John 19:16-30 So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”… Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The cross is where we meet the true Jesus.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Have you ever said that? They said that. They watched. They waited. They trembled. They had had so much hope that he was it, that he was the one, the Messiah, that all of what they had been enduring would come to a victorious end. But it wasn’t. It wouldn’t. The world and all that had been promised to them came crashing down as the cross was put up.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen to him.” They thought that. With tears in their eyes, they remembered the early days. He healed people. He fed people. He was supposed to be a hero who put the bad guys to death, not the other way around. This Jesus—who was he, really? To the soldiers he encountered, he made them money. To the chief priests, he made them mad. To Pilate, he made him scared. To Mary, he made her cry. To John, he made him gain a second mother. This Jesus had encountered so many people and spent years with his disciples, yet few really knew him and what he was doing. Even when his inscription was written, there was debate and argument and frustration. The cross, the ancient Roman instrument of torture and death reserved for the basest of criminals, was given to Jesus.
“What does this mean?” They wondered. We wonder. Standing at the foot of the cross, we encounter Jesus in a new way. He is not the teacher or prophet or miracle-worker. He does not do what we want him to do. He performs no miracles or feats of strength. His closest followers have deserted him. He is pained, strained, and humiliated. And he breathes his last breath.
All for us.
It’s at the cross we have to decide who Jesus is.
The cross is where Jesus seems to be a failure, where he doesn’t seem to be the powerful God we thought he was. The cross is the place where hope dies and all we have done to make God into our own image is stripped away. It’s where we come face-to-face with our finality and limitedness. It’s where we are tempted to turn away. But the cross is also where true love is revealed, the ultimate gift: the laying down of one’s life for another. The cross is the site where victory begins without us even knowing it yet. The cross gives us the fullest insight into the heart of God that breaks for the brokenness of humanity, and it’s the instrument that redeems that very brokenness to bring about our restoration.
It's Good Friday—where our encounter with Jesus means we must encounter the cross.
On Today's Road:What cross have you encountered that has caused you to doubt God’s power? How does the cross impact who you believe Jesus to be? Today, take some time to imagine what it was like to stand at the foot of the cross. Take a moment to reflect on the sacrificial love of God, no matter where you are standing.