Charles Colson once said he thought he knew power when he served in the Nixon White House. He knew the power to launch nuclear war, to send federal aid — or cut it off — and to set policy for a nation. He knew until he experienced the power of the Cross of Christ. Real power was power to cancel death and to perfect strength in weakness.
I read about judo as a boy. The discipline depends on using the enemy’s strength against him. It is all about waiting for the attack to come to you and turning it back on itself. Striking the first blow or doing anything designed to overpower the enemy is counter-productive. Victory depends on letting the enemy overplay his hand. According to the tenets of judo this will happen every time the warrior of judo waits, anticipates, and moves decisively when the moment arrives. This is precisely what Jesus of Nazareth – the Warrior of Judah – does on the Cross prepared for his torture, death and ultimate defeat. This is a portion but not the entirety of how He destroys death.
We think of warfare as the obliteration of our enemies. We rain bombs and shot and shell on them and take their territory by assault. We do it because we must – if we are a just rather than an aggressive society – but the peace lasts only until they re-arm or a new enemy rises. This is because the real enemy – the spirit of enmity – remains active in the evil he has practiced since the Garden and before. The Warrior of Judah outflanks this enemy on His Cross. Death is not obliterated but rather absorbed into His Body during His death throes. This is the ultimate judo move – the Lion of Judah move – in that Jesus uses the enemy’s very tactic, strategy and resources against him by utterly receiving the attack without any effort to repel it.
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Death – like evil – is nothing-ness; it is unbeing. It cannot be destroyed by obliteration, by something that unmakes what it attacks. This produces more death, but it cannot produce life – abundant or otherwise. The method of the Cross is the only way to bring life from death, and the Son is the only one who can accomplish it. The only thing a human being limited to his or her humanity can contribute to the operation is an emphatic, “Amen. I’m with Him.”
That doesn’t mean it is easy. No more brutal way to die has been devised than that simple wooden Cross. Anyone chosen for its embrace is first spread-eagled and each limb fastened to the cross by nailing huge spikes through places both sensitive enough to maximize pain and strong enough to support the body for a long and agonizing time. The victim is then placed upright and left to hang from fastened body parts until he dies by slow suffocation. Becoming weaker and weaker, his body slowly sinks; deteriorating posture slowly compresses the lungs until he dies. The process takes anywhere from hours to days. The time Jesus spent actually crucified was minimized not from mercy but because he was whipped nearly to death before dragging His own Cross to Calvary – and bearing the added weight of every sin ever committed.
In an apocryphal story, a man asked God if he might experience what the Lord experienced for just one second – just to improve his appreciation of what was endured for him. He was immediately weighed down by what seemed a mountain deposited on his shoulders. He cried out in desperation to please for the love of God take it away. Released, he asked God if that was truly what it felt like. No, the Father replied, that was just your own weight you felt.
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When the Cross is described in metaphorical terms – Warrior of Judah; tactics of judo – it becomes simple and comprehensible. But there is nothing easy about this exercise of authentic power that destroys death and opens life if we are willing to accept Him across the board.
I remember being part of a focus group privileged to view a rough cut of The Passion of the Christ before its theatrical release. I remember the interminable and utterly grisly violence of the scourging scene; Jesus had not yet begun the walk to Calvary as soldiers savaged His body beyond belief. I told God in prayer I could not watch any more of just this scene; I told Abba I couldn’t take any more. He answered, “He had to do it; all you have to do is watch.”
Colson got it absolutely right. But it wasn’t easy.
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