Contemplating Jesus


Posted on by Lucinda M. Vardey

Van Dyke: Crucifixion

While in the desert during their Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites, who had been bitten by poisonous snakes, were instructed to gaze up at the bronze serpent (made and erected by Moses on a pole) in order to live (Numbers 21:6-9).

Jesus’ crucifixion resonates with that ancient event because he identified that “…just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14).

Jesus, who had proclaimed that “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) and foretold by Jeremiah to be appointed by God as “a Prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:10) was also identified by Jeremiah to be, during his last days of suffering, like “an iron pillar and a bronze wall – against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the land”(1:18). Jesus’ strong spirit of iron and bronze enabled his fortitude against the prevailing judgment, condemnation, abandonment and betrayal, he experienced in Jerusalem.   After being nailed to the cross, he was lifted up to die exposed and naked, a seeming spectacle of inordinate shame and scandal.  Over his head – a sign that he was a king, and bearing a crown of thorns – could only be viewed as a bitter irony.

While he hung people looked – some gazed with horror, some with pity, some with jeering, some in silence – but all looked.   Tragic, unjust and cruel, in the hours that followed, the hours when Jesus’ blood dropped upon the ground, when he spoke his last words, when they gave him vinegar on a sponge, when his side was pierced, revealed a slow and painful death poisoned by our fear and hate.  Yet, knowing that this wasn’t the end, that the poison didn’t kill but transform, we can now look at Jesus’ death and see something else – the beginning of the raising, the lifting up, of new possibilities.

Jesus promised in John 12.32 that when he was “lifted up from the earth” he would “draw all people to myself.”  The suffering Christ invites us to raise ourselves from the sting of separation to the peace of unity, from the despair of physical pain to the hope of getting better, from the madness of the crowd to the comforts of the soul.  By gazing on him crucified, we receive healing.  From his absorbing the venom we are unable to bear, we are restored.

Jesus continued elevating himself – and us – through his rising from the dead on the third day, and his Ascension.  As Hosea (6:1-2) pronounced, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

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