The life of Jesus Christ is most curiously a seemingly complex life of harshness to common observers. Yet, it was a life that He not only eagerly accepted, but was determined to live. Christ Jesus is God incarnate. He created the Law with righteousness for civility and spiritual awareness before God though He knew no one could fulfil it because man had an overwhelming tendency toward sin and could not save himself. Thus, from the beginning, God devised a plan and was content to personally fulfil it Himself. Animal sacrifices could not absolve all sins. Yet, Christ is above time—the Creator, the High Priest, the Obedient Son, the Lamb of God, and the most acceptable blameless Sacrifice to offer salvation once and for all throughout all ages. Saint Paul’s letter to the Hebrews(Heb 10:1-18) testifies to the inadequacy of the Law to save man, though it was a foreshadow of what was to come and an effective means to rule the conduct of man.
What compels God to do such things for a myriad of thankless and arrogant generations? Saint Athanasius the Great says, “Even on the Cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.”(St Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation) A fallen angel enticed by pride challenged Him and a selfish disciple enticed by greed betrayed Him. He fasted for forty consecutive days and nights, but willing offered His body and blood to refresh our spirits by the remission of our transgressions. He was immersed in the waters of baptism at the beginning of His ministry, but girded Himself and washed the feet of His disciples at the end of His life. Though He was hated, He loved. Though He was demeaned, He esteemed. Though He was crucified, He comforted. Though He died, He gave life. If one struggles to embrace Christianity, it is because it is not easy to comprehend the meekness of this great and awesome God. He is not a god made from imagination, fiction, or invention. He is the only true God who permitted us, just mere dust, to call Him Father, and referred to us as His children, disciples, friends, and beloved.
Christ once asked His disciples, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8) Each person should ask himself or herself this same question today. Are we as Christians emulating Christ, or has this become a name of the religion to which some people ascribe? How can faith be examined if it is not witnessed in the life of the believers? If we call ourselves Christians, we must love like Him, esteem like Him, comfort like Him, and live like Him. In theory, it may seem easy, but practically, many Christians find it difficult to apply a genuine Christian existence in every aspect of life. People want to fight for their rights and achieve every aspiration. These concepts in themselves are not wrong, but the manner by which people attempt to achieve them is often not Christian. Since Christ took our human nature, one would conclude it must have been difficult for Him also to accept the brutality of the life He chose to live? However, it was easy for Him, and not because He was also divine in nature. It was easy for Him because of what He saw in us and how He felt for us. He saw weak vulnerable children wrestling with dark powers and unable to save themselves. He could not bear to turn aside, but yearned all the more with compassion to lift us out of life’s grime and adopt us.
The four accounts of the Holy Gospel depict scenarios from every walk of life. In every situation, Christ Jesus displayed the appropriate Christian manner of dealing with others, from the wicked members of society, the adulterers, the self-righteous, the reckless rulers, the social lepers, and the traitors. He also taught us how to deal with success with humility and giving of thanks, praise, and glory to God. Difficult decisions become easier by looking at Him. A transformed outlook endowed with a force more powerful than the desire to avenge, persuade, or conquer emerges. Emulating Christ is absorbed with an incredible influence that defies the norms of the world’s standards.
When Christ foretold His disciples of His impending suffering and death, Saint Peter took Him aside to reason with Him that such things should not happen. Saint Peter’s thoughts were ordinary and in concordance with worldviews. However, the Lord was displeased with this opinion and admonished Saint Peter because this thought was in reality from Satan who desired to detour salvation. (Matthew 16:21-23) Willingly accepting suffering and death were hard notions to grasp for anyone, even the righteous, but Christ was determined to achieve salvation in this manner and in no other. Crucifixion was considered a curse from God and the most demeaning form of execution. (Deuteronomy 21:23; 2 Samuel 18:1-18; Galatians 3:13) Thus, the cross was the only way to salvation. Furthermore, to follow Christ as true Christians also requires a cross.“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Emulating Christ means to empty oneself and to strive to be like Him in everything, even in bearing the cross. The cross is the path to freedom, paradise, life, and restoration in the fulfilment of the plan of salvation. When one loves with great passion, laying down one’s life for the one whom he loves (John 15:13) is an easy decision because the alternative is to see the loved one suffer and perish, which is unbearable. God’s passion for mankind compelled Him to save us from death and restore us into Paradise. Though He hung on the cross in excruciating pain for many hours after the lashings and humiliation, He triumphantly uttered these words to Demas, the thief on the right who accepted the faith in the last few minutes of his life and said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” (Luke 23:42) to which Christ responded, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Christ longs to say this beautiful phrase to each person without exception. Indeed these words brought Him much joy that even the sting of sour vinegar upon His pure lips could not extinguish. It has been said, “The measure of love is to love without measuring.” (Author unknown. This quote has been attributed to St Augustine) Thus, the choice was easy for Christ Jesus because His profound and abundant love is without measure.
To God is all the glory, forever. Amen.
His Grace Bishop Youssef is Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States (www.suscopts.org)
1 May 2016