We follow a crucified Messiah. We follow a crucified Messiah. I know we know this intellectually. I know we know and preach and teach this. Its basic Sunday School stuff, right? "Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again on the third day and if you believe in him, you'll have eternal life." But, do we really know this--is it a defining, framing, all-encompassing reality for the way we view life?
A crucified Messiah is well and good when we want our sins forgiven, but not so nice when we want our life to proceed comfortably... predictably... safely. A crucified Messiah is a wonderful thing when we want to escape eternal hellfire, but not so fabulous when our we're called to follow... take up our cross... obey... even when our present life is in shambles. Do you know what I mean?
Over the past couple years I have been gradually awakening to the fact that the crucified Messiah I trust in for salvation is the same one I follow in discipleship. That is to say, I don't simply affirm the reality of the death of Jesus as a fact of my salvation, but I embrace it as both a window into understanding God and a practical way of life--a path to follow after. Here's what I mean.
The reality of our crucified Messiah tells us that God is mysterious, unfathomable, and eternally dense. Who or what is this God who would unite with human flesh, walk the earth, suffer at the hands of sinful men, and experience a tortuous death? Who or what is this God who embraces his enemies and accepts humiliation? Surely not a God that I can understand.
And, this lack of understanding, this confusion about the workings of God, is a major aspect of the real Christian life, is it not? The truth is, things don't always happen for a reason. Not everything works out in the end. And, sometimes horrible things happen and nothing necessarily "good" comes from it. Mothers get pancreatic cancer. Children die. Jobs are lost (along with houses and families and hope). Good pastors suffer at the hands of carnivorous churches. What are we to do with the truth that the Christian life is not a life that's safe and easy and comfortable?
As I have dealt with this issue, I have often felt like Moses standing before Mount Sinai. The ground quakes beneath me as God descends and acrid smoke fills the air. Everyone on the ground below me cowers in terror. This God is fearsome, radically free, and furious with love and justice. What would it feel like to draw near to a God like this? I've also felt like the disciples traveling with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Slowly, it dawns on me that he really believes what he says about suffering and dying and that he actually intends to go through with it. This God is frightening, unpredictable, and dangerous. What does it mean for me to follow the way of a God like this?
It is contrary to everything in my comfortable, safe, Christian American upbringing to draw near to a God who is so intimidating and hazardous. I like to think that my God, my Jesus, is "safe and fun for the whole family." But, whatever this God is that I imagine--this God who guarantees a job, a house, a complacent way of life--it is not the God of Jesus Christ. It is not the crucified God.
And so, I'm back where I started. We follow a crucified Messiah. And, he requires us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Sometimes, the following leads us to mountaintops; often, the following leads us through valleys. In either case, my response is the same. I must follow. Through the fear, the confusion, the sadness, the struggle, the desperation, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the angst--I must follow. I have sold everything to buy the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in a field. I have nothing left to lose. There's simply no other choice.