This past Holy Week, in a Good Friday service to be specific, I was looking at a picture of Christ at his trial, thinking about the issue when the question occurred to me again. Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t He have simply skipped to the end of time, taken the crowds up on their offer and set up His Kingdom, physically, literally right there, right then? No cross needed.
Instinctively, I feel like I need a reason for why the cross was so imperative to our salvation, and I’m not the only one. There are several major theologians who have given time and thought to the question. If God is omnipotent and all loving, then why couldn’t He have saved us without sending His one and only Son through such a horrible experience? I think that one part of the answer may lie in our human freedom. You see, Jesus had to hold off fair weather.
By nature, we humans want to be on the winning side. We live vicariously through our sports teams, athletes, celebrities, and politicians, and we always want to be on the team that wins. In sports we call these people fair-weather fans. They don’t care which city name appears on the jersey just so long as they get to raise a glass with the victors and avoid the long empty losers’ walk home. Fair weather fans can also appear in other areas of life. In politics there are people who will only vote for the candidate they think will win; and there are politicians who will only support the names and causes on which public favor rests. For millennia, military men have been able to count on the favor, and support of their native land – so long as they win. These might be termed fair weather followers: people who live through the victories of their leaders.
Jesus didn’t want any fair weather followers. Jesus wants followers who are there because they love Him, and because they love His mission. He wants followers who will join Him in the hard labor of reconciling the world to God no matter the costs. So He did the one thing that fair weather followers cannot stand. He failed.
To all onlookers, the cross was the epitome of failure. Ask any Jew, Greek or Roman from AD 30 about a cross, and he will tell you. A cross meant defeat; it meant oppression and weakness; it meant you got caught; it meant that you couldn’t cut it; it meant you made enemies of all the wrong people; and if you claimed to be a messiah, a savior of the people, it meant you had failed. The cross was the public failure of a God who didn’t have the decency to fail in private.
But this was part of the design. In going to the cross, God knit failure into the heart of Christianity. Looking back, in hindsight, we can easily overlook the cross, painting over the harsh reds and dark shadows of the crucifixion with the gold, white and purple of Easter. Of course, Easter did happen; and yes, Jesus was victorious, but His victory came through failure. He saved us all by willingly clothing Himself in the tattered habit of defeat. In doing so, He set the precedent that we, as those who have taken His name, must follow. We are to be a people who lead by serving, who are first by being last, who live by dying, and who succeed by failing. Failing for all the world to see.
See, only thing is, though; I’m not ok with that.
I don’t like public failure. I detest looking like a fool in front of other people, and I hate feeling others’ condemnation. But Jesus doesn’t want followers who aren’t willing to share in His defeat. His cross forces me to make a decision: either go to the cross or turn around and walk away. So, I must become ok with wearing the mantle of public defeat, of looking like a failure to the watching world. If I am to share in His success, I must walk with Him through His failure.
So, how can I become ok with this idea? I have an idea. I have several thoughts that have been rolling around in the back of my head for some time. These thoughts are of, I don’t know what to call them, endeavors maybe? They are endeavors that I think I could succeed at, but that I’m too scared to try because I’m afraid of failing. So, over the next 30 days I am going to try some of them. In doing so, I’m facing my fear of public failure, and, hopefully, beginning to move past it. Here are the four endeavors I am going to attempt:
1. This blog – in this blog I’m going to put my thought life in the public eye to see if my ideas resonate with others. I’m committing to one blog a week, on Fridays.
2. Try to write a deep theological book on at a lay reader’s level– it couldn’t possibly be published in a month, but I’ll update you from time to time on how it’s going.
3. Talk with friends about concrete applications for theological ideas of deep and close-knit community, then apply them. I will do this at least twice over the next month.
4. Post audio and/or video on my blog of me performing at least two religious songs that I’ve written.
This may go well, it may go poorly, but one way or another, it will go.
So, what about you? Do you have thoughts rumbling in the corners of your mind? Are you afraid of looking like a failure? To join me, think of at least one or two endeavors that are a) somehow related to the Kingdom of God, and b) things you think you could succeed at but are scared that you won’t. Post your self-challenges in the comments section along with a time-line of when you will attempt them, then post the results when you have them.
If we are to share His name, we must follow His path.