Monday, December 7, 2009

The Jesus Tree

Do you realize that not one of the four Gospel writers said that Jesus was nailed to the cross?

I've written and directed a lot of Easter dramas through the years, where we used the pounding of the hammer on a nail for sound effects. But I never realized, until a few days ago, that the Bible does not specifically say that Jesus was NAILED to the cross.

Pastor Greg had asked that each family in our church family either buy or make a tree ornament that somehow represents Jesus, then attach the related Bible verse to it and bring it to church yesterday morning to decorate a "Jesus Tree."

There was a huge, bare "Christmas" tree standing on the front platform of the worship center, and at the appropriate time during the service each family came up and hung their ornament on the tree. A few people, who had been asked ahead of time, told how their ornaments related to Jesus and what that means to them.

Well, Ken had a large nail -- more like a spike -- that he wanted us to use. So I went to the Bible to find the verse that says Jesus was nailed to the cross. And found that not one of the stories about his crucifiction says that nails were used. They just say that he was crucified.

According to history, during the time that Jesus died people were sometimes crucified by being nailed to a cross. But sometimes their hands and feet were TIED to a cross and they were left hanging there until they died.

We know, though, that Jesus was NAILED to the cross, because of a story that the writer of John's Gospel (John 20:26-27) tells us. When the disciple that we call "Doubting Thomas" heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, he said he would not believe it unless he saw the nail marks in his hands and put his finger where the nails were. So, a week later, Jesus appeared to him and told him to look at his hands and put his finger in the nailprints. And to stop doubting and believe.

I know that, to some people, it may sound a little morbid for us to talk about Jesus' dying at this season when we celebrate his birth. Especially if we hang a symbol of his death on a Christmas tree.

But, if it were not for his death and his rising from the dead, his birth would be meaningless. He would be just another prophet or teacher -- like the muslims' Mohammed.

However, as Jesus said to Pilate before he handed Him over to the mob to be crucified, "... For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world..." (John 18:37).

He could have called legions of angels (Matther 26:53) to his rescue, but he CHOSE to take our sins to the Cross so the world through him might be saved (John 3:16,17).

There's a song that talks about it being nails that held him to the cross, but love that made him stay.

I am thankful for Jesus' birth and for the freedom to celebrate it -- although the ways and the places we can celebrate have been severely limited in recent years. But I am even more thankful that he endured the pain of the nails that held him to the Cross and for the love that made him stay, so that I -- and all who receive His gift of salvation -- can be resurrected, too, someday to live with him forever.