We know the scene well. For many of us, we have seen it play out in the theaters of our imaginations, on the not-so-dramatic felt cloth boards of children’s Sunday School and on the big screens of Hollywood productions. Props from the scene are regular parts of our church’s liturgy. They adorn the exterior of our gathering place in symbol and pervade the corporate gathering itself in song and sermon. The cross of Jesus’ crucifixion for very good reason lies at the epicenter of the church’s life and liturgy. What happened on the cross is worthy of ten thousand times the ten thousand songs written in wounded wonder and happy helplessness from the shadow of the cross. Indeed, the fruit that grows up in a moment upon a gaze at the cross is paradoxical that way—both leveling us in the dust of humility and raising us up in the heights of joy. Therefore, we should be alarmed when our familiarity with the cross degrades our response before our King to pity. There is no humble heart that stands before the cross and merely pities the crucified King.
What happened on the cross is worthy of ten thousand times the ten thousand songs written in wounded wonder and happy helplessness from the shadow of the cross.
Jesus does not want our pity. He loathes self-righteous pity that would so arrogantly guise as humility. I fear our approach to Jesus is far more pitiful than humble. Before we dismiss ourselves from this accusation, a clarification is in order. The kind of pity that is unfitting in response to the cross is one that reduces Jesus to collateral damage in the just war for our salvation. For example, we can quickly be moved to pity by the death of unknown soldiers overseas, but there are great limits to our pity. We may ceremoniously pay tribute or in a moment of silence pause and pay our respects, but we will never be transformed as long as the death of unknown soldiers is nothing more to us than a necessary means of our possessing the freedom that we believe is inherently ours. There is no cost too lofty, no consequence too catastrophic that would loosen our prideful grip on those things of which we think ourselves deserving. When we believe we merit something, we will only ever pity the even tragic means that achieve that deserved end. And the fundamental flaw revealed here is magnified infinitely when it manifests in our approach to Jesus.
When we believe we merit something, we will only ever pity the even tragic means that achieve that deserved end.
When we approach the cross of Christ with no sense of guilt, no sense of the horror of our sin, when we approach the cross of Christ with dry eyes and unmoved heart, when we approach the cross of Christ and do not stagger at the scandalous scene of the innocent Son of God bearing the iniquity of the sinful sons of men, we are guilty of merely pitying Jesus. When we leave the cross of Christ with crippling guilt, horrified by our failure, when we leave the cross of Christ with downcast eyes and troubled heart, when we leave the cross of Christ and are not enraptured with joy inexpressible remembering that the Son of God has done for the sons of men what we could not and would not do for ourselves, we are guilty of merely pitying Jesus. We have reduced Jesus on the cross to an icon that we approach in joyless ceremony and obligated ritual. We come and pay our respects with gratitude in our hearts only for Jesus securing what we either feel we deserve or could obtain with little help. And we leave unchanged because Jesus merely accomplished the end of which we are inherently deserving. A little pity is sufficient to placate the hungry guilt of our condescending self-righteousness.
When we know we have come to possess that which we do not merit, such grace will forbid our transgression into pity for Jesus and will guide us from the dust of humble repentance into the skies of enraptured delight in Jesus.
Jesus does not want our pity. He is not strengthened or honored by it. Jesus is not a dog left out in the rain that benefits from our piteous attempts to rescue and shelter him. Jesus is God. This declaration is so familiar that the sharp edges of its profundity have dulled and no longer strike our ears and pierce our hearts. Yet the central distinction of our Christian faith is this proclamation—Jesus is God. The One crucified is the One Son of God become man. The One who is subjected to the condemnation of man is the One who judges man. The One stricken as sinner is the One vindicated as eternal King. The One who dies is the One who defeats death. The One who seems to need our rescue is the only One who can rescue us. Jesus does not want our pity. He deserves our worship. He deserves the worship that arises from blessed brokenness, from happy humility. Such worship will transform us because we know well the condemnation justly due us from God and have become well acquainted with the redemption undeservedly won us by God. When we know we have come to possess that which we do not merit, such grace will forbid our transgression into pity for Jesus and will guide us from the dust of humble repentance into the skies of enraptured delight in Jesus.