Our Crucified Messiah
The fog of the broken heart.
It is a dark fog that silently imprisons the soul & refuses easy escape. It is a quiet mist that eclipses the sun & calls to the darkness. It is a heavy cloud that does not honor time & respects no person. Depression, discouragement, disappointment, & doubt. All of these are companions of the dreaded presence.
The fog of a broken heart disorients our life. It makes it hard to see down the road. Dim your lights. Wipe off your windshield. Slow down. Do whatever you wish; nothing helps. When this fog encircles us, our vision is blocked & tomorrow is a forever away. When this billowy blackness envelopes us, even the most earnest words of help & hope are only vacant phrases.
If you have ever been betrayed by a friend, you know what I mean. If you have ever been dumped by a spouse or abandoned by a parent, you have been in this fog. If you have ever placed a spade of dirt on a loved one’s casket or kept vigil at a dear one’s bedside, you recognize this cloud.
If you have ever been in this fog, or are in it now, you can be sure of one thing – you are not alone. Even the saltiest of sea captains have lost their bearing because of the appearance of this unwanted fog. Like a comedian once said, “If broken hearts were commercials, we’d all be on TV.”
Think back over the past 2 or 3 months. How many broken hearts did you encounter? How many wounded spirits did you witness? How many stories of tragedy did you read about?
My own reflections this week were sobering:
The woman & son who lost their husband & father very unexpectedly at the age of 44.
The woman who sat at her mother’s bedside day after day, watching her waste away from COPD & heart disease.
Fifteen high school students & 2 teachers gunned down in cold blood by a deranged teenager.
The parents who found their teenager dead in the forest behind their home. He had hung himself from a tree with his own belt.
The list goes on & on, doesn’t it? Foggy tragedies. How they blind our vision & destroy our dreams. Forget any hopes of reaching the world. Forget any plans of changing our society. Forget any thoughts of moving mountains. Forget all that. Lord, just help me make it through the night!
It is the suffering of the broken heart.
Come with me for a moment to witness what was surely the darkest day in history. The scene is very simple; you will recognize it quickly. A contingent of Roman soldiers. A small crowd gathered to watch the gory scene. Three crosses being prepared for 3 executions. A dark, dark day.
Now look closely at the picture. Do you see the person? Do you see the solitary figure? Face stained with dirt, tears & bruises. Eyes wide with a stupor of fear. Hair matted with salty sweat. His forehead & back torn open, raw, bloody. And now he lies flat on the wood. There is no struggle. He lies there willingly.
That’s Jesus. Jesus on a hill called Golgotha.
You have probably seen a classic portrait – or something like it – of Christ on the cross. His thin, pale body limp upon the cross. Wearing a snow-white robe. His hands pierced in the palm, only a little blood visible. A look of serenity on his face. A halo around his head. And a spotlight from heaven illuminating the scene.
Now, I am no artist, but I can tell you one thing. The man who painted that picture didn’t use the Gospels as his pattern. Listen to what the Gospel writers wrote about that painful day:
From Matthew: When they came to a place called Golgotha, they offered [Jesus] wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he had tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves.
From Mark: It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until 3 in the afternoon. Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, & gave it to him to drink.
From Luke: Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right & one on his left.
And John tells us this: Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially since that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken & the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came & broke the legs of the first & of the other who had been crucified with [Jesus]. But when they came to Jesus & saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, & at once blood & water came out.
Did you hear the descriptions? Sponges with sour wine. Stripped of his clothes. Legs breaking & Jesus’ side pierced with a spear. We further know that the Romans had perfected crucifixions to inflict the most pain for the longest period of time possible. The human body was stretched to its limits.
Does this sound like the picture of a saintly Jesus resting in the palm of God’s hand? The Gospel writers used black paint to describe the scene. We see an agonizing, straining, & struggling Jesus. We see a man of sorrows, as Isaiah described him. We see a man struggling, & yearning for relief.
We see Jesus in the fog of a broken heart.
The author of Hebrews would later write: During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers & requests with loud cries & tears… to the one who was able to save him from death.
Oh my, what a picture! Jesus is in pain. Jesus is on the stage of fear. Jesus is cloaked, not in sainthood, but in humanity.
The next time the fog finds you, you might do well to remember Jesus on the cross. The next time you think no one understands, reread the nineteenth chapter of John. The next time your self-pity convinces you that no one cares, pay a visit to Golgotha. And the next time you wonder if God really perceives the pain that prevails on this dusty planet, listen to him pleading from the cross.
Here’s my point. Seeing God like this does wonders for our own suffering. God was never more human than on this day. God was never nearer to us than when he hurt. The Incarnation was never so fulfilled as on the cross.
As a result, time spent in the fog of pain could be God’s greatest gift. It could be the hour when we finally see our Maker. If it is true that in suffering God is most like mankind, maybe in our suffering we can see God like never before.
So the next time you are called to suffer, pay attention. It may be the closest you will ever get to God. And watch closely. It could very well be that the hand that extends itself to lead you out of the fog is as pierced one.