Why is there now so much, and so strong, opposition to standard Christian teachings? Examples are regularly in the news, including several in the last week. Why is it that people today hate the Christian message so much that they want to eliminate it from the public sphere? Why is it that if you even express sympathy with Christian doctrines then in the opinion of many your voice must be silenced and you are not welcome to play a role in civil society?
The answer to that question is: Good Friday. For the crucifixion of Jesus was the response of humanity to our maker.
It is perhaps easy to approach the account of Jesus’ sufferings as a tragic tale in which we are expected to sympathise with the innocent victim of injustice; even perhaps to respond with anger towards the evil perpetrators of this terrible miscarriage of justice. But the gospels will not let us do that. Partly because they do not present Jesus as a tragic victim of circumstance – quite the opposite, he remains the one holding the initiative all the way through all the passion narratives – but also because of how they force us to see ourselves. For all the gospels present the crucifixion as a grand conspiracy of all of humanity against Christ.
For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel… (Acts 4:27)
As we read the gospels, whoever we are, we find ourselves aligned with one or other of the groups that joined together to kill him. The pagans Romans and the religious Jews, those inside his circle and those outside… they all failed him, they all were responsible, they are all guilty. And so we all failed him, we are all responsible, we are all guilty.
The awful truth is, when God came to earth, all the inhabitants of the earth gathered together to kill him. We all gathered together to kill him.
Why? Because that is what we have been trying to do from the Garden of Eden onwards. Eating the fruit was an attempt to kill God, to assert our independence of him, to refuse to allow him to be God. And so when he became man and walked among us, and displayed his spotless purity for all to see, and when he stated plainly what he, as our God, demands of us, and when he told us that he is the one who will judge the world according to God’s laws, we simply could not tolerate it. How dare anyone seek to claim that kind of authority over us? How dare God claim that kind of authority over us? How dare he impinge on our freedom, limit our autonomy, demand our submission, threaten to judge us? That is an outrage. Crucify him. We will not have such things said among us, and those who say them cannot be tolerated.
So it should not surprise us at all that saying that Jesus is Lord, or upholding any of the implications of that, brings such fury down upon the heads of any Christian that dares say so. That is simply the Good Friday instinct on repeat. But we must take care how we respond.
Christians need to remember three things. First, they must not respond with righteous anger. We must remember that when the crowd in Jerusalem cried out ‘His blood be on us and our children’, that includes us. We are no different by nature. Good Friday demands that we all confess the terrible darkness of our own hearts. It was our cries that condemned our Lord. Good Friday must bring us to our knees in confession of our complicity in the death of our Lord.
Second, we must respond with humble gratitude that Jesus, knowing that, went to his death in full knowledge that the people for whose sins he was dying were the ones calling for his blood. We love him today because he loved us on that day. We only grieve for our sins now because he suffered for them then. If we no longer hate him for his authority over us, it is because in his mercy he has softened our hard hearts and turned them towards him.
Third, we should not be angry at it at those who are angry at Jesus. But rather, we should follow our Lord in being willing to suffer unjustly, knowing that this itself is what God uses to grow Jesus’ Kingdom. We must make sure that our responses are loving and measured; not backing down one iota in our proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and that he is the one whom God has appointed to judge the living and the dead, but speaking of this with humility and reverent fear and with loving urgency as we call others to be saved as we are privileged to have been.
And finally, a word to any reading this who still feel the rage. Who find the message that God will judge us for our actions, including for some (even many) which we consider perfectly acceptable, to be an outrage which well justifies anger and exclusion. You are not doing anything new. You are simply joining in what all humanity (Christians included) did on Good Friday. We all either do or did react that way to him. You will succeed in silencing Jesus no more than we all succeeded on that day. But the glorious news is, Jesus allowed us to do it, for people like you – for people like all of us – so that we need not be condemned for what we did that day, much though we deserve it. He calls you now to drop your resistance, and to bow before him and worship him, whom God has made both Lord and Christ.