By His wounds we are healed
The film “The Passion of the Christ” helped my understanding of the meaning of Good Friday and hence of Resurrection Day – today - in which we remember the glorious, wonderful and eternal victory of Jesus over evil, sin and death, not just for Himself, but for us, for you and me here today.
Unmistakably, Jesus did live. He is not a figure of fiction or imagination. Roman historians independently testify to his historical existence, his death and crucifixion and the fact that his supporters thereafter went about saying that he was alive.
Today, therefore we are not meeting in some quaint ritual invented and organised by ourselves without historical connection, validity or foundation. We are in direct historical touch with Jesus in sharing Holy Communion together. It is as if he is here saying to us today “Do this – for me”.
Even so, we are immune from knowing and understanding what actually happened on the original Good Friday. We can sing “We may not know we cannot tell what pains he had to bear”. “The Passion of the Christ” showed us for the first time, something like the real intensity of Jesus’ suffering and death. The Roman flogging was a life-threatening torture in itself. In the film, Jesus is beaten with ordinary rods and then with leather whips studded with pieces of bone which embedded in the flesh and then tore it open. When his back had no more white flesh, he is turned over and the punishment continues on his chest and stomach, leaving Him at the end, a bloody mass of weals and wounds reaching as far in as his bones.
There were two things that I never could fully understand in the Gospel narratives about Jesus last hours and death. 1) Why was he unable to carry His cross? 2) Why did he die so quickly? Having seen “The Passion of the Christ” these questions have been answered. The Roman flogging was so severe that it would have rendered Jesus almost unable even to walk let alone carry a heavy wooden cross. The hours of ill-abuse, torture and loss of blood would have hastened His death such that any normal person might already have died even without crucifixion. Although Roman prisoners often lived for days while being crucified, the severity of Jesus’ torture makes it possible to understand why Jesus dies after only about 6 hours. There are also the psychological and spiritual factors that Jesus was voluntarily giving up his life and probably could not wait to be gone from this earth to be in heaven.
Critics have accused Mel Gibson of exaggerating the suffering of Jesus. But – at the beginning of the film – Isaiah 52/3 are quoted on the screen. When you read these passages you realise that the authority for what “The Passion of the Christ” shows is based on the Old Testament prophecy of the suffering of the coming Messiah. In particular, there are key phrases which justify the full extent of Jesus’ suffering as shown in the film. These are “there were many who were appalled at him…his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man…his form marred beyond human likeness…Like one from whom men hide their faces…he was crushed for our iniquities…it was the Lord’s will to crush him”.
But I would like to share with you some thoughts on the theme “By his wounds we are healed”. How can this be? What does it mean? 1) This seems to suggest a straightforward doctrine of substitution. Jesus took the punishment which was due to the human condition on himself and thus prevented us from having to undergo what our conduct would deserve 2) In his case, the suffering of Jesus was not like the suffering of a sacrificial animal which does not know or understand that it is being sacrificed. Neither is the sacrificial animal tortured before being slaughtered. Jesus, on the other hand, is conscious of what is happening and voluntarily submits to it. I find it hard to accept that the source of the punishment is God Himself. That is, that God necessarily demands such a punishment of us, then of Jesus instead of us. That however, unless I am mistaken, is the thought of John Calvin whose calling, vision and understanding underpinned the Reformation. I myself, would rather say that God allowed this to happen out of His own paternal love for Jesus and for each of us and that the source of the cause of the suffering was with the evil in the hearts of human beings and in the coincidence of evil being so organised to bring about Jesus suffering and death. I hope you are following me!
To talk of the devil makes people think of you as a fundamentalist. Yet, it is apparent that evil is so brilliantly organised to cause so much unhappiness, grief, pain and suffering on earth, not to mention purposeful wickedness and sin that it is a constant miracle that any semblance of human community is possible. We do not know or understand the source of evil inclination in the human mind. Scientists are trying to see if there is a criminal gene which makes people act in a criminal fashion. I doubt if that will explain the catastrophic and wholesale wickedness that overtakes people and nations from time to time. Dr Harold Shipman’s parents were, as far as we know, ordinary and law-abiding people. Hitler was born into and raised as part of a Roman Catholic family.
It may be that what had happened over the evolution of the human species is that too often too many people co-operated with their evil inclinations and listened to the inspiration of wickedness. You could argue that that is what is happening in our society today. Just have a glance at the front pages of the Sunday papers.
Now what Jesus did begins to make sense to us. There is no doubt that He lived His own life and began a spiritual movement that has dealt with evil forcefully by preventing people from becoming rotten, bad and wicked. Thus – the benefits if a Christian upbringing. Christ’s power in the world these past 2000 years has transformed the human condition, saved millions of personal lives and given the bedrock values that we acknowledge as the best there has ever been to live by and judge by. It was Jesus who did this – no-one else.
“By His wounds we are healed”
Jesus took on His own physical mortal human body the fullest intensity of primeval wickedness, hatred, crime and abuse that can be found on earth and in the human community. He actually did so. And so – we are relieved of and healed from our possible suffering. We are set free. The hostility and enmity that is in us and is sometimes directed towards us was diverted to Jesus. He laid down His life for us. His wounds actually do heal the human condition of its disease of sin. The effects of this are not just spiritual and psychological but also physical. From then on, those who live in relationship to Jesus Christ live with the spiritual power of His life within them.
It is from such suffering that Christianity was born in this world and without it, Christianity would not exist. Jesus’ resurrection then, is not just a resurrection from death. It is a resurrection from the terrible scourging and torture and crucifixion that he endured. No-one comes back from such things. No-one begins a world faith from such circumstances.
Unless – of course – this indeed the very Son of God. Rejoice this Resurrection Day by all means. But also think, understand and remember that this was not easily won. Jesus suffered for you and for me. He invited us to love and serve Him all our days. He promises us that if we do so, we will see Him face to face. Christianity is the greatest truth on earth and you are privileged to share in it its truth today and always.