The following is an excerpt from Faithless to Fearless written by David Andersen (1517 Publishing, 2019).
In addition to cultural objections, there is a fundamentally human revulsion against the idea of a crucified God. Jürgen Moltmann makes the case that the idea of God being revealed in the abandonment of Jesus by God on the cross is far from attractive. “What interest can the religious...have in the crucifixion of its God, and his powerlessness and abandonment in absolute death?” The cross is really the irreligious thing in Christian faith that helps explain why Paul acknowledges its folly. Rather than gloss it over, he admits how offensive the claim is that it is the suffering of God in Christ that forms the basis of true faith. Faith in a “crucified God” was, and still is, a contradiction of everything humans think by the term “God.”
It is profoundly unsound to suggest that the cross confirmed their hopes in him; the cross destroyed their hopes.
The ancients would have seen in Jesus’ crucifixion the triumph of death and the Roman state at the hands of the soldiers. Even the disciples fled from the cross. (1) For them, his shameful death was the ultimate rejection of his claim to be the Son of God. It is profoundly unsound to suggest that the cross confirmed their hopes in him; the cross destroyed their hopes. As we will see, they had no concept of a dying Messiah or a bringer of salvation condemned by the law as a blasphemer. Considering their flight, there can be no suggestion that they maintained their faith. Jesus’ death was the ultimate negation of their belief in him, and they ran.
Making things worse, consider this. As Jesus hangs on the cross in agony, having been whipped and humiliated by the soldiers, taunted by bystanders, and insulted by the religious class, he utters, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is not enough that the crucifixion proves Jesus’ failure as a would-be Messiah, but he betrays the fact that he too feels abandoned by God. It matters because on top of proclaiming a dead Messiah, early Christians shook the ancient world by a revolution in the very idea of the term “God.” No small thing, and another reason the Christian message would have fallen flat on its face. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus talked of his oneness with the Father—implying that his rejection on the cross expressed in his dying cry was something that took place between Jesus and his Father, or something that took place between God and God. In other words, his abandonment by the Father took place within God himself. But the idea of God in the crucified Jesus, being abandoned by God, required a revolution in the very concept of God.(2) No one in the ancient world would have dreamed such a thing. Yet from the beginning, Christians claimed that in Jesus, God himself took the fate of sinful humanity—a revolution that would have struck Jew and Gentile alike as absurd.
The challenge for the disciples, however, went further. Jesus’ crucifixion happened outside the gates of Jerusalem with its temple, and thus outside the boundary of Israel, in a desolate place called Golgotha.(3) In fact, it happened on the boundary of human society, where it does not matter if a person is Jew, Gentile, Greek or barbarian, master or servant, man or woman.
The implications were clear: Jesus’ death destroyed the things that distinguished people as educated or uneducated, rich or poor, free or enslaved, black or white, pious or godless. None of these matters because confronted with the cross, all men “are sinners and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). This is the scandal of the “word of the cross.” It is this that made Christian preaching even less palatable to the ancient ear as equally as it does today. The distinctions forming the backbone of the ancient world (and the modern world alike) were eliminated, making the word of the cross then and now a scandal. It demands recognition that we are all under the power of corruption and sinners in solidarity with all others. The cross says that we will be made righteous without any merit on our part, solely by the grace that has come to pass in Jesus Christ. The God of freedom is therefore not recognized by his power and glory in the world but through his helplessness and death in the scandal of Golgotha.
Pause and think about that. None of this flatters the self-aggrandizing human ego that always wants the last word—that always wants praise from others for its self-sufficiency. The cross reduces the ego to ashes, forcing it to acknowledge its helplessness in the helplessness of the crucified Jesus and acknowledge its solidarity with the sin and weakness of others. Try selling that to a species full of itself and its accomplishments. Definitely not a prescription for success, and surely not something anyone would make up if his aim was to deceive for personal gain. Give people something they can relate to, something flattering to the ego, and you’ll have a successful religion. But reduce human effort to ashes and make your God an executed criminal and one would be right in calling you mad, especially in the ancient world. Even now the cross is a scandal, not just for the unbeliever, but also for much of the Christian world when understood in all its radicalness.
To sum it up, we’d do well to remember that Jesus was crucified as a rebel, and proclaiming him as Messiah would have had dangerous consequences. According to the social values of the first century, crucifixion was dishonor and shame. And consider this: if the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God as Christians claimed, then what public opinion held (and still holds) to be lowliest, what the state determined to be disgraceful, is changed into what is supreme. “In that case, the glory of God does not shine on the crowns of the mighty, but on the face of the crucified Christ. The authority of God is then no longer represented directly by those in high positions, the powerful and the rich, but by the outcast Son of Man, who died between two wretches.”(4) That is a tough sell in any culture, and I don’t see any reason to think it would have occurred to the disciples as an attractive narrative had they not been forced into it themselves.
An excerpt from Faithless to Fearless written by David Andersen (1517 Publishing, 2019), pgs 79-81. Used by Permission.