And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
I'm 4 years older than Jesus ever was.
I've been thinking about that this week. Thinking that he died so very young. Have you ever thought about the tragedy of that truth?
Some may be uncomfortable with that statement because well, Jesus had to die at exactly that place and time, so thinking about Jesus getting old is ridiculous. Maybe that's right. Or maybe, if people had been more receptive of the good news of God's kingdom of forgiveness and wholeness, things could have gone differently... at least for a little while longer.
There is value in looking at things from a new angle.
For many, the cross is primarily about God being angry and us being forgiven, with Jesus hanging in the middle. But that's far too small a picture. When the story is too individualized, it gets disconnected from the circumstances that led to Jesus's death. Jesus becomes stripped of his own humanity and turned into a divine metro card to transport us to heaven free of charge. Of course, if this was the case, then he could have just been killed by King Herod when he was an innocent baby (Mt. 1:13) and that would have taken care of the perfect sacrifice needed. But that's a TFG for another time.
Jesus' death is more multifaceted than that. People got angry. They wanted him dead, though he harmed no one. Each year we have to be willing to be horrified by it all before we can be grateful for it all. We dare not run away from the discomfort of Friday night in our attempt to spring ahead to Sunday morning. Because if there's anything that helps makes sense of the world as we see it, it's the cross.
In a year like we've experienced, leaning into the cross this Holy Week might seem like salt poured onto a wound. We've seen enough death this year. We've watched unjust and unnecessary violence against the BIPOC community and other minorities. We've felt the sting of injustice, cried tears of heartache at the lack of love and care in our world. We've felt despair and exhaustion and isolation, and cried out for God to fix all the broken things out there (and in us!). We've questioned what's true or not, as lines seem to be blurred everywhere. The last thing we need is to call to mind another story about someone's death. If we wanted more of that, we could watch it on the news any day.
So know this, friends: it's allowed to be horrible. You're supposed to be disgusted by people nailing a human being to a cross for any reason, let alone an innocent man who was proclaiming God's love to the world. It's allowed to feel like it doesn't make sense, like it's just more hopelessness. Yet, if we see it through the correct lens, it's also something completely new and wonderful.
Because the story isn't just that the son of God died. It's how he died.
Jesus looks head on at those doing evil, and says a prayer for them. Not only that, he takes all their wrath, all their hatred, all their sin sickness, and receives it willingly, exposing the emptiness of it all. Jesus fighting back or destroying his enemies in like fashion would accomplish nothing. But Jesus loving, forgiving, and refusing to use the same tactics to set things right..... well, that just makes a mockery of evil altogether. It pulls back the charade and shows just how ugly and meaningless sin is.
It's like God is sending a message to the world about what violence, fear, power, and dominance will always lead to, and it cannot be ignored. Jesus exposes the ugliness that humans are capable of, and does the most remarkable thing.
He forgives them while they're at their ugliest.
In Colossians, Paul writes that the cross itself was a triumph. Not the resurrection, mind you! That's a triumph too, but why would the cross be triumphant? Because in one single moment the cross reveals the horrific ugliness of humanity's capabilities, and the breathtaking beauty of God's. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, is another way to put it. Jesus reveals the sickness of evil in the world, and ends the cycle. And now we know how to as well. Forgiveness changes everything. It's a masterclass in God's character.
What a young, horrible, profoundly beautiful death. All at once.
Jesus' death was so much more than personal forgiveness, though that's included in this selfless sin-absorbing act. God suffering innocently is a political statement of love and justice to the corrupt systems of the world. It's solidarity with every human who suffers unjustly. It's a revelation of God's true character. And it reveals a way of living and dying that sparked a global movement of people who have tried to imitate him (very imperfectly) for thousands of years.
So tomorrow, as you reflect on this important weekend, it's appropriate to feel like this should not have happened. And it's appropriate to feel immense gratitude that it did, because nothing could more clearly communicate God's heart, expose the emptiness of sin, and teach us to be people of redemption.
Jesus, help me pause in wonder today at your character displayed on the cross.