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BY Mark Shea
“came down from heaven,” it was not simply to be born in Bethlehem.
came further and further down, to poverty, rejection, pain, betrayal, death,
and, finally, to the depths of the grave through crucifixion, the very worst
form of death hell ever invented.
is no abyss he has not seen, no depth he has not plumbed.
first movement of that descent begins in a place where many of us encounter
hell: in a bureaucracy. Pilate had a long résumé of accomplishments in the
Roman bureaucracy and had led a life of Distinguished Public Service. If
Barbara Walters had asked him, “What will you be remembered for?,” he probably
would have given her the usual blah-blah. It would have ended with the normal
faux humility we expect from “public servants”: “I’m not perfect. But I’m sure
I’ll be remembered for doing the best darn job I know how.”
so he is remembered — every day, in every language of the world: “crucified
under Pontius Pilate.” There are only two mortals mentioned in the creed: Mary
and Pilate. These image the only two destinies we mortals ultimately can
ambiguity in describing the trial before Pilate is striking.
when it looks like Jesus is the victim, John reminds us that, by God’s
mysterious providence, he is calling the shots.
tells his disciples he has power to lay down his life and power to take it up
again. He offers judgments of his judge Pontius Pilate. He is clothed in royal
purple and a crown of thorns by people who have no idea he is really and truly
entering in his reign by these tokens of his passion.
Passion itself is more than simply the expiration of Christ.
involves not simply the stopping of Jesus’ heart, but the breaking of it. For
his own unfathomable reasons, Our Lord willed that he suffer, not
simply die in his bed at a ripe old age. We shall never be able to really
comprehend this: We can only receive it.
by his stripes, we are healed.
when the moment comes for his death, it comes not because of some accident of
myocardial rupture, but because Jesus chose that moment to “give up his
Spirit.” In that willed and chosen act, Jesus gives up his Spirit to the Father
for us, making us sharers in his Spirit.
seal on this promise of the Spirit is the Resurrection. Many people complain of
the Resurrection as a crass, crude, physical ending to the Gospels. Such people
prefer a Jesus who rose spiritually and lives on in the hearts of Nice People
Everywhere — which is to say: They prefer him dead. The thing is, as Peter
Kreeft has noted, resurrection is a crass, crude, physical thing because death
is a crass, crude, physical thing. That’s why he was buried and did not fade
into the mist like Yoda or Obi-Wan.
world thought it was burying a corpse. God knew we were burying a seed that
would sprout on the third day.
the third day? Jesus hints at a possible explanation, when he calls his
resurrection a fulfillment of “the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
three-day adventure in the belly of the whale was a sign to the hard of heart
that they were hard of heart. The inference about our fallen race is not
a flattering one.
When people speak of Jesus
“fulfilling” the Scripture, they often have in mind the notion that the Old
Testament has a series of Nostradamus-like “messianic
predictions.” According to this scenario, all the attentive first-century Jew
had to do was follow Jesus around with his Messianic Prophecy Checklist and
say, “If this guy is Messiah, then according to the Checklist, his mother will
be a virgin, he will heal the sick, cleanse the Temple, and die and rise from
But, of course, nobody was expecting
anything of the sort. And the reason is simple: People didn’t see Jesus
fulfilling the Scripture until after he did so. It
was a case of 20/20 hindsight.
With a Great Collective Apostolic
Forehead Smack, the early Church looked at the life of Christ and only realized
after it was all over that he was hidden in plain view in the Old Testament —
and they had not seen it. That was why the risen Christ had to practically rub
the disciples’ noses in their own Bibles on the Emmaus Road and interpret to
them in all the Scriptures “the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
This means that the Resurrection —
though a wonder we never expected and a startling reversal which suddenly turns
tragedy to joy — is also what all things have been about all along.
Newer than a newborn and older than
the universe is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Mark Shea is the content editor