Crossways Concepts

Because it is all about the cross...

Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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Too Close To The Cross

This is the story of the day that was the most terrible and also the most wonderful day of my life.

As I came in through the plate glass doors, I was met by an old man in a shirt and tie.  He said, “Welcome!”  He was clean-shaven and looked extremely old, but his voice and his actions reflected substantially more youth than his appearance.  In the middle of that very old face, were a pair of bright, clear eyes.

He turned and grabbed a folded paper and pencil from the counter behind him.  As he handed them to me, he said, “You need to go in there,” gesturing down the passageway, “and sit at one of the desks.  You should complete the questions as honestly as you can.  Any attempt at deception will be detected and will only work against you.  When you get done, give your paper to the man at the big desk.”

I took the offered paper and pencil and said, “Thanks”.  There was something very odd about this whole thing, but I couldn’t quite lay my finger on it.  I moved down the passageway, noticing how it had an arched ceiling formed of many tiny tiles.

Suddenly the passageway opened up into an enormous, darkened room.  There were lights shining on 9 small desks in the center of the room and a huge desk on the far side, but there was so little light elsewhere that it was difficult to see the walls.  The ceiling was lost completely in darkness.  At the large desk sat a figure that was shrouded in darkness.  As I looked at him, he gestured toward the smaller desks.  I began moving from where I had stopped at the entrance to the room.  Four of the desks were occupied by 2 men and 2 women, so I made my way to an unoccupied desk.

The desk and chair were made of some heavy unfamiliar material.  As I sat down, I had the fleeting sensation of being back in school, just because this room was laid out like a classroom, but it had a much different feel.  There was a tension and a sadness in the air.  I glanced quickly at the people I shared this room with.  They appeared to be regular normal people you might see at the grocery, but they were having a very difficult time completing their paper.

At that point, a woman of about 40 years closed her paper, gathered her things and began to move toward the big desk.  She moved like she was walking toward the gas chamber.  The desk, where she took her paper, was taller than she was.  She reached her paper up and it was accepted by a gnarled hand.  I could not hear any words being spoken.  Soon, the paper was handed back to her with some red writing on the outside.  The woman moved slowly off into the darkness.

I opened my paper.  It contained a dozen or so questions. Next to each question were the choices, “Yes” and, “No”.  My first thought was, “How tough can this be?,” but the image of the defeated-looking woman quickly dashed that thought.  The first question asked:

Have you ever intentionally deceived somebody else?

I am a basically honest person, so I started to mark “No”.  Then I recalled the old man’s words, “Any attempt at deception will be detected and will only work against you.”  Then, many occasions in which I lied to avoid punishment, to change somebody’s opinion or because I wanted something; all came flooding into my mind.  I was shocked at the number of times I had lied and the dumb reasons that had motivated me to do it.  My hand was shaking slightly as I marked, “Yes”.

The next question concerned taking things that didn’t belong to me.  Again, my mind was flooded with occasions in which I had effectively stolen something, even though I may not have considered it stealing at the time.  It was as if my mind was being opened and there was an outpouring of things I had done wrong.  Again, I had no choice but to mark “Yes”.

The questions continued through relationships, betrayals, matters of honor, and pride.  With every question, I saw the depth of my own depravity.

The final question challenged my relationship to the Lord.  It asked, “Have you ever failed to love the Lord your God will ALL of your heart, mind and soul?”  I thought on many times when the Lord had fallen into second place, or sometimes even lower, in my life.  On top of all the other things I had done, I had betrayed my God.  I truly felt like I was Peter when the rooster crowed.  I really, really wanted to mark “No”.  I wanted to be able to say that in spite of everything else, I had always stood by my God, but that just wasn’t true.  As my pencil moved toward the “Yes”, my eyes clouded with tears.  I felt so ashamed.

While I felt terrible about myself after completing this test, I had to hold on to the fact that it was now over.  Now, I had to go and turn it in, but what would the man at the desk think when he saw what kind of person I was?  I thought about just running out the way I had come in, but I steeled myself and went forward.

The big desk was as high as I was tall.  I stepped up to this imposing structure and reached my paper up.  The ancient looking hand pulled the paper from my hand.  I heard a few sounds of disappointment followed by the sound of a rubber-stamp being used.  The paper was handed back to me and a voice said, “Take your verdict through the doors behind my desk.  Wait there with the others to find out what will become of you.”

His words fueled a growing apprehension.  I took the paper.  On the outside, it had stamped in blood-red letters, “SINNER”.

I didn’t want anybody to see how I was labeled, so I tucked the paper under my arm.  As I passed through the doorway in the back of the testing room, I found myself joining a group of 3 others in a room that was much longer than it was wide.  Glancing at the other people, I thought that I was not the only person that had struggled with the test.  One woman’s makeup showed evidence of recent tears.  None of us wanted to talk.  We were all uncomfortably attempting to hide our papers from one another.

The room we were in had dark wood paneling that reached upward to the extra high ceiling.  We were in one end of this long room.  There was no furniture.  The only thing breaking the emptiness of the room was a pair of stanchions with a rope between them that kept us to our end of the room.  The door we entered through was flush with and perfectly matched the rest of the wood paneling.  Since it had no hardware on the inside, only the tiny crack around the doorway gave away its existence.  There were no other doors or windows visible anywhere else in the room.

After about a minute of uncomfortably standing there, we were startled by the sound of hissing air.  A large door was swinging up out of the floor at the far end of the room.  As the door opened, we were met by a blast of hot air.  The air had an acrid, smoky smell.  Beneath the doorway in the floor was a very long stairway down.  There was a man coming up the stairs.  He looked like he might be in his fifties.  He wore a black pin-striped, old-fashioned, 3-piece suit. 

As he came up to our level, I saw his eyes.  In those eyes, I saw pure evil.  It completely freaked me out.   I had never seen anything like that.  In spite of myself, I took a step backward, wishing there was an exit I could open.  Plain and simple, I was terrified of this man even before he spoke a word. I was aware that somebody else in our little group had gasped aloud and that we had all moved back.

The man spoke with a booming voice, “You are a pitiful lot. I have been told that a verdict has been ruled on each of you. So, show me your verdict.” 

We stood there in fear, not registering what he was talking about.

“What are you stupid too? Show me what the judge stamped on your paper!  Do it now!”

We began fumbling with the papers we had forgotten we were holding.  He said, “Yes, hold them up high so everybody can see what you really are, you sniveling bunch of sinners.” He sneered.

Indeed, each of us was holding up a paper that had huge, glowing, red letters spelling out the word “SINNER”.

He intoned, “By the laws of creation, all sinners are doomed to spend eternity in the lake of fire, suffering for their sins, forever separated from their creator.”  He paused, then with a cruel smile, he explained, “You are mine forever.”

Suddenly, off to the left of this terrifying visage, there is a bright light and a man entered.  Nobody had to tell me who this was.  I knew at once that this man was Jesus.  He walked into the room between us and the evil man.  Jesus said, “Hold on, Lucifer.  That one soul is mine.” and he pointed right at me.

Satan spoke in a terrible, angry voice, “That is nothing but a sinner.  All of the sinners are mine.  You don’t really think you can do anything to change that do you?”

Jesus voice was calm as He said, “Yes, I believe I can and I will.”

With that statement, we were plunged into darkness.  I felt hands grab my arms, turn me and walk me quickly out of the room.  It all happened so quickly that I didn't even have time to react.  It was pitch black, but the people that were driving me along, moved at a furious rate, as if the darkness was not affecting them.

I began hearing screams of terror behind me, but they faded quickly.  To my ears, it was as if we were moving 10 yards with every hurried step.  Shortly after the screams had faded to nothing, my guides stopped and released my arms.  I stood there in the complete and total darkness.  I could neither see, hear or feel anything, but the soft, uneven surface beneath my feet.

A second later, something in front of me started to come into view.  As the light increased, my mind began to assembly the shadows into a horrific scene.  There, in front of me, was a cross lying on the ground.  On that cross, was Jesus.  Many Roman guards were holding him down.  One was holding his right arm down and holding a spike over His hand.

“I can't watch them nail him to the cross!” I thought.  At that moment, a pair of guards grabbed me and forced me forward.  With a painful prod of the guard’s spear, they propelled me down onto my knees with the outstretched arm of Jesus right in front of me.  That horrible spike was about to be driven into the hand of Jesus so close I could touch Him!  I did not want to watch, certainly not from this close!

Another guard forced a nasty looking mallet into my hands.  As he did so, he said, “Drive the spike in..”

I was totally in shock.  I began to cry.  I could never do what they were asking!  I would not!

The guards behind me poked me with their spears, yelling, “Do it now!”

I looked to the face of Jesus.  Although His teeth were clenched against the pain He was enduring, He looked at me with great sadness and compassion.  Then, He nodded His head.  In my mind, I heard His voice, “This must be. Make it mercifully quick.”

I could not believe anything about this.  I wanted out.  Almost of their own volition, my arms raised the hammer into the air.  I took one more glance at Jesus, but His eyes were closed.  I turned back, took aim at the spike and brought the hammer down as hard as I could.

There was a flash.  The sound of iron striking iron was thunderously loud and then everything faded away.

I must have passed out.

The next thing I know, I am laying in the dirt sobbing.  Everything and everybody is gone, I am alone.  My hands are sticky.  When I look at them, I see that they are blood covered.  My sobbing intensifies with the flood of guilt and self-loathing that the sight prompts.

Soon, I feel a gentle arm across my shoulders.  My first thought, is that it is the Roman soldiers that have come back for some other evil purpose.  When I look up, I see Jesus.  He is looking quite alive.  He sits in the dirt next to me.

He said, “It is OK.  Sometimes it is necessary to do something we really don’t want to do, for a greater purpose.  I really didn’t want to go to the cross in the first place, but it was for you that I did it.”  He took my bloody hands in His and said, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  It is by the blood shed on the cross that you are cleansed.”

I looked at my hands and they were now clean.  I asked, “But why did I have to…” , but I could not speak of what I had done.

Jesus said, “Do you remember when the Father spoke through Isaiah, saying, ‘But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.’?  I went to the cross for you, but I also went because of you.  I was pierced because of your transgressions.  I want you to truly understand the love I have for you.  Even when you rebelled against everything We stand for, I still died just to give you a chance to be cleansed.”

I objected, “But, I was the one who deserved to be punished.  I had no right to cause you pain.  If anybody deserved the spike, it was me.”

“Sin is everywhere, it had to be dealt with once and for all.”  He continued, “I didn’t have to go to the cross.  Personally I didn’t want to go, but I did, because of you.  I love you.  I have always loved you.  I will always love you.  I love you enough to die for you.  Remember, as awful as the cross was, without it, there could no resurrection and no forgiveness.”

There was a pause as I absorbed what He had told me.  Then, I asked, “But what about the others?”

Jesus looked very sad as He said, “I loved them too and it broke my heart to let them go, but those that choose to turn away from Me in life, also choose to be separated from Me for all eternity.  This is their choice.  For each of them, there was a time in their life when they could have been changed, if only there had been a willing servant there to share with them, but alas, now they are gone forever.  This is the way of this world, we win a few and we lose many.  I want each one to enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

After a brief pause, He said, “I have something for you.”  He pulled out my test paper.  Where it had said, “SINNER” had been crossed out.  In broad black ink, below that, was scrawled, “Forgiven”.  I looked up, but He was gone.  I stood up, dusting myself off.  I called out, “Jesus?”

In my mind, the words came to me, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In a moment, the old man that had greeted me when I first came in, walked up to me.  He said, “Are you ready to go?”

I was somehow confused for a moment, then, I said, “Yes, I guess so.”

He said, “I’ll show the way back to the parking lot.”

In a frame on my office wall is a piece of paper.  It has “SINNER” in bright red block letters, but that word is crossed out and “Forgiven” is hand-written below that.  It is precious to me because I know that it was only possible through the greatest love and at a terrible cost.

©2010-2014, Crossways Concepts
Lexington, Ky