I just finished reading in Matthew 26-28 the account of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. It struck me how I was reading the pinnacle of drama in all of history. No betrayal will ever be so stunning as Judas’s, no denial will every be so shameful as Peter’s, no miscarriage of justice will ever be so repulsive. And yet, it is ever so easy to read the account like it is a children’s story, seeing the same old characters doing the same old things, with the same old death, and the same old underwhelming resurrection. It’s like watching a movie when you know what the radical plot twist is going to be.
We are urgently warned by our professors, pastors, and parents never to let the Gospel grow old. To find the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. The Gospel rests squarely on the cross, and if the cross is old then the Gospel will be to. Friends betray. Friends abandon. Suicide is committed. Justice miscarries. Torture occurs. Execution falls. God forsakes. It is finished. Curtains are torn. Tears are shed. A body is buried. The guard is posted at pain of death. An earthquake occurs. An angel appears. God rises from the dead. Is this common? Is this old?
I was talking with Gunner yesterday about New Tribes missions and their methodology for evangelism. When a missionary has finally learned the language, they don’t share the Gospel right away. They start from Genesis 1:1 and slowly unfold God’s redemptive plan. From the blackness of the Old Testament prophets the promise of a Messiah appears. And then the Messiah comes! He teaches, he heals, he promises life! And then he is betrayed and killed. The tribe doesn’t expect Jesus to die. They have no idea this is coming. I’ve seen on video their reactions. Natives are grabbing spears, running around, screaming. They’re ready to go to war and kill those who killed their Messiah.
But then, then comes hope. Then comes life. The missionaries ring the town bell calling everyone to a meeting. They’re met by somber faces and downcast eyes. Maybe Jesus wasn’t real. Why did the missionaries tell them this sad story? To quote from the Gettys, “There in the ground His body lay, light of the world by darkness slain. Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again!” Even more surprising than the crucifixion is the resurrection. The Messiah, the man who was a great teacher and was supposed to set up a kingdom on earth but was betrayed and killed conquers death. If death can’t stop your leader, then following Him is not a hard decision.
If you’ve never seen an entire village erupt into pandemonium, go pick up a New Tribes video. Dancing, singing, chanting, wild celebration. All over the risen Messiah. Later comes the doctrine, the teaching from the epistles. But at that moment, Jesus needs to be celebrated.
The brief descriptive titles in my Bible don’t do it justice. “Peter’s Denials” “Judas’s Remorse” “Jesus is Mocked” Judas sells the Son of Godfor 30 pieces of silver. He knows what he is doing. He hates God so much that he’s willing to kill the Messiah. Peter makes a wild last stand on a hill, valiantly protecting His Lord in the face of an overwhelming opposing force. Jesus stands before the High Priest and the only words He utters are the ones which will condemn Him. Peter, who moments before was willing to die, says “let me be damned if I know Him.” Peter sees his Messiah look at him, and weeps bitterly. Judas’s conscience tortures him, but rather then repent he takes his own life. Jesus is beaten again and again and again and again and again by scoffing Roman guards. On the cross He cries out “Why have You forsaken me?” and later “It is finished.” The sin of the world was taken away in that moment. But death could not contain Him, and he burst forth in glorious day. In that moment, life was given to man. Sins taken away. Life given.
My fear is that we so often forget what really happened that day. The story is old and tired when you don’t realize how much God hates sin and how unworthy of grace you really are. The story is old and tired when you don’t realize that God poured out His wrath for you onto Jesus. We don’t need to dance around or have wild parties into the night whenever we read the Gospel. But it must not be thought of as an old, tired story.