On Easter Morning, almost every church in America has visitors which are not usually there on a regular basis. That, along with the fact that our current dilemma which places us live streaming online probably gives us one of the largest, and most varied audiences I've had the privilege of sharing God's Word with on an Easter morning.
I want to be as real and direct as possible with the time we have together because it is an honor that you have chosen to join us today, and because I want so desperately for many of you to see the Awesome Truth of what happened on this Day. We have spent several Wednesday Nights in a row, looking at incredible evidence to prove the scriptures are real and Jesus Christ exists (see Expository Apologetics). But many of you who may be listening, and could accept that evidence would still have trouble believing in, or honestly speaking, wanting to follow God because of one very common, powerful, and justified question: "If God exists, and He is so good, why would He allow such evil and horror in this world?"
Well-meaning people, even Christians, just don't know how to make sense of some of the apparent senseless and horrible things in this world. The premature loss of a loved one, who was a good person, the disabilities or sicknesses that effect good people, the senseless, horrible crimes of hate and abuse against innocent people, the so-called natural disasters that ravage entire populations, and kill tens of thousands, the torture, rape, and complete genocide of entire groups of people, the 25,000 men, women and children who will starve to death before this time tomorrow—these things make some people honestly ask: "How could there be a God in charge of this world when there is so much evil and chaos?" Or, even if they know in their heart God is real, some are asking: "God, if you are All-powerful, and you really are good and loving, how could you watch this go on and do nothing?" And the simple, overused answer given by many Christians, "Well, God didn't make the world that way—man did"—just doesn't cut it because in the end, God in His Omniscience, still had to know what would happen, and therefore, is still ultimately responsible. All answers for why there is evil in the world, eventually come back to God in the end. So, why?
So, if God is Ultimately responsible, and yet, All Powerful, and Loving, why doesn't He just stop evil from happening? Why doesn't He protect the innocent from pain? Better yet, why doesn't He just take away the evil people? Focus in with me here, just give us a moment of truth. Let's say God did decide to just stop evil everywhere it happens, and every time an unrighteous act is about to occur, that person is taken out before they can follow through, where does He stop? To a righteous God, aren't our thoughts of lust, unforgiveness, hatred, and obsession with self just as evil? All of evil stems from one root—pride. [I am better than them, I am most important. I deserve more. I want what I want. I am the only one that matters.] Do these thoughts not lead to the same selfish destruction eventually? Isn't the worry of reputation and repercussion the only thing stopping many of us from going any further in our own sinful hearts? We are so completely enveloped and confused in our own tainted view that on one hand many of us are blaming God for allowing all of this evil in the world, saying: “You are not a Loving God for allowing evil." And on the other hand, we turn right around and blame God for not accepting our evil ways, saying: "If you won't accept me just as I am, You are not a loving God, and I don't want You." Don't you see this is God's dilemma? He does hate evil even more than we do, but He does loves us in our sins, and we all have a part of what He wants to get rid of, in us. When you say, "Hey God, why don't you stop those people?" You don't realize, you are one of those people, and if God decided to stop all evil before it hurt anyone else, He could start with you and I because He would not be truly just unless He included us. He decided to stop all the evil in the world one other time—it was called the Great Flood. Some of the worst evils that occur in our lives and to those around us that we so often blame and hate God for, are brought on by our own choices to sin—our own selfishness, and yet we hold Him accountable, and have the audacity to ask Him, "Why?"
The next question then becomes: "Then, why on earth does God even give us the freedom to think about, and commit evil in the first place?" "Why did He allow us to even bring evil into the world, knowing it would cause such pain and destruction?" Listen to this powerful statement: you cannot ever have real love, without the natural and inseparable combination of freedom of will. "Freedom without choice", is a logical contradiction (meaning you cannot have freedom, and no choice, at the same time). Where there is no real choice, there is no real love; only control, manipulation, and forced obedience. The greatest evil of all is to take away the ability to choose or reject real love. It is the only thing that is so wonderful and desired that it trumps any pain and trouble caused by the abuse of the freedom—even to God Himself. And with that real choice to love and serve another comes the intrinsic ability to hurt and take from another. God knew the pain and trouble we would cause with our real freedom to choose love or hate. He saw the outcome, and He hated it. Do you think the terrible things happening in this world could possibly hurt us more than Him? It tore His heart out to see us suffering in this mess we've created with our choice. But rather than lose us, He had to find a way to save us out of it. He loves us so much that saving us out of it was not even enough, He had to actually come to us, become one with us, and share in the very worst of it all right here with us. Jesus loved us so much that He just had to share in our pains—feel everything that we have felt—so that He could show His love by living in the injustice of sin with us so He could care for us in all the pain of our evil. Don't dare ever be so arrogant as to say: "Jesus must not be good if He will sit there and watch us suffer so terribly," because in His passion for us, despair over our pain, and hatred of evil that caused it all, He has allowed Himself to suffer more than any of us, delving into the worst of that evil to find us.
Let's take some time to walk through the last moments of Jesus' Life on Earth which led to the first Easter morning. And I ask you not only to look at the events, which many have heard before, but at the Heart and Soul—the obsession of the Man, Jesus Christ—as He walks this final road on Earth. This is a picture of just how much Jesus hates the pain which evil has brought. This is how badly He does want to get rid of it forever, but still save you and I, (a part of evil) out of it all. After finishing the Last Supper, Jesus took His three most trusted disciples to a place He often went for prayer: the Garden of Gethsemane: Matthew 26:36-39. Jesus came here to seek the Father's will and gain strength for what was to come. It is here that He struggled with the final choice of going down the road of no return towards the Cross—the road of agony- physically, emotionally and spiritually—the despair of hell itself as God had to abandon Him to death alone as a Criminal. Jesus openly admitted that He was so crushed with despair that He literally thought He could die. Luke tells of something that happened to Jesus during this time of struggle in the Garden: Luke 22:43-44: First, wouldn't you like to know what angel this was? And why he was chosen for such a wonderful job? An ancient friend of the Saviors? Realize that when Jesus said He felt He might die from grief; this was not a figure of speech or exaggeration. The "bloody sweat" that Luke mentions here is a well documented medical phenomenon brought about by unbearable stress and pain, called "hemathidrosis." This condition meant that left untreated, Jesus was literally dying already from the weakened stage of shock His body suffered. The most unfathomable, and important battle ever to occur; the most amazing, humble thing in history happened right here. The Creator of the Universe, All-Powerful, untouchable, allowed Himself to be so broken, so emotionally wrecked; so unwanting of God’s Will for His Life, that He sweat blood through His very pores as He asked the Father to find another way. These drops of Blood were by far, the sweetest drops, shed at the highest price, of all the Blood He was about to spill for us. The disciples had never seen Jesus like this. [The Messiah! God in Flesh! The Healer! The Redeemer! The Great Teacher and Prophet! The Son of God!] now stood before them in tears, sweating Blood, and asking why they could not sit up and pray with Him. Why would God allow Himself to suffer this way? Suffer this humiliation and pain for something He didn't even do? For a chance to save people that didn't even love Him back? Here He prayed as many of us have, "God, if you can do anything to save me from this please take it away!" He didn't fear the physical pain that was coming, as we will see, but the agony of all our sins being put into His innocent heart and soul. He felt more evil than all of us. The agony of hell that we don't have to feel, because of Him. The hell of total aloneness and rejection from all love and hope. The agony of everything we are angry at Him for not caring about. [Every murder, rape, child-molestation, genocide, and sick depraved thing ever in need of punishment.] Can you imagine the fury and disgust Jesus had to feel from a Perfectly Holy God for the sins mankind has committed? What would this do to our tainted souls. How much more His innocent, Holy Soul? He asked God the Father three times to find another way. And do you know what He heard? Silence. Silence from the Father who answered every need. Silence, from the One who walked with Him constantly. Silence, from the One who told Him, "You are My Pride and Joy, with You, I am well pleased." I'm sure He heard silence, because if He'd heard an answer, He'd have accepted it. But He returned three times in prayer. When you think you aren't being heard, (even though you are) Jesus understands. And, in the distance, a parade of guards armed with swords and clubs approach to carry Jesus to illegal trials in the night. He was brought before the Sanhedrin (High Court) and Caiaphas, the High Priest. There, God was blindfolded, mocked, taunted, spat on, and beaten repeatedly in the face. A few hours later in the morning, after being beaten, bruised and dehydrated while in a state of shock, Pilate ordered the release of a criminal Bar-Abbas and condemned Jesus to death by scourging and crucifixion. Crucifixion was the most cruel and torturous death that one could endure. An entire barrack of soldiers surrendered with the pledge that when they were killed, they would not be crucified. So horrible was crucifixion, that Roman citizens were excluded from ever being crucified.
The scourging begins first. Scourging was an unimaginable part of the torture of crucifixion that often led to a person's death before the cross. Joel M. Donahoe, who has done much research in developing one of the most authentic replicas of the “Roman Flagrum” to date quotes: “…this instrument was used with the purpose of bringing the accused to the threshold of death. In the first century, a Roman scourging was referred to as “the sting of the scorpion… done with a particular scourging implement known as ‘the Scorpion’ which was imbedded with nails, sharp scraps of bone from the forehead of a ram, and heavy circles of bronze and lead. Often the thongs ended with metal fishhook type spurs that would catch on the skin and pull off large strips of flesh, muscle and fragments of bone. Most of the time the bare rib bones of the victim, and spine would show…” The back, legs, front, shoulders, even skull, face and neck had the flesh literally torn away in strips. The blood loss was immense, often causing death here. If you think this is an exaggeration, listen to these historical quotes from one who was there: 1st century historian Flavious Josephus: “…certain rebel Jews were torn to pieces by the scourge before being crucified.” 3rd century historian Eusabious of Ceasare: “…their bodies were frightfully lacerated. Christian martyrs in Smyrna were so torn by the scourges that their veins were laid bare, and the inner muscles, sinews, even entrails, were exposed.” Matthew 26:28: shed.
Joel M. Donahoe describers the devastation of Scourging: “A Roman scourging was considered a long and slow death penalty from which only the gods could save the victim from. The victim usually died in 2-3 days from blood loss and infection. The Romans were known (at times) to dip their whips into fresh goats blood to insure and hasten the infection process…A victim who was sentenced to a… scourging had very little to no chance of surviving even if he was still living by the end of the scourging. The blood loss and infection to come would result in the certain death of the victim. Crucifixion to follow a scourging served to expedite the victim’s death by suffocation.” Flavious Josephus records: 1) that three of his friends were crucified, 2) in turn of events, removed the bodies so they would not die, 3) immediately upon crucifixion, they took them down, 4) and still two of three men died, 5) even though they were on the cross for only a few minutes. That’s how devastating the cross was in killing someone.
What kind of Strength, Will and Determination would it have taken for Jesus to begin His journey? Already sweating blood because His body was racked with stress and suffering hypovolemic shock (meaning near death). To have still continued on in that state, to be beaten by soldiers until literally unrecognizable, and, Scourged until His flesh ripped open, bones and organs probably in view, enduring massive blood loss, and dehydration. Between the scourging and the Cross, and now, Roman soldiers go to Jesus' broken, frail, unrecognizable Body, and find sport in shoving a crown of thorns on His brow, spitting in His face, and driving the crown in by striking Him with rods. In this condition, the God of the Universe struggles to carry the patibulum (horizontal section) of a cross, weighing 75 to 125 lbs. At least a quarter of a mile, through the streets, being mocked, beaten and spit on to the crucifixion site, at the top of a hill—but He does not even have the strength and life left to carry it.
Crucifixion was one of the most torturous forms of death ever invented. It was designed to cause unbearable pain to the whole body. The hands and feet had heavy, thick spikes driven through them, literally making direct contact with some of the most sensitive nerves in the body, placing the victim's full weight on these nerves. As the weight of the victim caused the arms to pull from their sockets—extending up to 6 inches beyond their natural position. This slumped, unnatural position forced the chest cavity to protrude, allowing he victim to inhale, but not exhale. Here is where Crucifixion was perfected to make the victim suffer for hours or days, as they would fight through searing pain for every breath of air. Jesus had to place the entire weight of His Body on the nerves of His hands and separated joints as He inhaled, then push up on His crucified feet to release His lungs of air. This repeated for hours, as periods of partial asphyxiation allowed enough numbness to continue another cycle. Insects and birds having their way on helpless victims. The knees were bent at a 45o angle, sustaining the full body weight on slightly bent legs. This is hard to do for minutes at a time—the victim did this for hours or days—until the unimaginable cramps and fatigued were too much to continue; especially with the dehydration and severe blood loss. The limited oxygen, the low blood flow, the lack of movement, and the force of gravity on the blood remaining prevents all of the organs from receiving enough blood flow, causing the slowly dying organs to send waves of pain signals to the brain, on top of all of the other tortures. Literally every part of the body is producing pain for the victim. Finally—mercifully—the victim dies. The final cause of death is usually from hypovolemic shock (rapid fluid loss resulting in multiple organ failures), exhaustion asphyxia (unable to push up to exhale), congestive heart failure (fluids around heart). To be certain of Jesus’ death, a legionnaire drove a spear through His chest, which resulted in blood and water coming out separately. We, therefore, have rather conclusive post-mortem evidence He died—not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium (Jesus died of a broken heart). Blood and water coming from the wound are a medically and historically guaranteed sign that the victim has expired. Even during this hateful, tortured death, Jesus prayed for those that were killing Him; that The Father would not hold these crimes against them. That, my friends, is how much Jesus hates the sin that hurts you and I.
There have been times that I have pleaded with people, Christian and non-Christian alike, to just accept Christ—or draw closer to Him. To serve Him a little better; to love Him a little more. To pray to Him; trust Him; obey His Words. But, if you'll read Scriptures, you'll notice that Jesus never tried to impress or beg anyone to come to Him. He did everything, gave everything, in love to save them if they so chose. Then, He let them know He only wanted those who would love Him back with the same abandonment—usually driving off many more than He attracted because He didn't want cheap, self-focused believers. Jesus doesn't need people who would be glad to, "Add Him to their lives." He doesn't need people who will blame Him for the evil in this world, rather than join Him in enduring that evil head on in love to save others from its’ grasp. He wants people that see something in Him so wonderful, that they would give all to have Him, as He has for them. Matthew 13:45-46. The One Pearl of Great Price is found in the God who would allow Himself to be pushed beyond His own human capacity to handle the punishment we were to receive. To be mutilated and tortured, spit on and defiled; to feel the pain, and take the blame for every terrible thing we've done and suffer the separation and hell that came with it. When you realize it is the All-Powerful God that humbled Himself in love, to do this for you—you have found the Pearl—the Treasure. At this point, it is not my job to impress you, or beg you, or plead with you about Jesus Christ.
My Jesus is under the impression that since He created you, and since He died for you, even though you have worked against Him; and since He’s created a Kingdom of Wonders for an eternal existence, that maybe you'd actually be thrilled, and desperate to have Him. And say, whatever it costs, I've got to have You as my God and beloved. That maybe the act of publicly declaring you love Him, would be an honor, rather than an embarrassment. Over the past weeks, we have seen many proofs as to why we can assuredly believe in the reality of God and His Word. Today, on the day we celebrate Jesus' Resurrection from death, we have seen reasons for why this Jesus is so completely worthy to be Lord of our lives, forever. If you say later—don't bother. if you are too busy, or too involved in something else right now—you’re right, just go home. if you just need more time to think about it—the thinking is done. But, if you have come to the conclusion that He is the Pearl you cannot live without, join with me unashamed and praise Him today.
It's His day. Praise Him; celebrate Him; be unashamed of Him. Maybe, accept him as yours for the first time!
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