An Unfathomable Story

An Unfathomable Story

After 54 years of being a Jesus-follower, 44 of those as a pastor, I confess that the Jesus-story remains an unfathomable story.

From what can be known, it seems that he had been a good son, a loving brother, and a true friend. Yet, at a time when others his age were caring for their families, he chose another way. Long before he could have known, there was a call upon his life, and there came a day when he knew it was time to heed the call. Resolutely, he left his home and family, turned loose of what held him, and set his face toward a new way, a way of a self-giving ministry of great good—the whole of it characterized by love, even love for those who misunderstood him and those who persecuted him.

As Jesus’ ministry unfolded, not even Jesus’ contemporaries could see what lay ahead for him. Given that he was human, born of woman, I’m not sure Jesus always saw what was ahead.

His life and ministry, too short when measured by time, were silenced by the powers that opposed him. In the city that was at the center of the faith he held and preached, he was, in the span of a week, hailed a king and put to death as a criminal. Drawing his last breath, he whispered, “It is finished.”

Did it have to end there? Wasn’t there a better way? There were those around the cross who offered a tempting alternative. “Save yourself!” (Matthew 27:40)

Why didn’t Jesus save himself? What an occasion that would have been—a crucified and dying man stepping down from the cross, whole and fully alive! Could there have been a more effective way to gain a following—a complete following?

Jesus had been tempted to do something similar once before. Satan chided, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread . . . If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the pinnacle of the temple], for it is written, ‘He will command the angels concerning you.’” (Matthew 4:3, 6)

The way of the spectacle had already been considered and rejected. But why? Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, the barber of Port William, offers as clear an answer as we will find. According to Jayber, Jesus didn’t save himself . . . “because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended. And so I thought, He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and the travailing beautiful world.” [Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2000), p. 295]

It is an unfathomable story . . . but yet . . .

That which was finished on the cross was not Jesus’ life, though die he most certainly did. Three days dead, he arose. And the unfathomable remains such, but faith rises from the ashes of unasked and unanswered questions, and resurrection begins. He lives—in you, in me, in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless, and in all the groans and travails of our world.

Resurrection is not just His story . . . it is meant to be ours . . . look around, look into the face of another, look at the land and the life it supports. He lives and through Him, we live. Unfathomable? Yes . . . but it rings true, and I believe even though I don’t fully fathom.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this beautiful essay. It makes me understand a little better my own questions about the sufferings of Christ, and why it had to happen that way. I must get Wendell’s book and read it in its entirety. I started reading it several years ago, but never finished it.

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