God put it on my heart to end this section of my series that deals with the cross today with my personal testimony of what the cross means to me and also with some insights that I have recently gained regarding the power and beauty of the story of the cross. I do recommend that you all read or listen to the entire crucifixion story. Below, I am listing the chapters in the Bible which share the crucifixion story.
I will now go into my personal testimony and then will share the insights from the cross that I have recently been thinking about.
When I first gave my heart to God, I was impressed with His power and His ability to save me. I had been a fearful person who also struggled with an unhealthy and immoral imagination. I was grateful for a God who could purify me and save me and give me peace. However, I had never felt the weight of the evilness of sin…the straight, undiluted, utter and complete darkness and evilness.
As I continued on in my relationship with God, I loved who He was but I still had shortcomings and struggles- as I still do to this day. Still, my love for Him was based on the deliverance and peace that I knew He could always give me, but I had never been fully disgusted with sin. I also did not realize how much selfishness had pervaded my life.
Years later, during my time in college, I went through a very logistically difficult semester in which I was forced to, and blessed to, receive help and mercy from many people. I was a proud person who did not like to receive help from other people, and who was afraid of getting too close to people. I knew that there was a potential that I would be hurt if I did get really close to people, and so I re-enforced the wall in my heart. I was a friendly person, a nice person, but I was also an emotionally reserved person. I would never cry in front of or with anyone. I was afraid to share my deepest emotions with others.
That semester, all of this began to change. I began to realize the joy that can be found in accepting love from others. I realized that grace was not optional.. that it was, and is, necessary. It was at this point that I began to struggle with the cross. I had never fully sensed that my only hope of salvation was through Jesus’ death. I had thoughts like, I could die for my own sins and pay for them. Now, I realized that I couldn’t..that my own death could not pay for my sins…that I had absolutely no hope of salvation without accepting what Jesus did for me… that it would be an act of profound ingratitude for me not to except what Jesus did for me. I became more tender. I thought to myself, I’ve never known Jesus before.
I was also challenged to study His word more and to find the answers to the difficult questions that I had. My doubts regarding my ability to study became irrelevant and I dug into the word of God. I grew.
Later on that year, the weight of my sins began to crush me. At least once, I lay face down on a bed because I was so burdened. God brought me through another journey. I was re-baptized in October 2019. What a significant occasion this was! I stood in front of my church family, weeping freely and comfortably. I was so touched by the love of God and I felt so united and so close with His people. I ask the church to sing a verse of a song that I had longed to sing before as I rose from the baptismal waters:
“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” – Horatio Spafford
I sang along with them, and I knew that what I was singing was true. I had surrendered my sins to God, I had overcome my fear of loving and being loved by others and I felt pure and clean.
This is the beauty of the cross. It releases us from the pain and guilt of sin. Jesus has taken our sins upon Himself and He offers us peace and purity instead. What an exchange!
My journey was far from over after my re-baptism. In recent days, I have come to see that my life has been controlled by selfishness. I have loved others, mostly just because they loved me. It isn’t impressive when people love those who love them. That is a natural, beautiful and a good thing to do, yes!. But, oh! It is impressive when people are loyal to their loved ones when their loved ones are no longer fun and enjoyable to be around because they are struggling so much. It is impressive when people pray for their enemies and long for the people that have hurt them to experience the joy and freedom that Jesus offers.
I also came to realize that the way that Jesus carried Himself during His heart wrenching experience in Gethsemane, His cruel and unjust trials and His terrible death on the cross, was so, so unlike the way we carry ourselves under extreme pain and trauma.
Some of us try to be strong when we are going through terrible pain and struggle, but often this results in us becoming hardened. Some of us say, “I don’t care”, or “I’m fine”, or “You can say anything about me. It won’t bother me”, while inside we are BLEEDING. Some of us come to the point where we have little self worth and we also don’t care much about others either.
Some of us are evaders. We run away from our pain and struggle. We cannot face the problems in our hearts and lives and so we simply ignore them. We stay busy doing things; eating, or drinking, or thrill seeking, or looking for romantic relationships…all to soothe ourselves and to ignore the pain and struggle in our hearts.
Some of us live in denial. We conclude that our sufferings are the results of our thinking… that if we could only think differently, give up our attachments and realize that we are divine, we would be okay. We deny and we evade. We deny that suffering is real. We deny that we are faulty. We engage in meditative practices that cause our minds to become quiet and open. We check out.
When Jesus went through His terrible pain and struggle, He did not become hardened. He knew that He had value and He affirmed His connection with God the Father. He did not stop caring about other people… even His enemies. He did not evade His terrible struggle. He cried out to God the Father for strength, and He faced it head on with grace and dignity. He did not deny that sin and suffering are real. He did not tell Himself that what He was experiencing was simply the result of the way that He was thinking about His experiences. He did not engage in practices that would leave His mind quiet and open and allow Him to check out. Instead, He remained fully aware of the terrible experience that He was undergoing, and He continued to bless others even in the midst of it.
The result of Jesus’ surrender and courage, is that, after lying three days in a tomb, He rose…a conqueror over sin! He had secured the opportunity for every human being to be saved from sin. He had conquered selfishness. He had faced the deepest, darkest and most dramatic evil that could ever be found anywhere…He had struggled with it, faced it, seen it, acknowledged it, loved people in the midst of it and conquered it!!
Sin makes us fearful, angry, unforgiving and paranoid… or fearful, proud, deceived, and evasive. Sin has many more effects on us that I have not listed here. The problem with sin is that it is selfishness. The system of sin is the system of selfishness: of supreme love for ourselves. Certainly, we can and do love others when we are full of sin, but we do so because there is something in it for ourselves. We do not want to forgive others and we do not feel bad for the effects that wrongdoing has on wrongdoers. We only think about how our enemies have effected us. We sometimes harbor un-forgiveness towards those who have hurt us…as if it did us some kind of good.
What God gives us is the system of purity and righteousness. The system of purity and righteousness is the system of unselfishness. I have discovered something profound and freeing: we can only be truly at peace when we love others more than we love ourselves, and when we are accountable to God, of whom we are not a part.
Love involves suffering. Many of us are afraid to love because we think that if we love others we will be hurt… and honestly, many of us will get hurt while loving others. I was hurt while loving someone, and this is what caused me to tighten up and close off my heart (although my heart had never really fully opened up to love even before this).
But, when we live a life of fear and self protection…when we are constantly out to defend ourselves, to get everything that we deserve in life no matter what, to get back at those who have hurt us etc., we never have peace. Many of the jokes that we tell are based in fear. We cannot stand to not be well thought of. We cannot stand having others know that we are often wrong.
We tell jokes to quickly cover up our mistakes instead of just laughing them off. We laugh at “sketchy” people and are uncomfortable around people who are not like ourselves. We don’t make the efforts that we should to learn how to get along with people who are different from ourselves. We get angry and speak harsh words when we are offended by others, and then we offend others when we feel the need to. We want to be treated with love and kindness and we want to be forgiven, but we do not always treat others with love and kindness and we do not always forgive others.
We do not reach out to the poor and suffering and try to help them, while we simultaneously marvel at all of the bad things that happen in poor communities and wonder why people can’t get their acts together.
We do not pray for those that we disagree with and we do not wish for them to receive mercy and help.
Jesus wants us to have rest. He wants us to have peace. He wants us to experience the joy of loving and being loved. In order to have the experience that Jesus has had and still has, we must walk as He walked. We must think about Him and all of the things that He taught us while He was on earth.
I am happy to say I have never met a person who has forgiven someone and regretted it afterwards. It is freeing to forgive someone, no matter how bad the hurt they have inflicted on you. I can now speak from personal experience and say that it is also freeing to confess the things I have done that have hurt others, and it is freeing to acknowledge my mistakes. It is freeing to acknowledge the fact that others may think badly of me, but then to just choose to bless them. It is freeing to allow others to make their own choices, and to pray and plead, but never to manipulate.
It is freeing to wish only good on those who have hurt and offended me, and to feel deeply sorry that they are hurting themselves by hurting others. It is freeing to long for offenders to be free of their lives of offending.
Now that I am willing to be hurt by others, I have peace. God would not want any of us to willingly and recklessly throw ourselves into harms way, or to cultivate close relationships with people who only mean to hurt us. We do our abusers a favor when we seek help. We help them to stop hurting us…which also only hurts themselves. All of this being said, Jesus is setting me free from a life of fear, self-preservation, self-consciousness, shyness and more. I understand that loving people involves forbearance, patience and putting myself aside.
But oh! How worth it it is! When I have put myself aside and listened to people who were hurting and struggling, not deserting them even though they were not fun to be with, I have been rewarded. I gain valuable friendships and I become very blessed. I choose to love others, even if I do not like them. I know that God will put love in my heart as I choose to do what He has asked me to do. Once, I spoke to someone on the phone whom I did not completely like. It was so amazing, because the minute I picked up the phone, my feelings of dislike had almost completely gone away and I had a blessed conversation with this person.
In closing, Jesus wants to give us true nobility, peace and purity. He wants us to be courageous and strong…and loving: very, very loving. The closer we get Jesus, the more unselfish we will be, and the more unselfish we become, the more peaceful we will become.
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” Isaiah 32:17 (KJV)
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (KJV)
Don’t you want this beautiful experience from Jesus? If so, I invite you to join me in this prayer:
I surrender myself to You. Please forgive me of my sins and cleanse me. Please give me a new heart and help me to walk in Your ways. Please help me to be like You. Thank you for Your love and for Your desire to help me.
In Jesus’ Name Amen”.