Mixed Martial Arts is a pretty brutal sport. One of its most commonplace tactics is the one the makes my skin crawl. The point of these fights is of course to knock out your opponent. But since this is a (virtually) no-holds-barred sport, as soon as your opponent hits the mat, a successful fighter will be pounce and start raining blows upon their head. Even if they are confident the other fighter is not getting up, it does not pay to show mercy. And I feel for the referee too. Intervene (end the match) too early and the person on the floor will complain they were just about to get up. Wait too long and there is a real chance the trauma will cause life-long damage.
I don’t watch the stuff because of the brutality of it all and the way such violence is celebrated. Yet there is some pretty brutal violence at the heart of the Christian message.
“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. They they led him away to crucify him.”
Matthew 27: 28-31
Over the course of church history, many people have reacted this episode in Jesus’ life with the same repugnance that I have for MMA. But it happens anyway. It is no less true for unsettling our sensibilities.
Perhaps it is a desire to escape earth all together, with all its material noise and senseless pain; perhaps it is the knowledge that as His followers, Christians ought to expect the same; perhaps it is an idealized spirituality that sees itself evolving past this sort of thing. Whatever the reason, the cross offends.
And what is more, my own sin is the reason it had to happen. Isaiah puts it succinctly:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
When I consider the sheer, unadulterated, brutal, senseless pain to which Jesus subjected Himself, I tap into the deep, deep well of love in His person. Cringe, cry, say it ain’t so, but for all that know this: He loves you and me dearly.