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Around this time of year our attention turns from Christmas to Holy Week as we remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In addition to our church calendars, the four gospel accounts themselves indicate the importance of Holy Week because all four slow down the pace of their whirlwind run through three years of Jesus’ ministry to painstakingly communicate the details of that particular week leading to the cross and empty tomb. And yet, I am willing to state that we sit too comfortably on the other side of the resurrection of Jesus.

That is, I wonder if we too easily lose the shame and scandal of Jesus’ death and resurrection, robbing us of the beauty and awe of Jesus’ victory. We who have the heard the story countless times know that Jesus resurrects and ascends. Yet, his followers did not, and their lives were thrown into crisis. Some witnesses may have thought it right to conclude just as James Hetfield cynically sang of his mother’s death, “… the healing hand held back by the deepened nail/follow the God that failed.”1

Here is the one upon whom all the hopes for liberation from Roman oppression and the rule of the Herodian puppet kings rested; yet, this Jesus hangs pummeled, scourged, and naked - dead on a Roman cross. Earlier, his executioners had dressed him with a crown of thorns and robe, later declaring that this failed revolutionary could not stand against the might of Rome by describing Jesus as the “King of the Jews” in the regional, commercial, and imperial languages. The message is clear: Even if this Jesus is from the line of David, at the moment he is the king of nothing.

Here is the one who stood against the back breaking strictness of the Pharisees and the bickering among the teachers of the law. He had stumped them and exposed the foolishness of their traditions and teaching. He taught with authority; he performed signs and miracles. However, the one whose name meant “savior” did not save himself. The one thought blessed and anointed - the messiah - now hangs as one cursed from a tree - a Roman tree.

If we were witnesses to these events, we too might ask in that moment, “Who is this man, this failure? Is he not the crowned king of nothing? Have we been deceived? Did we hope in vain?”

As I pause to consider the scandal and shame of Jesus hanging upon a Roman cross, I too wonder why God chose to reveal himself - his perfect and full justice, glory, and holiness – in such an unexpected way. I think about Jesus described as the perfect and full expression of the Creator God (Col. 1:15-23; 3:9-10; Heb. 1:1ff): If this Jesus is the perfect expression of the Mighty Warrior of whom Moses sang and David prayed (Ex. 15:3; Psalm 144), the Father surely sent the Son on a bizarre looking rescue mission - one that looks like utter failure.

However, when I consider the greater, over-arching plot of God’s story of redemption and reconciliation, that Jesus became a human being to die a sinner’s death, this gets at the very heart of who God has always revealed himself to be. God has always moved toward sinful humanity: From the very first act of rebellion to this very day, our God has taken the initiative to invite us into right relationship with him. In the Garden, the LORD God cried out, “Where are you?” to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8-9). At Sinai, God revealed a treaty-covenant by which his people could live near the place his glory dwelled - the Tabernacle and, later, the temple. God spoke once more and sent Jesus as the Living Word and ultimate meeting place between humanity and God (i.e., a temple; Jn. 1:14).

That Jesus forsook his own divine nature and became a slave by becoming a human being (Phil. 2:6-22; Jn. 13:1-17) is integral to his very character. In Jesus, God deigns to the depths of our depravity and brokenness to rescue and restore us. There was no extent to which our Warrior God would not go to fight and win back his people’s affection in order to bless them with the fullness and wholeness of life found only in his holy, loving presence. Jesus did so by turning our concept of victory and might on its head. He fought for our affection and worship by becoming the one who bore the full weight of the just wrath we deserved in order that we might have life to the full through faith in him.

In doing so, Jesus triumphed and overcame sin and death: What we may view as the scandal and shame of the failure of Jesus hanging limp on a Roman cross is in fact the decisive victory that disarms and shames and powers and authorities who seek to accuse us of our legal indebtedness to sin (Col. 3:9-15). Jesus’ enemies may have rejoiced in his horrific death; yet, Jesus made a spectacle of death’s disarming by the cross so that we too may sing such powerful words in thanksgiving for such costly grace:

 

We were sons of insurrection, doomed to face the dark alone
Till vicarious perfection, dearly won was made our own 

Unassailable you waited, the great enemy of man
Till your awful jaws were sated, we were ransomed from your hand 

So where’s your landslide; where’s your victory?
Tell me now, where’s your sting? 

Now that you have been disarmed,
We will cross over unharmed!2

 

References:

1 “The God that Failed” by Metallica, Metallica (The Black Album), 1991. (http://mp3glu.org/metallica-metallica-the-black-album-1991/1991-metallica-black-album)

 2 “Disarmed,” Thrice, Major / Minor, 2011 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=865iwKPn6Uw)

 

Daniel attended Balikatan conferences as a child, teen and young adult. He is the son of Gil & Joy Basco. He has a BA in History from Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL (2010) and a Masters of Divinity (MDiv) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL (2014). He was a missionary to Japan and is presently seeking a mission agency with which he can serve full time abroad among the unreached, particularly in the area of church planting. He lives north of Chicago with his corgi, Tomoe.

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