More than once I have heard the suggestion that Jesus’ trip to the cross is somehow cheapened by the prior knowledge he had of the resurrection. We know he had this prior knowledge because he told his disciples about it before the events took place. On form of this came upon Voices with one person noting this was raised in a small group. “If Jesus got his body back, what did he lose? What did he sacrifice?”
Here was my first response:
I usually turn this question around. If you believe you are getting your body back, or rather getting it seriously upgraded, why are you still clinging to the one you have rather than living in loving recklessness in the relational polarity of the age to come? For example, if you knew the crash of 08 was coming, how fast would you spend down your citibank stock? Why do you cling to your confederate money? The point of the gospel is not to imagine that Jesus’ time on the cross is cheap, but rather to recalibrate our time on the cross.
My second response:
And I’d suggest we have firmer evidence of the truth of the cruciform passage of which jesus was our pioneer so again we have to ask ourselves what our problem is. Jesus was tempted to bypass the cross but gained fellowship with us through it. We hesitate to also pass through because we don’t want fellowship with him that much.
And my third and more lengthy, theological response, incorporating the vocabulary of “age of decay”, and “relational polarity”
The New Testament church saw the resurrection in fact as evidence. NT Wright’s “The Resurrection and the Son of God” basically asserts that the only reasonable explanation for the shape and existence of the New Testament church community was witness to the resurrection. This man Jesus rose again. It was not a resuscitation. He was Jesus, but he was different in a remarkable way and given the backdrop of the Scriptures the explanation for this resurrected Jesus was that he was the first fruits of the general resurrection, that this had begun, that the new age had begun in him.
What the resurrected Jesus then does is ask us to follow him, through the cruciform path of the age of decay. The cruciform path of the age of decay is a result of living the life of God, the relational polarity of the kingdom of God (your wellbeing at my expense, the self-giving dance) within the context of the relational polarity of of the age of decay (my wellbeing at your expense, survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, etc). The motivation for following him is in fact union with God. We were united with him in our baptism, in his death and so we are united with him in his resurrection and exaltation.
When we look at Jesus and say “it’s a cheat because he knew God would raise him” we have to say “yes he knew it” but “no it wasn’t a cheat.”. Jesus faced the judgment of God (the Day of the LORD) on that day on the cross. We can associate that with both active retribution and isolation/abandonment. He was the sacrificial lamb but the only sacrificial lamb who submitted itself willingly because he was the only sacrificial lamb who could understand the value of his sacrifice. Only this unique sacrificial lamb could perceive what he sacrifice would gain, unlike every other sacrificial lamb. That sacrificial lamb was also unique because he understood the “deep magic”, the deep reality of the humility of the creator God himself who understands and embodies love from which the universe was created and is destined for.
The gospel is the revelation of that love and the invitation into its dance. From our perspective of the age of decay it looks queer, backwards, foolish, non-sense. When we look at Jesus and say “oh, he knew that by dying that way he would in fact receive far more than he lost. That cheapens the death.” I think Jesus says “no”. We tell our young people all the time “the path to accomplishment is sacrifice for a greater goal” and if they follow that advice we don’t say “well you only sacrificed in order to gain that prize, that’s cheap!” we say “you were wise, listened to good advice about the way things are and followed it.” Now Jesus comes to us, losing everything in the age of decay and says “follow me, I’ll show you the way out!”. We sit back and don’t follow. Why? Because we don’t believe him. Because we don’t fully trust that he trail-blazed the way out of the age of decay and in fact created the path to the life of God. While he was teaching he explained it all, he laid it all out. On the cross and in the resurrection, he revealed the path and demonstrated it to us, but we still don’t believe him.
Let’s imagine a mountain climber. He says “this is how I’ll climb. you watch. I’ll reach the summit, drop you down the rope, you follow after me. You’ll see that I’ve done it, you’ll see how I did it, and in fact I won’t let you fall.”
So now we’ve watched him but we’re standing down around the face of the rock wall saying “I’m not so sure. You’re only telling us to follow because you made it. You knew you’d make it, that cheapens it.”
To that I ask, “but then why don’t we in fact climb behind him? Do we not want to make it to the summit?” I think our answer is that we don’t 1. want to get to the summit as much as we say we do, 2. we don’t trust he won’t let us fall 3. we’re not sure he’s even really up there so instead of following his path to the summit we try to find other approaches on our own, approaches which from the bottom look promising but which usually wind up in dead ends. When we get to those dead ends then we call out to him and ask him to rescue us, to which he generally repeats himself “follow my approach. I showed you that it ‘works’ in my own resurrected flesh. I won’t let you fall. Follow me! All other approaches are dead ends…” pvk