“Christianity is unique. The world’s religions have certain traits in common, but until the gospel of Jesus Christ burst upon the Mediterranean world, no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man.” These are the powerful words that begin Fleming Rutledge’s behemoth work, “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.” I’ve been reading this book with a couple of other pastors for the past several months, and this reading has driven me to an even deeper appreciation and understanding of the importance of Good Friday, the day when we celebrate the crucifixion. But you might wonder - why would one do that? We celebrate the crucifixion because it’s good for those who are overwhelmed with the injustice of the world. It’s good for those frustrated with themselves for their own consistent personal failures. It’s good for those who are in the midst of suffering.
Rutledge has a subsection titled “Where’s the outrage?” in which she shows how the crucifixion fulfills a longing in our hearts for justice in an unjust world. She writes, “A slogan of our time is ‘Where’s the outrage?’ It has been applied to everything from Big Pharma’s market manipulation to CEOs’ astronomical wealth to police officers’ stonewalling...Why has the gap between rich and poor become so huge? Why are so many mentally ill people slipping through the cracks? Why does gun violence continue to be a hallmark of American Culture? Why are there so many innocent people on death row? Why are our prisons filled with such a preponderance of black and Hispanic men?” She responds to these questions by answering it clearly, “Where is the outrage? It is God’s own; it is the wrath of God against all that stands against his redemptive purpose. It is not an emotion; it is God’s righteous activity in setting right what is wrong. It is God’s intervention on behalf of those who cannot help themselves.” This is what we see in the day we call Good Friday: God’s wrath against the injustice of the world as God begins to set the world right by defeating death in the body of the Son, Jesus Christ.
In another section she quotes T.S. Eliot from the play, The Cocktail Party, “Half of the harm that is done in this world // Is due to people who want to feel important. // They don’t mean to do harm - but the harm does not interest them. // Or they do not see it, or they justify it // Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle // To think well of themselves.” We spend so much of our lives playing judge over others and ourselves and we always come out lacking. But God, in Christ, has become the Judge, and Christ has allowed himself to be judged in our place. Rutledge says, “The question of worth has been taken out of our hands and decided in our favor.” This is because Christ was judged in our place that we would be free to participate in the joyful life of God.
But what about true, horrific evil? Rutledge brings up the Biblical story of Job. Job was a good man, who had a great family and a great farm with much land, and then one day he lost it all. His children died in a building collapse, all of his animals were either stolen or burned in a fire, and many of his workers were killed as well. Later Job would have boils grow all over his body. The rest of the book of Job is a conversation that Job has with some “friends” about why has this happened, and finally Job cries out to God, “Let the Almighty reply to me!” And God does reply to Job; God replies with his very presence. Rutledge writes, “[The reply] points away from ‘answers’ and ‘explanations.’ Instead, it brings us into the very presence of God.” This is all we have in the face of true evil; that God has replied with himself in his son in his death on the cross for us and for the world, and he promises to never leave us nor forsake us.
We need to see this crucified God again and again so that we would know of this love, this power, this freedom that Christ has wrought for us. If not, “Christian faith would be little more than wishful thinking.” Join us as we experience Good Friday together that the joy may be greater as we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.