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The Hidden Passion of Jesus

by Brian Flewelling on March 28, 2023

Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life” (Matthew 20:17-18).

Next week is Easter week. The short three-year ministry of Jesus is one blistering account of miracles and momentum: wonders never seen before, teachings flipping the world order on its head, people bursting into the kingdom and others being thrown out of the kingdom, hair-raising exorcisms, raising dead people to life, wonderfully tender moments with children, and healing broken people. Yet, despite the momentum, Jesus predicted his own mortifying death three times in Matthew's gospel. His momentous sprint pinnacled not as a race to the top but as a plunge to the bottom. Not by sitting on David's throne in Jerusalem, but by hanging from a Roman cross—expelled as it were—outside the city.

The Terrible Cross

In one sense, the cross is entirely fitting. The itinerate preacher who existed outside the establishment, and stirred the rabble and beatniks into revolution, was finally crushed by the establishment. But in another sense, this is all very strange. The Roman cross was so brutal, so grotesque, utterly shocking, and painful that it was reserved for the worst enemies of the state (i.e., Roman citizens were not crucified). Why is the righteous prophet hanging on a Roman cross? What a strange way to die for a man who didn't carry a sword.

Quietly and underhandedly, something happened, and everything was shifting off balance. Under the Roman iron fist and the stogy religious leaders, something unexplainable had taken place. The rug had been pulled out from under the powers. Jesus' secret ambition was far greater than overthrowing another regime, taking control of another empire, conquering more land, owning another city, building another business, or winning another election. His secret ambition was to set people free from the greed of these things. To reunite his Father's kingdom by removing the greatest obstacle: the diseased "will" of each person. Jesus possessed the cure to the prejudice and jealousy that began world wars. He wanted to backfill the ego-heart with God and not with more good intentions. He wanted to transform the human heart into a storehouse of love and union with the Father.

As he legally testified under oath to Pilate, his kingdom is "not of this world." It's a kingdom where the misfits get in ahead of the royal families, lawbreakers get in ahead of the rule-keepers, and criminals make it in before law-abiding citizens. How is that fair? It seems a misrepresentation of justice.  

Ruined Without Him

The cross leveled the playing field. The cross existed to show us that no matter how high we strive or low we stoop, we're all lost. This is where independence from the Father leads, both the good and evil perish without God. Both end up in the same ruin: separation from the Life Giver. 

There will be no bargaining or barging into the kingdom by merit or status. It is by invitation only to those humble enough to surrender. To enter, I can no longer cling to my exceptional credentials, status, or behavior. I get to keep none of me. I only get to keep him. The cross gives us no way back to the Father except by dying to self. 

The cross is the terrific inversion of everything in the world, a world perverted by sin, now turned right-side up. The cross puts us all on our left foot, out of our egotism and into our weakness. It forces us into painful surrender. Only through God's love are we made strong. Only in Christ are we made eternal and rich in love.

This week, I invite you to gaze again at the cross. It is terrifying. It is unsettling. It shows us the extreme consequence of our separation from God that we've been ignoring.

But Jesus dying on the cross is also his immeasurable love and demonstration that God is not above us pointing the finger down at us. He is not demanding a payment he is not willing to provide. He stepped into the path of the oncoming train and paid for the bankruptcy of our sins. What a fearsome thing to behold—the cross. I'll never understand just what it cost him.

Thank you, Jesus. Again and again, Thank You. Teach me to take up my cross and follow you. Reconnect me to a loving reunion with my Father in heaven. That was your secret passion from the beginning.

Tags: love, sin, cross, gospel, father, sacrifice, suffering, death, self, eternal life, crucifixion, rejected, sinful nature, costly

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