From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
Matthew 27:45-46 (NIV).
Christ’s death is the tragedy at the heart of the Christian faith. As we read the Scriptures we see that Christ suffered the humiliation and shame of being stripped naked, flogged, spat on, struck in the face, garlanded with thorns, bullied, mocked and finally nailed to a cross and crucified. It’s an appalling story. Christ is the victim of religious thuggery, political jockeying, and military bullying.
There’s more to the narrative concerning Jesus’ death than what first meets the eye. Yes Jesus was a victim. But He was a willing victim. In accordance with His Father’s will He subjected Himself to a mockery of a trial, to the brutal beating at the hands of Pilate’s and Herod’s guards, and to the jeers and catcalls of the spectators lining the road as He staggered up the hill under the burden of the cross. And more, He allowed the steel spikes to be driven through His wrists and ankles when He was fastened to the cross. Amazingly, because it was completely in His power to resist, Christ chose to subject Himself to the agony and ignominy of the cross.
It’s astounding, isn’t it? Christ is the Word of God, the life and light of the world (John 1:1). “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3 (NIV). And yet remarkably, on that dark Friday more than two thousand years ago, Christ demonstrates extraordinary restraint. He allows His creation to crucify their Creator! With every lash of the whip and every fibrous crunch of fist against flesh, Christ could have called a halt. With one word, He could have brought His ordeal to an end. With one word, He could have summoned legion upon legion of angels to come to His assistance. With one word, He could have wiped out every one of His antagonists. But He didn’t, and He wouldn’t, because Christ chose to be the victim. He chose to give up his spirit (cf. Matthew 27:50).
This is the good news! The death of Christ on that bleak hillside was the God of history working out His plan to reconcile the world to Himself in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The people at the foot of the cross couldn’t see this. But we know the rest of the story. We know that Christ chose to be our sacrificial lamb. He chose to be the once for all sacrifice for our sin, chose to endure the suffering of the cross, chose to take upon Himself the sins of the world, and chose to face death.
Words are inadequate to describe what Christ chose to do. Yes He was a victim – but he was a willing victim. The death of Christ was not in vain. He gave up His life for the greatest cause of all – to bring together sinful man with a holy God.