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EBS95: The Crucifixion Explained

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #95

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on December 2, 1975

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This morning I am once again going to respond to a question in one of the lovely pieces of correspondence we receive. This one asks, “I wonder if you would give your interpretation of the crucifixion?” Let’s take a look at this.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.” I love these words of Dickens which open his classic The Tale of Two Cities. He is talking about the age of the French Revolution where hope and despair were all wrapped up together. But these words could well be used to describe the time when Jesus was being prepared for Golgotha. It was not an age really; it was an hour.

It would seem to be a dreadful hour, a painful hour, an hour marking a low point of human weakness. Walter Scott once wrote, “One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without an aim.” Although few persons live long enough to reflect upon the story of an age, most of us know what it means to pass through a glorious or a harrowing hour.

Certainly that hour of Jesus’ crucifixion was a momentous hour, but what did it really mean? Jesus had come out of the country to set the hearts and minds of men on fire with enthusiasm for truth. He was guilty of little more than helping people to find freedom, freedom that comes from understanding and self-government. Where-ever he went he brought light, and in his wake he left blind people who could see, lame who could walk, afflicted who were made strong, great masses of people whose lives were a little richer, a little better, a little happier than they had been before they knew him. But he was a radical, and his was a quiet revolution, so he also left fear and suspicion and resistence on the part of the authorities. For in an age when freedom was unknown either politically or spiritually, he was obviously a threat to the establishment of Herod, the high priests and the Romans. So drastic steps were taken, and after a series of trumped up charges, he was dragged out to the hill of Golgotha and crucified according to Roman custom as a common thief. What did it all mean?

In the years since, that crucifixion has been symbolized and almost diefied as Christ on the cross, worn around people’s necks, carried around as a fetish in their pockets, placed on the altar and the top of the steeple. But what does it all mean? The interesting thing is that Jesus himself said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one can take it from me. I lay it down myself.” Jesus then voluntarily entered the laboratory to work out his personal formula for overcoming crises, even death. He need not have been there; he knew what he was doing; he went there with his eyes open. So I think we miss the whole point if we try to pin the blame as to who killed Jesus, or who killed Christ as the traditionalists would say. Jesus walked into the crucifixion with his eyes open. We err when we hold Pilate or Herod or anyone responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. They were merely instruments through which and by which Jesus could bring into sharp focus the tremendous power of his own indwelling Christ or divine potential. This was not simply a man who-had been tried and condemned to death; it was really symbolically a great turning point in history.

Mankind in his darkness, his governments of power and plunder, was on trial.

It was the viewers who were tried and crucified; those who mocked Jesus and spat on him, those who put a crown of thorns on his head, those who refused to help him to save their own skins, those who betrayed him. But even more it was the general level of consciousness of the day that was on trial. Consciousness always reflects itself in systems and leaders and in people. Civilization was on trial.

The world of today is not unlike the world of Jesus’ times. Materially it may have changed, but they had militarism, misuse of authority, systems in need of change, and the people knew fear and tension, they knew sickness of mind and body, they knew hunger of soul and stomach. We do not have a Jesus on a cross today, but mankind is at the crossroads, civilization is on the cross, and the question is which way do we turn. It is interesting to note that Jesus was a sworn enemy of the status quo; he knew that civilization is not a condition but a movement. He was disposed of chiefly because he was a heretic, a radical who refused to conform to things as they were. His countrymen were struggling under the yoke of Roman oppression, they yearned for freedom, but Jesus knew that their bondage was really the inevitable result of Roman conquest. “The truth shall make you free,” he said. Freedom was their choice no matter what the outer circumstances. It is interesting that his revolt was not understood even among his own followers or by the establishment. Both thought he was talking about militancy and rebellion resulting in an overthrow of the system. He was really only talking about a radical change of heart, a change of consciousness.

Jesus had the courage to face whatever occured to him without the sustaining strength of even one friend. He turned what might have been a failure of nerve into a nerve of failure. In the larger sense it is the nerve to be oneself, and that self need not be approved of by the society in which one lives. Sometimes it takes courage to hold on to the truth, to make the choice, to follow the road of your own spiritual ideals. Your friends are not always understanding; sometimes they ridicule you and condemn you. You remember Jesus’ supporters who came to him only in the dark of night and were ashamed of him.

So the crucifixion you see was no dead end street; it was not just a historical event when, as people so often say, God was put to death; it was no end for Jesus. Rather it was a glorious pathway toward the ressurection of the transcendent Christ, just one great step in the beautiful process of eternal life. Henry Ford once said, “Success is always three steps beyond failure.” Everyone of us has his own Golgatha not necessarily a place of death, but it is always a place of decision, a crossroads of life. It always involves a choice, a choice to be strong, a choice to grow. So when Jesus faced his moment of great crisis it was the crisis of growing through the growth experience of his own unfolding Christ. He had the opportunity to give up. The devil tempted him, and the devil was his own human consciousness which told him he didn’t have to do this. Finally, in the Garden of Gethsemene he pleaded, “Oh, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Even then there was a temptation to give it all up, to go and live a normal life, but then there was his commitment to live a life dedicated to the process of divine growth when he said nevertheless, “Not by my will, but thy will be done.”

So the important thing is that the crucifixion was not just a point in history, and it is not just a theological situation that is fulfilled through ritual and ceremony; the crucifixion deals with a process of commitment in consciousness. I love the thought of George Bernard Shaw, “They crucified him on a stick, but somehow we get the feeling that he got the right end of it.” And that’s the may have its challenges, and its crossroads and its difficulties, we may be harrassed, but remember Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted...” If you get hold of the right end of it, if you have the right attitude, if you get yourself in the flow of spiritual consciousness, then you will rise above it. You will go through your dark hour, you will go through your crosses and crucifixions, but they will always be resurections. There will always be light at the end of the tunnel.

So turn your thought away from the negativity of the thought of the cross and crucifixion, and don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking of the darkness of Good Friday and of all the terrible tragedies of the crucifixion. Get the realization that Jesus is in the process of working out a consciousness and a technique by which to release his own Christ potential to the fullest, as well as to provide for you and me a bridge over which we can cross to release our own Christ potential. He got hold of the right end of it, and you have the power to get hold of every cross every dark hour in your life. This I think is what the crucifixion means.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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