This is the sixth post of an 8 part series I’m writing for Holy Week. I hope you’ll come back to read the entire series in posts #45 – #52
FROM PALM SUNDAY TO EASTER
IT ONLY HURTS WHEN IT HURTS! The Crucifixion (John 19:7-30)
It happened so fast I didn’t really know how to respond. One moment I was an athletic, able-bodied 30 year old man playing basketball in a city league game, and the next moment I was reeling on the floor in pain wondering if I would ever walk normally again. I wasn’t a super-star or anything but I could hold my own in a league that featured some pretty decent talent. On this particular night I had been playing very well, scoring in double digits, and doing my part to crash the boards for rebounds. I had just corralled another rebound and found myself facing the wall just inbounds. I quickly turned to run back to the opposite end of the court when something strange happened. My right leg and body all turned 180 degrees to head the opposite direction but my left foot stuck to the floor facing that silly wall. The immediate pain was only matched by my instant, dramatic collapse onto the floor and a pretty impressive scream. Everything and everyone in the gym came to an immediate stop. I’ve never heard such loud silence. My night, and for the most part my basketball career, were suddenly over.
My wife and three young children came rushing to the court from where they had been cheering me on in the stands. I was quickly surrounded by my teammates who didn’t have to be told what had just happened. A nurse who was in the crowd quickly assessed the situation and knew that I had blown out my knee. A couple of the guys eventually helped me get up on my one good leg and basically carried me out of the gym and into my car. My wife handed off our kids to a friend and then rushed me to the emergency room. One cursory exam by the ER doctor confirmed the diagnosis. I was given a pain shot, admitted to the hospital, and was informed the orthopedic surgeon would be summoned immediately.
They scheduled the operation for early the next morning. Little did I know when they put me under the anesthetic that the surgery would actually last almost 12 hours. Folks from the church we were planting watched the kids as my poor wife endured the longest day imaginable in the waiting room. The surgeon had told her if it took more than two hours that was good news, meaning my knee would be repairable. But the longer the surgery went on the less confidence she had in the doctor’s assurances.
As it turned out she was right! When the doctor finally came out to talk with her he said it looked like an atom bomb had gone off inside my knee. Everything was blown up. His surgical team had found a way to make some temporary repairs but he didn’t expect those repairs to last too long. They didn’t! Less than a year later I had to return to have my knee reconstructed with spare parts I didn’t even know I had elsewhere in my body.
What I remember most about waking up from that surgery was the pain! I had never hurt that bad in my life. For the next 36 hours I was in agony, even with the heavy doses of morphine they were giving me. It would eventually get better the said, but the first 7-10 days were miserable. And, just to add to the fun, I got to spend the next 6 weeks enjoying my first real experience on crutches……NOT FUN!
That was my first encounter with knee surgery, but it wouldn’t be my last. A couple of years later my other knee decided to join the party. After my 5th knee surgery (3 on one knee and 2 on the other) my doctor actually looked at me and said, “Larry, I know you like to play basketball, racquetball and volleyball. You can’t keep doing that or you can walk. The choice is yours!” I thanked my doctor for his subtlety!
I’m sure this may seem like a strange subject for me to write about on Easter week. I mean, how many people are really that interested in my own saga with the orthopedic surgeon? Yet I’d ask you to hear me out. You see, believe it or not, I think there is a direct correlation, at least for me personally.
During that first knee surgery I learned more about physical and emotional pain than I had ever learned before. Not only was my body in agony, but my spirit was too. One ill-fated moment on a basketball court, playing a game I loved, had changed my life forever. As I lay in that hospital bed I was told I would be facing a painful 6 month process of recovery and physical therapy. That was the physical part! But I also realized lying in that bed that I had essentially lost my future ability to play basketball, or for that matter any of the games I loved to play. That was the emotional part,
So how does that connect to Easter? Well, that’s about as close as I can get from my own life experience to imagining what Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion must have been like for Him. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand my experience doesn’t come close to comparing what Jesus went through. It’s just as close as I can get to understanding the pain Jesus must have gone through. Think about it for a few moments with me.
First, Jesus knew in advance what lay in front of Him. Are you kidding me? I can’t really fathom that! Sometimes I feel I would like to know what is around the corner of my life…..until I truly think about it! Would I really want to know two weeks before it happened that I was going to blow my knee out that day? Would I want to understand how much it was going to hurt, how much it would change my life, or what I would have to go through to recover? No, I wouldn’t! Knowing in advance wouldn’t have helped at all. But Jesus knew, and He bore the weight of that knowledge not for two weeks, but literally all of His life. He was truly born to die! It was the plan from the very start. That’s unimaginable to me. Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him, Peter was going to deny Him, and the other disciples were going to scatter. He knew the crowds who had cheered Him just a few days before would turn against Him. He knew His destiny was a cruel Roman cross …….. and He still went through with it!
The emotional turmoil grew worse as Jesus endured the mockery of a trial. Jewish religious leaders, who should have recognized Him as the long-awaited Messiah, ridiculed and heaped abuse on Him. They brought false charges against Him then drug Him before the Roman Governor, Pilate. Though Pilate couldn’t find any validity to those charges, imagine how Jesus must have felt when the Governor offered the growing crowd the option of releasing Jesus or a revolutionary malcontent named Barabbas…….and the crowd chose Barabbas! Even the crowd’s chants to “Crucify Him!” may not have hurt as much as the rejection by His own people.
The cruelty of the cross came next! Beaten, flogged, and mocked by the Roman soldiers He arrived at Golgotha already heartbroken and physically exhausted. His feet were placed on top of one another and a spike driven through the top of his ankle and through the bottom of His heels. His knees were slightly bent and then each wrist was nailed to the crossbeam with another spike. There was no anesthetic for the pain. The cross would be lifted and then dropped into a hole jarring His whole body and as his full weight was absorbed by the nails. Slowly His lungs would fill up as He began to suffocate in His own bodily fluids. He would push up with His feet and pull up on His arms trying to catch one more agonizing breath. Worst of all, for the first time in His life He felt abandoned by His Father saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. The weight of guilt for the sins of the world literally broke His heart. He was alone in His pain and dying for you and me.
I don’t want to cheapen the passion of Christ by comparing it to my adventures with bad knees. Yet, that fateful experience on a basketball court so many years ago has given me more insight into the physical and emotional pain of Christ than any sermon, bible class, Sunday School lesson, or book I’ve ever read. It hurts when I realize I’m just as responsible as anyone for sending Jesus through that horrendous experience. The awful anticipation, the betrayal by friends, the false accusations, the rejection by His own people, the physical agony of being nailed to a cross, the weight of the guilt He assumed on my behalf, and the stark loneliness of separation from His Father……it’s just too much to fully comprehend. I freely admit I can’t understand it! But when my knees ache, especially at this time of year, I get at least a glimpse of insight into the price that was paid for my salvation.
I don’t grasp all that Jesus went through in those days long ago, but I do know this…… IT HURT……IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE…….but He went through it anyway………. for me……and for you!