“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.”
Jesus didn’t have much longer to live, and the precious minutes he had left was spent in humiliation. His enemies had gotten the better of him, his followers were powerless to do anything about it. The crucifixion would turn out to be all part of the plan, but no one could see that in the middle of it.
It was the greatest few minutes that Jesus’ opponents ever had. They taunted him. Insulted him. Used his execution as proof that he’d been a liar all along.
“If you were the Son of God, then God would save you.”
It was a direct assault upon Jesus’ own identity–and it wasn’t the first time he’d heard it.
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is baptized by John and hears this message from heaven: “You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Following this momentous encounter, Jesus entered the wilderness, where he went through a series of trials that were all designed to test what he’d just heard.
“If you were the Son of God … then you’d turn these rocks into food.”
“If you were the Son of God … then you could throw yourself in danger and God would save you.”
Satan’s lies were more powerful than we often acknowledge. They have a hint of biblical truth to them, even if they were being distorted. Didn’t God promise His people that He would save them from danger? Hadn’t He fed His people in the wilderness and described abundance as a sign of his blessing? (Plus, what was so wrong with having a meal?)
But they weren’t divine promises. They were devilish arrows, aimed at Jesus’ own heart. “If you were the Son of God,” they all seemed to say, “then why is your life like this?” It’s the same lie Jesus heard from the cross, this time from people who had supported his execution because they thought they were upholding biblical values by doing so.
If you were the Son of God, they yelled, then why are you on a cross?
Christians have long seen the crucifixion not as a tragedy but as a victory. It is in this moment that Jesus disarmed the spiritual forces of evil. It’s in this moment that he using his own blood to make a new agreement between God and mankind: not only would they be forgiven of their evil deeds but they would also be transformed into new people. (The prophet Jeremiah put it this way: “the law would be written in their hearts.”)
When Jesus suffered for our sins, he also went through a crisis of identity.
The devil never gets tired of throwing that stone.
The Beloved had to struggle with the possibility that he wasn’t. The Son of God had to continue to trust in his God in spite of every circumstance, through every agonizing moment.
And he demanded that his followers pick up a cross and do the same.
There are several things Jesus could have–and likely did mean–when he told us to deny ourselves and take up a cross and follow him. It would mean losing one’s life for the Gospel. It would mean being an enemy of the empire. It would mean being ridiculed and derided by the popular religious leaders of the day.
It would also mean going through our own crisis of identity and questioning our faith.
Carrying a cross means there’s going to come a moment when you question everything about yourself and your faith. This may be part of what the apostle meant when he wrote that we share in Christ’s sufferings as well as his life.
I’m a son of God, you think. Why is this happening to me?
I’m a daughter of God, you reason. Why isn’t He showing up like He used to?
This crisis manifests itself in varying degrees to different people. For some, it’s a medical or financial crisis. For others, it’s a loss of dear relationships. For others, it’s unemployment. For many of us, it’s the eventual crisis of faith that every saint has to face.
I used to have more doubts than I do, and I don’t mean the small type. I mean the type of doubts that get you to question where God even exists and if the Resurrection happened. These are the type of doubts in which you start to hate Him a little bit because there are passages in Scripture in which a literal interpretation makes Him out to be a monster. How could the enemy-loving Jesus worship the same God who ordered the slaughter of Canaanite babies?
I used to think these doubts could either lead to stronger faith or atheism.
I didn’t realize that they are what carrying a cross means.
I didn’t realize that when people shared their darkest questions about the faith, they were showing me what it looks like to be a saint.