The Ironies of the Cross

Luke’s account of the crucifixion narrative is laced with scandalous irony that is meant to help illumine the glorious wonder of our salvation. While there are doubtless other scandals within Luke’s gospel, I pray these seven will humble you before the crucified King.

The One accused of blasphemy is the only true God. In Luke 22.71, the indignant council of chief priests and scribes decry Jesus’ proclamation that He is the Son of Man. Such a declaration, if not true, was blasphemous and was the only evidence needed to condemn to death. But, as Luke is careful to remind the reader in the previous verses, “And they said many other things against [Jesus], blaspheming him.”

The One mocked with fine clothing is the humble King who stripped himself of His majestic splendor. When Jesus stands silent before Herod’s questioning, “Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate” (Luke 23.11). Surely Herod and his soldiers were mocking Jesus’ claim to be king when they arrayed him in splendid clothing and paraded him back to Pilate. But Jesus is indeed King who willingly laid aside his heavenly garments to clothe himself in the humility of a servant.

The One who is Peacemaker and Life-Giver is exchanged for a rebel and murder. Giving into the violent crowds’ demands, Pilate “released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23.24).  The guilty is freed and the innocent is bound. This is the great scandal of the gospel.

The One able to save Himself does not in order to save others. As Jesus is hanging on the cross, “the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One”” (Luke 23.35). Jesus had the power of the Father and legions of angels able to rescue Him. Yet Jesus was constrained, for love of the Father and the joy set before Him, to be crushed for the redemption of others.

The One scoffed as king is King. “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews”” (Luke 23.36-38). Jesus, though jeered as a fool and pretender, is the One who will soon assume all authority in heaven and on earth, the One by whom and through whom and to whom are all things, the King whose kingdom will never ever end.

The One immortal dies. “Then Jesus, calling out in a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23.46). As the old hymn wonders:

‘Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies:

                Who can explore His strange design?

                In vain the firstborn seraph tries

                To sound the depths of love divine

The Immortal, unworthy of and against His nature, takes on mortality and dies. It is indeed mystery and wonder all.

The One who death laid in the tomb is the Defeater of death. Expecting to find Jesus’ body in the tomb, the women who had ventured there instead were met with a question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24.5-6). God raised Jesus up from the dead according to the Scriptures, and thus defeated death once and for all. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1.17-18).

May God be gracious to stir up in our hearts an increased sense of wonder at the great scandal of the cross that is for all those who would believe a rich and eternal salvation.



Note: I owe a debt to D.A. Caron’s Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus for inspiring my own study of the ironies of the crucifixion narrative as recorded in Luke.

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