The final stage of Jesus’ journey to the cross began when he was taken to the Antonia, the fortress that Herod the Great built next to the Temple Mount and named after Mark Antony who put him into power. By this time, Jesus had been betrayed by Judas, arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, beaten by the temple guards, and condemned by the Sanhedrin. Here at the Antonia, Jesus was sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be flogged. He would have been stripped and tied to a stone post. Then two Roman soldiers, one on each side, would have taken turns flogging Jesus with leather whips that had bits of bone or metal embedded in the ends of the leather thongs. The bone or metal would tear the flesh of the flogging victim and some would die as a result of a flogging from the loss of blood and shock.
And while this was going on, other Roman soldiers may have been playing games. There are “game boards” carved into the Roman paving stones and this fits with what the Bible tells happened later on Golgotha, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35). The soldiers probably played such games to relieve boredom and perhaps to distract themselves from the human cruelty that was their job to inflict. And yet the juxtaposition of the God-human Jesus being flogged while his creatures were perhaps playing games is mind-boggling.
And yet we do the same thing.
Every day, human beings are being lost or saved for all eternity. On the one hand is the Way of the Cross where Jesus calls us to leave our old life behind and follow him on a path of weakness and suffering and, as we do that, he gives us a rich, full, abundant life through our relationship with him. On the other hand is the Great Deceiver who promises us power, wealth and pleasure, but delivers only heartbreak, destruction and death. This same eternal drama is being played out every day in our own hearts as Satan seeks to entice us away from the One who loves us the most.
A few days ago I downloaded an app for a game that I saw advertised. I really enjoyed this game and derived a lot of pleasure from playing it. But within a day or two, the game rapidly increased in difficulty and the easy victories that I gained at the start of the game became fewer and far between. I found myself staying up late playing the game on my phone. I would have trouble drifting off to sleep because I was thinking about game strategy and the tactics that I would employ when I woke up in the morning. I began thinking about the game when I was working and I looked forward to breaks when I could build a sniper tower or attack a neighbouring island. Eventually I realized that this game was designed to do just what it did, entrap me in a snare of bondage. Somewhere there were brilliant minds who wrote algorithms and computer code in such a way that I would be drawn in with up-front success and then enslaved by my desire for more of the same as the game became more challenging. With God’s help, I deleted the app and I felt freedom from the addiction that was beginning to develop a grip on my soul.
Getting rid of a game app on a phone is a small thing. It is much more difficult to get rid of an addiction like drugs, alcohol, pornography or romance novels that took root in our wounded hearts and became entrenched in our lives. For those things, we will need the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ through spiritual friendships, small groups, Christian counseling and/or a Christian 12-step program like Freedom Session.
There is nothing wrong with playing a game in and of itself. Playing games with friends and family can be joyous times of blessing given to us by God. But let’s be clear about whose side we are on. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot enjoy the forgiveness, freedom and joy that Jesus gives us through a grace-filled relationship with him and, at the same time, wallow in the lust-fueled filth offered to us by Satan.
We cannot manage our sin. Jesus’ flogging, which he experienced for us, shows us the seriousness of our situation. But it also shows us the way out of our sin-addicted ways and into freedom. Jesus is the way. Through his suffering on the Way of the Cross, Jesus paid for all of our sin, guilt and shame. Our life, forgiveness and freedom are found in him.
As we begin the season of Lent next week, let’s turn away from anything which distracts us from Jesus and focus on him and the life of following to which he calls us.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I confess to you that there are things that have a hold on my heart which I cannot control. I have held back thinking that I can manage my sin myself. I now realize that my approach is not working and it never has. I put my life in your hands, all that I am and all that I have, and I ask you to lead me to healing and wholeness. Amen.