In my last post I highlighted how central the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is to our Christian faith and identity. I also invited us to dig a little deeper into it’s personal significance for us as revealed through Scripture.
In this post, I want to explore what Jesus Himself understood about His death and resurrection. Just imagine for a moment what it was like for Him to carry that knowledge in His heart. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the whole story of Jesus hinges on His revelation to His disciples that He must suffer and die before being raised again after three days. Jesus does this immediately after Simon Peter gets a revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed one (see Matthew 16:21, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22).
So, it is here that we learn Jesus knew he must suffer and die. Let us not rush past the significance of this. Jesus was not taken by surprise by the events that unfolded during what we call His Passion, the period of time from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and leading up to His crucifixion. He did not journey to Jerusalem and unwittingly stumble into the hands of the Roman occupiers. No, Jesus understood what was going to happen to Him and yet willingly continued along this path.
In John’s gospel Jesus tells His disciples that as the good shepherd He lays down His life for His sheep. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:18
Jesus is acting in concert with the Father, but has the authority and freedom to choose whether or not he will lay down his own life. We rarely consider that being obedient to someone else is in fact an exercise of our own authority. Jesus had a choice and he chose to submit his own authority to that of his Father. Hence John can write about Jesus’ death as a demonstration of the Father’s love AND of Jesus’ love (read John 3:16 and John 10:11). This so messes with our contemporary (mis)understanding of love, authority and power.
Perhaps we are focused on the Priests and soldiers who arrested Jesus in the middle of the night and handed Him over to Pilate for crucifixion. Perhaps we focus on the injustice of the crowds chanting for guilty Barabbas to be freed instead of innocent Jesus. All of these cruel and unjust decisions played a part in Jesus torture and death. But Jesus understands His own death as something He submits to willingly, since He is the one who has the authority to lay down His life. Wow.
Some might criticize Jesus for having a death-wish. I don’t believe Jesus had any strange or morbid desire to die, rather He understood the choice that He had the authority to make in line with the Father’s charge to Him, IN THE CERTAINTY AND TRUST THAT HIS FATHER LOVED HIM (John 10:17).
The Apostle Paul would later write to the Roman Christians reminding them “you see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8)
Questions for Reflection:
1) As you contemplate that Jesus made a conscious choice to lay down his life for you, how does this help you to redefine your understanding of “love” and “authority?”
2) In what way does the authority you have been given enable you to obediently submit to others?