“He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” – one of many taunts that were spat at Jesus while he hung dying on a cross more than 2000 years ago.
Limp. Parched. Bleeding. Hurting.
The notice describing the charge and basis for Jesus’ death penalty read: “The King of the Jews”. He was the king of an oppressed people, living under the merciless Roman occupation. They mocked him because, what kind of king bows to death?
Here was a self-proclaimed king who not only accepted an unfair death sentence but willingly and humbly permitted the torture.
When I think of the great warriors and kings of history – Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, Richard the Lionheart, the gladiator Spartacus, Genghis Khan – none approached leadership as Jesus did. As far as my limited command of history recalls, not one of the great warriors, leaders and kings of old took their army to the frontline of the battlefield and suddenly cried, “Stop!” and, “I’ll take it from here.”
None turned their army back to take on the enemy singlehanded; one man against his immense foe. In war there is an accepted advantage in a critical mass of fierce warriors. Less so when the king walks to the frontline and proffers his head, as Jesus did.
Who is greater?
During the Last Supper Jesus gathered his nearest and dearest, his nerves buzzing with the knowledge of his impending death. The disciples began bickering about who was the greatest. Impeccable timing, fellas!
Jesus said, “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:26-27)
This was not a new concept. Jesus taught, “the first will be last and the last will be first” messages throughout his ministry. He had the presence of a king but stooped to wash the dirt-crusted feet of his disciples saying, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15)
Imagine the Queen is coming for tea and, instead of taking the seat at the head of your table, she dons an apron and a bowl of water and starts scrubbing at your toenails. I think I wouldn’t be the only one mortified.
But this is the kind of leader Jesus was and is. His life extricated Christianity from senseless laws and traditions to show the very nature of God – who serves us to show the extent of His love.
As Jesus hung on the cross and malice was hurled at his crumpled body, he knew their eyes would be opened. In the Gospels we read of the centurion’s response to Jesus’ death – the Roman commander standing at the crucifix.
“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”” (Mark 15:39).
Remember, this was a hardened heart, a cynic and a God-doubter (an atheist), who saw Jesus’ sacrifice and was challenged.
I daresay there are many who view Easter through the centurion’s initial lens of scathing apathy. But what he witnessed could not be denied.
My challenge in the lead up to Easter is that you allow the Servant King’s selfless act of salvation, his death on the cross, to open your eyes too.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday March 30, 2015.