[This post was first published in April 2014.]
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23)
According to John’s gospel, Jesus utters these words shortly after entering Jerusalem at the beginning of this holiest and darkest of weeks. The atmosphere is heavy with speculation that Jesus could be the one to spearhead the revolution that will finally throw off the shackles of Rome. The crowd, willing to believe this, fêtes Jesus as king as he rides into the city, completely missing the symbolic significance of the fact that he is riding not on a white charger but on a donkey’s colt.
Given so much hope of glory among both the populace in general and Jesus’ own disciples in particular (not long before, they were still arguing about who would get the best seats with Jesus in heaven), it’s easy to imagine how they might have understood Jesus’ comment that it was time for him to be glorified. Yes! It’s going to happen! Jesus is finally going to take his rightful place and ascend to his throne!
They were right: Jesus was going to take his place. But what they didn’t realise was this: in a world that prizes strength, ambition, power and cunning, enforced by violence and kept in motion by sacrificial religion, there is only one fitting place for a God who is and always has been infinite mercy and love: the cross.
That’s right: the throne to which Jesus would ascend was the cross.
This cross – this cruel, ugly instrument of death – was the place where the glory of God would be most clearly displayed to the world. How so? you ask. Because the glory of God is His love, and this is what love looks like.
Love does not insist on its own way; it does not bite back or lash out; it endures all things. It stretches out its arms and dies at the hands of those who were born out of that very same love. And as the nails go in, as the flesh tears and the blood flows, it says “Father, forgive”.
The cross tells us everything we need to know about the heart of God. It answers every question about human suffering, every cry of Why? and How long?, not with some kind of remorseless divine logic but with the body and blood of Christ. It is as though Jesus says this:
I see the kind of world you have made, a world ruled by control and blame. I know it’s going to cost me my life to show you that, in spite of all your violence, hatred, suspicion and fear, the heart of the Father is and always has been to forgive, to bind up, to heal and to restore. So here: take me, break me and kill me. I give myself willingly so that you may no longer have any doubt. Take, eat, for this is my body; feast on it in your sin and your shame, and I will give you in return neither vengeance nor judgement, but the blood of forgiveness. Can you not see the new thing I am showing you here?
And so, in a few hours, King Jesus, arrayed in purple and with a crown of thorns on his head, will ascend to his royal throne at Calvary, the seat of God’s undying love. For love is the one thing no cross can kill; it is stronger than death. The king will hang enthroned, and even as the dark clouds gather over Jerusalem, even as this broken man suffers the very worst that humanity can heap upon him, the glory of the love of God will shine forth from his heart, radiant like the bright morning star.
Do you see it?
[ Image: Christopher Brown ]