made. He wants the ones we are making! Are you making some? Are you drinking too much? Are you cheating at work or cheating at marriage? Are you mismanaging money? Are you mismanaging your life?
If so, don't pretend nothing is wrong. Don't pretend you don't fall. Don't try to get back in the game. Go first to God. The first step after a stumble must be in the direction of the cross. "If we confess our sins to God, He can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away" (1 John 1:9).
What can you leave at the cross? Start with your bad moments. And while you are there, give God your mad moments.
Do you remember the story about the man who was bitten by the dog? When he learned the dog had rabies, he began making a list. The doctor told him there was no need to make a will, that rabies could be cured. "Oh, I'm not making a will," he replied, "I'm making a list of all the people I want to bite."
Couldn't we all make such a list? You've already learned, haven't you, that friends aren't always friendly? Neighbors aren't always neighborly? Some workers never work, and some bosses are always bossy?
You've already learned, haven't you, that a promise made is not always a promise kept? just because someone is called your dad, that doesn't mean he will act like your dad. Even though they said "yes" on the altar, they may say "no" in the marriage.
You've already learned, haven't you, that we tend to fight back? To bite back? To keep lists and snarl lips and growl at people we don't like?
God wants your list. He inspired one servant to write, "Love does not keep a record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5). He wants us to leave the list at the cross.
Not easy.
"Just look what they did to me!" we defy and point to our hurts.
"Just look what I did for you," he reminds and points to the cross.
Paul said it this way: "If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).
You and I are commanded -- not urged, commanded -- to keep no list of wrongs.
Besides, do you really want to keep one? Do you really want to catalog all your mistreatments? Do you really want to growl and snap your way through life? God doesn't want you to either. Give up your sins before they infect you and your bitterness before it incites you, and give God your anxiety before it inhibits you. Give God your anxious moments.
A man told his psychologist that his anxieties were disturbing his dreams. Some nights he dreamed he was a pup tent; other nights he dreamed he was a tepee. The doctor quickly analyzed the situation and replied, "I know your problem. You're too tense."
Most of us are. We parents have it especially tough. My daughters are at that age when they are starting to drive. It seems like just yesterday I was teaching them to walk, and now I'm putting them behind a steering wheel. It's a scary thought. I'm thinking of making a special bumper sticker for Jenna's car that reads, "How am I driving? 1-800-CALL-DAD."
What do we do with these worries? Take your anxieties to the cross -- literally. Next time you're worried about your health or house or finances or flights, take a mental trip up the hill. Spend a few moments looking again at the pieces of passion.
Run your thumb over the tip of the spear. Balance a spike in the palm of your hand. Read the wooden sign written in your own language. And as you do, touch the velvet dirt, moist with the blood of God.
Blood He bled for you.
The spear He took for you.
The nails He felt for you.
The sign He left for you.
He did all of this for you. Knowing this, knowing all He did for you there, don't you think He'll look out for you here?
Or as Paul wrote, "God did not keep back His own Son, but He gave Him for us. If God did this, won't He freely give us everything else?" (Romans 8:32).
Do yourself a favor; take your anxious moments to the cross. Leave them there with your bad moments, your mad moments and your anxious moments. And may I suggest one more? Your final moment.
Barring the return of Christ first, you and I will have one. A final moment. A final breath. A final widening of the eyes and beating of the heart. In a split second you'll leave what you know and enter what you don't.
That's what bothers us. Death is the great unknown. We're always a bit skittish about the unknown.
Sara certainly was. Denalyn and I thought it was a great idea. We would kidnap the girls from school and take them on a weekend trip. We made reservations at a hotel and cleared the trip with their teachers but kept it a secret from our girls. When we showed up at Sara's fourth grade classroom on Friday afternoon, we thought she'd be thrilled. She wasn't. She was afraid. She didn't want to leave!
As we left, I assured her nothing was wrong. We had come to take her to a fun place. Didn't work. By the time we got to the car, she was crying. She was confused. She didn't like the interruption.
Nor do we. God promises to come at an unexpected hour and take us from the gray world we know to a golden world we don't. But since we don't, we aren't sure we want to go. We even get upset at the thought of His coming.
For that reason God wants us to do what Sara finally did -- trust her father. "Don't let your hearts be troubled," he urged. "I will come back and take you to be with Me so that you may be where I am" (John 14:1-3).
By the way, in a short time Sara relaxed and enjoyed the trip. In fact, she didn't want to come back. You won't want to either.
Troubled about your final moments? Leave them at the foot of the cross.
Leave them there with your bad moments, mad moments and anxious moments.
About this time someone is thinking, "You know, Max, if I leave all those moments at the cross, I won't have any moments left but good ones."
Well, what do you know? I guess you won't.
Taken from He Chose The Nails by Max Lucado, (c) 2000, Word Publishing, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved.
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