Saturday, September 20, 2014


If you don't believe in Jesus, or just think of him as one more wise man, this won't matter to you. But if you believe Jesus was the Son of God, come down to earth in human form to give his life for us, then you probably think you know all about what he suffered in order to do that. Perhaps you've thought about how hard it was for him, as the One through whom all things were created, to subject himself to our limitations and even our daily miseries. He endured what we do, so he could not just understand us in an abstract sense, but feel our pain. During his life he was cold and hungry, hot and thirsty, endured the flu and an upset stomach, all the discomforts that are all too familiar to us. We have no choice but to endure those things. Jesus didn't have to. The fact he chose to anyway is incredible enough.

And, of course, he died on a cross, after being tortured and mocked by Roman soldiers. Roman legionaries were not famous for being gentle or kind; they were encouraged to be brutal to those the empire sought to dominate through fear. And if you have even a vague idea what it meant to be executed on a cross, then you don't have to use much imagination at all to guess his death was a horrible one. True, he lasted only a few hours, while some took days to die, but even minutes of such agony would be far too much.

If you're especially thoughtful, you may have realised something else about that long, agonising time he spent up on the cross. Do you still doubt it was long? Think about the last time you had to register a car and spent forty five minutes in line. Remember how that felt like it took a few hours? Well, the time you spent in bureaucratic limbo doesn't look half bad, once you compare it to hanging up by nails driven into your flesh, in such a way that if you don't put pressure on those nails so they hurt even worse, you start to suffocate. One minute of that must feel like at least a day.

It would be bad enough for any of us to go through, but once we were up there, everything would be out of our hands. There would be nothing more we could do but wait and pray we died quickly. (Preferably of a heart attack just thinking of what was about to happen while they were still working on the first nail.) But Jesus was the Son of God. He had the power to work miracles. He already told his disciples he could call on legions of angels to defend him if he wanted to. So every moment he hung there, he knew he could stop it, right then, come down and heal himself and watch those mockers quake with terror. To do his Father's will, he had to restrain the desire to do just that. Every single second he hung there, hurting, he had to hold back from putting a stop to it, as he could so easily have done.

All that seems as if it's more than enough. I've never even considered there might have been more, and I don't think anyone else ever has, either. At least, I've never read any mention of it. It was actually someone else who started me thinking, when they asked a question which seemed (to me) to have an obvious answer. What he wanted to know was, since the disciples hung around with Jesus all the time, and knew him as well as anyone, how come they never seemed to get the point of any of the things he said? Since God's ways are not our ways, and Jesus didn't seem to think in a way instinctive to us, either. After all, he volunteered to endure everything I've already described. So of course his closest friends and family couldn't even understand him. With the benefit of all those explanations they asked him for, we still struggle for decades just to become a tiny bit more like him.

The answer was obvious enough, but I'd never put it into words that way before. Once I did, I began to think. Throughout his entire life, Jesus never met a single person who really understood him at all. He went through life lonely; no matter how many people hang around you, you're bound to feel lonely if they don't understand the most basic things about you. So he was always isolated, always set apart, always misunderstood. Since I'm autistic, I have at least some idea what that is like. That isn't to say I'm like Jesus, or that my differeneces are as great as his - I find his sacrifice just as hard to comprehend as anyone. But I've been isolated and misunderstood often enough to know how unpleasant it can be. And Jesus knew, before he ever became one of us, that was part of what he'd have to live through.

Perhaps it's just because I can feel that so personally that it makes such an impression on me. I can imagine how horrible it would be to die on a cross, but I don't know what that's like. I feel this particular sacrifice in my gut, so maybe that's why it affects me so. Maybe most of the people who eventually read this will consider it, at best, an odd tidbit of insight they haven't run across before, but to me, it is huge. A lifetime of feeling like an outcast, of never being understood, especially when it matters most, is a tremendously painful thing. And Jesus took that burden, too, up willingly, for our sake.

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