In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.”

“Pilate then called together the rulers and the people and said to them…”

I heard these words juxtaposed in a worship service for Good Friday, and I found them to be so very striking. Christmas celebrations can be so beautiful, with carols and decorations, gift giving and an overflow of generosity. Now, just a few months later, we encounter the story of Good Friday. Jesus suffering at the hands of Roman oppressors might well traumatize us, as we consider the depth of human violence and suffering in our world.

It is a wonder of the Christian faith that we celebrate at Christmas, God joining us in the world to bring salvation for this world God loves. It is a deep mystery of the Christian faith that we believe that Jesus on the cross is God’s way of addressing the broken state of our world.

A preacher in my tradition wrote a book titled “Making Sense of the Cross.” We should be suspicious of those who offer up answers in the face of life’s deepest questions. This author did not do that in this book. He did not reduce the cross to a simple formula. Rather, he offered many of the historic explanations that the church has given for the cross and then sought to simply invite his readers to engage the story of Jesus and of his cross and resurrection.

While there are many ways to talk about the cross, while there can be arguments that seek to make sense of the cross, in the end, Jesus going to the cross is something you undergo, rather than understand. Jesus on the cross is a work of God that you encounter, and there you see that God will go to any length to work God’s love for the world.

The one whom we celebrate at Christmas, the God who has entered our human existence in the person of Jesus, has not only lived a human life, he has endured humanity’s terrible violence and cruelty, and he has suffered a human death. The gift we celebrate at Christmas, the gift of God entering our world, stands in stark contrast to the terrible death he suffers at the hand of Pilate.

We might well want to skirt around this sad chapter of Jesus’ life. We might want to move quickly to the resurrection and rejoice in that marvelous life affirming miracle. Yet we who live in this world — with its brokenness and violence, pain and strife — might do well to note that God has entered into the very midst of all that is wrong with the world, to bring God’s amazing and never ending love to light.

The resurrection of Easter morning works God’s victory over violence, hatred and death and redeems us all so that we might live always and forever in God’s love and care.

No wonder we call this day good.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…”

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.”

“Pilate then called together the rulers and the people and said to them…”

We may not ever be able to fully understand the cross, this is true.

As we mark Good Friday and Easter, may you encounter this story once again, and may you know that Jesus has opened his arms in love to gather all together in God’s embrace. Rejoicing in this Easter gift, know that Jesus calls us us to give our own lives in love for all this world that God loves.


Phil Wold is a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church.