Do you think you understand what Jesus went through on the cross?
I think that’s one of the things Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” did for many people – give them a new perspective on Jesus’ death – a much more violent ending to Jesus’ life than they were used to.
It takes a lot to shock me. I have this tendency to dissect what’s happening rather than be affected by it – I just want to know how they do it. But “The Passion” really got me. It didn’t surprise me – I’ve known for a long time what was involved in the cross – maybe more than most people – but the movie leaves no real room for the imagination. There are so many movies about Jesus – in many Jesus is white with long beautiful flowing hair, clean white clothes – purity. Movies tend to over spiritualise the truth – the white robes, clean sandals, lack of blood, pain, tears, grief – Jesus becomes a super-human – mythical, easily consigned to the pages of history.
Was Jesus superhuman more than human? There was something special about him – a man like all others and yet unique! The church spent the first 500 years arguing about how Jesus could be just like everyone else and yet be something completely different. It’s hard to see how Jesus could be a man. It’s much easier to see Jesus as altogether different.
Every time you write the date you acknowledge that Jesus was unique – all history is divided by Jesus’ birth. In 1969 Richard Nixon declared the American landing on the moon was “the greatest day since creation”. The evangelist Billy Graham said he was right – except for Christmas and Easter. Which has to be true! Jesus spoke to less people in his ministry than Billy Graham spoke to at just one stadium – and Graham spoke at thousands of stadiums. Yet Jesus changed the face of the earth in ways we would never suggest that Billy Graham might have. For 2000 years the world has revolved around Jesus. More than 2 billion people, 1/3 of the world’s population swear allegiance to Jesus. For the rest Jesus is the enemy, a swear word, or maybe real but irrelevant. Even other religions feel the need to acknowledge Jesus.
As unique as he was, he was also normal – lived a human life, died a human death. Not superhuman, not alien, not especially endowed in any sense – a Jew from theGalilee, with a name and a family. When you read in the newspapers or hear in the news about Palestine, the West Bank, Jordan and Jerusalem, that is where Jesus lived and breathed and ate and slept and walked and did all the things humans do, including dying – right there. Until he was 30 he could walk down the street basically unnoticed – Joey’s son, the carpenter’s apprentice.
Nobody on the ground would have thought anything other than that Jesus was a man.
- They were amazed at his teaching.
- They were stunned at his authority.
- They were angry at his claims.
- They followed him around because he was incredible.
- No one talked like him.
- No one did the things he could do.
- No one made the claims he did – outrageous claims for any human and yet strangely compelling for Jesus.
- No one gathered such a following.
- No one talked to storms with the expectation that they would obey him.
- No one else cast out demons simply by telling them to leave.
- No one healed the blind by spitting on the ground and using the mud on the blind eyes.
- No one expressed rage at the use of the temple, as though it were a personal affront.
But not one person assumed that Jesus was anything other than a man.
They saw him on a daily basis. He ate like they did, slept when he was tired, used the toilet, drank water, bathed daily, walked like everyone else, wore clothing, rode donkeys, built things out of wood with his hands. Jesus wasn’t Harry Potter – he didn’t wave a wand when people’s backs were turned and turn trees into furniture. Jesus was a man with limitations. When he wanted to go from one end of Jerusalem to another he walked – just like everyone else. When people were sick or died he was filled with concern and compassion. When his friend Lazarus died he wept. Jesus didn’t wander around in a kind of calm, cool and collected daze like Mr Spock, able to deal with everything unemotionally and logically. People affected him. Obstinacy frustrated him. Self-righteousness infuriated him. Simple faith thrilled him. In fact Jesus seemed more human than most – more emotional, passionate, fiery, compassionate – but still, unmistakably a man.
Understanding Jesus as Human
It’s odd – given all that, that we find it hard to understand Jesus as a man. He is God, Son of God, King, Word, and High priest – any of those titles that remove him from our earthly realm. But the more you read about Jesus the more human he seems. Don’t read through eyes that know how the story ends. Read the story of Jesus through eyes that are wondering where this is leading. Understand the man who walked, talked, lived on earth.
Imagine you’re face to face with him. Despite everything you’ve heard, he’s a Jew – male, 30 years old – short but strong, big arms and shoulders, long hair, beard, often dirty from long walks on dusty roads – he looks like everyone else. Where’s the 30 foot tall shining king who will crush the Romans, who heals the sick as he rides around on his white horse? How did this man heal anyone? How did this man stop a storm – surely that’s fiction? Come to think of it, why do the religious leaders want to kill him? He’s no one – he’s fromGalilee – who cares what he says – they’re all mad down there anyway.
The more you look at Jesus the harder he is to understand. Everyone in Jerusalem is talking about the Roman occupation – Jesus says almost nothing about it. Instead he gets a whip and drives out the thieving religious con men from the temple. He urged obedience to the Law of Moses yet had a reputation as a law-breaker. He could be moved with sympathy for a stranger, yet turns on his best friend with the rebuke “get behind me Satan”. He had uncompromising views on rich men and adulterous women, and yet was a friend to both. Jesus must have been real – no one would invent such a character.
The Final Stupidity
You come to the ultimate stupidity – the cross – the foundation of Christianity.
Jesus who everyone knows has done nothing wrong – great teacher, heals the sick, loves the unlovable, being executed for a crime he never committed. Everyone knew he’d been sold out, that the crimes were fabricated, that men had lied. Yet there he is hanging on that ugly piece of wood – his mother, and brothers and friends a little way off, confused, sick to the stomach, wondering what on earth has gone wrong, in despair – what do we do now?
The one hanging on that cross is a human – “The Passion” gets that right and in gruesome detail. This is a man being subjected to a painful death. He sweats, he bleeds, he suffers, feels the pain and agony. All the torment of being crucified – and there are less painful and degrading ways to die – Jesus experiences all. And there’s the spiritual agony of knowing God’s wrath was being poured out on himself, that the punishment for every sin was being laid on Jesus shoulders at that very moment of his physical death. Who died on the cross? A man – not a superhero, not someone uniquely able to deal with the pain – a man!
And then a man rises from the dead. The one who walks out of the tomb is Jesus – born of a woman, lived and died and raised from the dead by God his Father as a man. It’s unbelievable isn’t it? No one rises from the dead. In all the funerals I’ve taken not one has ever opened the coffin and walked away. Death is irreversible – like popping a balloon? “Daddy my balloon burst – please fix it?” “Sorry – I can’t.” You can’t reverse the irreversible. You cannot rise from the dead.
Walking on the Moon?
Our history is full of events that changed the course of history and life – wars, technology, landing on the moon, transport, communication, computers, science, medicine and more! Many great men and women have touched the lives of people – but in the death and resurrection of Jesus we see the greatest single event in history. Just a man dying – nothing particularly unusual, happens to most people. Except in this death we see sin and death defeated. In the resurrection we see victory over our mortal enemies.
Which would all mean very little if the passion were simply an historical event. We could read it with the same level of disinterest we might read about the building of the Great Wall of China, or the life of Caesar. But Jesus positioned himself as the dividing point of life. According to Jesus, what I think about him and how I respond will determine my eternity.
Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”
In Jesus we see God stretching himself out on the dissecting table and saying, “Examine me. Test me. Make a decision.”
What is the point of the greatest event ever to happen on this planet? The point is you – your life, your salvation, and your future – your decision. No other event has so affected history and this world than the death and resurrection of Jesus. But what Jesus is interested in is how it affects you. He stands before us as a man who died and rose again so that all who believe in him would have life and salvation for eternity. Jesus says to each of us – “Follow me.”
If you have never taken the opportunity to respond to Jesus then do so today. If you have already but you know that you need to once again turn back and repent and be in step with Jesus.