Last Tuesday, as I waited outside for someone to unlock my church for an event, a young couple walked by. As they passed, the woman read aloud, not once but twice, a sign on the door and gave a loud, exaggerated snort of derision. Then she actually turned around and came back to snap a photo of it. Judging from her sharp, sarcastic laughter, I was sure the photo would be posted online with a snarky comment — something about the stupidity of church people.
On the outside, I briefly made eye contact with her and gave her a nod and a smile.
But on the inside, I sensed the insult and felt a rush of snappy retorts. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit kept my pie-hole closed.
After she left, I turned to see what she had found so funny. The sign just said: “No woman’s [sic] Bible reading tonight.”
Other than the spelling error — “woman’s” instead of “women’s” — I could see nothing there to inspire her derisive laughter – much less a photo surely destined for social media.
I started to think that her actions had been for my benefit. I can read, and I’m sure her companion could too — so why did she feel the need to keep reading this sign aloud? And why was she so intent on mocking it that she retraced her steps to photograph it, right in front of me? I’m just a Christian who happened to be standing outside my church, waiting for someone to open it; I never did anything to her. Yet I really think she was making a dig against Christianity in my presence. Maybe it was something else, but I don’t think I misread her meaning.
Two days earlier, two ISIS terrorists had blown themselves up in Coptic churches in Egypt, killing forty-four and injuring many others. The worshipers in these churches were celebrating Palm Sunday, just as we were doing here.
Somehow, these two events seemed distantly related to me.
Let me be very clear. The mockery (if that’s what it was) I experienced on Tuesday is nothing compared to the horror and sorrow of the explosions in Egypt last Sunday. The two events aren’t even on the same scale.
But both events share a similar seed: a hatred for Jesus and the cross. Every other group now has defenders to be sure they are not mocked or persecuted; only Christians are still fair game. On one end of the spectrum, TV and movies virtually always portray Christians as naïve, bigoted idiots who contribute nothing to society. On the other end, we hear constant reports of the rape, torture, and slaughter of Christ-followers overseas. Christians are the last remaining scapegoat in cultures around the world.
Clearly, Jesus isn’t surprised by this hatred: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18, NIV). I’ve always wondered why this is so. Why does the world respond to Jesus with such hate and animosity?
If you ask non-Christians–and even some Christians–in the United States why, most will point to Christians themselves as the primary reason. They might say that Christians are too judgmental, or hypocritical, or filled with hate.
Fair enough. All Christ-followers are guilty of those things at one time or another. I know I certainly am. Sadly, I often beat myself up for saying or doing things that embarrass the cause of Christ. So this criticism against Christians is not unfounded.
But the same criticism also applies to pretty much everyone else on the planet. I can’t think of a single person who is not judgmental, hypocritical, or filled with hate. Welcome to humanity.
No, I believe the hatred of the cross and its followers is something deeper.
Sure, the cross was a grisly torture device, designed to cause death in the most sadistic, pain-filled way possible. So to unbelievers, celebrating the cross naturally seems creepy and scandalous. To them, the whole bloody sacrifice thing is nauseating and worthy of scorn.
But even deeper: The cross confronts our idolatry. It threatens the god of Me. It exposes the fact that we are hopelessly lost and broken – and we cannot fix it.
We don’t want to think about that.
Ironically, we are so determined not to face our brokenness that we respond to this exposure with hatred, derision, and mockery. And in so doing, we silence the rest of the message: the freedom and redemption that comes through the cross.
Jesus’ death obliterated every obstacle between us and Almighty God. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we receive the redemption that comes with it.
I can’t force the world to hear, understand, or accept this message. I can only reflect Jesus as best as I can to those around me.
Even so, it is likely the world will continue to hate my Savior and, by extension, me. We Christ-followers shouldn’t be disturbed by this hatred. Jesus warned us it would come, and you don’t have to delve too far into the daily news to see his warning fulfilled.
I am okay with this.
Because the world may treat Christians with hatred and scorn – but we have the cross. Without the cross we are broken, sinful, and inadequate. But with it, I pray that each of us may respond as Jesus did – with his authentic love and forgiveness in return.