The time had now come when, at last, God would rescue his people, and the whole world, not from mere political enemies, but from evil itself, from the sin which had enslaved them. His death would do what the Temple, with its sacrificial system, had pointed toward but had never actually accomplished. In meeting the fate which was rushing toward him, he would be the place where heaven and earth met, as he hung suspended between the two. He would be the place where God’s future arrived in the present, with the kingdom of God celebrating its triumph over the kingdoms of the world by refusing to join in their spiral of violence. He would love his enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile. He would act out, finally, his own interpretation of the ancient prophecies which spoke to him of a suffering Messiah.
The next hours were tragic and brutal. Jesus wrestled in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the darkness which he felt caving in upon him while he waited for arrest. The chief priests did what one might have been expected: carried out a quick, quasi-legal procedure—enough to frame a charge of seditious talk against the Temple and ultimately of blasphemy. This could be conveniently translated, for the benefit of the Roman governor, into a charge of sedition against Rome. The Roman governor was weak and indecisive; the priests were manipulative. Jesus went to his death on a charge of which he was innocent—actual rebellion against Rome—but of which most of his contemporaries were guilty, at least in intention. Barabbas, a rebel leader, went free in his stead. A centurion, looking up at his thousandth victim, saw and heard something he hadn’t expected and muttered that maybe this man was God’s Son after all.
The meaning of the story is found in every detail, as well as in the broad narrative. The pain and tears of all the years were met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation.
Nothing in all the history of paganism comes anywhere near this combination of event, intention, and meaning. Nothing in Judaism had prepared for it, except in puzzling, shadowy prophecy. The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the King of the Jews, the bearer of Israel’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns.
Christianity is based on the belief that it was and is the latter.
N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 110-111.