The death of Jesus makes it impossible to ignore him.
His teachings continue amaze the masses, although the masses tend to misunderstand him. (His stories and sermons were neither common-sensical wisdom nor universal principles on how to do life. His teachings were bold proclamations that the kingdom of God had come.) His miracles caught the attention of the crowds, but it was his execution by Roman crucifixion that makes Jesus stand out from the crowd. His death means the death of God. As impossible as it seems God died on the cross. And now the cross is the symbol of the Christian faith. From Primal Credo, chapter 5:
The cross makes Jesus unavoidable. It began as the symbol of violence, humiliation, and death, but it has become the symbol of faith, hope, and love. The early church used many different symbols for the faith, including a dove, an anchor, loaves and fishes, the icthus fish (which is still around on car bumpers), and Greek letters such as chi/rho and alpha/omega. These all served their purpose, but the cross became the enduring symbol of the Christian faith. Clement of Alexandria in the third century called the cross “the Lord’s sign.” It seems like a foolish symbol for Christianity, particularly in light of the awful history of crucifixion. The cross served as a cruel instrument of execution. Imagine driving by a Christian church near your house and looking up to see an executioner’s electric chair in blazing, bright white atop the steeple. The cross was hideous in the days of the Roman Empire. Everyone recognized it as a violent symbol of failure and death, because it signified the failed plot of would-be revolutionaries—failed revolutionaries do not rescue anyone.
Crucifixion is not the most expedient way to execute criminals. It is bloody, gory, and cruel, yet at the cross of Christ we see the love of God. Again from Chapter 5:
Jesus suffering upon the cross is a hideous and abhorrent figure, yet it reveals God’s love for us in an unforgettable vivid image. The Romans used crucifixion to heap shame and humiliation on their enemies, to disguise their dignity in defeat. However in the crucifixion of Jesus, Rome accomplished just the opposite of what they intended to do. Instead of shame and rejection, the Roman cross became the place where the love of God and his embracing of the world are most clearly seen. Jesus had told his disciples that if he would be lifted up on a cross, he would draw the nations of the world to himself. What the Empire intended for evil, God meant for good. At the cross we see Jesus not as our life coach, love guru, therapist, motivational speaker, or mystical guide; we see Jesus as the Savior of the world. We see the God of self-giving love in real human flesh suffering such hellish torment for the sins of the world.
It is easy for us to overlook the cross, because we know about the resurrection. We know the resurrection is coming, but for a moment put yourself in the shoes of his original disciples and look at the death of Jesus through their eyes.
Imagine the shock of the disciples when Jesus died. They saw the death of Jesus as the end. Their dream died. Their hope was dead. Their king was dead. Their entire understanding of God and God’s kingdom died. In their eyes, the death of Jesus meant Jesus failed. He had worked hard for three years to promote God’s kingdom, but he failed. A dead king is a failed king. Even more than failure, Jesus’ death in the eyes of those who loved him meant he was wrong. He said he was coming to bring the kingdom of God. But how can you lead the expanse of God’s kingdom when you are dead? He was wrong. He was dead wrong. He had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and now he was a lifeless corpse lying on a cold rock slab in a dark tomb.
As unbelievable as it sounds, God in Christ experienced death; the death of Jesus was, in one sense, the death of God.
Jesus was dead. He did not play dead. He did not pass out. He was not sedated. He was dead and lifeless. The one called “the Light of the World” now lay in a dark sealed tomb. God was active within Jesus reconciling the world to himself. God joined us in human birth at the manager and then God joined us in human death at the sealed tomb of Jesus. God did not die in the sense that he ceased to exist. God died in that he experienced human death. How can this be? The source of life experienced death.
God in Christ experienced death on the cross, but that is not the end of the Jesus story—Sunday is comin’.