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Redemption in the Ordinary

John’s narration of Christ’s crucifixion surprisingly says little about Christ’s crucifixion. Beyond the bare essentials like the place name and the arrangement of those crucified, John assumes that his readers know something about this barbaric and humiliating practice. Instead, John focuses on a handful of things that were happening in front of the cross. It is as though the cross of Christ stands in the background commenting on the activities in the foreground of John’s description of the crucifixion.

And one observation that we should make right away is that those activities happening in the foreground are all very ordinary. In the first place, Christ was crucified near the city so that many of the Jews who lived in Jerusalem or had traveled there for the Passover celebration were able to see Jesus the Nazarene and the charge against him (cf. John 19:20). Then John turns to the Jewish leaders, who bickered with Pilate over the precise wording of that charge (vv21-22). If we’re honest, bickering is just a part of ordinary life.

John’s attention then turns to the Roman soldiers who had just nailed Jesus to the cross. John describes how these men divide up the spoils, their compensation for the trouble of crucifying Jesus. Again, it is a very ordinary thing that is described, for these soldiers pragmatically decide to cast lots to see who would receive the most valuable of the “spoils” of Jesus’ crucifixion—the seamless tunic.

Finally, John turns his and our attention to the only group in the foreground that is looking up, namely his disciples. In a touching moment, Jesus sees to the care of his mother by placing her in the care of the beloved disciple. This ordinary moment in which important aspects of everyday life are handled, further reinforces the notion that in the midst of extraordinary and even supernatural suffering Christ was concerned with this life, this ordinary life that we all live. Specifically, he was concerned to redeem his people in the midst of this ordinary life that we all live.

The benefit of reflecting on John’s presentation of the ordinary in the foreground while something extraordinary is happening in the background is that Christ’s saving work is firmly grounded in our everyday, relatable existence. We need not flee this world and this ordinary life in order to find redemption. Quite to the contrary, Christ has redeemed his people within ordinary life. This observation reminds us that we do not need to go searching for a mystical mountaintop experience in order to find redemption. No, that Christ suffered and died in the midst of ordinary life happening all around him encourages us to seek and strengthen our faith in the midst of ordinary life.

We can say, then, that receiving Christ’s redeeming work requires no preparation. No amount of fleeing from the world to really get in touch with the divine will ever work, because Christ was not crucified in a corner but along a highway in the midst of ordinary—and messy—life. Again, no amount of meditative preparation to get in touch with one’s spiritual side will bear fruit because Christ did not sacrifice himself in some alternate dimension or special spiritual plane of existence. Instead, Christ lived and died in the midst of ordinary life.

But at the same time, we can talk in a way about how all of ordinary life is a preparation for receiving Christ. Because he was crucified in the midst of the busyness, bickering, and bartering of everyday (fallen) life, his cross stands as a witness against the sin and evil of the world that cause him to be crucified. When someone’s conscience is awakened to the sinful and miserable state of ordinary life apart from Christ and subject to the wrath of God against all unrighteousness, then all “our secret sins and misdeeds dark” testify to our absolute need for Christ to save us from this body of death. That is to say, the whole of our ordinary life apart from Christ prepares us to understand why we need to receive Christ crucified. To be sure, this kind of preparation is intimately bound up with the preaching of the gospel and the regenerating work of the Spirit, but it never happens apart from our real existence in this ordinary life.

And so, we can appreciate John’s presentation of Christ crucified in the background and ordinary life in the foreground as a reminder that Christ came to redeem us in the midst of ordinary life to live radically reordered lives in light of his extraordinary work for us and for our salvation.

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