If pondering Jesus’ crucifixion doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you probably aren’t doing it right.
I’m not referring to the gore and humiliation, which makes crucifixion repulsive no matter who the victim is.
Instead, my point has to do with considering the purpose or significance of Jesus’ death. When you scratch at the surface of the claims Christians over the centuries have advanced about the cross -- that in it we glimpse redemptive suffering, faithful obedience even unto death, sacrificial love, etc. -- it doesn’t take long to expose disconcerting questions. How can suffering ever be redemptive? What kind of divine Parent would demand such destructive obedience from a beloved Child? Why might an all-powerful and loving God need a sacrifice in order to express mercy?
Watch the Video: ON Scripture: Jesus Predicts His Death
The questions should spur us to reject simple explanations and should make us entertain more questions, even the uncomfortable ones. Be wary of anyone who comes up with too neat and tidy a theory about exactly how Jesus’ death and resurrection changes the cosmos and God’s disposition toward the world. For good reason the New Testament writings include a spectrum of metaphors, language, and claims to convey the significance of the cross. They guide our reflections on Jesus’ death. But no single one of these, and no single statement, can suffice.
In Mark 9:30-37, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection, one of several times he does so in Mark’s account. On one level, his insights make perfect sense. Jesus certainly knew that those who, like him, assail deep-seated values and powerful people inevitably end up dead. On another level, the mention of his resurrection and the specificity of some of his statements about his death (like in Mark 10:33-34) suggest that the predictions function to reassure the Gospels’ earliest readers that the fate of God’s Messiah couldn’t have been an accident or a defeat. Larger forces, a deeper purpose, must have been at work in it.
It was, in a way, God’s own doing, according to Mark 9:31.
In Mark 9:31, Jesus indicates he “will be delivered into human hands” (translation: CEB), hands that will kill him. This statement doesn’t refer exclusively to Judas, the person who will later hand him over to the authorities; rather, Jesus subtly implies that God initiates the whole process that finally results with him executed on a Roman cross.
This is not to say that God somehow plans, engineers, or revels in Jesus’ being destroyed in a particular way. But it does emphasize that Jesus will become subject to human power -- a power bent, in this case, by self-preserving arrogance. He will do so without the protections afforded him by his prerogatives as God’s emissary.
Jesus will participate in the human condition without any advantage. He will experience some of humanity’s most insidious displays of power, getting to know the worst of our potential up close.
And so the question lingers unanswered through time, waiting for us: Is God really OK with something like this? Couldn’t God’s relinquishment of Jesus be tantamount to moral negligence? After all, this is God we’re talking about. Couldn’t there be a neater, more peaceful solution?