Contrasts at the Cross (John 19:17-30)

small__6337078108We were to paint an elevator full of people but instead I painted only two, a priest and a punk. The art teacher was impressed with my work, though the truth was I had missed the first class and therefore the instructions! I stuck with two people just to save time and figured it might be fun to make them a wee bit different. With the crucifixion of Jesus John paints some contrasts for us, for example:

There is a contrast between guilt and innocence. In verse 18 we are introduced to two thieves, who though possibly not deserving a cross, were guilty men. And we can think of the string of guilty men who were responsible for this moment: Judas, the Chief Priests, Pilate and so on. In fact the Bible affirms that you and I also are guilty “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus, however, is innocent, not just of the trumped up charges leading to his crucifixion, but innocent of any charge of sin whatsoever. The guilt of those surrounding Jesus contrasts with His innocence.

There is a contrast between perception and truth. In verses 19-22 the perception of the chief priests contrasted with the truth which was ironically told by Pilate. Posted above Jesus was the title written by Pilate, “King of the Jews.” Pilate meant it as a joke and a jab at the Jews, but it was and still is true. The chief priests were unimpressed and demanded that the title read “He said he was the King of the Jews. The faulty perception of the chief priests contrasts sharply with the truth as spoken by unwitting Pilate. And this contrast between perception and truth regarding the identity of Jesus has echoed down through history and can be heard today.

There is a contrast between selfishness and selflessness. Imagine being called upon to execute people through execution. As we read verses 23-24 we learn that seemingly the Roman soldiers took it in stride as they divided up between themselves all the clothing that Jesus had left and even played games to see who would get the best part. Sadly, we can still be blind to tragedy and injustice while we play games for self gain. Contrasting to this selfishness is Jesus, who was being selfless in the very act of giving His life on the cross for our benefit.

There is a a contrast between violence and compassion. Crucifixion is one of the most brutal forms of execution known. What a contrast Jesus provides in verses 26-27 when, under the torment of crucifixion, he took care of his mother by placing her into John’s care. The selflessness of Jesus contrasts sharply with the Roman soldiers.

There is a contrast between incomplete and completed work. The Jewish authorities sought to get rid of Jesus. He is still very much around. The Roman soldiers were tasked with killing Jesus. He is still very much alive! Contrasting with this is the competed work of Jesus who sought by His death to reconcile God’s people to God. “It is finished” He said in verse 30. It is finished.

There is a contrast between taking and giving life. The cross was a means of execution, of taking life. But in the hands of God, the cross was a means of giving life. According to verse 30, Jesus “gave up his spirit,” so while the Romans think they have taken Jesus’ life, the truth is Jesus gave His life. Throughout history humans have had a propensity to take life and we have become far more efficient at it. What a contrast with Jesus who gave His life and so gave life.

So what does this have to do with us? There are three contrasts for us to consider.

First, is your life a study in contrasts? If you and I have picked up our crosses and and are following Jesus, we can expect to see sharp contrasts with the surrounding world because of that. Being surrounded by grudges, are we forgiving? Being surrounded by despair, are we hopeful? Being surrounded by hatred, are we loving? Being surrounded by apathy, are we caring and compassionate? If we pick up our cross and follow then our lives will be a study in contrasts for the cross is a place of contrasts.

Second, there is a great contrast between you and God, even greater by far than between the priest and the punk that I painted. The priest could become a punk. The punk could become a priest. We, however, could never on our own measure up to the glory of God. Thankfully, God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, at the cross in Jesus Christ.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
(2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NRSV)

Have you been reconciled to God? I hope and pray your response does not contrast sharply with His loving invitation.

photo credit: Lies Thru a Lens  via photopin cc

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