Saturday, April 4, 2015

In honor of the Saturday before Easter, here's a look at one possible scenario...

a short story by Gordon Paul Smith
            “But the Scripture will be fulfilled,” He said, referring to Psalm 41:9 as He broke the bread at their private Feast of the Passover. “He who ate My bread has lifted his heel against Me.”
            Jesus continued to look at the bread as He broke it, unable to bear the eyes of His most trusted friends when He accused one of them of treachery.
            “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place, you may believe that I am He.” The Rabbi looked around the low table briefly, and those sitting closest to their Lord saw the sadness in His eyes, a rare and troubling sight in the Man they had come to depend on for their own self-confidence and security. “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
            The word “troubling” was now replaced by “confused and anxious” in the disciples’ hearts, and Simon Peter motioned to young John to inquire further. He leaned towards the Master and quietly asked, “Lord, who is it?”
            Jesus’ answer, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it,” confounded His followers even more, for the initial choice morsel was always handed to the most honored of the guests, not the most treacherous. So when Christ turned towards long-favored Judas Iscariot, seated at His left, it was hard not to presume this as the traditional gesture of friendship it appeared to be, despite His words.
            But with this subtle gesture, the Final Game was afoot.
            For as Jesus handed Judas the bread, the doubt and conflict in the disciple’s heart at that exact moment allowed the Prince of the Earth to enter it, even as Christ said quietly to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” The influx of the overwhelming darkness, the power of Satan, was too much for the disciple, and Judas virtually leapt from his seat and fled into the night, without a word of explanation.
            Once He had forced Satan into that first move, Jesus knew that the countdown clock had started. His true mission on earth was now irrevocably underway.
            The Pharisees thought He was here to simply be a pain in the rear for them.
            His mass of followers thought He was a prophet here to spread the Word of the Father, and perform holy miracles in His Name.
            His apostles hoped He was here to overthrow the Roman government and set up an earthly kingdom for His people, the Jewish people who had not had their own country for several centuries now.
            But His Father had sent Him for one all-important and seemingly impossible purpose: to bear all of the sins of the Human Race, accept the physical punishment for them, carry those sins to Hell, deposit them there, and escape to return unscathed by the third day.
            Nothing to it.
            True, He had defeated Satan in the wilderness three years earlier, immediately following His baptism. But this battle would be different. Then, He was in full possession of Himself, free of burden, with the Holy Spirit to support Him when Satan threw his metaphorical punches at Him. This time, He would be on Lucifer’s home turf, carrying an unimaginable burden with Him.
            He who knew no sin was about to be given ownership of every sin.
            And Jesus knew that even He wouldn’t be able to hold on to that burden very long before it crushed Him – even Him.
            So the timing was going to be critical. Now, right now, while Judas was off getting the Pharisees to come arrest Him, was going to be the only chance to take possession of the burden before He was captured. Then, if He played the situation correctly, He should be able to goad the zealous rabbis into His torture and death within 36, perhaps even 24 hours, depending on how the Roman governor reacted. It was Thursday evening now, so – Friday night, Saturday morning? He wanted it to be done with by tomorrow – partly so that the third day would fall on a Sunday, as the Father wanted, but also because He wanted it done with as soon as possible.
            Just because a person needs to do a thing doesn’t mean that the person wants to do the thing.
            Not even when that person is Jesus Christ.
            He spoke eloquently that evening, as He always did, although His audience was small; it was important that this loyal group of disciples understood as best they could what was to come in the next few days, so they would be prepared to gather in the harvest of Believers.
            “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming; indeed, it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world.”
            And now, the moment He had been dreading, more than the impending cruelties of the Roman centurions, more than the crucifixion itself. Like an oxen who had never before felt the restriction of a yoke, He was about to take on a harness to a weightier cart than any man had ever been asked to pull. Yet His voice never wavered.
            Jesus lifted His eyes to heaven and changed the direction of His speech. “Father, the hour has come; Glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.
          While He continued to pray, a miraculous thing happened. It’s not recorded in the Gospels precisely, but we know it happened, and we can see when it happens: as Christ continues, God the Father in His omniscience views the entirety of human history, gathers in the entire body of sins of every one of His elect over the entire course of history, from Eden to Armageddon, and deposits them in the body and soul of His One Son.
Every sin.
Murder, adultery, theft, lying, coveting.
Greed, envy, lust, sloth, gluttony, wrath, and pride. And so many more.
Consider the enormity of the burden God the Father placed upon His beloved Son. Imagine for a minute that you’re trapped in the worst snowstorm in history. You would be completely overwhelmed by it, of course, as would we all, but at least you’ve been in snow before, and you would have some general idea as to how to handle it from your previous life experience. Now, what if you had never seen snow before? Wouldn’t that snow storm be even more incomprehensible?
That’s Christ’s predicament. As He continues to pray in front of His disciples, He is being overwhelmed by the largest sin-storm in history…He who had never experienced even a flurry before. No wonder He started to get testy as they were leaving the upper room, telling Peter how he would deny his knowledge of Christ three times “before the rooster crows” (Mark 14:30, Matthew 26:34).
By the time they reached the garden of Gethsemane, He was in the full throes of suffering under the incomprehensible burden of sin He now bore. “Sit here while I pray,” He said to the disciples. “And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch (or ‘keep awake’, depending on the manuscript)’. And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me’.” (Mark 14:32-36)
When you get down and depressed, how do you react? Before this, we’ve seen Jesus have times when He had difficult situations, and He never seemed to lose His cool. But now, burdened with many layers of sin and grief, His reactions are more like those of us who have fought depression in our mortal lives – His off-hand comment to Peter, His need for companionship, taking the three with Him when He prayed (Jesus, who always sought solitary communion before), His self-recognition of what lesser humans would call suicidal depression, and most telling of all, His plea to His Father to remove the burden of sin, apparently because He feels He’s not capable of taking on the challenge in front of Him.
All of these feelings are completely understandable and explicable, but in Christ they’re so incongruous because He’s never had to deal with them before. In His prayer, He goes on to ask the Father twice more to “remove this cup from Me” in His insecurity, and complains twice about His friends not being there for Him when He needs them the most. Do you understand now why we must repent of our sins? Why we must let go of our grief? The greatest man who ever lived suffered from the oppression of sin and grief, even when it wasn’t truly His.
Watch Him on the cross. Noon has passed, and Jesus continued to weaken and suffer, the perfect Man feels the pain of abandonment, the loneliness of grief. Of course, given the incredible physical abuse and torture He’d been put through over the previous fifteen hours, every word of His suffering has been earned.
As mid-afternoon approaches, the words “Jesus of Nazareth, King Of The Jews” can no longer be made out clearly by the taunters at Christ’s feet. The supernatural darkness also precludes a clear picture of the face of the Son of God, who – though dying – has finally gotten a mental respite from the verbal warfare Satan sent His way, and He has begun to gather His mental strength and resources for the coming conflict. He still feels the abandonment – “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” – but He’s starting to remember who He is and (more crucially) why He’s here.
“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” one of the robbers asks the man he recognizes as Lord in these last few minutes of his life. But for Jesus, the robber’s words revive more memories than he had known: He also remembers what His purpose on earth is. “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
But first, He has a slight detour to make.
Darkness. Jesus is in complete and total darkness.
Hell is different from most folks’ imaginations. Satan has no interest in the fire and brimstone, any more than you do. Tools of the trade, but that’s not what Hell is.
If Heaven is complete connection with God, then the opposite is true: Hell is the complete absence of God. And the absence of all creations of God. Which is, essentially, everything.
Jesus was truly separated from His Father for the first time since Time began.
Charles Spurgeon said this about Christ’s suffering on and after the cross:
“At that moment physical weakness was united with mental torture from the shame and ignominy through which He had to pass; and to make His grief culminate with emphasis, He suffered spiritual agony surpassing all expression resulting from the departure of His Father’s presence. This was the Black Midnight of His horror. Then it was that He descended into the abyss of suffering.
“No man can enter into the full meaning of these words.”
By that undeniable measure, we cannot truly conceive of the horrors Christ went through when He arrived in that “black midnight”. But the clues to His victory are there:
·         We know that despite the burden He bore, He had already begun to control Himself and His situation even before death, by His final conversation on the cross.
·         We know that He emerged on Sunday not only victorious over Satan, but over sin and death itself. His composed and gracious presence before Mary Magdalene Sunday morning confirms that He emerged unscathed emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
·         We know that Christ was visibly relieved by His victory when He returned to earth. This battle did not have a foregone conclusion. In Jesus’ mind, at least, it was by no means certain that He would be successful in completing His task.
·         He returned to earth on Sunday morning not in His glorified body (the one John saw in Revelation) but in His earthly body, imbued with His Godly Spirit for the first time. The body was healthy. His conflict with Satan was not a physical one.
·         Finally, we have the battle in the wilderness, described by Matthew and Luke in chapter 4 of each of their Gospels. In that conflict, Jesus used only one weapon against the devil – the Word of God, which is the ultimate weapon against Satan or any fallen angel. Never forget that every one of the demons not only knows Scripture but is bound to obey its restrictions.
All of this information leads me to this conclusion…
The battle Jesus fought with Satan on Sinless Saturday would not have made good box office.
As far as physical action goes, there would have been virtually none. This would have been a chess match, essentially a battle of wits and subterfuge between Satan and the Lord.
What were Christ’s very last words on the Cross?
“It is finished.”
Who was He saying that to? Not the thieves. If He said it to anyone, it was to His Father, God.
So…what was finished?
His task. The sins He was to deliver to Hell.
When Christ arrived in that total darkness, He had already completed the task which He had been assigned to do. Your sins and mine were already deposited in Hell.
Wait…by whom? Christ was on the cross? How could He have done it?
Technically, He couldn’t.
But the Holy Spirit could have.
Remember, one of the reasons that the Messiah had to die was to release the Holy Spirit from Himself and allow it to come unto all mankind.
But now, now that Christ no longer needed Him on earth, the Holy Spirit was free to do an “end-around” on Satan before that release.
While Satan was perhaps waiting for Christ to try to leave all those sins on his doorstep… the Holy Spirit had already done it!
So, imagine the conversation... (PS – for me personally, it helps to give Satan an evil accent in my head as I read his dialogue. But, you read it as you please…)
“Hah! The great Jesus Christ – dead, just like any other man. Sheol always gathers in her prey in the end!”
“Yes, Satan. Dead. Just like any man.”
“Yes…yes. Wait.” Satan’s senses move over the spirit of the Son of Man in the darkness, sensing. Looking. Searching.
“You…” the prince of the darkness began. “You have no…companion with You this time, do You?” said he. “To help You, as He did in the wilderness.”
“No, Satan. He is not with Me. But He is here. He is bringing you a…gift.”
“A gift?” Jesus could hear the lilt in the Adversary’s voice, even without being able to see the smile of curiosity in the darkness. “What could the Son of God possibly bring me that I can’t just take whenever I want to?”
Deep in the blackness, Christ returned the smile. It was His first smile in days.
Sin?” His laughter made a lesser righteous man’s skin crawl. “Foolish Man. I have all the sin I need, thanks to this fallen human race. Here; let me show You.” Satan caused light to reach Christ, albeit an eerie, almost purplish aura of a light. The prince went to his prisons wre the spirits of the most recent sinners lay, unmoving.
“The sins of these poor souls lay bare for You to see, Son of God, and…eh? Hmm. That’s odd.” Satan paused over one recent arrival. “This one seems to have no sins. Must be a mistake. You’re the only one who…” He pauses as he scans more of his imprisoned souls. “He doesn’t have any either. And neither does she. What’s going on here?”
“I told you, Lucifer. I had their sin. All of it. And from now on, every single person who believes on Me will register exactly the same – sinless, blameless, in front of God and all His angels – even the fallen ones, Satan. You have no more right to hold them here than you do Me.”
“What? Of course I can hold You! You said it Yourself – You brought that sin here, so You get the privilege of receiving their punishment!”
“Been there.”
“Done that.” Now Christ rose up over the shadow of darkness, over the imprisoned spirits, over the various bound demons. “You were apparently not paying attention, Satan. Those sins have been punished. The Father has taken His Holy Wrath on the possessor of those sins already:…”
“You.” The prince of shadows slowly begins to put the puzzle together.
“Me. I was carrying those sins, even before you visited Me in the garden of Gethsemane, but you were too concerned with tempting Me, too proud of your fiendish plan to execute Me that you never noticed that you had been manipulated into that plan by the Father from the beginning.”
I did this?…”
You did this. You paved the way for dozens of these souls to leave Hades, their punishments having been served, their debt paid, just because they believed on their Lord Jesus Christ before their death. And here is the best part…”
“No…” His voice is faint now, pointed more inward than out.
Yes, Satan. From this day forward, every person who believes on Me will similarly find their sentences here eliminated. I carried the sins of every believer with Me: not just those alive today but through the end of time, and their bail has been paid in full. They will neverseeSheol.”
I did this…”
 You did this. Congratulations, Satan. You signed your own warrant.”  Though He spoke with no more effort or exertion, His voice boomed over the entire underworld. “To all of you, fallen angels, be wary, for your fate is sealed.” And now, as He recited Psalm 16 à “I saw the Lord always before Me, for He is at My right hand,” the Holy Spirit rejoined Him. “That I may not be shaken. Therefore, My heart is glad, and My tongue rejoiced, for You will not abandon My soul to Sheol, or let Your Holy One see corruption.”
“And now, Father,” He continued, growing more radiant with every word, “glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.”
And as He finished, the radiating light of God emanated from his body and overwhelmed the purple darkness; the newly-sinless were set free, and death could no longer keep its grasp on the soul of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
At Satan’s feet were the dried up “husks” of the sins carried on earth by Christ and transferred to Satan’s realm by the Holy Spirit. They piled up against his feet like battered leaves after a storm on a blustery autumn day. Did you know sins have shells? Oh, they do. The more you deny a sin, the thicker the shell gets. The sins of generations’ hidden secrets can be as hard as stone, and the work it takes to crack through those shells is immense. Today, though, even those husks lay bare, cracked open by the Lord’s Wrath as easily as any other.
Above him, the explosion of Christ’s departure was tangibly felt by humans all around Jericho – not just the initial earthquake but the aftershocks as well. Mount Olivet, which sits on a fault line, shook as it rarely did. The veil was split in the Temple, revealing the Holiest of Holies to the neighboring chamber for the first time. Time, remember, doesn’t work the same way in the Realm of God as it does on earth. Though on earth, we associate the events of Matthew 27:51-53 with Christ’s death, these came instead from His victory over Satan, and the synchronicity of the two proclaims the fact that the believers were truly set free the instant Christ died, and the sins left earth with Him. With Them.
Those saints whose souls were just freed from Sheol had gotten lost “in the shuffle”, so to speak. At first, many of them returned to their bodies and tried to figure out how to cope with their new-found freedom by coming back to earth, as Matthew described. Soon, however, the angelic hosts were able to guide them to their new Home, and order was restored.
As he picked up a particularly hefty husk, Satan was left to ponder what might have been, had he understood what God the Son had told him earlier. Ever the optimist, he tossed the larger section of the marble-like sin husk up twice in succession, and then threw it a great distance, striking his intended target – a small demon, facing away from him – in the back of the head.
He let out a small chuckle. “Ah, well, I Am, you’ve bested me here. But it’s a minor victory at best. So Jesus reached what, a few hundred Canaanites? A couple thousand at most? There’s an entire planet of sinners that will still be mine to harvest. Once His visit to earth isn’t newsworthy any more, this will die down, and they’ll all be mine again. No reason to worry.” He threw the other half of the sin shell, striking the same demon in the right ear. Another chuckle.
            Sunday morning came, and it was time to complete the mission. The crypt was broken open from the inside, and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ emerged from the tomb, filled for the first time in a while with the full power of God. Were Jesus proud, He would have reveled in the moment as He felt the power He had willingly set aside more than thirty years ago, along with so much more.
            But He was beyond pride.
            He left the cave and went to the top of Mount Olivet, still silent and unoccupied so early in the morning after the Sabbath. Soon enough, He would make His presence – His resurrection – known, and it would verify everything He had told the disciples. Then, they could begin to spread the Good News – that there was a way to become closer to God, and to experience life the way that God had always wanted humans to experience it: as complete beings, not just in these fragile shells with fallen souls. Jesus knew, now that He was restored to His God-ly understanding, what the future held in all of its beautiful detail. And He once again understood that rather than being limited to the few people His human form touched, His message would now begin to spread throughout the globe, allowing those elect who would understand it to choose belief in Him, having never seen or heard Him in person. And once the message reached the last, remote corners of humanity, it would be time to return and make good on the promise.
            Until then, however, there were more immediate concerns. More immediate, in fact, than meeting Mary Magdalene on the road to topple that first domino.
So He knelt, momentarily taking in the view over Jerusalem as He did so, before He bowed His head.
            And then, He prayed.

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