By Jim Tune
Henri Nouwen tells about a doctor in Paraguay who spoke out against the oppressive tyranny of the government. The local police took revenge against him by arresting his teenage son and torturing the boy to death. It was a brutal and senseless murder.
The boy’s courageous father responded with the most powerful protest imaginable. At the funeral, the father did not have his son’s body cleaned up and embalmed. Instead, he displayed it as he found it in the jail: naked, scarred, twisted, with open wounds from the beatings and burns from cigarette butts. All the villagers passed by this grotesque corpse that lay not in a coffin, but on the blood-soaked mattress from prison. It was a hard picture, but the reality of their wickedness was not covered up.
God allowed Jesus to be crucified and tortured so that the reality of mankind’s evil could not be covered up. The cross reveals the hideousness of mankind at its worst. More than that, it disarms the powerful and mocks a world system that believes it can silence or destroy truth.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us the principalities and powers were shamed and publicly humiliated by the cross. Principalities and powers are the power structures within society—political, economic, religious, and so forth. These are the institutions that shape our world.
I acknowledge the value of institutions in a civilized society. But we must also recognize that enormous centers of power tend to take on a spirit of their own, and it’s usually not good. As Lord Acton famously observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus exposed the principalities of political, economic, and religious power. Pilate represented the political power of the Roman Empire. Herod represented economic power. (The Herodian family was one of the wealthiest families in the first century.) Caiaphas represented the worst kind of power—religious power in partnership with political and economic power. This unholy triumvirate set themselves against this Galilean who claimed to be the Son of God and King of the Jews. As the psalmist wrote: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed” (Psalm 2:1, 2).
Yet the gospel says that Jesus triumphed over the principalities and powers. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to shame. Seen through the lens of the resurrection, the cross is no longer the shameful public humiliation of Christ, but the shameful public humiliation of the principalities and powers.
While Christ was on trial in the court of Pilate, the world was on trial in the court of Christ.
As the principalities and powers passed sentence on Christ, Christ passed sentence on the principalities and powers.
Pilate found his truth in the power to kill. Christ displayed his truth in the power to bring life and love.
He even loved his enemies, the ones who crucified him. On the cross he exposed their evil, and then he forgave them all!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!