Written by Josh DeVries
Not long ago my wife and I decided to watch a documentary about the infamous Ted Bundy. He’s a figure we had only heard about in passing and, being no strangers to true crime shows, we thought we would give it a try.
We were quickly drawn in with equal parts fascination and horror to the story of how a seemingly friendly and charismatic man went on one of the worst crime sprees in U.S. history. But the moment that struck me the most was what happened long after Ted had been caught and had spent years in imprisonment. It was the day leading up to his execution.
Television crews had arrived from across the country. Thousands of people lined the streets outside the prison. They had been waiting for hours, holding up signs, selling shirts, setting off fireworks, chanting “Burn, Bundy, Burn!”. And when the officials finally walked out of the prison in the early morning to signal Ted’s death, the crowd erupted in deafening cheers. They were revelling in the death of this notorious criminal.
I understood it. Ted had committed heinous crimes. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the ugliness of the jeering crowd.
Then it hit me–this is what happened to Jesus.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
That image of the jeering crowd has stayed with me during this season of Lent. Somehow it opened up the gravity of the crucifixion for me in a new way. Just as with Ted Bundy, Jesus’ accusers wanted him tortured, they wanted him dead. Dead for claiming to be God’s Son, dead for claiming to be the fulfillment of all their hopes, dead for promising them life and peace, dead for claiming to be their healer and King.
How is it that Jesus was put to death with the same animosity as was felt toward a notorious murderer? How is it that we turned against him the way we turn against the Ted Bundy’s of the world, since he came to offer life and peace, and eternal union with God?
I’ve been a Christian since I was a child and grew up with the crucifixion story. Because of this, my imaginary picture of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion has always been from the viewpoint of an onlooker sympathetic to Jesus’ cause. And yet, when I look back at my own spiritual journey, I can easily see how I have often resented the intrusion of God on my life and ‘freedom’. Very often I have not wanted a King to rule over me, nor the type of life that he offers. Very often I have drawn a line in the sand that places me on the side of ‘basically good people’, meanwhile projecting all my own sins on those I consider sinners of a greater degree and deserving of true wrath. I can see myself in the ugliness of that crowd, yelling, “Crucify him!”
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
Jesus knew how he would be rejected by each one of us, and he came nonetheless. Why would he, the King of Righteousness, subject himself to this rejection, to the worst of our ugliness?
The answer lies in the word “love”, but it is not a kind of love that comes from this world. It is a love that exceeds our understanding and capability. It is a love that turned our most profound rejection of him into the way of our salvation.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
The cross is God’s resounding proclamation that there is nothing that can separate us from His love.
I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears, Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken, The crown of pain to three and thirty years. But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear, And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Savior, Savior of the world, is here.
-From the hymn I Cannot Tell by W. Y. Fullerton