Jesus' crucifixion, His death, the excruciatingly long Saturday, His bodily resurrection and some unspecified moment of return all say "why would I follow Him?" If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John pitched this on Shark Tank, there would be no hope of venture capital from Mr. Wonderful.
We can't buy enduring relief or purchase His grace at Wal-Mart or Niemen Marcus. We can't earn equity in our father's house; we can't rent or buy a condo in the City of God. We can't get an Uber to glory. In Heaven, we can't claim a larger stake than those around us. There are no gated communities, huts or favelas in New Jerusalem. No matter how hard marketers work, Jesus' suffering on the cross, His death, and resurrection on God's terms cannot be made practical or popular.
The crucifixion says that bad things will happen to good people. In fact, the worst things will happen to the best people. We could live a perfect sinless life, having never cursed or hurt anyone. And we can be stripped naked, beaten mercilessly, insulted by enemies and friends, and ultimately nailed and hung on a piece of wood where our wrists and shoulders will dislocate, we will suffocate slowly—and we will die. Yes, we die. None of this makes sense.
Our present culture is in relentless pursuit of personal fulfillment, happiness, and as little discomfort, awkwardness and pain as possible. Our world is more and more like an elaborate video game where we are sole actors in a world that revolves around what we do. And everything and everyone we encounter is something to be acquired or avoided.
The Gospel of Me and Mine is antithetical to who Jesus was, is and will always be. His kingdom is not the United States, Great Britain, Brazil, China or Nigeria. His Kingdom is not capitalist, socialist, communist, democracratic or some mix of Marx, Smith, and Franklin. The Gospel of Jesus is not primarily about economic prosperity, financial security or personal and familial success. In fact, the best advice and wisdom that we have to offer to one another is foolishness to God. The best deeds that we have done are worse than dirty rags compared to the righteousness of Christ.
This goes against the narrative propagated by Hip Hop culture, reality TV, and the Ivy League. It offends and alienates everyone equally. It stands in opposition to the safety and assurance sought by parents of every race, ethnicity and background on this planet.
The Passion of Christ and His death is nothing like what our culture has invited us to strive for because Christ invites us to suffer and die.
Now if that isn't bad enough, after Jesus dies, there is no immediate relief. There is no Ashton Kutcher to say Mary and all of humanity just got elaborately punk'd. There is no Kevin Hart or Will Farrell for comic relief, no Mariah Carey with an epic choir to sing us out of lament, no MLK or George Whitfield to inspire us to persevere.
There is quaking, darkness, pain and abandonment. There is grief, despair and loneliness. The disillusionment and confusion is overpowering. How can we trust a God who died, who didn't defeat the Romans, but just died? Imagine the stone being rolled onto the tomb and the questions inside the disciples spilling out. What are we supposed to do now? We trusted that he has all power yet, when they spit on him, he said nothing. He said he could command angels, yet when they came to arrest him, he did nothing. If this Jesus won't save himself, then how can he save me?
The day Jesus laid down his life and the following day were the longest hours in world history. Jesus set a precedent that we would have to wait for him. There would be no drive-thru for instant salvation gratification. There is no preferred customer lounge where we can sit before the train to Zion arrives. There is no first-class or priority boarding before we are caught up in the air. There is no kiosk to enter our rewards number to skip the line. We must wait with our brothers and sisters of every race, ethnicity, class and status, groaning with all of creation.
This is a horrible strategy for the beginning of a movement. If Jesus had gone to college and then seminary, no pastor or leader would have given this advice. No business school would have advised him to leave without a trusted succession plan in place and adequate resources. If Apple said that the new iPhone would be out someday, no one would show up outside the store. If you tried to sign in on Facebook and there was an unknown waiting period, you would never come back. The worst word you can read on the door of your favorite restaurant during lunch is "be back soon".
And then, we get Mary. She goes to the place where Jesus is laid and all that she waited for came true. Jesus is no longer just a Rabbi (teacher), but the risen Savior. She was faithful in her devotion, trusted in the promises of God and became the witness who testified to the rest of the world that He is risen! Hallelujah! Not a military man of high rank, not a wealthy connected merchant, not even a disciple, but a woman who is not even capable of owning land or testifying in court. Jesus again confounds conventional wisdom, turns the world on its head and raises the powerless to a prominent position in his Kingdom.
The heart of the Gospel is not that we won't suffer but that we will overcome our suffering through Christ Jesus. It is not that we will earn our way to God but that Jesus has paid the way for us. It is not fundamentally about our merit or connections, but whether or not we have an intimate relationship with Jesus who gives us unmerited favor before the Father. Jesus says that yes we will die, but if we believe in him we will be raised from the dead.
Mary was willing to wait upon the hope that does not disappoint and she was rewarded with the presence of the Lord. I hope we all want to be counted among the few who are willing to wait as well. Lord, let it be so.