Today we look at the crucifixion of Jesus. We will explore both what it means and how we should respond.
Here is a link to the livestream video:
When extreme tragedy strikes, there is an almost universal tendency to see that the person somehow had it coming to them. Call it karma, call it something else, the tendency has always been there. The Bible has a version of this, memorably expressed by Paul in Galatians 6:7-8.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
At the same time, the Bible sees this principle as limited, at least in this life. The story of Job is an excellent example. A perfectly righteous man endures terrible hardship, while his friends try to make sense of it as best they can. Perhaps inevitably, they resort to blaming Job for his own troubles. They were wrong, but they add much insult to Job’s injury before they are forced to see it. God sets all things right at the very end, but it took Job a long time and a lot of undeserved suffering to get there.
Jesus encountered this kind of thinking one day and answered it perfectly as always. Let’s read it from Luke 13.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The Galileans killed by Pilate and the victims of the fallen tower were no worse people than anyone else. The twist in Christ’s version is not that they were especially innocent in God’s eyes, but that everyone else is comparably guilty. This is the biblical view of sin. It is the bad news that makes the good news of the gospel good.
We are all in need of repentance. That is one of the earliest lessons that the Bible aims to teach us. At some level, we are guilty before a perfectly holy God. Sure, there may be mitigating factors to the particular level of our guilt. A certain temptation was especially difficult. Under the circumstances there were no good choices. We have a natural tendency to do this or that. Someone or something drove us to a point where we reacted, which was wrong. But, in the end, we are wrong too. We have sinned because we are fundamentally flawed members of a flawed race who eventually lived up – or maybe down – to our potential. We sinned and fell short of perfect holiness, which is the standard of the one and only thoroughly holy God.
The solution is repentance. We are not to hold onto our sin and cherish it. We are to turn from it and turn our hearts toward our divinely provided Savior. This is the point made by Jesus when he says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
John 3:16 steers us directly to this principle. We have a chance to repent right now.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
There may be a proper motive and a right way to seek desired positions within the church, but it isn’t easy. Whatever it is, James and John still had to learn how to do it and so did their mother.
To refuse a position of responsibility, should it be offered to us, is to risk sounding like Moses. He argued with God at the burning bush over his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt. At the same time, to seek the position is risk looking like Zebedee’s family in the passage above.
God calls people to take positions of responsibility. We don’t call ourselves. The most balanced attitude toward this service/greatness tension might have been both expressed and lived out by Archbishop William Temple, who said, “I have never sought and never refused a position of greater responsibility,”*
The key might be in the love of the service itself, rather than the position. Paul put it like this in 1 Timothy 3:1, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” The task, not the office, is the motivator. Jesus uses terms like “servant,” “slave,” “to serve,” and “to give his life,” to describe his own mission. Ours may look similar to his.
If we focus on service, we won’t get derailed by seeking positions. It may be that a higher position of some sort will come our way. If it doesn’t, we still get to serve right where we already are.
*Quoted in Green, M. (2001). The message of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven (p. 191). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Jesus was never light on sin. While infinitely gracious, compassionate and kind toward flawed and fallen people like ourselves, he understood the depth of our affliction. He absolutely refused to minimize it. As he saw it, both the tempter and the tempted put themselves at the most serious risk of judgment.
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (ESV).
No solution for sin and its effects is too radical for Jesus. Cut off the guilty body part and throw it away. But here the depth of the problem is revealed. We might imagine ourselves amputating till there was almost nothing left and still struggling against sin. The source of our guilt cannot be found in the hand or the eye, or anything else that is removable. Sin thrives in the lowest recesses of the heart.
David grasped this when he prayed in Psalm 51:10,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
And this is what God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27,
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
This is what we need – a heart that desires to please God. We don’t need one less limb or useful organ. We need to become new people. Receiving new life in Christ accomplishes this. If we don’t have it, then that is what we need. If we do have it, we need to learn to walk in it. This is clearly summed up in the words of Paul.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Sin is severe – and probably more awful than we can understand, since our very perception of it is distorted by, well, sin! Jesus took it so seriously he paid for it on the cross. A new heart, a whole new self, is now available to us in Christ.