One of my favorite little people is having a hard time coming to terms with how Jesus’ suffering and dying on a cross could possibly be “good”. And when you look at the cruelty and pain, betrayal and brutality, blood-lust and mob mentality, I think she has a point. On the surface, it’s horrific. It shines a light on just how quickly we can go from putting someone on a pedestal to knocking them off of it in less than a week.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to do this. When someone doesn’t come through the way I think they should or when someone hurts me or I’m jealous or I’m…selfish. When I’m threatened, when I’m exposed, when I’m…wrong. I’ve been known to throw the gloves off and come out swinging. But what I often find at the end of that mess is a pool of my own destruction – hurt feelings, regrets and remorse. The slaying is never worth it. Even if I was “right”, it’s a hollow victory.
But here’s where Jesus turns everything on its head. In the most despicable display of humanity, when God’s chosen people turn on him, our God brings peace, healing and restoration. The resurrection can’t happen without the crucifixion. But don’t we want it more sanitized than that?
It’s easier to accept the story the way we share it with pre-schoolers. Let’s take our felt board cut-outs and tell the story in simple pictures. Here’s Jesus breaking bread with his friends. Here’s the mean Judas. Oh, Jesus has been arrested. Now he must carry his cross. Then he died and rose again. Yea! He’s alive!!!
We acknowledge his death enough to get to the good part…in three days he rose again. But I think we need to sit in the death for awhile. I think to really appreciate the miracle of everlasting life and the washing away of sin, we have to sit in what makes me nauseous. To consider for one minute that Jesus took MY punishment, it should give me pause. It should make me cry out. I should be humbled to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Before I knew Jesus, like really knew him, not just, yeah, okay Jesus, he’s the son of God. That’s fine. When I was living my life just for me, and believe me, it was only for me, He was still there, waiting for me to turn to him. I know this now because God gives us the gift of reflection. When you’re in the middle of something difficult it’s really hard to see beyond it. Heck, sometimes it’s hard to see anything at all because you’re blinded by the world you’ve created.
And I have to imagine this has been true since the beginning of time. What should have taken the Jews 11 days to get from Egypt to the promised land, instead took them 40 years. God didn’t hold them back. They got lost in their own mess. He set them free but they held themselves hostage to their past instead of trusting in their future. Have you done this? I have!
In 2002 when our marriage was broken and everything was spiraling out of control, God showed me a little family on the backside of Parson’s Beach. There was a little girl in a white sun hat. I knew when I saw her that that’s what we were supposed to be, not the train wreck we had created. But at the time, I didn’t know God. I knew he was out there but I didn’t know that he knew me. I didn’t know that he loved me. I didn’t know that he longed for me to know Him.
And it wasn’t until coming to Christ in 2009 that I could even say that God showed me that sweet family. But even without me acknowledging it was God, he was there. He was at work in my life. He was putting in motion what was to come, even in my ignorance. It took longer than it probably should have but he was by my side when I couldn’t see him.
I can relate to the fickle mob yelling “Crucify!” That’s really bad to admit, right? But it’s true. I’ve been so lost in my own stuff that I couldn’t see the truth in front of me and certainly couldn’t give credit to the author of that truth.
I think about the Old Testament prophets that told of our coming king. Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah, the Psalmists…all of them told us what was coming, who was coming. But it didn’t make sense in the moment. It’s not until we have the precious gift of hindsight that we can more clearly connect the dots. But God knows that about us. And he loves us anyway. And that’s what makes Friday so good.
God knows we’re a mess. He knows we need him, even when we don’t yet know him. He’s still there. He’s in the room. He’s on the beach. He’s on the cross. But He doesn’t stay there. He endures the pain of ridicule, beating, torture, extreme torture and finally, death. And He did it for me. And you. He did it so we could be free. Free from the mess we make around us. Free from the weight of that mess. He did it so we could know him intimately, personally. And that’s better than good.
Go ahead and sit in it. Take the next few days to really consider a love so great. And then whoop it up on Sunday. Party like it’s 1999…we know how that went down too. The lights stayed on. The computers didn’t crash. And we’re still here. And so is our God.