Christ in the Crucible. Why is the story of the dying and rising God, Jesus Christ, the true one and ultimately more powerful one, than the story of the conquering king?
Note: The best resource for studying this lesson would be a synopsis of the four Gospels that presents the material from each of the Gospels in parallel form.
Jesus’ understanding of his mission contrasted dramatically with the “popular” view of the Messiah. One of the more pointed modern reminders of that reality comes from C. S. Lewis:
My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. (A Grief Observed 4:15)
The five aspects of Jesus’ mission and ministry noted below can help us focus on what it meant for Jesus to be in the “crucible” of his earthly experience. Each of these aspects can be looked at from at least three perspectives:
- Jesus as the Savior of the world.
- Jesus as an earthly example for us.
- Jesus as on-going guide and helper to his children through the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus’ birth and childhood (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2): To what extent was Jesus the odd-man out during his early years? Is there any biblical evidence for how he related to his peers and to ordinary people during those early years?
- Learning the message and mission of the suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53): Given the fact that the overwhelming expectation was a conquering king as the Messiah, do we have any evidence from Scripture that would illumine the process by which Jesus came to apply Isaiah’s “servant” passages to himself, especially Isaiah 53?
- Rejection by the people. At the close of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records the amazed approval of the people who heard Jesus preach: “The crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28). After the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus’ refusal to be crowned king (Matt. 14; Mark 6, Luke 9; John 6), popular attitudes began to sour. The most pointed discussions are found in the following passages: John 6:60-71; Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21. During his ministry, not only the people in general but also the disciples themselves were blind to the true nature of Jesus mission. Is there a parallel today in our failure to capture Jesus’ vision of the true nature of his kingdom?
- Rejection by the Father. The last chapters of each of the Gospels (Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19) describe the events of passion week. There we learn not only of the rejection by the people, but also of Jesus’ separation from his father, both in Gethsemane and on the cross. Is the separation of Jesus from his father significant only in terms of our salvation, or does it also illumine the “crucible” events that may come to Jesus’ followers at crucial points in our experience?
- Exaltation by the Father. Probably the most striking description of Jesus’ “emptying” and self-denial, followed by his exaltation, is found in Philippians 2:1-11. To what extent does Jesus’ experience constitute an example for us? If Jesus’ self-emptying is an example for us, and that seems quite clear (vs. 5: “let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”), how does Jesus’ exaltation (vs. 9-11) relate to the experience of the believer?