We don’t like being challenged; we much prefer to remain as we are. We love the status quo, and never so much as when it applies to ourselves and our own way of living.
Jesus threatened the status quo more than anyone else in history. He didn’t want to just change what people were doing, but why they were doing it. He wanted fundamental change at the level of our core beliefs in the way the universe works; that frightened people. It threatened to ‘upset the apple cart’. It challenged people to become more than they were, more than they had been, and more than they imagined they could be. Jesus wanted so much more for the people of His time, and it scared them. He made them promises of the greatness available to them, but that greatness was frightening because it was so radically different from the status quo they were comfortable with.
I believe this is why we see Jesus mocked on the cross in Mark chapter 15: The Romans mocked him; the Jewish leaders mocked him; even people passing by who hadn’t been involved in the process of His false trial mocked him. Why? Well, partly because that’s what people did to the crucified : It was a public spectacle of sorts, like booing the opposing team in a sporting event. But the level of vehemence Jesus met seems unusually high. Even the bandits crucified next to Jesus derided him rather than being scorned themselves by the gathered crowd.
How could a carpenter earn himself so much hatred? This particular carpenter showed the people of His time what they could be, and they hated Him for it. They saw in Jesus all they should be, all they were meant to be, and all they could be. They saw in Him what they were not, and they hated Him for it. They saw in His promises what they could be, and it scared them to death. They saw in His life what they themselves failed to live for and it shamed them to the point that they mocked Him as He hung on a tree.
What a relief that the man who had promised so much was now dying the worst kind of death. How safe they must have felt seeing Jesus on the cross: All His promises and expectations had come to naught. Rebuild the temple in three days? Ha! Bring the kingdom of God to earth? I guess we don’t have to do that anymore! It seemed this carpenter was all smoke and mirrors after all, and as Jesus breathed His final breath the Jews and Romans breathed a sigh of relief. They wouldn’t have to become more than they had been after all. They were no longer challenged by this Jesus; turns out He was just another crazy fool, thank God.
“What if we’d had to take him seriously?” the people must have thought. “Can you imagine if all Jesus said, all He promised, were actually true? We’d have enormous power to change…we would change ourselves, then change the world. No, that is too frightening, too unfamiliar. That’s not the way of the status quo. Thank God He’s finally gone so we can go back to the way things were.”
But three days later Jesus was alive again.