As I begin to write this post on Good Friday afternoon the clock struck 3:00 . “It is finished” echoes in the air. No need to break Jesus’ legs. His last breath in which he committed himself to his Father is gone. What is left on the cross is a bleeding, leaking corpse.
Those who loved him are sad. And some of them are mad–mad with Jesus and mad with themselves. He dramatically over-promised and drastically under-delivered. His claim of being one with his heavenly Father was bogus. Their Father would never allow himself to be humiliated and crucified by anyone, much less the Romans. It was maddening to be fooled.
Indeed they were fooled! But not by Jesus; they were fooled by their understanding of God. They thought of him primarily in terms of power and glory. The Old Testament made it clear that God was sovereign and in control of all. Turns out there was a biblical reason for their gullibility.
Jesus confused them. His glory was revealed in weakness, vulnerability, and death (Mark 10:37-38). We, like the first followers, might accept his suffering and death since Jesus was totally human (“like his brothers and sisters in every respect” – Hebrews 2:17). But if Jesus is the “exact representation of the Father” (Hebrews 1:3) then he is clearly showing what the Father is truly like. And that is very hard to process or accept. How can the God of the Old Testament be so weak? He may be really hard on those who don’t obey his law but that is far better than having no one in the driver’s seat of the universe from noon to 3:00 on Good Friday.
Over the past couple of years the reality of the crucified Jesus being the image of the invisible God has challenged my thinking in many ways. First, I’ve wondered if it is true. It appears I’ve found an ally in Martin Luther. He was adamant that Christians not have “one kind of Christ” and another “kind of God (Father).” If we do that we “miss the true God who does not will to be found and grasped any place else than in this Christ.” No wonder Jesus told the religious rulers who didn’t like him that they did not know his Father (John 8).
What is the significance of a God who is perfectly revealed in a dying Jesus? One writer summarized it this way, “There is a kind of power in a God who whispers.” Could it be that what our souls really need (but don’t want) is a “smaller” God who does not deliver us from our suffering but is with us in our suffering because he has suffered “in the likeness of sinful flesh?”
Only a God who has become one of us can redeem and heal each of us. Or as Bonhoffer put it, “The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.” We instinctively know this to be true. Parents who have lost a child find what they need from other parents who have experienced the same.
On this Good Friday may we have ears to hear and eyes to see the mystery of a suffering God. It is only such a God who can redeem and renew our fear-filled, shame-laden, and guilt-ridden souls. Our transformation can grow only out of the soil of God’s suffering.