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Come Down from the Cross and We Will Believe – A Meditation on a “Crucial” Decision by Jesus

March 24, 2016

holy-thursdayOne of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion is the humble reserve He displayed. As God, He had the power to end His suffering and humiliation at any time. He had already reminded Peter, Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt 26:52-54)

As Jesus hung on the cross, Satan and others tempted Him one final time, saying, “Come down from the cross.”

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.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him (Matt 27:39-44).

The temptation is to give in to pride and the desire for power, to do anything but die on the cross. They taunt Jesus by saying that because God is all-powerful, if you really were God, you would have the power to come down and not be overpowered by your enemy.

It is a crafty, worldly temptation. To the worldly-minded, the demand makes sense. In effect, they are saying, “If it’s faith you want from me, you can have it if you’ll just come down from the cross. Then I’ll be impressed; then I’ll believe.” The tempters want to be saved on their own terms.

Why does Jesus stay on the cross? For three reasons, at least.

I. Humility – Jesus is out to overcome Satan. In this world, we seek to overpower our foes. Does it work? No. Usually the cycle of violence just continues; in fact, it often gets worse. We think, “If I can just yell louder, if I can just outwit or outgun my opponent, then I’ll win the day.” Yes, but there’s more to life than just one day. The next day your opponent will return with louder, wittier arguments and with bigger guns. And the cycle of violence goes on; it is is an endless power struggle.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And I would add that here at the cross, pride cannot drive out pride; only humility can do that.

Therefore, although the crowd and Satan try to goad Jesus into a power struggle, the Lord chooses the only weapon that is truly effective against pride: humility. To the devil, humility is like kryptonite!

To our human eyes, it seems that the Lord is defeated. But in His humility, He is doing more damage to Satan than we could ever imagine. He stays on the cross to defeat Satan’s pride through His own profound humility. Jesus does this despite Satan’s desperate attempts to engage His pride and provoke Him into a power struggle.

II. Obedience – It was disobedience that got us into trouble in the first place, and it will be obedience that restores us. Adam said “No,” but Jesus, the New Adam, says “Yes.” It is not the suffering of Jesus itself that saves us; it is His obedience. And Jesus’ suffering is part of that obedience.

Jesus decides to obey His Father, no matter the cost. Isaiah says of Jesus, He suffered because he willed it (Is 53:7).  St. Thomas Aquinas said that if Jesus had suffered and gone to the cross without willing it, we would not be saved. Jesus Himself said, No one takes my life from me, I lay it down freely (Jn 10:18). St. Maximus the Confessor said, “We are saved by the human decision of a divine person.”

Jesus went to the cross and decided to stay on the cross in obedience. And it is by His obedience, by His will to obey, that we are saved.

III. To save me – On a more personal level, we can also see that Jesus decided to stay on the cross to save each one of us. If He had come down, I would not be saved; you would not be saved. We might have been impressed and we might have even had a kind of faith, but it would not have been a saving faith.

Pure and simple, Jesus decided to stay on the cross and to endure mockery, shame, pain, and death, in order to save a poor sinner like me. An old gospel song says,

When Jesus hung on Calvary, people came from miles to see
They said, If you be the Christ, come down and save your life
But Jesus, sweet Jesus, never answered them
For He knew that Satan was tempting
If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost
If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost

He would not come down from the cross just to save himself
He decided to die just to save me.

 

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Comments (7)

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  1. JohnR says:

    Indeed Matt does say that those crucified with him also derided him but Luke:23v39-43 tells us of the good thief who rebuked the other thief and begged Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. And we know that Jesus in return promised him that “this day you will be with me in paradise”. So the two gospel accounts differ in saying what happened! Of course neither Matthew nor Luke were actually present at the crucifixion and had to have got their accounts from other sources.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I am not sure I would say they differ. I think Luke supplies additional information. Perhaps the Good Thief at first derided, but seeing Jesus’ demeanor etc. experienced conversion and repentance.

  2. Lee Morabito says:

    Yes, i think St. Dismas the GOOD Thief, had feelings of remorse & wanted to be saved. & I thank Jesus for that. I also ws drawn to St. Dismas for some reson.maybe i thought he is forgotten until Good Friday. PAX CHRISTI. thanks.

  3. Todd says:

    When you and I are led to a place we can no longer defend those who we are responsible for which the Catechism says can not only be a right but a grave duty (#2265) it is then we are at the highest point our highest potential of doing major damage in this spiritual battle. For it is when we are weak, bed ridden, and cannot move – that we have the greatest potential to help satisfy Christ’s thirst for the salvation of souls. Providing we offer up our sufferings through, with, and in Him – Jesus, The Lord. Redemptive suffering which God wills that we might have a share in, so that we might have a share in His glory. Good Friday always precedes Easter Sunday. That is how I understand it. Also, St. Paul in Collossians says 1: 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

    Some words that jump out here are “way” and “save yourself” – it must happen in this way? – John 14: 6* Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me; save yourself – Luke 17: 33* Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. And Matthew 16: 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus Who is the Way – shows us the Way. Two ways are set before us Truth and lies, Light and darkness, Life and death.

    That reminds me of these words: Genesis 4: 6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The paradox is that in order to master sins desire for us – we must be willing to die. Death comes in many and various ways. Often small ways. Death to our illicit desires. Galatians 5: 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

    The worldly minded demand a sign. Matthew 12: 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40* For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

  4. R. Miller says:

    Yes Jesus, come down from your cross and we will believe. Believe what? that Jesus is just a man like us? Three days later when He left His tomb empty these same men bribed the guards not to tell anyone. If it were just ignorance, converting hearts would be easy, but it is not ignorance that keeps the world from believing, it is hatred. It is only the saving grace of Jesus that can change our hearts, and if He has changed yours, well, I thank Him for working on my heart, I try to thank Him daily but I will need eternity to even begin to begin to thank Him. Thank you Monsignor for another chance to say thank you Jesus for doing what He does.

  5. edraCRUZ says:

    ‘On a more personal level, we can also see that Jesus decided to stay on the cross to save each one of us.’ HE did, HE does, HE will even if you or I or everyone else exists alone needing to be saved. In retrospect, my life in my mind, isn’t worth a dime to be saved but I am glad HE saved me else I would have been six feet underground in darkness and without recourse to the Grace of GOD. Thank YOU JESUS that I came to know YOUR NAME, for YOUR NAME is MERCY! YHWH RACHUM

  6. Bethany Marie Philomena Johnson says:

    I like the poem at the end.