A Barely Believable Story // Death, Resurrection and Forgiveness

Reflections from the Gospel of John.

I ponder if the believability of Jesus’ death and resurrection has less to do with his living again, and more to do with his forgiveness.

If Jesus was so brutally murdered by the Roman state, handed over by the religious authorities of his people, how could he ever express forgiveness? As Professor Mary Boys of Union Theological Seminary (Source) puts it: “Crucifixion functioned as a state sanctioned punishment to terrorize and pacify the population for Roman rule.” It was not pleasant, and it is not to be made light of. It was cruel and public, it was a humiliation that startled on-lookers.

Yet, we see Jesus sentenced to this fate saved for those who must be made examples of. We see his blamelessness under the law here in John’s account of the Passion. Here Annas, father-law-law of the high priest Caiphas questions Jesus:

Annas (to Jesus): Who are Your disciples, and what do You teach?

Jesus: I have spoken in public where the world can hear, always teaching in the synagogue and in the temple where the Jewish people gather. I have never spoken in secret. So why would you need to interrogate Me? Many have heard Me teach. Why don’t you question them? They know what I have taught.

While Jesus offered His response, an officer standing nearby struck Jesus with his hand.

Officer: Is that how You speak to the high priest?

Jesus: If I have spoken incorrectly, why don’t you point out the untruths that I speak? Why do you hit Me if what I have said is correct?

(The Voice, John 18)

Jesus is placed in a power struggle between the Jewish religious authorities of the day and the Roman governor Pilate. Sent before one man and then the next, he, an innocent man, is eventually sacrificed to the jealous and vengeful will of the high priest and his people. Manipulating Pilate with a political agenda they are able to sentence Jesus to death under Roman law, where Jewish law will not permit. We then see the gentile Pilate “washing his hands” of the incident, in full awareness of Jesus’ innocence.

Persecuted by the men who were meant to be leading Israel in a life of devotion to God’s will and law, and wrongfully executed by an oppressive foreign state, Jesus died on the cross in a manner of shame, naked and in agony. When he returns to life in three days, a surprising affair to even his closest friends, he speaks of peace of mission. He presses his friends to share the lessons he had taught them before his crucifixion, and to care for his people’s, to shepherd a movement (John 21).

Jesus, in an unbelievable move, rose from his painful death to speak of peace and forgiveness. He rose from a shameful death to send his closest friends out amongst the people who had unknowingly taken part in a system that saw the death of an innocent man. He sent them out even to those who were his persecutors, the Jewish authorities of the day. It is not his death, though scandalous, which is so unbelievable, or even that a man could wake up from his death, but that he could send his closest friends out on a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I am happy to put aside my skepticism and accept Christ’s death and resurrection, it isn’t always easy, but I see and feel the remainder of both. I find it much harder to believe a man could extend love and forgiveness like that–a barely believable story.