When we, or those we love are struggling, the journey from cradle to grave can seem all too brief. At those times we see death as he is – an intruder that, heavy-handed, smashes into our homes and hearts. But day to day, perhaps our strategy is a little less subtle. If you’re like me, you’ll try to ignore death and with everything you’ve got. You’ll tiptoe round him and dance like this is all there is and nothing can take it from you. You’ll batten down the hatches and seek to live, furiously, intensely – snatching precious seconds from his slathering jaws. If your life is a story, you’ll scribble and scribble and fill the pages full as you can – until suddenly, there’s a final full stop. That’s it – and that’s you.
But imagine if even your birth was shaped by your death. Imagine if you were described as the one ‘slain before the creation of the earth’ (Rev 13:8). And it’s not an understated shuffling off this mortal coil, surrounded by smiling loved ones. It’s excruciating. Shameful. Horrific beyond imagining. Shell-shocked friends. An absent father. Enemies on every side, their faces twisted with righteous hatred. And your mum, weeping at your feet.
But there’s more. What if that death was something you could change? That’s right – with one word, you could escape it at any time. Does that make it easier – or a million times more difficult? I’m guessing you’ll need a pretty big incentive to stay the course. So let’s look at the options. Number one: it was a mistake. No-one saw it coming. Not you, not your dad, not your followers. A real tackle from behind. Happens to the best of us.
Except that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In truth, this was a team effort, devised and instigated from before the foundation of the world. A family affair – and you were in on it from the very start.
So we’ll try another approach. You deserved to die. You did something really bad and now you’re being punished. That’s surely the only explanation – right?
No. The very opposite. Your whole life, you never sinned. Despite knowing where it would end, you didn’t turn in upon yourself or look after number one. Your poured yourself out for others. Over and over and over again. The friends who betrayed you. The family that scorned you. The authorities that persecuted you. The creation that murdered you.
That’s right. It wasn’t even for you. Those same people who mocked you, stripped you naked, tortured and spat upon you. It was for them.
Your death was for the benefit of your executioners. And when they spat at you to come down from the Cross and prove your divinity – you proved it by staying there. In their place. In mine.
Not many biographers spend more than a few pages on the death of their protagonist – let alone one third. But not many deaths change the course of history either. In fact, there’s only one.