Lesson 15: Cross

The Cross of  JesusJohn’s take on the Cross presents a demanding challenge for us all. Mark and Matthew have everyone mock Jesus from beginning to end. Jesus refuses the wine with myrrh designed to lessen his pain. Jesus cries only one thing, “My God why have you forsaken me?” and dies with a loud shout.

Luke pictures Jesus more in command of himself. He prays that God will forgive his persecutors who do not know what they are doing. He, himself, forgives one of the thieves, promising he will see him in Paradise. When he approaches death, he places himself in God’s hands, quite a change from a cry of despair.

John’s Jesus is even more in control (John 19: 16- 30). He asks the Beloved Disciple to care for his mother and ends with, “It is finished.” John presents him as a man who accomplished the task he set out to do. That task was “fulfilling scripture.”

However, it is difficult to know what this scripture is. John offers clues. The only text in the Bible about no bones being broken relates to the preparation of the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12: 46, Numbers 9:2 and Psalm 34: 20). The impossible use of hyssop to raise a sponge of sour wine makes us think of the Passover Ritual that includes the flimsy plant. The change in the day and time of the execution makes Jesus die right when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. John wants us to see Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” exactly the way John the Baptist introduced him way back in the first chapter.

The Passover Lamb had to die, so the Hebrew nation would not be destroyed. Now Jesus dies, so the world can find abundant life. This is not a simple political execution that ends an uprising Rome would crush as the High Priest thought. It is the critical gift in God’s covenant for saving his creation.

As usual John presents his message with great contrasts: light and darkness, life and death, the Son of the Father and Barabbas (whose names are the same: bar which means “son” and abba which is “father”). But most critical for us is the contrast with the Roman emperor. Pilate goes overboard to call Jesus the “King of the Jews.” He declares, “Behold your king!” while Jesus stands crowned with thorns and clad in royal robe, whipped and bleeding. He writes the title in three languages on the instrument of execution.

His audience would hear “King of Fools,” but John wants us to recognize this is truly God’s king. He wants us to see the contrast powerfully delivered in Revelation 5. There the Heavenly host hear someone is now worthy of completing God’s salvation. When the cry is raised, “Behold the Lion of Judah,” they turn and see not a king of beasts but a butchered lamb. God glorifies the one who dies, so his friends can find abundant life. Love not power is God’s way.

This conveys John’s demanding challenge. He has always placed his commands in the context of doing for others what Jesus has done for us. So, too, as he states explicitly in I John 3: 16- 18, Christian life is being willing to give your life for your friends and sharing your goods when a friend is in need. This is John’s way of putting the other critical challenge we try to ignore: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8: 34-36)

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