The Crucifixion of Jesus

The Crucifixion of Jesus
Brian Zahnd

On Good Friday we think about one thing: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is the epicenter of Christian faith. At the core of Christianity we don’t find perennial religion, meditation techniques, or a course in ethics, but a crucifixion. This is the enduring scandal of the gospel. The gospel is not motivational talks about happy marriages, being debt free, and achieving your destiny. That all belongs to the broader world of proverbial wisdom, and it’s fine as far as it goes, but it has little or nothing to do with the gospel. The gospel is about the cross and the cross is a scandal. When the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he had determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified, he admitted that the cross was often viewed as a scandal and folly. So be it.

Any attempt to make Christianity less offensive and more palatable by de-emphasizing the cross is a betrayal of Jesus Christ himself. So today above all days we look unflinchingly at Christ crucified. To enter deep into the mystery of the cross is to encounter the greatest revelation of who God is. For being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is.

To interpret the meaning of the cross is more than a life’s work — in fact, it has and will remain the work of the church for millennia. The cross is the ever-unfolding revelation of who God is, and it cannot be summed up in a simple formula. This is the bane of tidy atonement theories that seek to reduce the cross to a single meaning. The cross is many things:

It’s the pinnacle of God’s self-disclosure.

It’s divine solidarity with all human suffering.

It’s the shaming of the principalities and powers.

It’s the point from which the satan is driven out of the world.

It’s the death by which Christ conquers Death.

It’s the abolition of war and violence.

It’s the supreme demonstration of the love of God.

It’s the re-founding of the world around an axis of love.

It’s the enduring model of co-suffering love we are to follow.

It’s the eternal moment in which the sin of the world is forgiven.

The cross is not the appeasement of an angry and retributive god. The cross is not where Jesus saves us from God, but where Jesus reveals God as savior. The cross is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive, but what God in Christ endures as he forgives. The cross is where the sin of the world coalesced into a hideous singularity so that it might be forgiven en masse. The cross is where the world violently sinned its sins in the body of the Son of God, and where he absorbed it all, praying, “Father, forgive them.” The cross is both ugly and beautiful. It’s as ugly as human sin and as beautiful as divine love — but in the end love and beauty win.

Lord Jesus, as we look at you on the cross, with your arms outstretched in proffered embrace, we pray, forgive us, Lord, for we know not what we do. Amen.

(This is the Good Friday reading from The Unvarnished Jesus.)