From Cynical to Sincere
From Cynical to Sincere
It’s so easy to get cynical. No matter who we elect into office, things never change. No matter how much research you do to find the most reliable car, it still breaks down. No matter what kind of safeguards you put around your heart, people still break it.
And it’s so easy for us to spiritually cynical as well. That’s the attitude the soldiers had at the crucifixion of Jesus:
They dressed him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They were hitting him on the head with a stick and spitting on him. Getting down on their knees, they were paying him homage. (Mark 15:17-19)
The robe they threw on him was one of their own Roman uniforms. It was made out of scratchy burlap, so it would grind into Jesus’ wounds like sandpaper. The crown they forced down on his head was made of thorns from a grape vine, two or three inches long, digging deep into his skull. They were hitting, kicking, mocking and spitting like a bunch of 8th-grade bullies. They were being completely sarcastic as they bowed down and said “Hail, King of the Jews!” They were laughing their heads off in complete mockery.
Then the ultimate mockery was the cross they nailed him to. It was invented specifically to shame you and mock you as much as possible. People who were crucified didn’t die from blood loss, they died from exhaustion. The cross was designed to be as painful as possible and as shameful as possible for as long as possible.
It was so shameful that even Paul had trouble telling people that his God was put on a cross. He said in 1 Corinthians that it’s a “stumbling block to Jews, and it’s foolishness to Gentiles.” What kind of God would allow himself to be mocked like that?
But that’s exactly the kind of cynicism Jesus experienced on the cross, because that’s the direction our hearts go. We’re cynical people. In Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life, he said he thinks cynicism is the greatest barrier between us and God: “Cynicism is the dominant spirit of our age. And personally, it’s my greatest struggle in prayer. If I get an answer to prayer, sometimes I’ll think, It would have happened anyway. Other times I’ll try to pray but wonder if it makes any difference.”
That’s what it means to be cynical. We don’t expect anything much from Jesus because we don’t think anything much of Jesus. He’s just the same as all the rest. That’s what the soldiers thought.
All except for one. The centurion commanding the soldiers was struck by the death of Jesus:
When the centurion, who was standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
That’s amazing. Roman centurions were the most brutal soldiers in the Roman army. They weren’t just commissioned, they had risen up through the ranks by proving how cold-hearted and bloodthirsty they were.They had seen a lot of deaths. They had caused a lot of deaths. Death didn’t affect this centurion anymore, but he saw something different about this death. He sees something different about this man.
That’s what leads this pagan centurion to become the only person in the gospel of Mark to openly confess Jesus as the Son of God. Want to be like him? Want to move from cynicism to sincerity? Just do what this centurion did:
Reflect on the humility of Jesus.
The centurion had to have been amazed by the humility he saw. Jesus was punched and slapped. He was spit on. He was mocked. He was flogged. He was crucified. But he never retaliated. He never yelled and cursed back, like all the other prisoners did. Because he is so incredibly humble. “Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Reflect on the strength of Jesus.
The centurion had never seen anyone experience crucifixion with the bold sense of security Jesus displayed. “Keep our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Reflect on the forgiveness of Jesus.
It was something the centurion had never encountered. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Who would ever say that while they were hanging on a cross? The compassion and forgiveness of Jesus was simply astounding. As he said just before his death, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus had love and compassion for us even when we had hatred and disdain for him.
That’s what moved this bloodthirsty soldier to shout, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” And that’s what can move us from cynicism to sincerity.