The mood among them was sombre to say the least. Passover was meant to be a celebration of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, but all this talk of Him going away without them was hitting them like a bucket of cold water. Now His conversation had turned again to the Father and the One He called the Helper, but this was not what they wanted to hear. They wanted Him to reassure them that anywhere He went, they could go too. How could He even think of leaving them at this time when the authorities were becoming more menacing by the hour?
And why would He go away now? The crowds grew larger every day. His miraculous signs, even to the raising of a man dead and already buried, were the talk of all Israel. Yet here He was telling them He was leaving them ‘for a while’. Furtive glances exchanged between them expressing alarm and confusion. Peter, always the spokesman, argued: “Lord, why can’t I follow You now? I’ll lay down my life for You!” But Jesus’ response that Peter would deny Him three times before sunrise quickly shocked him into an unusual silence. Each one now secretly wrestled with their own tormenting fears. (John 13, 14, 15)
How would you or I have responded to the frightening events of that dramatic Passover night in Israel? Had we spent up to three years with Jesus, travelling, ministering, crowd controlling alongside Him, would we have reacted any differently to these disciples? How would we have dealt with the sense of abandonment, deflation and even rejection that naturally rise in the human heart under such circumstances? With the benefit of hindsight and the scriptures, we can easily look back at these followers of Christ and muse condescendingly over their obvious lack of valour and fearlessness.
But that obvious lack of valour and fearlessness is the precise reason Jesus called them in the first place. Jesus never chose these guys because of their noble characters. He didn’t walk along the beach one day and say: “I’ll have him because he’ll never let me down and that one because people will like him.” Like the rest of us, the twelve were ordinary, inconsistent, dysfunctional human beings.
The raw material God works with is weakness, foolishness, and ordinariness (1 Cor. 1:26-29). Jesus chose the twelve for their deficiencies, not their strengths. Jesus could work with their human flaws and failings. What He couldn’t work with was human goodness, human strength, or human morality. He needed something He could mould, just as Adam had been moulded from the ordinary, common dirt of the earth.
And the reason God chooses the foolish, the weak and the common above the wise, the strong and the elite, is simple. It’s so ‘no flesh can boast in His presence’. Peter boasted he had the moral strength to die with Jesus. How painfully, only hours later, did his weakness confront him! But that excruciating experience was the beginning of Peter’s own crucifixion, for every bit of human strength within him had to go to the Cross (Matt. 26:74,75).
Paul, an exemplary religious scholar with impeccable credentials, needed to be reduced to fumbling around in the dark, being led by the hand and seeking the prayer of a despised Christian, so that the futility of his human strength might be revealed. Like Peter, Paul’s boasting in his heritage, scriptural knowledge, and strict adherence to the Law could not stand in the presence of God. The man who later wrote “I am crucified with Christ” had learned something about the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.
Why don’t we get this? What is it we don’t understand about the incompatibility of human strength and Christ following? The current push for Christians either to ‘man up’ or become more ‘excellent’ wives is a case in point. Apparently men will be better Christians, husbands, fathers and leaders if they just stop appearing….well, weak. Evidently if men will simply take up their call to godly manhood everyone else will fall in line. For their part, married women shouldn’t even think about relaxing until they’ve reached that pinnacle of perfection provided for them by Mrs. Proverbs 31. If only they will strive to maintain a joyful, happy home life, rear perfect children and never ever commit the cardinal sin of ‘letting themselves go’, then, and only then, will they be fulfilled as women, pleasing their husbands, their churches and most of all their God.
Let’s unpack this theory a little. Peter should obviously have heeded Jesus’s words about his inability to die with Him as a warning that he needed to ‘man up’. Maybe that’s exactly what Peter was thinking when later that evening he grabbed a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus apparently didn’t understand that Peter was simply stepping into his manly role of defender and protector when He rebuked him and attached the servant’s ear back where it belonged. (Mat. 26:51-54; Lk. 22:51; Jn. 18:10)
Or let’s look at Mary of Bethany. Sitting at the feet of Jesus while her sister Martha did the Proverbs 31 thing shows she didn’t know how a godly woman is supposed to behave. With the room full of men surely she should have been focusing more on demonstrating what great potential ‘wife material’ she was than wasting time listening to things that would never help her in her God-given role as joyful homemaker. Again, Jesus obviously got it wrong when He commended Mary for choosing a better path in life than her sister (Lk. 10:38-42).
As far as I can see there’s actually nowhere in the gospels where Jesus encourages anyone to ‘man up’ or ‘be a better wife’ or whatever would have been the cultural equivalent of the day. Not once does he admonish either a male or female for not fulfilling their perceived masculine or feminine roles. He does, however, say an awful lot about taking up our cross and following His lead. And while He often encouraged people to ‘fear not’, it was always in relation to their faith in Him.
Well, here’s the good news. You’ve been crucified.
Yep, CRU-CI-FIED. Got it?
Christ’s redemption means He is delivering us from the need to fit anyone else’s definition of who we should be. We are in the process of being moulded into Christ’s own image (Rom. 8:29).
You were crucified!
Where were you when Jesus found you? In whatever place He found you, you were weak and you were foolish. You weren’t attractive to Him for your courage, high mindedness, talents or any other human strength you could offer. He was drawn to you because you had potential and the potential was your weakness. He embraced that messy, common clay of your dysfunctional life and took it to the Cross with Him.
You were crucified!
The Holy Spirit then began His unique work of conforming you to the image of Christ. But somewhere along the way man-made religion started whispering what a better Christian you could be if you’d just try harder to be this, that or the other thing. You were presented with images intended to show you just what that “better” Christian looks like. After all there’s a multi-million dollar Christian movie and book industry out there adept at creating such images for us by appealing to our valid emotional needs for acceptance and respect.
And so pretty soon there’s another image you’re being moulded into: the better you, the nobler you, the braver, more beautiful, more excellent image of you that someone else says will make you more acceptable to God and to other people.
But you were crucified!
Friends, don’t be deceived. At best this is Christian role playing, and it’s a substitute for Christ living His life through us. The truth is this: your only strength is your weakness, your only hope is Christ’s grace and only in clinging solely to the living Christ can you function as the new creation that you now are (Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 12:10).
You were crucified!
All your strength, all your talent, all your goodness remains nailed to that Cross. When He rose, you rose in Him. God is not interested in you becoming your more excellent self. He’s fiercely intent on His Son Jesus Christ fully possessing you so that it’s His courage, His beauty, His risen life that lives in you, and nothing of your human efforts at all.
We don’t need more movies, books or conferences spurring us on to becoming the man or woman we were supposedly destined to be. We don’t need pledges, vows or other ‘feel good’ rituals. Christ died to set us free from such practices. And we don’t need more preachers telling us how to ‘man up’ or be ‘more excellent’ examples of womanhood. We just need Christ, and Him crucified.
Your destiny is the Cross. Your future is utter dependence on who Christ is in you. You are being moulded, piece by piece into the image of the One who Himself was crucified in weakness and now lives by the power of God (2 Cor. 13:4). There is nothing you can bring with you, and there is nothing you can become to better please God. The greatest destiny that awaits you, man, woman or child, is becoming a surrendered vessel through which Christ’s risen life can flow.
Thanks be to God, you were crucified!
©Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reblog or reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact the author for permission.