In my quiet times, I’ve been back in the Gospels. One of my goals for this year was to read through my bible 3 times. So, I’m on my second time through and am back in the Gospels. I love them more and more each time I read them, and I see Jesus so much more clearly each time.
This time, as I went through the gospel of Mark, what struck me was the crucifixion scene. Not necessarily the one only from Mark, but the scene as a whole, as it’s portrayed in all 4 Gospels. What has hit me so hard this time is just how amazingly pitiful the scene is.
Here you have a man who’s become an absolute rock-star-level famous person among the Jews, and then they turn on him and are shouting “crucify him!” It of course shows us so much about the fickle nature of humans as a whole, but what struck me most this time was just the general “terrible-ness” of it all. This man who is so amazing, who has done so much for so many people, who has healed the sick, cured the blind and lame, raised the dead, walked on water, fed the hungry, and has also, and most importantly, shown them how to have relationship with God apart from their works! And on the cross, he’s dying an undignified, shameful, pitiful death.
There is nothing glorious about the scene there at Golgotha. It is gritty. It is uncomfortable. It is downright sad…but it is not glorious. At least not apart from the knowledge about what his death meant. But even then, have you ever meditated on how dismal the scene really is? Years ago, I watched “The Passion of the Christ”, and I thought it did a very good job of showing the gruesome nature of crucifixion (2nd Commandment violations aside of course). But, even in that movie, it didn’t really capture the seeming meaninglessness of Christ’s death. Think about the details of that scene for a minute.
The men who crucified Jesus, the men who actually beat him, mocked him, and nailed him to the cross…these men were just doing their jobs. This wasn’t some amazing outrage for them. It didn’t feel like any big deal, apart from the fact that this particular “criminal” had gathered a crowd of Jews. They did this often. This was commonplace for them. The Romans had perfected torture, and they were just doing what they were paid to do.
Furthermore, it’s so commonplace for them, that they make games out of it. They gamble for Jesus’s clothes, dividing up his garments among them. Before they take him to Skull hill, they beat him up, and have a party where they gather over a hundred men to play “dress-up” with him. They put on a purple robe, slam down a crown of thorns on his head, and then beat him with a reed, like it’s some stolen “royal scepter.” This is just sick entertainment for them. It’s painfully real, and it’s painfully dismal. It’s the part of the movie where you’d be turning your head because it’s just too cruel to watch.
When they do finally lift him up on the cross, and begin waiting for him to die, business as usual says that if he takes too long to die, then you break their legs and stab them with spears. This shows that crucifixion isn’t even about death, it’s about torture. If the goal is to eventually ACTUALLY kill them when they get done with their torture, then it’s always about torture.
And so Jesus is disposed of as a simple common criminal in the Romans judicial system.
It gets even worse though, because he’s crucified next to two other common criminals, and a murderer is released to the people. The crucifixion of Jesus really seems like all his life had been completely meaningless to end up like this.
And it was in thinking about this pitiful, dismal, pathetic scene that I really began to feel anew the weight of what it means that Jesus identifies with us. The creator of the universe died a pathetic, seemingly meaningless death, in order to be able to identify with the lowest of the low. And further still, not merely to identify with them, but to ransom them! He was counted as a criminal by his own creation, in order to save his own creation. And that is really the story of history, isn’t it? We have hated and blasphemed God, we have thought that he was wrong, even evil, and yet, God demonstrates his love toward us, in that while we were still calling him evil, Christ died for us who really ARE evil!
That scene, of Christ on the cross, is the most pathetic scene in the universe. The creator subjected to his creation. The sculptor of everything suffering at the hands of his clay.
And yet that scene, of Christ on the cross, is the beautiful picture in the universe! The creator reconciling himself to his creation. The sculptor of everything suffering FOR his clay. There is no greater love than that which is displayed in Christ’s willingness to STAY on the cross and be humiliated, and shamed, and mocked, and counted as the scum of the earth.
Meditating on the picture of Christ’s humiliation at his death has caused me to love him so much more. It is astounding that Jesus didn’t call down legions of angels to destroy those who were hurting him. It is astounding that, out of love for God and for his future people, he underwent such injustice. That the creator was counted as a criminal by his creation, in order to remove the criminal status that each of us faced.
The cross is pitiful, but to us who’ve been saved by Christ’s death, it is gloriously beautiful!