Friday, April 10, 2009

Paradise Regained: Reflections on the Cross

I write these words in the lobby of a Waikiki Beach hotel, with a lush tropical garden to my left and Hawaiian music playing over the loudspeaker. It's our first time in a vacation paradise, and tomorrow we'll embark on our first cruise. The trip followed a writers' conference at Mount Hermon, the first trip Rick and I have taken without the kids since we started having them eighteen years ago.

In other words, we've had a lot of great "firsts" this month.

But since it's Good Friday, I took a walk through the drizzling rain (now I know why Hawaii is so green compared to California) and reflected on the cross. What does it mean? Why did God have to become man and die? Was it just an act of heroism that we are supposed to remember and appreciate? What should our response be to the cross?

It was, of course, the ultimate act of heroism. Jesus didn't just die for us--he took upon himself the wrath of God and went to hell for us between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He was separated from the Father for the first time. When he said, "O God, why have you forsaken me?" he was speaking the literal truth (except that his exclamation was an act of anguish, not a question--he knew exactly why God had forsaken him). God had turned his face away from his Son and left him with the forces of evil. And he did this for us, his rebellious children.

It was also the ultimate act of humility. Jesus was rich, but he became poor for our sake. The Son of God emptied himself of all his heavenly glory and lived a life of poverty. He died the death of a criminal at the age of thirty-three, rejected by the religious elite.

But why was it all necessary? Why couldn't God just forgive us without the cross? Because in a spiritual sense we owed a great debt that someone had to pay. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they separated themselves from God and incurred his wrath. They and their descendants became like a cut flower that would bloom for a short while and then wither. And with that act, Satan took the throne as prince of this world, holding the entire human race captive. Our first parents forfeited the paradise for which we were created.

If we open our minds and eyes, it's not hard to believe that we live in a beautiful world where something has gone terribly wrong. We are creatures of high ideals, but we never live up to them. Just look at our society's obsession with food and beauty--we long to lose weight in order to gratify the ego, but we're enslaved by rich food, so we're like hamsters on a wheel, eating, dieting, exercising, without the power to stop the wheel. In this world, people do the very things they despise. We know what we should do, but we can't.

So what happened on the cross? The power of sin and death was broken. In the spiritual realm, Satan has been deposed, and paradise has been regained. With his death, Jesus offered to us complete restoration, and his victory over death makes it possible for us to be planted by streams of living water.

How do we lay hold of that victory? By faith. Faith is the sixth sense that makes objective spiritual truths real to us. Colors are real, but in the dark they seem to disappear. When we allow Jesus to lead us out of darkness into the light, everything he wrought on that cross becomes real to us.

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