When Jesus of Nazareth looked out over the crowd before Him and proclaimed: “You are the light of the world”, it wasn’t His words as much as the people to whom He said them that shocked people. Not the religious elite, but the downtrodden, poor, and sick were the apple of God’s eye and His humble witnesses. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”. When He said, “I am the light of the world”, it wasn’t the words… Similar words had been written centuries ago in Isaiah’s prophecy about the Servant who would finally restore Israel, and be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49). It was Jesus’ interpretation of the Kingdom of God which startled a nation waiting on tiptoe for the fulfilment of God’s promises which they knew and lived in. He claimed to be the One all Israel’s past history had pointed to in a big unified story – the King who would usher in the new promised kingdom where God would rule with peace, blessing, favour, wellbeing, health and dwell again with His people. Good news for everyone – liberation, restoration, reconciliation. A new exodus and a new, complete return from exile. Remarkably, Jesus claimed that “the suffering servant” was central to this. These pictures conflicted so much that the minds of even His closest disciples boggled at this talk of suffering. The two images were so incompatible that the whole thing was simply impossible to grasp.
The disciples roughly understood the Messiah part. They knew the entire backstory and lived it, sang it, and celebrated the festivals. Creator God enthroned. The whole universe full of His glory. Promises to Abraham. Freedom from slavery. God revealed Himself to Moses in a cloud and gave the law. God’s manifest glory at Solomon’s temple as a cloud which left again. When Jesus was transfigured before three of His disciples in a cloud, these events, although terrifying, had something familiar about them. Something glorious and messianic – God approving His king. This other talk about suffering jarred. The closer they got to Jerusalem on that last journey, the more frequent became Jesus’ reminders that this really was the plan. He must be betrayed, mocked, flogged, and crucified. On the third day, He would be raised to life. (Matt 20 v 17-19).
And that is exactly how it happened. Evil had been gathering around Jesus, tensions building, darkness brewing. He has aroused evil and drawn it to Himself. Jesus, on His knees in a dark garden, sweating blood, pleads with God that if there is another way… In His deep anguish, He prays in complete surrender to God, “Not my will, but yours.” Jesus does the impossible and puts the fruit of autonomy back on the tree as He chooses the cross. God’s Messiah, His Suffering Servant is lifted up, enthroned on an instrument of torture and crowned with thorns. Set on a hill, the Light of the world has nothing to hide behind. Naked and exposed, Immanuel (God-with-us) takes upon Himself all our guilt, shame, sin, brokenness, infirmity. In Jesus, God shows what love looks like: He stays. Jesus could have ended His suffering and come down from the cross, but God’s promise to redeem His people is a new covenant, made to last in the power of love.
In the temple of Jesus’ body, heaven meets with earth. He is the perfect Son with whom God is pleased. God is intensely present with His people as the Father receives the sacrifice of the Son: His Spirit, given freely, fully surrendered in love. God’s glory is as manifest as we have ever seen it, revealed, yet strangely hidden in plain view. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. Something is fundamentally different afterwards. God gives meaning to Jesus’ meaningless suffering. As God accepts Jesus’ work on the cross, peace with God becomes possible. Jesus said: “It is finished”. He was speaking the truth. We are free.
At the resurrection, God’s new creation begins with Christ. One day, it will be like the 7th day of creation. God will be king, reigning in shalom-peace, unopposed, active in love. We will be like Christ, with glorious new bodies, undivided hearts, and pure spirits, enfolded in that same loving peace, breathing that same Spirit. Until then, the church must carry Jesus to the world, and preach the good news, heal, serve, and make whole the broken. Disciples in every generation look around at each other and asked: “How can we even begin to do this? We’re just people.” The answer is, by becoming and remaining plugged into God.