I am taken up with the image of Jesus on the cross. Maybe more than the actual image of His Person on the cross, but rather His stance towards His executioners, and by extension, humanity as well.
I won’t go through the details of how He arrived to this point. Volumes have been written, and I doubt I am about to shed new perspectives on what others have taken a lifetime to explore, but here He is, the victim of an illegal trial convened in the middle of the night, and convicted without cause. Christ on the cross has nothing to do with justice. It was injustice in it’s fullest expression.
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.” – Isaiah 53:8-9
We see the love of Christ so strong, that He enters into identification with a broken humanity, bound by sin and suffering. How far is He willing to go in His identification with us? To the extent of laying every bit of that sin and suffering upon Himself, through no fault of His own, but willingly, bearing the consequences of our violence and our selfishness.
As He is stretched out on the beams, back shredded, head pierced, battered, bruised and bleeding from head to toe, Luke shocks us with his account… it can hardly be believed;
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. – Luke 23:34
How can one fathom from where this comes from? Nothing enrages us like injustice. When we see suffering in the world, we can hardly tolerate it. Someone must be held accountable. When that suffering happens to us, we want to be certain that someone is held accountable. Yet, here is Jesus, not calling for justice… but for mercy. His prayer is not even, “If they eventually receive Me as Lord and Savior, forgive them.” No, it is scandalous in it’s simplicity, and it’s unconditional acceptance. “Father, forgive them…”. Naturally, his persecutors then gamble for his clothing and then hurl insults at Him as His life slowly drains away over the next grueling hours. But Jesus’ stance towards them does not change. It never changes. His attitude towards us is love. His attitude to those who engage in unspeakable evil, is love. Not just the kind of sappy, “everything is ok” love, but the kind of love that is willing to suffer, rather than retaliate.
This is the benchmark. It doesn’t get much worse than nailing the Son of God to a cross and making a big joke of it. Christ has overcome the powers of darkness. Not by the flexing of His almighty arm, but by letting darkness unleash it’s fury against Him, and overcoming through meekness. The Son of God who suffers, to redeem us from darkness and release us from suffering. As Isaiah once again states;
“He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7
How much are we willing to suffer in the name of Christ? It’s completely counter-culture… no matter what your culture is. It is completely unnatural, but if we are called to display the character of Christ “christian=christ like”, then we can do no greater good than when we model the perfection of His love on the cross, and lay down our lives in love towards others… even, and especially, those who persecute us.