"I have never really understood the crucifixion. I mean, yeah, on a superficial level I get it – Jesus dies and we all get a golden ticket, hallelujah, amen. But I can recognize that there are much deeper things going on, yet they are so beyond my own character that I don’t know how to really comprehend them. Here is a line from Romans that exemplifies what I mean: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:10).
In John’s gospel, we see Jesus calling his disciples “friends,” and he says this, “greater love has no man than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). That makes sense to me. I get why Jesus would let himself be crucified for John and Peter and Thomas – he knew them, they were friends who maybe hadn’t gotten everything right, but they had served alongside him, eaten with him, traveled with him, drank with him. He loved them and knew them and was willing to die for them because they were his friends.
But Jesus also died for me, and he did it while I was still an enemy.
Previously in my life, I have been openly hostile to Jesus and his people. I distinctly remember how in high school, there was this Christian girl who was trying to be nice to me. She was very much a fundamentalist, and, while she was trying to be kind, I was disinterested in her facts and formulas. That in itself is perhaps not wrong, because while I believe her relationship with Jesus is indeed genuine, I don’t know that talking theology at nonbelievers is especially useful. If that’s where this had stopped, I wouldn’t call this a story of enemies. But that’s not where it stopped.
My life back then was unusually difficult, and in this interaction, I saw opportunity. I deliberately twisted her words and repeated the story to most of my friends as though she had condemned me and told me I was going to hell. While I was myself something of a pariah, nobody likes a judgmental religious zealot, and so suddenly, other people were accusing her of this thing that she never really did and siding in my defense. Basically, I slandered someone who was awkwardly trying to tell me about Jesus, and got her in trouble to boost my own status. And of course what you do to Jesus’ people, you do to Jesus.
There are plenty of other hostile things I have done towards him. I once defaced a hotel bible in Ontario by tearing out pages and drawing vulgar pictures on them, mostly because I wanted to show my friends how unafraid of God I was. I could list many more things I’ve said or done against him, but that’s not really the point.
The point is that despite my enmity, Jesus died for me. Willingly.
And it wasn’t an easy death, either. It’s not like Jesus quietly suffocated in his sleep for me. Jesus let himself be beaten, lacerated, worn down with the labor of dragging the cross to Golgotha, and then he was spiked to it in the hot sun. He died with his mom watching. And he did this for his enemies. I know that he did this, but it’s so beyond my own character that I have trouble understanding how he could be so gracious.
Maybe he saw that our hostility is born out of hurt. My past evils were largely based out of a place of insecurity, of not knowing how to feel safe or loved or valued or free. Maybe that’s why Jesus was willing to die for me, maybe he saw that I was ignorant and injured. Maybe mercy is just who he is. Maybe there are reasons we can’t even understand.
Whatever the case, Jesus not only died a bloody painful for me, he reached out to me. I didn’t dance my way into Christianity, nor was I born into it. Instead, he came looking for me. And he did it more than once, because the first time I met him, I ran with him for a little while, but then I let other people fill my life with human laws and worries to a point that I couldn’t even recognize him anymore. Then, after years of atheism, some dabbling in paganism, and an explicit rejection of him, he came back to rescue me a second time. How crazy is that? Not only was he willing to make peace with me after I attacked him and his friends, but he deliberately sought me out. Twice! Who else does that?
And it doesn’t end there. It gets better. I was his enemy. I antagonized his friends. At times, I quite eloquently argued against the credibility of his character or against even the existence of a Creator. Yet Jesus died for me, he reconciled me with a Creator who I thought didn’t exist, and then he filled my life with the same Spirit that raised him from the dead. I have access to… well, to omnipotence. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not claiming that I’m omnipotent. But logically, if my spirit has been merged with his Spirit, and that Spirit is the same one who performs miracles, then he has given me at least the ability to talk to someone who can do absolutely anything. So its not like I can walk outside and make the sun stop in the sky, but I live with one who can. That’s so crazy I’m a little afraid to even say it.
What a sacrifice he made. He died, and I, though I had lived in bitterness, I found an entirely different life waiting for me, though I did nothing to deserve such a gift. Even now, every week, I find he is chiseling away some old damaged part of me and replacing it with something better, reshaping and restoring who I am. All because he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross (Phil 2:8). And after he paid such a sacrifice, he came alive again. He seeks us out, forgives us, and then gives us everything. I don’t even know what words could possibly describe that kind of mercy and generosity, because everything I try to say about it sounds cheap next to the majesty of what it really is, or more properly, of who he really is. Hallelujah that he is who he is, and hallelujah that he was willing to die that I might live. And hallelujah that he lives again and that someday I will get to thank him face to face."
- Andrew Monteith/The Anchor Fellowship