THE BLESSING OF THOSE UGLY ἧλος – THOSE GRUESOME HĒLOS!

(April 11, 2019) Robert and Maureen McQuillan reflect on Easter…

We were just recalling this morning that we’re now in our eighth month here – our new territory in the beautiful Doreen suburb Melbourne – where our new home is being built overlooking Plenty Gorge!

Eight is a good number… with its spiritual significance of ‘new beginning’ and ‘resurrection’ (Genesis 17:12; Exodus 22:30; Leviticus 14:10-23; Matthew 28:1; John 20:26; 1 Peter3:20).

Easter – an attention-grabbing reminder found
Thinking beyond our new beginnings, the significant word ‘resurrection’ naturally led us to remember that Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, is next week… when Christians and churches will celebrate the historical fact that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead, that  ‘death could not hold him down.’ And what a blessing Jesus is as Saviour and Lord! We can all be so encouraged and move forward, following and serving him! (See George Forbes’ article about remembering the commission of Jesus, the Hope of the World).

But… back a moment while we explain the intriguing title of this article – ἧλος (hēlos) being a blessing.

So much has happened since we made our move to here, led by the Holy Spirit! So many new contacts, so many opportunities to pray with and bless people in the marketplace– especially those who haven’t yet discovered Jesus, share a word of knowledge that blows them away, to encourage… and more.

And among travels around picturesque parts of our local territory, there’s a shopping precinct we delight to visit, not only for groceries but for lunch served by great staff (good friends now too) and a wander through some interesting shopping precincts.

Easter – a reminder of helos
One store, our friend Maria’s Raging Earth, South Morang/MillPark, had some items we needed for our new home and as we were purchasing them, we noticed the most unusual cross that stood out among many other ‘general’ types. This particular one so grabbed our attention… reminding us of what Jesus suffered for us before and on Calvary’s hill, the racking pain caused through hanging on that ‘old wooden cross’ as he died for our sins, our shortcomings that offend a Holy God.

Check this pic! (Sorry…it’s not too clear). It’s the wooden cross with the centre display of – not Jesus, he’s risen, hallelujah! – but a cross comprised of…

  • Crossbar (the patibulum) joined to the post (Reminder that Jesus bore his crossbar to the awaiting upright (stauros) – Luke 19:17)
  • 30 nails (Reminder that our Saviour’s betrayer was paid 30 pieces of silver – Matthew 26:15)
  • A centred barbwire crown (Reminder of the thorny ‘crown’ put on Jesus’ head – Mark 15:17)
  • A centred solid heart (Reminder that Jesus’ heart was set on saving the world – Hebrews 12:2).

There was only one and, mesmerised, we just had to buy it for the  (Robert’s) new study! Since childhood we’ve both been very convinced that Jesus died a cruel death on Calvary for us, that the cross is empty and he is always with us as Saviour, Lord and friend… but here was an unusual visual reminder every time we’d go into the study!

As Easter is almost here, it was also a reminder of those terrible nails, those gruesome helos the Romans used to crucify our Saviour to that old wooden cross. Ever seen – or held – one of those awful Roman nails? Several years ago we were allowed to borrow some from The Bible Museum… they looked terrifying, revolving!

Holding them, experiencing their length and weight and remembering that such pierced our dear Saviour made us shudder! That most brilliant 1993 movie, The Visual Bible: Matthew, came to mind… especially the scene where Jesus (played by actor Bruce Marchiano) as, forced to lie down on the cross, he turns to his right and with horror sees the first nail being hammered in!

Easter – the crucifixion of God’s Son
The reality is that the real Easter story – is not chocolate eggs, bunny rabbits and childhood fun, but of the crucifixion of the Son of God – and is a nasty one, a horrifying one!

Crucifixion, regarded as being Persian-contrived around 300 or 400 years BC, has always been recognised among the most painful and excruciating forms of punishment leading to death ever created. Jesus – the Son of God – paid the most incredible but horrific price to gain our salvation and secure eternity!

Classical paintings depict a suffering Jesus nailed to a cross through the palms of his hands (and crossed feet)… but hand-wise it’s more likely he was nailed through his wrists. Those ugly, heavy iron nails, possibly square, were about 7-9 inches (18-23 cm) – if driven into the palms would have ripped out between the crucified man’s fingers under the weight of hanging from the cross!

Evidently the assigned legionnaire would feel for a specific spot in the wrist; the nail had to be driven in between forearm bones up close to the wrist, thus avoiding severing any major veins or arteries. That space between small bones structurally suitable to permit the crucified one’s weight to be supported for a time, causing great discomfort and pain.

But… if the palms were to be pierced, the wrists were firstly tied tightly to the crossbar of the cross. Whether wrists or palms, the intent was to produce punishment of agonising, ongoing pain! And our Saviour bore this all for us! And to be a blessing… (Hard to take in, isn’t it?).

Jesus would have been placed down on the cross, arms outstretched and two iron metal helos driven into each wrist (or palm), then a third nail driven through both feet, which were turned outward so the nail would be hammered inside his Achilles tendon (reminder of Genesis 3:15!).

Make no mistake – crucifixion was horrible! The sadistic Romans ensured that victims hung painfully – the diaphragm ultimately went into spasm and the crucified one literally suffocated to death. We won’t say more here… but it was an ugly, humiliating death for God’s Son, the incarnated Jesus!

But… Hallelujah! Praise God that Jesus rose again from the grave after his death and burial. He’s alive… and the hope of the world! What a blessing.

Easter – extravagant love gift that restores
Easter is a vivid reminder of demonstrated extravagant, gracious love. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was – is – proof of God’s love. In Romans 5:8, Paul declared this so: ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

The Message Bible renders ‘sinners’ in a very pointed way: ‘God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.’

But through Jesus’ redemptive Calvary work God can now use us! Yet another reason Christ died to make us pure and then active in God’s kingdom, not to sit around on a spiritual train to heaven and home, but to be servants, his witnesses in this needy world! (See our June 2018 Encouragement).

Romans 3:23-25Message is both scary and exciting! Paul writes: ‘Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear.’

Wow! Jesus, who lived a sinless life, loves the human race so much that he died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve. We’re all guilty sinners (Romans 3:23) but when we genuinely repent and believe and receive Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we will be saved from judgment (John 3:16-18).

The cross indicates empathy! Not only did Jesus emphasise with us, he died in our place so that blessing and salvation would be poured out on us instead of judgment. Bearing our sins, he paid the ransom, he suffered for the sake of others (Isaiah 52:14-53:5, 12; Mark 10:45; Luke 24:26-27; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

‘No use to God’? Not any more! Ransomed we are now followers of our Saviour… with the Holy Spirit’s anointing, power and help (Luke 24:49) we can be useful in extending the kingdom of God! No wonder Jesus could confidently tell his followers to ‘Go…’ – that great commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

Easter – the beginning
Yes, that graphic, nail-illustrated cross we bought will be a centrepoint in our new study, reminding us of many aspects of what Jesus achieved on the Calvary cross. But the truth is that we were bought! Bought with the most expensive price ever pain! Now we  – indeed every Christians – must move beyond the cross, not stand there merely looking at it!

All who accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord are changed!  Not just for eternity but for now! Reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), we will not only spend eternity with our Father in heaven, but here and now we are of use to him in whatever ways he chooses!

Our early church days were ones of constantly hearing the gospel message repeatedly proclaimed. But the reality is that we must now move forward, beyond images of a nailed-pierced Christ because we are now a reconciled people.

In saving us through his redemptive Calvary sacrifice, Jesus reconciled us to Father God! He dealt with the problem of human sin – the barrier between us and God – now we have the same relationship with the Father that Jesus has!

Without fear we can go beyond the cross and be witnesses of the gospel of Christ… and minister supernaturally! A needy world awaits us! God-given opportunities can spring up out of nowhere as it were… in the city, local suburbs, shopping precincts, doctors’ surgeries, school meetings, parking lots… the list goes on! (See our March article or follow us on Facebook).

Let’s move on, knowing we’re useful!

Yes, we can pause and with thankful hearts remember the horror of Good Friday – and come Resurrection Sunday we can celebrate Christ’s victory, rejoicing and worshipping our living Saviour who rose from the dead, paving the way for us!

But… then let’s be determined to move ahead with the anointed one who is always moving on… eg Luke 24:28, ‘As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther…’

Yes, the cross of Jesus was bad news… but also good news! Those gruesome nails that pained our Saviour became instrumental in God’s greatest blessing for us. We owe Jesus so much… let’s willingly, actively go further with our blessed Lord!
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Dr Robert and Maureen McQuillan’s link is lifefocusministries@gmail.com  (Scripture and other emphases in this Onliner ours). Relating links: George Forbes’ Jesus – Hope of the World / Jim McClure’s Divine Drama

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