Friday, October 16, 2015

At the Foot of the Cross

It seems either odd or overly religious to say that you might meet Jesus at the foot of the Cross. It sounds But there were some very interesting characters who met Him there.

Namely, the Roman guard.

We don't actually know much about the Roman centurions. They are not prominent characters throughout most of the Gospels. In fact, they're not even the police force that arrests Jesus! That was the high priest and his posse, so the Romans are really getting their first look at Jesus when they crucify Him.

It's hard to say how many Jews, if any, were among the Roman guard. Maybe a few would have had the opportunity to encounter Jesus here or there, but the Gospels seem to paint these hard lines around the whole Jesus thing somehow, so that we get the sense He was a cultural phenomenon and not a political one. The Romans, except perhaps for the commotion He caused, could probably have cared less about one Jewish prophet over another. Who is this Jesus? 

Who cares?

We have a good number of these same folks around us right now, and they might even consider themselves sort of a Roman guard. Their primary interest is the protection of the state, or so they say. Aside from the commotion He sometimes causes, they could care less about one prophet over another. Who is this Jesus? they ask. We just don't care. 

But then something happens, and they are charged with crucifying Him. They finally get their hands on Him and get to see up close and in person what this Jesus guy is all about. And they're not particularly impressed. This Jesus, He looks like any other prisoner. He's got the calloused hands of the carpenter. He bears the lineage of a man from Nazareth, from Nowhere. He's weary, exhausted. Sweat drips down His face like anyone else's, and He has that same condemned look in His eyes. He lays on that Cross like any other man.

This is no one special. 

As time passes, however, this Jesus reveals more and more of Himself to the guard. They mock Him, even spitting in His face, and He does not respond. Who is this man? We cannot even mock Him!

They offer Him a sour drink, a tiny favor to wet His dry mouth, and He refuses. Who is this man? His thirst does not bother Him! He will not take our drink!

They preside over His death, watching as the life drains right out of Him before their very eyes. Unprecedented darkness settles over the entire land. They couldn't have predicted this. This man is just a criminal, just a common, nothing man. And at the very moment it seems they have killed Him, the whole earth shakes. All of Jerusalem hears the curtain tearing. The dead walk out of their graves as this man is carried into His. 

And the Roman guard look up and declare, in an awed whisper, Surely, this is the Son of God.

They have met Jesus at the foot of that Cross.

The same is happening to the Roman guard in our modern world. They're finally getting their hands on Jesus, or so it seems, and they are wholly unimpressed. This man, He's just a common man. Look at His hands, at His beard, at His face. Look at the place from where He came. He's a nothing, a nobody. He's weary, exhausted. Sweat drips down His so-called holy face, and He has that same condemned look in His eyes as every other criminal. He lays out before a persecuting world like any other man. 

This is no one special.

They mock Him, only to discover that He cannot be mocked. It is infuriating. What good is our mocking if the man does not respond? 

They offer Him their piddling gifts, a mockery of His thirst, but He does not drink. He would rather be thirsty than pacified. Who is this guy?

They preside over His death, or so they think, watching the life drain out of the Jesus movement right before their very eyes. They're killing this whole "Christian" thing, making it impossible, making it illegal, making it ridiculous. But there's a darkness settling over the land. We're seeing it in violence, in prejudice, in poverty, in a thousand other ways. They couldn't have predicted it. This is just a common man, right? But without Him, we are losing our moral footing. Without Him, we don't know how to live any more. Our covenant is falling apart, and falls into the empty hands of lust, and we don't lust after each other. We don't lust after community. 

And just at the very moment they think they've won, they think they've finally done it and killed it all off, the whole earth shakes. The very foundations of existence tremble. The whole world hears the curtain tearing. The dead walk out of their graves. 

And even these, these who thought they were doing the state a service, those who thought there was nothing special about this man, having now come face-to-face with Him and gotten everything they thought they wanted, have no option but to look up and declare, in an awed whisper, Surely, this is the Son of God.

There is something special about this Man, after all. 

They have finally met Jesus. At just the moment when they thought they were killing Him, He brought them life. 

It happens all the time. It happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. It happened to Lee Strobel when he set out to prove that there was no God. It happens to people who are intent on taking Jesus out of our schools, out of our Congress, out of our communities only to discover that they truly needed Him there. It happened to the Roman guard at the foot of the Cross. And it's still happening there. 

Sometimes, you have to give the people what they want. You have to let them kill Jesus. Because for some, this is the only place they'll ever meet Him - at the foot of the Cross. And it is here, with great authority, that it was shown and confirmed, Truly, this is the Son of God. 

It's an amazing place to meet Jesus. 

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