Easter is one of my favorite holidays. For as long as I could remember, I would wake up to the smell of breakfast casserole and the sound of the Easter Song by Keith Green blaring through the house. To this day, I still play the song every Easter for nostalgia’s sake and because I absolutely love it.
I also love the Easter story because I feel like there is something new revealed every time I read it. And this year, that “something new” was revealed through a single thought running through my mind during my church’s Good Friday service last week: I would have saved myself.
In Matthew 27:39-43, we read about the crucifixion. And instead of glazing over the verses that describe the reactions of the crowd as Jesus hung on the cross, I zeroed in on them. Maybe it’s because I’m in a season where I’m particularly tempted to people-please (even more than usual). Or maybe it’s because I’m a naturally super defensive person. Whatever the reason, the taunting of the crowds – and Jesus’s wherewithal to not give in to their taunting – made me view the concept of humility in a new, Easter light.
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” – Matthew 27:39-43
As I heard those verses read aloud during the Good Friday service, I found myself thinking how I would have saved myself in that moment, as they tempted Jesus to do. Yes, in part (okay, a lot in part) to avoid the excruciating pain and agony. But when I was honest with myself, I realized I would have also saved myself because of my pride.
Jesus, in his humility, not only endured the pain of the cross but the scorn of the people. I’ve always placed emphasis on the physical side of the Easter story, because how could you not when you’re talking about something as brutal as crucifixion? But this year, I also looked deeper into the emotional side. The mockery, the sarcasm, the derision that Jesus experienced is something I hadn’t grappled with before. They weren’t just murdering him – they were questioning and mocking the very essence of who he was.
When someone questions me (be it something I say, a choice I’ve made, a belief I hold, etc.) my immediate response is one of defense. When someone tells me I can’t do something, my first thought is “watch me.” I don’t like being questioned or challenged, and I know a big part of that is due to my pride. I don’t like being told what I can or can’t do (do any of us really?)
My stubbornness would have wanted to prove who I was to the mockers, to make them pay for what they had said, to show them up. Jesus did the opposite. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7
Silent in the face of mockery. Silent in the face of lies, of questions, of ridicule. As a reactive individual, that simply astounds me. So, if there’s one new lesson I’ve gleaned from the Easter story this year, it’s one of humility. That we don’t always have to defend who we are when others question it. That we don’t have to prove ourselves to others when we already have the approval of God. That there is a time to speak up (we did see Jesus do plenty of that during his time on earth) and a time to be silent. That defending our pride in the Good Friday moment doesn’t lead to the kind of Easter Sunday grace we so desperately need.
I realized that the hope of Easter Sunday first requires the humility of Good Friday.
One thing I know is that if Jesus had saved himself on that Good Friday, he would not have saved me. If he had defended who he was, he would not have been able to once and for all show who he was to the world. If he had cared more about what the world thought, he would not have become the Savior of the world. I am so overwhelmingly grateful for the humility he displayed because without it, I don’t know where we’d be. And it is this display of humility, even in the face of death, that I pray would motivate me to seek to display more humility in my own life.
“His agony was the basis for the simplicity of our salvation. The Cross of Christ was a triumph for the Son of Man. It was not only a sign that our Lord had triumphed, but that He had triumphed to save the human race. Because of what the Son of Man went through, every human being has been provided with a way of access into the very presence of God.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest