Old Jewish ghetto in Rome
Disgust boiled up in my heart whenever I saw one. The crucifix stung of death, and I loathed it. No matter how small or artistically created, it loomed before me as a grotesque object. It represented another man’s religion and a pathway that may or may not lead heavenward.
My religious upbringing inadvertently taught me to pass over the suffering and death chapters of the “greatest story ever told.” Instead, it emphasized the chapter on the glorious resurrection of Jesus. That changed when my husband and I visited Rome a few years ago.
We had joined an intercessory prayer team that had gathered to intercede for reconciliation between Jew and Gentile. Rome had been chosen as the setting because of many years of cruel treatment by the ancient Church toward the Jewish people.
One prayer journey led us to an old, Jewish ghetto where God’s chosen people had been isolated from the city. We learned that when outside the ghetto, Jews were forced to wear bright yellow cloths for identification. They were mocked and coerced to participate in parades led by church leaders, while onlookers pitched trash at them.
We prayed by an ancient fountain just outside the ghetto. Two devout believers, from a different stream of Christianity than I, led the prayer time. They prayed that the precious wounds of Jesus would cover the heinous sins against the Jewish people. At the end, they washed the feet of some Messianic Jewish believers, who were present with us, with the fountain water. The prayers and actions of theses two believers chipped away at the sharp angles of my heart. I wept at that ghetto, imagining my own terrible sins that had caused the wounds of Jesus. I gazed for the first time ever into the mutilated body of Yeshua.
Transformation blossomed in my heart as I emerged from the ghetto, and a deep appreciation for crosses sprang up. A clarion message rang out to me that the lowest point of Messiah’s life was not to be diminished, but magnified as the shining pinnacle of His glory in triumph over sin and death.
Some believers may regard the cross with too much zeal, while others may carry deep contempt for it. But there is middle ground. I Corinthians 1:22-25 says that we are to “preach Messiah crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks, the power and wisdom of God.” Because Yeshua died on a cross, it is now a precious symbol to me-not to be worshipped but epitomizes my desperate need for blood atonement.
The symbol of the cross deeply encouraged me during one of the most difficult times of my life. We were living in an old, fishing village called Myaki just off the Black Sea. We were sent there to pioneer the first Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. A rustic and cheerless place, our flesh found no comfort there. We often went without heat, gas, and water; and we encountered cultural misunderstandings and disappointments. In the midst of this, I remember taking a long walk one day and spotting a large, rusty, old cross that someone had leaned against a building. I snapped a picture of it, because it seemed out of context in this archaic village.
I believe God knew its representation would draw me to the only Source of strength. I paused and soaked in its crude form. Corroded and rough with sharp corners, it had no earthly beauty or value. But its unattractive and feeble appearance bore witness that Jesus had suffered for me; and in turn, I had been given the privilege of suffering, in some small way, for Him.
I believe Mel Gibson had the same idea in mind when he poignantly filmed, The Passion of the Christ. Those moments of scourging that led to Messiah’s death are imprinted on my mind and heart forever and became much more than cinema. They rebounded off the screen with power.
“Lest I forget Your agony… lead me to Calvary.”
How good it is for us to linger and gaze into the depth of Jesus’ physical suffering. It should change our lives irrevocably. At Calvary, Yeshua’s own body changed irrevocably.
To this day, Jesus bears the scars that led him up Golgotha and beyond. Isaiah 49:14-16 says that Zion complains to God that she has been forgotten. His response is that even though a mother may forget her nursing child, the Lord will never forget her. The sign of this remembrance is that she is engraved on the palm of Jesus’ hands. His scars are a flashing neon sign to Israel that He has not forgotten her. Messiah loves her so much that she is cut into His very flesh.
In the Torah, if a slave willingly desired to serve his master for life, his ear was pierced with an awl (Ex. 21:6). The slave no longer needed to be forced to stay, and the pierced ear proved his devotion. Yeshua’s pierced body proves the same. He has not loved or stayed with us by coercion but willingly and has promised never to leave us. The permanent scarring of His body will be proof of His allegiance for eternity.
In the New Covenant, Thomas told the disciples that he would not believe unless he saw Jesus’ scars. One day Jesus appeared and told Thomas not only to look upon the wounds, but to experience them by touch. He also said that whoever believes without seeing is blessed.
Today we have not seen, but we have experienced the power of His scars. The world may never see a physical sign upon our bodies, but they will know that we follow Jesus by our love for Him and each other. This unseen tattoo should dazzle like the noonday sun at midnight.
Someday when the agony of war against the world, sin, and the flesh is over, the Bride will join the Bridegroom on the other side. All the earthly seals like piercings will be gone. The symbols of crosses will pass away in paradise as well, and we will never ponder them again.
But the nail prints. The nail prints will not fade. Our eyes will never tire of gazing into the scarred flesh that bears the form of one He loves so much-Israel. This truth encourages me when I think about things like anti-Semitism, terrorism, natural disasters, war, and the spiritual condition of the world, etc. These things are hard to endure.
At times, both Jews and gentiles shake their fists at God saying that He has forgotten them. Then I remember the nail prints. Those dazzling tattoos, engraved into his hands, feet, and side, cry out to Israel and the whole world, now and forever, that we are not forgotten.
We have been shown extravagant compassion by extreme measure.
Someday I will place my trembling hand into Yeshua’s and feel His deep engravings. I know they will burn as a flaming seal forever, for His love is stronger than death.