Who are the great Australian heroes? Sure we honour our sports stars but aren’t our real heroes the ones who lay down their own life for others. Our Anzacs are heroes, as are those who risk their lives for our safety.
I was catching a taxi the other day in Washington DC. The taxi driver was from Ethiopia, and when he realised I was from Australia, he said he knew a true Australian hero.
He went on to speak about Dr Catherine Hamlin who has given over 50 years of her life to serve the women of Ethiopia through fistula hospitals. To make sure women have dignity in birth and are not abandoned. He said, she should be Aussie of the year!
I agree our heroes are those who give their lives for others.
That’s why most Australian’s stop on Good Friday. There is no footie in the morning, no shops open. We know - church goers or not - that this is a key time of reflection. Jesus Christ is the one who gave his life for us. The ultimate hero.
At this time of year, we especially remember the Passion of Christ, His suffering and His death for us. And oh yes He did suffer!
One of the offenses of books like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code is that they diminish the suffering of Jesus. They claim He did not die but faked his death on the cross, and drifted into the sunset to the South of France with Mary Magdalene by His side.
What a monstrous attack on human history, the gospels and Jesus’s suffering this is. And it’s not just the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that record his death. External sources that confirm the crucifixion of Jesus include the Jewish Talmud and Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus.
This historian wrote in 112 AD that Jesus was put to death by Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
Jesus died a cruel death
Jesus died a cruel death. We know what Roman executions look like. Just see Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” and how he portrays the anguish experienced. As the gospels say and history confirms, Jesus was flogged, to the point of death. The whip was used - often it had metal balls to eat into the flesh. And then Jesus was struck about the face. He was called to carry His cross.
He was then nailed to it and jerked up into the air, the flesh ripping away from the nails. On the cross a person suffocated, but in Jesus’ case a spear thrust into his side.
But equal to his physical suffering and if not greater was his denial of justice. Many feel the denial of basic human rights, and human dignity equals any physical suffering. Just ask anyone who has been through an unfair trial or legal process. Here is the Son of God facing a travesty of a trial.
As a former lawyer, I have investigated the injustices. They range from the fact that no legal process was allowed to take place on the Jewish Sabbath or on feast days. Yet at the time of Jesus’ trial people were observing a feast day - the Passover. Also no legal process could be started at night – Jesus trial started at night! And the governor Pilate announced Jesus not guilty, could find no fault in him, but he still turned him over to be crucified.
Let us stop and reflect on this. Jesus, Son of God, suffered a public flogging and a public execution, that was after a quick speedy trial that denied him any justice. He was abused in mind, body and spirit and treated as a non-person.
But why did he have to die and suffer so?
One reason Jesus died and suffered was to identify with us. The writer of the book of Hebrews 4:15-16 identifies His suffering with our own personal suffering.
In Jesus we can pray to a God who understands all the trials that come our way because he knows what it is to be hurt, abused, rejected. He has faced anguish and death. There is no other God like this! He walks with us through every trial we face and understands our journey. But this is not the only reason Jesus was crucified for us.
He died to be our example. Mark’s gospel records, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. (Mark chapter 10 verse 45) The cross says that life is not about serving ourselves.
Self-centeredness keeps us from God and our neighbour. Jesus came to serve – giving His life overwhelms us to serve others. He is our servant King, calling us to acts of care and service in our family, church and community – no matter the cost.
The cross also shows the immensity of God’s, love. The words of the hymn speak it so powerfully, “When I survey the wondrous cross” we see “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”.
The Apostle John puts it this way in his Gospel John chapter 3 verse 16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is true deep love – to give up your all for another.
But most importantly, Jesus died to bring us forgiveness of sins. The Apostle Peter said, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter chapter 3 verse 18) We can often live weighed down with regret, sins, mistakes, guilt, shame.
When our conscience rises up and condemns us, we turn to the cross and blood of Christ. Thank God we find in the cross forgiveness and liberation. There is no mistake or regret too big for our God to forgive. Let’s be honest, we all know what it is to fail.
Wasn’t it the Russian dissident and Nobel prize winner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote “the line diving good and evil cuts through every heart”. Sherlock Holmes said to Dr Watson, “The vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
As John Newton the converted Atlantic slave trader sang “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I was blind but now I see, was lost, but now I am found.”
Why did Jesus have to die and suffer so? To set us free! To show God the Fathers’ immense love. Praise be to God. This Easter let us remember the One who died for us and rose victorious to show He truly is our Saviour and Lord.
Rev Dr Ross Clifford AM is the Principal of Morling College (NSW Baptist) and author of numerous books many of which focus on Christian Apologetics. He is a Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance, President of the Asian Baptist Association, an acclaimed international preacher and speaker, a columnist in many Christian publications, winner of many national and international awards and for many years the Sunday evening Sydney Radio 2CH host. Ross is married to Bev, father and grand father.