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Behold the Man

Categories: Devotional Thoughts

daily reading plan

April 30, 2020 by Steven Lulich

So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” John 19:5

A number of years ago I came across this little chestnut, scribbled (of all places) across the door of a public restroom stall:

Nietzsche:  God is dead.

God:  Nietzsche is dead.

Whether you’re a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic, you must agree that at least one of these two statements is accurate – Nietzsche surely is dead.  The irony is obvious.  With his declaration of the death of God, Nietzsche distilled into three little words what he thought was the essential result of the Enlightenment. God is dead. After all, the advance of Reason and Science were felt by many to be so successful, so complete, and so compelling, that it was no longer necessary to invoke God in any but the most superstitious activities.  A popular example of this feeling comes from a (probably) apocryphal account of a conversation between the great scientist Pierre-Simon de Laplace and the emperor Napoleon. Napoleon asked why God was not mentioned in Laplace’s 5-volume work on Celestial Mechanics. Laplace is said to have replied, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”  Whether or not this exchange really occurred, it captures an important aspect of modern and post-modern thought – God is at best irrelevant, and at worst nonexistent. For practical purposes, God is dead … And we have killed him (from Nietzsche’s The Madman).

God, of course, begs to differ.  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:2, 4). “Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” (Proverbs 30:4).  “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:2-3).

Approximately 1850 years before Nietzsche, another man distilled into three little words what he thought was the essential result of his examination of Jesus. “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). The exchange between Pontius Pilate and God might be captured like this:

                Pilate:  Behold the man!

                God:  Behold the man!

Once more, the irony is obvious. A mere man stands in judgment of the Son of God, and declares Him to be merely a man! Shortly thereafter, the same mere man hands over his own Creator to be crucified. God is dead … And we have killed him.

It’s easy to point fingers at people like Pilate and Nietzsche, and the chief priests of the Jews. The enormity of their crimes – against God Himself – seems to invite us to shake our heads and even our fists at them. But let us first look a little closer to home. How many of our family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances declare the same judgement: “Behold the man!” And how many of us have ourselves at one time or another declared this same judgement? (Hint: see Romans 1:18-2:1, 3:10-18.)

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

God died … and I killed Him.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Frankly, this leaves me speechless. What is there to say to this?

Let us be grateful for the love of God, and let us extend that love to the Pilates and the Nietzsches and the chief priests in our own lives. Let us worship God like Job after the whirlwind, with our hands on our mouths and our eyes on Him (Job 40:4, 42:5).