Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Suffering, Shameful King

We have been considering the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We have come to the third step: his crucifixion.

How to Make a Movie, or Write a Gospel

Crucifixion is so gruesome and grisly, so ghastly and ghoulish that we could lose focus. When Mel Gibson released his film, The Passion of the Christ, many condemned it as an exaggeration of Jesus’ physical suffering. The truth was the other way around.

The remarkable thing about Mel Gibson’s film was not so much the magnitude of suffering depicted but its restraint in showing many of the true horrors of crucifixion.[1]

The Roman Senator, Cicero, said:

The very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.[2]

Gibson was facing the same problem that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Peter faced: how to tell the world that Jesus was crucified when the very word “cross” was so far beyond off-colored that no one would want to hear it. Roman speech was more vulgar than ours, yet if there had been television in Rome, they wouldn’t have let you say the word “cross” on TV.

The horror of the cross develops its own type of appalled fascination. The fascination would carry us away into the horrific details of crucifixion. That would be a diversion. The vital thing is, what does the cross mean?

Once the meaning is established, in future posts some of the horrific details will be used. They will not be used for the sake of the horror itself, nor for a shock tactic to elicit sympathy for Jesus They will be used to serve the purpose of expanding upon the meaning of the cross. This needs to be the focus.

In this posting, we will begin a consideration of the meaning of the cross.

Glory or Cross

In the last posting, we set the cross in its context to prepare the way to understand what the cross means. We saw that the thing about kings and kingdoms is glory.

We recalled that the gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom and Jesus is the King of the Gospel, so Jesus should have glory. Glory is right for him. Yet the Devil’s promise of kingdom glory in his wilderness temptation of Jesus was a temptation to sin. Jesus resisted the temptation, and what that got him was the cross.

This sets as opposites glory and the cross. By knowing its opposite, we begin to see the meaning of the cross. Glory or cross, glory or cross.

Cross and Shame

The cross, being the opposite of glory, is inglorious. Inglorious means shameful.

Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hb 12:2) The natural tendency is to try to gauge the pain of the cross. But can we gauge the shame of it?

It was not merely the excruciating physical torture that made crucifixion so unspeakable, but the devastation of shame that this death, above all others, represented.[3]

Cross and Suffering

The commentators give this explanation of the Devil’s temptation. The Devil’s promise of glory was a temptation to sin, not because Jesus should not have glory, but because his way to glory was the cross and suffering.

“And the glory of them” brings out the feature that made “all the kingdoms of the world” so desirable and attractive to Jesus who was to be the true king of this vast realm but only by achieving the kingship through suffering and death.[4]

To escape the way of the cross by being disobedient to the vocation of the suffering Servant despised and rejected by men, upon whom was to be laid the iniquity of us all, was Jesus’ greatest and most persistent temptation.[5]

Jesus had been appointed by God to rule the world. … But the path to this triumph was through suffering.[6]

Satan … pretended that he was willing to make matters much easier for Jesus. Jesus would not have to suffer and die to redeem the world.[7]

He was invited to become king over the whole vast realm without suffering. Had not the anointed ruler of Psalm 2 been promised universal dominion, the nations as his inheritance and the ends of the earth as his possession?[8]

After his resurrection, Jesus said to his confused disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26) The cross and suffering were Jesus’ entry into glory.

Get Behind Me, Satan

When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must … suffer many things … and be killed.” (Mt 16:21) Peter did not take well to this, and Jesus did not take well to Peter’s reaction.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!'' But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! (Mt 16:22-23)

Jesus called Peter Satan because Peter tempted him to the same sin as Satan had: to come into the glory of his Kingdom without the cross. But it must be the other way around. He must come into the cross without glory.

The cross means that Jesus is a King without glory. He is a shameful King and a suffering King. The cross is a scandal and an offense.

As much as that scandalizes and offends us all by itself, something else about it offends us more. He would not have had to suffer if He weren’t redeeming Adam’s fallen race by restoring to them his Kingdom. To restore the Kingdom to sinners, He had to undergo our shame and suffering of sin. It is no humiliation for us to be ashamed and suffer for our sin. But for Jesus, to go through our shame and suffering for us was humiliation. He volunteered for this.


1. Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Thom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006, p. 33.
2. Cicero, Pro Rabirio 16. Similarly, “It was, as Origen describes it, mors turpissima crucis, the utterly vile death of the cross, something the civilized person could not even bear to talk about.” Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Thom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006, p. 34.
3. Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Thom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006, pp. 33-34.
4.  R. C. H. Lenksi, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, p. 154 (Augsburg, 1943)
5. R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 54 (Tyndale, 1961)
6. James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, The King and His Kingdom, p. 58 (Baker, 2001)
7. G. Jerome Albrecht & Michael J. Albrecht, People’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p. 53 (Concordia, rev. ed. 2005)
8. Robert H. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, p. 66 (Augsburg, 1989).


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