The scripture from Matthew, detailing Jesus's crucifixion on Good Friday, echoed off the battleship-grey cinderblock walls. I secretly watched the women seated around me squirm in their metal folding chairs as our Bible study leader read the searing words aloud.
These were convicting words being read to convicts. Their crimes ranged from drug offenses, to extortion and fraud, all the way to aggravated assault and homicide. But, the extreme beauty of these women is they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they needed a Savior. Meeting in a Bible study, made possible through Prison Fellowship, was their lifeline to confronting, and moving beyond, their past.
I'd heard the Easter story every since I was young enough to attend Sunday School class. Visions of felt board characters showing Jesus in the garden, Jesus on the cross, and Jesus risen from the empty grave meandered into the forefront of my conscience.
As I listened to the inmates share stories of abuse, abortion, and missing their babies outside the prison walls, I realized what a stark contrast lay between my conscience and theirs.
You see, I pretty much played the role of the "good girl" in my early life. I was the consummate people-pleaser. I colored inside the lines; stayed out of the principal's office; didn't curse, drink, smoke, or do drugs. So when the subject of Jesus dying for my sins came up, I secretly had this notion He died more for other people's sins -- the really big sins like adultery, robbery, and murder, than for mine.
Maybe that's why Good Friday didn't really undo me and then leave me awestruck until I was quite a bit older. I was forty-three when I saw Mel Gibson's very graphic depiction of Jesus's crucifixion in The Passion of the Christ.
Watching spikes (not nails) being driven into the sinewy flesh of Christ's hands and feet, and blood-laced sweat pour from His brow; witnessing the raw skin and bone torn open on His back -- that's when I saw my sin for what it truly was for the very first time, and only then did I feel the tremendous weight of my transgressions which ushered in the utter sweetness of my salvation.
Crouched and hidden in a dark theatre, tears welled up and then burned down my cheeks as this self-described "good girl" took inventory of the sin she had glossed over for so many years. Conviction grabbed hold of my heart and made it impossible for me to believe Christ died only for those with sins more grave than mine. My sins had broken His body -- not just someone else's.
Daring to look more closely, self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, as well as endless earning, striving, performing, and people-pleasing jumped out like a glowing neon sign -- PRIDE! I think pride is perhaps the ugliest sin of all -- when we think we can be like Jesus without Jesus.
And what about the times I had heaped guilt upon myself when I said or did something I regretted. Me, beating myself up, was not God-honoring -- just the opposite. It was like I was saying Jesus paying the price for my sin was not sufficient, and therefore God needed me to do something above and beyond what Christ had already done for me. Pride, once again, reared its ugly head.
And then there was the perfectionist/controlling part of me. I thought I was in God's good graces because I tried extra hard to be perfect and I sought to have control over my life. I had missed, or perhaps skimmed over, the verses that said:
For ALL (emphasis mine) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do NOTHING (emphasis mine)." (John 15:5)
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
I was not unlike the women I met with, and set myself above, in prison. In fact, they were far ahead of me because they realized how desperately they needed a Savior. I was still being made a prisoner by my own pride.
Until His sacrifice met me where I lived, until I recognized I was a rebel and a far cry from felt-board Jesus, I was unable to understand and claim the grace and power which defied death and overcame the grave.
Jesus didn't go to the cross for good girls and boys. He went for sinners -- sinners like me. Grasping the depth of His love which paid a debt I could never ever pay humbles me and brings me to my knees.
Oh, what a Savior, oh what grace that saved a wretch like me...
Dear Heavenly Father, Please forgive me for my arrogance and pride that kept me from knowing the utter sweetness of my salvation. You laid down your life for me -- for my sins. Thank you loving me so much you couldn't bear to live without me. Let that sink into my stubborn spirit. Thank you for declaring I belong to You. What a friend I have in you, Jesus! I praise you nothing can change the way you love me -- nothing can separate me from your love. You broke the chains that held me. Your forgiveness is like honey on my lips. Let them declare your love, power, and glory all of my days. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
What about you? Have you ever taken Jesus death on the cross for granted? Why is that? How can you go forward and live a life that points others to Jesus? How does Good Friday and the power of the risen Christ change your life? Your outlook? Will you share?
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