The Passivity of Christ

The four Gospels provide infinite opportunities for the Christian to marvel. The words of Christ are captivating. The miracles of Christ are awe-inspiring. And we could go on, endlessly: the purity of Christ, the compassion of Christ, the humility of Christ, and so forth.

I’m struck on this Good Friday by the passivity of Christ. His conduct in the hours preceding His death is remarkably different from His conduct during His three-year ministry.

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On multiple occasions during His earthly ministry, Jesus silenced and embarrassed His critics and accusers. It is almost comical to think through the occasions when Jesus’ religious rivals tried to outwit him. One after another, the Scribes, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees took their best shot. One after another, Jesus sat them down. His intellect was astounding. His ability to reveal His questioners’ lack of biblical understanding was humiliating. No one entered a mental joust with Jesus and walked away feeling good about Himself. We see this most clearly in Jesus’ back-to-back-to-back embarrassment of religious leaders in Matthew 22, just days before His trial. The smartest men in Israel were utterly baffled: “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46).

He out-smarted and out-muscled his enemies time and again

On multiple occasions during His earthly ministry, Jesus avoided physical harm. On one occasion, a mob from Jesus’ home town of Nazareth tried to throw Him off a cliff. They were suddenly impotent to hurt Him. We read in a markedly understated narrative that Jesus “pass[ed] through their midst” and “went away” (Luke 4:29-30). What did that look like? Were they frozen? Confused? Held back by angels? Parted like a Red Sea of humanity? We’re not told. But nobody could hurt Jesus unless and until He allowed it. Mobs were powerless to harm Jesus at least two other times (John 8:59 and 10:39). His arrest in Gethsemane gives a final, climactic demonstration of Jesus’ absolute immunity to the brute strength of men. As the soldiers came to arrest Him, just moments before His beatings began, He knocked them to the ground with but a word (John 18:4-6). He gave soldiers, the disciples, and us a final reminder that He was in charge—then and in the brutal hours that followed.

He out-smarted the wisest of His enemies. He out-muscled the strongest of His enemies. Then He shut down.

Then He shut down

What is remarkable to me on “the darkest day” is Jesus’ utter passivity when accused and abused. He didn’t say a word to defend Himself, though He surely could have pointed out the folly of His false accusers in His farce of a trial. He refused to defend Himself when cowards punched Him, scourged Him, and nailed Him to a cross. He said to Peter that He could have called twelve legions of angels to deliver Him (Matthew 26:53). But the truth is, He didn’t need angels. He could have annihilated His abusers with a word, or look, or thought. Instead, He chose to die—not as a martyr, but as a sacrifice.

Four times in John 10, Jesus said that He would ultimately “lay down” His life (vv. 11, 15, 17, 18). In John 10:17-18, He made it unmistakably clear that His death was by His volition, on His terms:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.

He laid down his life, for us

Isaiah predicted this passivity of the Suffering Servant centuries before it came to pass:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

Why such passivity in the face of such hostility? Jesus was laying down His life—in obedience to the Father, in love for the sinner, and in fulfillment of His mission. He laid it down, for us. And He would take it up again!

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