The human heart is prone to long for heroes capable of leading their people out of difficulty and into prosperity. Unfortunately, storybooks aside, heroes are far and few between. By the time Jesus was born, the people of Israel had begun to long for a real-life hero they referred to as the Messiah (or the Christ). Their longing was informed to some degree by their prophets who wrote of a Messiah who would one day proclaim liberty to the oppressed and free people in bondage (e.g. Isaiah 61:1). But their hopes were also fueled by the circumstances of their day, their personal longings and desires and the religious leaders among them who shaped understandings about God and his people. As a result, expectations for the Messiah were deeply skewed by the time of Jesus’ arrival, which meant that Jesus would need to clarify what God expected of this real-life hero.
In the Gospel of Luke, immediately after Jesus’ followers realize that he was the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus began to spell out in detail what the Messiah was sent to accomplish. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
Surely his statement was scandalous and perhaps even disappointing to many who heard it. No one had ever conceived of a hero who was willing to suffer and endure rejection, let alone death. On the contrary, the Messiah was supposed to ascend gloriously to prominence like all great heroes. His rise to power would be so meteoric that he would soon overwhelm religious naysayers and secular authorities. Indeed, under the Messiah’s rule even the Emperor of Rome would kneel in submission. But a crucified and humiliated Messiah? That was not the kind of hero anyone expected.
So, why did Jesus insist on following a path that led to humiliation, shame and rejection? Why did he speak of suffering instead of triumph and of death rather than peace and prosperity? The answer is rather straightforward. He recognized that the deepest need of the human soul cannot be met by all the power, pleasures and wealth of Rome or any other earthly empire. As creatures created to know and love God, humans desperately need to be in right relationship with him. Since broken, self-centered people are not in right relation to God, Jesus chose to do precisely what was necessary to restore relationship and liberate those in bondage to sin and death. He became the greatest of all heroes by laying down his perfect life in place of our broken and disordered lives, which proved to be a perfect sacrifice in the eyes of God.
All who are willing to draw near to the Father now find acceptance on the basis of this amazing act of love accomplished by an unexpected hero on an old Roman cross. Although storybook heroes typically avoid suffering and shame, Jesus chose an alternative route. By doing so he not only emerged as the hero of his own story. He changed the stories of countless others as well.
By grace alone, Jason Hiles
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