Good Friday as Good News, part II
The New Testament writers look at Jesus, his relationship with God, and his relationship with us from various points of view, but they all agree on one claim that is staggering. In some amazing way, the ugliness of a Roman cross was caught up in:
- God’s love for the world
- God’s love for Jesus
- Jesus’ love for God
- Jesus’ love for the rest of us
As I mentioned in my last post, the Romans had crucified 1000’s of Jewish people before they crucified Jesus, and they crucified many more after they crucified Jesus. The Roman cross was to the Jewish community a symbol of torture, shame, oppression, arrogant misuse of power, and rampant brutality. It was a political power statement: “Do not ever forget—we are in charge here!” The cross had the same practical and symbolic meaning that a lynching had in the American South. It didn’t really matter too much whether the person swinging from a tree was guilty or not, the message was still clearly sent to others. This is exactly how the Romans thought about crucifying Jews.
So, how can something so brutal, end up being described as an event God was not only willing to be present in, but even an event that God knew ahead of time must occur if his beloved Son remained faithful? More amazing, how can it become an event God intended to use to unleash God’s love more fully than ever before in the world?
Before we explore in future blog posts some of the meanings of the cross that are presented in the New Testament writings, I want to be clear. The early followers of Jesus did not believe that you had to understand all of the “whys” of the cross in order to experience the power God has unleashed through Jesus’ faithfulness to God. I know that some Christians maintain that you must have the “right understanding of atonement” in order to be in a good relationship with God. The New Testament writers clearly differed.
In fact, all three synoptic gospels tell us that Jesus did not fully understand why, or even if, the cross was absolutely necessary when he fervently prayed in the Garden: “Father if you are willing; remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). And, Luke 24:46 tells us that while the risen Jesus did now understand the “necessity” of the cross, his disciples who were standing in Jesus’ presence still did not understand the “whys” of the cross. “Our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we used to hope that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:20-21). Similarly, Paul/Saul clearly did not understand the meanings of the cross when he met Jesus as “Lord” in Acts 9.
So, the challenge of today’s blog: Tell God that you want the wonderful love that God unleashed in Jesus’ execution and resurrection even if you do not understand the whys. There are many blessings in my life concerning which I do not fully understand the whys. Why does my wife love me after 51 years of seeing the real me clearer and clearer (not always a pretty sight)? Why do my children and their mates love me so freely when I was far from perfect as a father? Why do parents love squalling little babies who cannot do anything to pay them back for their love except demand and keep them awake half the night? I have no intention of waiting until I fully understand these amazing realities before I make myself open to receiving their gifts. So, Lord, please don’t wait for me to fully understand the cross to send as many blessings as your mercy allows!
We could summarize those gifts that God has unleashed as:
FREEDOM – if the one human who could condemn our human unfaithfulness instead chose to die for us, what is there to fear (Romans 8:28-39 & Galatians 5:1).
FORGIVENESS – if the one human who lived in faithfulness instead of sin 24/7 says that the cross brings a new covenant made in the giving of his life-blood, we can expect to meet God in an atmosphere of love and a clean-slate. (Acts 2:38 and 1 John 3:1-3).
FULLNESS – if the injustice of brutal execution, led not to the end of life, but to a much greater gift of life, we can trust that God can work toward the good of filling us with the image of Jesus even in the worst and most evil situations – those times when we don’t even know how to pray the right words. (Romans 8:26-30).
TELL GOD YOU ARE PRAYERFULLY AVAILABLE TO RECEIVE THESE GRACIOUS GIFTS FLOWING FROM JESUS’ “FAITHFULNESS TO THE POINT OF DEATH, EVEN DEATH ON A CROSS.” (Philippians 2:8).
As always, if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about this post, or if there is another topic you would like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts. / Ron