Toyohiko Kagawa: The Apostle Paul said, "For those who are on the way to destruction the story of the Cross is nonsense, but to us who are being saved, it means all the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). There have been few who express the issue so clearly. Nothing has been more discussed in the world than the problem of the Cross.
There is a school of thought to-day which says that Christianity has become too doctrinal: that it has become a religion of the Cross - the worship of suffering: but this is not real Christianity: that real Christianity is the life of Jesus Himself: it is necessary, therefore to emancipate Christianity from the religion of Paul, the religion of the Cross, and come back to Jesus Christ Himself.
One of these critics was Tolstoi, who thought the teaching of Jesus of enough value in itself, and gave no consideration to Paul. Is it really proper to advocate only the teachings of Jesus as did Tolstoi, or is it a mistake to propagate the Cross as Paul did? Can we really take away the Cross from the life of Jesus?
Paul emphasized the Cross so much that he said, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Was it not because in the very life of Jesus there was something fermenting which gave a degree of crucifixion to His life?
They say the public life of Jesus Christ lasted for three years or at most three years and three months, and during a large part of His life during those three years He retired and concealed Himself with His disciples. So that perhaps the period of His public mission was for one year, or less even than that. Within such a short period as one year, or even less, how was it possible for Him to accomplish a work which should so revolutionize the history of the world? It was indeed a miracle.
In His short public life there were three stages of change in His thinking. These stages appeared in His parables. The parables of the first stage were about Nature; those of the second became humanistic; and in the last stage He spoke of the authority of a king. In these parables we can perceive the special differences of His mood. But all through these there was one unchanging element in His mind it was the impending crucifixion. If, therefore, we take away this coming crisis from His life, we cannot solve the problems which Jesus did not publish abroad, namely, the problems of the Kingdom of God and of the Messiahship - the one of a world which contains a spiritual and social God and is called the Kingdom of God; the other, His consciousness that He Himself was the central personality in this world - the Messiah - in this movement of the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus made His second retirement to the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi, this consciousness of His being the central personality - the Messiah - became clear, but He commanded Peter, who had penetrated His consciousness of being the Messiah, not to tell it to anybody. But later on, when He was going to Jerusalem, He did not tell about it by allegory, but told it clearly to His disciples.
In the time of Jesus, the movement for the setting up of the Kingdom of God was being carried on actively (as indeed is the social movement in these days); Judas of Galilee and Theudas were some of the leaders in this movement. Such sayings as "Let the dead bury their dead," (Matt. 8:22) "He that putteth his hand to the plough," (Luke 9:62) and others were popular sentences after the rebellion of Judas of Galilee. Many people attempted to promote this ideal by violence and earthly authority. But Jesus chose the way of crucifixion and suffering.
Jesus found His mission and the direction of His life in the spirit of the 23rd chapter of Isaiah - that the righteous person should suffer and die for the redemption of sins. This is indeed one of the most important lessons in the Bible. In Jesus' mind, it was a thought which grew stronger and stronger.
When Jesus wanted to bring forth the real Kingdom of God, He had to get rid of everything which hindered its realization. Foremost among the obstacles was the spirit of religious formalism. In those days the Jews were past-masters at this. They were enslaved by two idolatries: space-idolatry and time-idolatry. In space-idolatry the people thought that God took special care of Mount Zion; and in time-idolatry they thought that God cared specially for the Sabbath. Let us examine these a little more closely.
The Jews were devotees of "sanctuary-ism." When Jesus saw the great sanctuary in Jerusalem, commenced by Herod the Great, and not yet completed after forty-six years, He thought of the personality of Herod. It was not from the spirit of worship that Herod had built this house for God. He was an ambitious man, born in Idumea, who overthrew the house of the Maccabees and made himself king of Judea. He changed his wife many times, and did every sort of immoral and cruel deed. He appointed his wife's father, a man of low birth, to the position of priest, and in order to give dignity to this father-in-law, Herod seems to have planned the rebuilding of the House of God in Jerusalem. But he had built not only this house for the One God; he had built also a temple for a Greek god of love.
Jesus saw that the real Kingdom of God could not come until He had disposed of this representative idea of space-idolatry. Therefore He said, "Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it in three days" (John 2:19). The sanctuary of Jerusalem was a very huge palace built all of marble in Greek style, and must have cost millions of pounds.
This attitude of Jesus was a problem to people who were accustomed to think of the Kingdom of God only conventionally, with the Temple as its center. The Jews were so much enslaved in religious sanctuary-ism that they thought they had been taken captive to Babylon because of their desecration of the Temple. For all this Jesus was considered to be a very dangerous thinker.
The second problem was about the Sabbath. In those days in Jerusalem there were the two schools of Shammai, the conservative, and Hillel, the liberal, and they argued strongly over this problem [of what could and couldn't be done on the Sabbath]. Jesus said, "My Father is always at work" (John 5:17). He went to the extreme about this Sabbath problem. That is, He thought that if God should cease His work even for a moment the universe would be ruined.
A religion which does not look at life, self and God squarely is easily corrupted by one or another of these forms of idolatry, and will never be thoroughly completed either in culture or in expression. Naturally, if some one should come along to-day, with a tone like that which Jesus used, and say, "Fifty-odd thousand Shinto priests of to-day are doing merely work of doubtful value," he would be received with fierce indignation. Jesus deserved to be thought the most dangerous of all dangerous persons on account of His attitude toward the Sabbath alone. It was the three problems mentioned above: (1) the denial of the sanctuary; (2) the destruction of the Sabbath-system; and (3) His Messianic consciousness, that at last compelled Jesus to ascend the Cross.
Jesus came to the consciousness of Messiahship, and proclaimed to the world that He had come to the world to save man. In the Roman Empire, to think of saving man even though he were the king was an unforgivably irreverent thought. It was in the time of the Roman Empire that the idea of kingship was really established - that is, the theory of imperial divine right which says that the king is god, and god is the king. This implied that the emperor should be worshipped even while he was alive. Nero put his own wooden image of thirty and some feet in height at the door of the palace and required the people to worship it.
In Japan such a thing can happen easily. Think, for instance, of the time when people thought the priest of Honganji the living Buddha. The crowd has a tendency to such deification of great men, and the result is disastrous to true religion. In Japan, where idolatry is prevalent, this danger is specially great. Religious sects like those of the "living god of Onden," and of the "living god of Yokosuka," are examples of it. When the religious consciousness becomes disturbed, extremes of this dangerous type become popular.
It was so in the time of the Roman Empire. With the growth of the Roman power, the distinction between God and man became indistinct, and Caesar-worship began. It was natural therefore that as the Messianic consciousness grew in Jesus, He should come to be regarded as a new competitor for power, and in consequence a traitor against Caesar. Jesus' claim to be the Son of God therefore was put before Pilate as blasphemy. There was sufficient reason for it.
Dr. Uzawa, a noted lawyer, has said, "There has been no occasion in the history of the religious movements of the world which has not been related to the offence of blasphemy." But in the whole history of the world, the outstanding example of so-called blasphemy was that of Jesus. His movement was looked upon as treason both against the theory of Divine Right of Rome, and also against the religious conventions of the Jews. Herein originated the religion of the Cross.
The religion of Jesus is the religion of crucifixion, that is, of redemption. It is the religion of action which unites meditation and prayer. To walk in prayer, continually asking and receiving power from God, and again to transform this power into new actions of love, this was the religion of Jesus. It was the religion of action, of applying plaster and bandages to the wounds of society.
If some one sings only to himself "God is love" in his prayer, he himself will be all right, but many others will remain in trouble as before. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus applied plaster to the wounds of others with His own hands, and made that very activity a prayer.
In the laws of nature there is a process of redemption through sacrifice. When something unusual has happened to the body and poison has accumulated in some part of it, hosts of leucocytes assemble at that part and fight, and by their death keep the body healthy. So in the same way there exists a divine law for the cure of spiritual pains. Jesus discovered this law and established the religion of redemption in which prayer and meditation are combined into one. He referred to this when He said, "I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains just one grain. But if it dies, it yields a great harvest" (John 12:24).
John Caird wrote in his book, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, "Nothing has showed us the secret principle of religion as much as this verse." Jesus did not say He would save every one. He said He would save only one per cent, that is, the sick and the sinful, whereas the healthy, who brag about the perfection of the human personality and the value of self-realization, have no concern with Christianity.
All my life I have studied the problem of cosmic evil; it is one which has captured my thinking since I was sixteen years of age. As I study the universe from the standpoint of the evil within it, I have found that there is one power in it which marches onward and rejects evil. I have found it in the midst of the place where I am giving my life for the weak and the poor. It is the spirit of the Cross. It is a matter of supreme urgency that we understand and live this spirit.
Jesus was not only a champion against cosmic evil, but He had the consciousness of His own mission to cure the suffering. The religion of mere self-consciousness is frequently nothing more than a stage on the way to a form of insanity of self-consciousness.
In Galilee and generally north of Judea, both culture and institutions were less advanced and less dangerous than in the south. But in Judea and its vicinity, especially in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, everything was conventional and pharisaic, old customs were respected, and religion was mistaken for something which could be reckoned by a calendar. The disciples of Jesus were blamed for picking ears of barley and rubbing them with their hands on the Sabbath, because it was the same as the labor of grinding them in a mill.
Religion itself had become to that extent external and superficial. Jesus, of course, strongly emphasized inward religion against such superficial and outdated religion. As a matter of course, therefore, there grew up between Him and the people of that time who had adhered to this religion of formalism a feeling of antagonism.
A committee for investigation of the religious ideas of Jesus was sent to Capernaum from Judea. And as a result the report was sent to the members of the religious body in Jerusalem that Jesus was a dangerous thinker. Further, in the problem raised by Jesus' claims to the Messiahship, the Pharisees joined hands with Herod Antipas and his party and started a movement to assassinate Him. In John 5:18 it says that for Jesus' offence of making God and Himself one, it was impossible to allow Him to live any longer. "They were all the more eager to kill Him."
Finally, an order to arrest Jesus was issued, together with a reward of thirty pieces of silver for His betrayal. This situation can be compared to that in China to-day , where both the Northern and the Southern Armies encourage the people to murder the leader of the enemy party by putting a price on his head. In every town and village the notice of the order to arrest was placarded. And Judas Iscariot felt the temptation. "For the high priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where He was should let them know, so that they might arrest Him" (John 11:57).
It was inevitable, therefore, that Jesus faced death if He went to Jerusalem. He knew this quite well, yet as John in his gospel points out, He went up to Jerusalem with great dignity. Eusebius said in his ecclesiastical history that "John, by revelation, wrote his gospel supplementing the shortcomings of the other gospels." John knew wonderfully well the internal condition of the official circles. That was perhaps because he had been often to the house of Annas and Caiaphas while he was a fisherman, when he used to go to Jerusalem, a distance of about forty miles, to sell fish he had caught in the Lake of Galilee (John 18:15).
Why did Judas resent Jesus? I think it was because the opinions of Jesus and of Judas about the Kingdom of God were fundamentally different. From the first the Kingdom of God to Jesus was not the kingdom on earth where Jesus Himself would become the king and control earthly authorities. His kingdom was an ethical, religious and social kingdom, which would have as its laws those of growth, development, cultivation and evolution, and is established in time. But according to Judas the coming of the Kingdom of God was to be a catastrophe, when the whole world would be overturned at once, and all the myriads of people on the earth would be saved at one time, syndicalistically [by mass movement] or by some revolution. This is similar to the ideas of the Omoto cult in Japan, which believes that the re-erection and rebuilding of the universe will come at once very soon.
Judas, therefore, could not understand Jesus' religion of redemption. It seems that therefore he resorted to extreme measures in order to promote the coming of the Kingdom of God according to his understanding of it. But the belief of Jesus was quite contrary to the above. He did not think to save every one, a hundred out of every hundred. The Messiah was to be the one who saves one per cent - the sinful and the sick. Jesus was the Messiah, the helper of people, who would not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. Jesus said, "Bring the children to Me." "If anyone wants to be great, let him wash the feet of others" (John 13:14).
He entirely disappointed the expectation of such as Judas that He would at once destroy bad people by violence and the military force of asocial revolution, and bring about the re-erection of the universe. On the contrary, He said, "It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14). "The Son of Man came not to destroy but to save the life of man" (Luke 9:56). He picked up one by one, and, making Himself a grain of wheat and wearing out His life, He saved "even these least" (Matt. 25:40?). This was the religion which Jesus expressed with all His strength in His words and actions.
Judas, who sold Jesus, could not understand this. In the same way to many people of to-day this religion of salvation of Jesus is hard to understand. "God sent His Son into the world not to judge it but to save it" (John 3:17). If you have been saved you must yourself be a Christ - a saver of men. You must not try to be cramped for ever inside a shell like a hermit-crab. Paul explained that the story of the Cross is nonsense to those who are on the way to destruction (1 Cor. 1:18), but that to those who are being saved, it is the dynamic - the dynamite of God. This is the principle of this religion of salvation.
John knew well about the real condition of the official circles, but it is Mark who wrote in detail about Jesus' side of the matter. Jesus had had the presentiment of His death. From early days He realized that anyone who tried to correct the condition of that time when the conscience of the people was paralysed, and to create a new world of personality, would of necessity be thought to be a person of dangerous thoughts by public opinion.
The veteran statesmen who are respected to-day in Japan are the very people who at the beginning of Meiji were thought to be dangerous persons, and who many times faced death.
John Brown, who is famous for the song, "His soul goes marching on," was expelled from a Christian church in Connecticut because of his movement for the emancipation of slavery. There have been no instances when any reformation movement was accomplished without some one having to die. Jesus foretold His death more than ten times, either directly or indirectly, in the Gospel of Mark alone.
Before the night that He was crucified, Jesus had His last supper with His disciples. This was one of the most impressive scenes in the life' of Jesus:
"And when it was evening He cometh with the twelve. And as they sat and were eating, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, one of you shall betray Me, even he that eateth with Me. They began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him one by one, Is it I? And He said unto them, It is one of the twelve, he that dippeth with Me in the dish. For the Son of man goeth, even as it is written of Him: but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born." (Matt. 26:20-24)
"And as they were eating, He took bread, and when He had blessed, He brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is My body. And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave to them: and they all drank of it. And He said unto them, This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Verily I say unto you, I shall no more drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:17-25).
How should we interpret the meaning of His words, "This is My blood of the new testament which is shed for the forgiveness of sins"? It seems to me that their meaning in relation to the Cross is as follows: it is the same psychology as that of a brother, who, struggling for the sins of his younger brother, says, "This is my blood which is shed for you, for the sins of my younger brother." In the struggle of an elder brother to obtain forgiveness for the sins of his younger brother, we find the meaning of redemption.
Jesus thought the Messiah should take it upon Himself to apologize to the Father in heaven on behalf of the whole world. As a propagator of the Gospel, Jesus told of the boundless love of the God of Heaven, and of His limitless grace. But the love of the Heavenly Father that Jesus saw did not end here. It went as far as to send a Messiah and redeem men's sins. This is a secret of human life. The secret principle of the religion of redemption is the problem of blood - the organic relation like that between the vine and its branches.
It might be thought to be useless to take the way of Jesus in order to make good men good. Confucius said, "Women and children are hard to raise." But to save the sinners who suffer at the very bottom of the social scale, and by plunging into the very midst of the corruption of society and die for it - this was the religion of redemption which Jesus established. When we have such an experience ourselves, then we can understand the meaning of His death, especially the feeling of His struggle for all nations. It will naturally become clear to us that His suffering is redemption.
Jesus was arrested as if He had been a robber (Mark 14:48). I have had this experience also. The authorities of to-day are just the same. They keep in restraint people with thought-problems as if they were robbers. Jesus was arrested while praying by a party of Roman soldiers led by Judas. Judas must be given some sympathy, but he made a terrible mistake. Nothing gives us more pain than to be betrayed by one we have trusted. When there is a strike, sometimes there is some blackleg who has been bought by the capitalist. Nothing causes more bitter feeling. The disciples of Jesus thought Judas did this because of avarice. He could not help but be thought of in such a way.
In His trial Jesus admitted to His accusers that He was the Christ, the Saviour of the world. And He was condemned to capital punishment for what He thought. There was reason enough for this: even to-day in some countries to have ideas is unexpectedly dangerous - much more two thousand years ago. Well might the son of a carpenter be execrated for calling Himself the Son of God. For this He deserved to be crucified as a person having dangerous thoughts! In those days the king and God were thought to be of a similar nature, that is, in the matter of their sovereignty. But the king as a sovereign could not be greater than God as Sovereign.
The God of Jesus was the God of a carpenter, the God of the producer, of the creator. The idea that this God is a laborer but not a Sovereign was really a revolutionary idea. The God whom Jesus knew intuitively was too much alive! From the point of view of the idea of God of the Jews, it was a devolution and decline in the idea of the value of God, and so it was a dangerous thought. For God to become a man is to degenerate. But Jesus emphasized such an idea (John 10:34-38).
The man who spoke such revolutionary words could hardly be pardoned. He was guilty of confusing the supernatural and natural, absoluteness and relativity, piety and impiety, earthly affairs and religion. Therefore people thought that religion was presented by Jesus in a degenerated form. Anyway this carpenter was a man to be questioned. He presented to the world a religion which could not be judged by the standards of value that had been prevalent up to that time.
When Jesus was brought to His trial before Pilate, Pilate had to open it to public hearing because Jesus was sent from the Sanhedrin. He was not certain whether Jesus had committed a sufficient offence to be brought to trial: from the first he did not like the accusation that was submitted.
Pilate was [perhaps] originally a Spaniard. His father had rendered distinguished services to Rome, and had been given the rank of baron and promoted to the position of counsellor to Tiberias the Great. And the wife of Tiberias was profligate. She gave birth to an illegitimate child, and Pilate was the husband of this child [or so goes the story]. That is, the wife of Pilate was grandchild of Tiberias Caesar. For this reason Pilate received special treatment, and by special permission took his wife to his post as Governor of Judea.
Christians have from time to time made efforts to exonerate him, but history does not show him to have been an admirable person. He had brought the regimental standard, putting the sign of Tiberias Caesar on it, into Jerusalem, and had stolen the Temple offerings.
He had mistaken the Samaritans, who had crowded on Mount Gerizim for worship, for rebels, and sent out his army and killed them. His final failure was that he mingled the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices. In such ways he lost his popularity. Although he made some contribution to the construction of the Jerusalem water-works, he was guilty of various maladministrations, and in A.D. 36 was recalled to Rome. After that he is said to have wandered to Switzerland, where he committed suicide. Such was the character of the man who tried Jesus.
To Pilate it was not a big problem whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath or desecrated the Temple. The crowd brought Jesus to Pilate and charged against Him, saying, "We saw this man stirring up the people and denying to pay taxes to Caesar, and calling Himself Christ the King" (Luke 23:2). In those days the anti-taxation movement was spreading. Then Pilate asked, "Are you the king of the Jews?" And Jesus answered clearly, "I am what you said." Pilate did not think this specially a crime, so he said to the high priests and the crowd that he did not find any crime in Him, and dismissed the case.
But Jesus' accusers were not content with this they accused Him again. So, knowing Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Him under guard from the court of Antonia to Herod. Herod could make no further progress as a result of the interview, so once again Pilate was forced to sit on the seat of judgment. At that time the wife of Pilate sent to him to say: "Do not have anything to do with that righteous man, for I have had a painful experience in a dream about Him."
The wife of Chusa, a steward of Herod Antipas, was so earnest a Christian as not to desert Jesus when He was crucified. It seemed that she had entered into the faith when her child had been cured by Jesus. The wife of Pilate, the governor-general of Judea, had been a friend of the steward's wife, and had perhaps been influenced by her friend to some extent; at all events she seems to have had a sympathy for the teachings of Jesus. It may be, therefore, that she tried to release Jesus under the pretence of having had a dream. But the crowd did not want Jesus to be released. So Pilate asked the crowd to let Him off with the punishment of scourging of forty stripes save one, because He had not been guilty. But in vain!
Then Pilate tried to release Jesus according to a custom by which one man was wont to be released at the Passover time. But the high priests prevailed on the crowd to ask for Barabbas, a famous robber [actually terrorist], who was in prison at the same time. A crowd is almost blind. They are easily stirred up by an agitator. Jesus knew this crowd-psychology very well. So He did not trust Himself to them (John 2:24). Pilate asked the crowd, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" They all said, "Barabbas! Barabbas!" Pilate asked them, "What am I to do with Jesus, the so-called Christ?" They all shouted, "Have Him crucified!"
Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, so he took some water and washed his hands in the presence of the crowd and said, "I am not responsible for this man's death. You must see to it yourselves." This all shows that Pilate was a man of infirm will and weak action.
Jesus' trial was a summary decision. It was finished before nine o'clock in the morning. Pilate released Barabbas and had Jesus scourged and handed over to the guards to be crucified. Jesus was given insufferable insults. Then He took His way to Calvary through the Via Dolorosa, with His tired feet, carrying a great cross on His back.
When the one under sentence got unbearably tired, there was a custom which allowed him to hand the cross over to some one coming by. Just then there happened to come along a countryman; he was a Cyrenian named Simon. He was forced to carry Jesus' cross, and followed Jesus to Golgotha. It is said that Simon afterward knew that it was the cross of Jesus, and he was converted and became a disciple of Jesus.
Crucifixion was a very cruel punishment. In 74 B.C. Spartacus, sympathizing with the miserable conditions of the slaves, led them in a bid for freedom. But the Roman power proved too strong, and six thousand of them were hung on crosses along the road from Rome to Capua, to die a lingering death. Jesus was also executed by this form of capital punishment.
Mount Calvary was near the road, and many people came and went under the cross of Jesus, making mock of Him. Some shook their heads and insulted Him, saying, "Aha! you who would tear down the Temple and build one in three days! Come down from the cross and save yourself!" And some mocked at Him and said, "He saved others, but he cannot save himself! Let this Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe!" Jesus, hearing these taunts, prayed, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Tolstoi said the essence of Christianity was the Sermon on the Mount. But anyone can give mere instruction. In these days in China it is a time of reconstruction, and many new ideas prevail among the people. A philosopher named Hu Shih, of the University of Peking, wrote in his book, The History of Chinese Philosophy, that Confucius was of little importance, but that Bok Su was great. He praised Bok Su very highly, saying that his idea of altruistic love is the most adaptable idea to a republican form of government. The theory of altruism of Tolstoi and of Bok Su resemble each other in their emphasis on the thoroughness of love; but this alone is not sufficient.
Jesus went further than Tolstoi. To say "Forgive them" in the very moment of being crucified one needs great preparation on ordinary days. Jesus, who seemed to be an entire failure, was not confused at all in His last moments. He was a great practicer of humanitarian love.
It is at this point that I go to Jesus. In Japan when the Roman Catholics were persecuted, thirty-six of them were executed at Nagasaki. One of them, named Paul Miki, died praying "Forgive them" until the last moment of his death. He became one of the saints of the Catholic Church, the only Japanese one.
For a while Jesus kept silence. Then from both sides of Jesus began the abuse. One of the criminals who were hanging there abused Him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us too!" But the other reproved the first one and said, "Have you no fear of God even when you are suffering the same penalty? And we are suffering it justly, for we are only getting our deserts, but this man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:39-41).
I have handled ruffians very often. There are two kinds of them. There are some who become good in the very last moment, even if they have been abusive until then. On the other hand there are some who are bad to the very moment of their death. The criminals at the Crucifixion were of each of these varieties. The one abused Jesus and the other defended Him and said, "Hold your tongue!" and asked Him, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!"
One who is worried at the time of his death does not want to take trouble to answer. I often do not know how to judge when I am asked for some help by people. I can sympathize with the possible feeling of Jesus at this moment, from my own experience. Especially, I think of His courage. Only He who had the consciousness of being the Redeemer to the last moment could have answered, "I tell you today, you will be in Paradise with me!"
I, too, want to say, "Lord, please remember me!" and I believe that I shall be redeemed sufficiently by the Cross, being covered by the shadow of the great sheltering wings of Jesus.
Then there came Jesus' mother. It was women who stood by the Cross to the last moment. While men are bloodily firing upon one another, it is women who under the Red Cross work to rescue the wounded and the sick. Women visit houses of ill fame. Women are far more moral than men. Women as a rule have less of a criminal tendency. It was the mother of Jesus and her friends who stood by the Cross to the very end.
In the slums I frequently meet great women who are mothers. It is those women whom I respect in the slums. Mothers are great. Since the early days there have been many instances of prodigal sons reformed by the love and prayer of their mothers. But Jesus' mother, Mary, was a woman to be pitied.
When Mary had gone to the Temple at Jerusalem, taking the young Jesus there to offer offerings to the Lord according to the law, Simeon was there, a devout man, and he foretold to Mary, "A sword will be thrust through your own heart" (Luke 2:35). The blade which was thrust into the heart of Jesus pierced the heart of His mother. From His birth, Jesus was the kind of a person Who would have the sword hanging over Him. Jesus did not forget His mother in His last moment, and He entrusted her carefully to John. It is said that Mary was cared for by this disciple and that her grave is in Ephesus.
Next, Jesus said, "I am thirsty" (John 19:28). Some take the meaning of this phrase as His thirst for righteousness.
The fifth word often becomes a subject for reproach. Dr. Hiroyuki Kato, for instance, criticized severely the saying, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" as if even the Son of God did not know what to do in His trouble! But this is a great mistake. This phrase is quoted from the 22nd Psalm, and if you will read through the whole Psalm you will know that it is a prophecy about Jesus' death, a poem of triumph, and a shout of thanksgiving, saying, "You have answered me!"
It is a mistake to see only one verse of the whole poem. This poem is rather a song of triumph that His prayer had been heard. And when the darkness of deluded humanity hung over Jesus, it was not surprising that He should have spoken these words, as He thought of the distance between God and mankind. Jesus, as He pondered over the meaning of this poem, may have thought that He had come to a tragic end as Messiah; but it was also a triumph.
Indeed, the Cross of Jesus is the greatest of triumphs. Nay, more, the suffering of a righteous and innocent person is always a triumph. When we see the fearful sins of mankind, and the agonies of millions of people, we cannot help but think that the Cross of Jesus means us to save mankind once more from the abyss into which it has fallen. Anyone can destroy things, but who is ready to die by crucifixion to make so great an effort for the sins of mankind?
Jesus was silent for a while, and then, after tasting the sour wine, He said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). This does not mean that everything was ended, but rather that matters were accomplished. That is, that He had walked the full length of the path that had to be covered.
[Horatio] Nelson's words in the naval battle of Trafalgar, "Thank God I have done my duty," are beautiful words; should we not be grateful for Jesus' words, "It is finished," which He said in the hour of His seeming defeat.
From twelve to three o'clock there was darkness over the whole land. Finally, Jesus cried out loudly and said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!" (Luke 23:46) And in this fashion Jesus expired about six hours after being put on the Cross. It is said that then the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom and the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs opened.
For Jesus death was a transition - nothing but a move to God. Therefore He said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit," with the ease that some one deposits his money in a reliable bank.
Since the religion of Jesus Christ has spread, the inscriptions on tombstones have been changed. On Egyptian tombs it is written, "Conscience, do not speak your truth. Ah! sorrowful death. Come into the salvation of Osiris." Greek inscriptions are also sad, but after the time of Christ such sad tones were entirely swept away.
Livingstone, a missionary in Africa, died in the very attitude of prayer, but the death of Jesus was even more beautiful. Renan said, "If the death of Socrates was the death of a philosopher, that of Jesus was the death of the Son of God."
Some may say that it was a useless death, but nothing has had a more beautiful nor a holier motive than the death of Jesus. He died really to apologize on our behalf to God. This is a sphere into which only persons who have reached the highest point of the religious consciousness can thoroughly penetrate.
His disciples did not understand at all what His death meant. They only knew that His sufferings were for the sake of the sins of the world. But it was beyond their comprehension that His pitiable death could restore the world. Therefore all the disciples ran home when Jesus was crucified. But three days after His burial the news of Jesus' resurrection burst upon all the citizens of Jerusalem, and the faith, life, thought, and everything else of the disciples were completely changed.
It is undeniable that the disciples experienced something on this occasion. Ten or eleven different groups of disciples actually saw the risen Jesus. Some people criticize hastily, saying that such an extraordinary thing could not have happened; but Christianity is founded on this strange faith. The idea of resurrection has existed from the early days, but there have been no certain instances of resurrection except in the case of Christ.
However people may deny the resurrection of Christ, they cannot deny the fact that by it the history of the world has been turned upside down. From that moment the weakest disciples stood up as strong as the strongest of men. From that time onward a religious group, largely of slaves, which did not fear even the authority of Caesar, was brought into existence.
We do not know in what form the Resurrection did come. Whether it was in the flesh as the Gospels teach, or in the spiritual body as Paul tells us, it makes no difference. Anyway, Jesus was truly revived in the hearts of the disciples. Here is the beginning of Christianity. If you want to take it as a superstition, you may take it so. But from this, as a starting-point, the Gospel of Jesus has spread over the whole world.
If it is superstition to believe in Jesus' resurrection, the history of nineteen hundred years and of five hundred millions of people have been enslaved by this superstition. From that time onward the disciples began the propagation of Christianity in the world, and that was the outset of a religious movement which continued long after the destruction of the Roman Empire.
The history of the world changes with the resurrection of Christ. By and by there will come a reviving spring to mankind corrupted with sins. God waits until the blood of the martyrs has risen. There will come the spring when the disheartened life will hear the Easter [i.e., Resurrection] bells ringing. Be consoled! however disturbed the nation. Be comforted by the Holy Spirit! Even Mary of Magdala, a prostitute of Alexandria possessed by seven devils, saw Christ's resurrection.
It is foolish to say you do not believe in the Resurrection. Jesus did not revive merely for the sake of reviving. The faith that He, the suffering Redeemer of mankind, was raised to be the Friend and Comforter to those crippled and wounded by sins, and to the sick, is a very precious experience. It was a great turning-point in the religious ideas of the disciples. The disciples believed that Jesus revived in the flesh when they themselves revived spiritually.
Jesus' resurrection revives in the human heart new power to accomplish the actual fact of redemption. I cannot come to the conclusion that Jesus did not revive. To-day people think that it would be a miracle of miracles for anyone to rise from the dead. But I cannot believe that there is not a power which destroys even death - in the world where life is born from the earth. I think it is rather a little matter to make the dead rise, compared with the miracle of the creation of the universe. Therefore I have no courage to deny the Resurrection - I dare not deny it.
The religion of Jesus is a religion of resurrection. Through Jesus man revives from the grave, from the world of degeneration and wickedness. There will certainly come a time when a new power of fermentation will come into man's hard and stony heart. When he will rise up in repentance for his sins, the spring of resurrection will come into his heart just as Katusha in Tolstoi's Resurrection turned to new life through hearing the Easter bell.
It is the spirit of the victorious Sufferer to take upon Himself the pains of even one sick soul in order to bring him back to life. Jesus did not suffer for the healthy ninety-nine, but to restore the one that was lost. So long as there is a man like Him, the rain of hope pours upon this ugly human life. I give thanks with tears for Jesus and His death. The deeper my little life is buried the more I feel that Jesus is my friend. The Carpenter Jesus is my guide. He is my Saviour. Nay, He is the Friend of the friendless and the homeless and the prostitutes and sinners, and of my poor small self.
Chapter 4 of "The Religion of Jesus" by Toyohiko Kagawa, translated by Helen F. Topping, London, 1931
Toyohiko Kagawa, "The Religion of Jesus":
Chapter 1. The Knowledge of God
Chapter 2. Jesus and Men's Failures
Chapter 3. Jesus and Prayer
Chapter 4. The Death of Jesus - Its Before and After
Chapter 5. The Relation of Jesus to His Disciples
Go to Literature Index Page
This URL is abcog.org/kagawa4.htm