If Jesus really was Israel’s rightful King, if he really had been wrongfully crucified, if he really was the second person of the Trinity – why did he not snap his fingers, come down from the cross, and destroy his enemies with a thunderbolt? I asked this question once, to a Sunday School class – and some 8 year old kid had a brilliant theological answer: ‘What was it,’ I asked, ‘that KEPT Jesus on the cross’?
‘Mostly, it was the nails!’
It was a great answer! Jesus was fully human and you cannot be fully human whilst having supernatural powers in your back pocket.
And yet, the disciples had seen something more than just a human being in the person of Jesus. They had seen Jesus himself as the fulfilment of God’s covenant purposes for Israel. Those who followed Jesus were mostly Galileans who were crippled by a grotesque taxation system that kept them on the brink of poverty. Every year they watched farmsteads being swallowed up by debt collectors, and families who had farmed the land for generations sold into poverty. Every time there was a protest it was brutally crushed. Cold, hard imperial brutality – had the final word, and the God who had given them the Promised Land, and promised to reward their covenant faithfulness, and led them to believe that the created order was infused with justice… Where was he?
Many of them had dared to believe he was present, here and now, in the person of Jesus! And now he hung there on the cross.
And so ended all hope that the universe was a fair place, and that there was anything more to human life than the machinations of human power games.
And so ended belief in a God who loved his people and had promised to be present with them.
And so ended belief that anything Jesus had said could be trusted –
that love could overcome power,
that forgiveness had any real effect in real life,
that grace – was anything other than a delusional fairy tale.
If Jesus stays on the cross, the God of Israel is defeated.
The creator of heaven and earth is humiliated and destroyed, by three 7 inch nails.