The Deep Magic of Death

Today we commemorate the darkness. We remember the Death. We recall the darkest day in world history – the day that sinful men crucified the Son of God not because of any wrongdoing on His part, or some simple misunderstanding, but because mankind reviled the Light and Life of the world.

The crucifixion of our Lord presents the ultimate paradox: it was simultaneously the greatest crime that man could commit, but in that crime was the greatest sacrifice any man could give. Dr. Brian Mattson, of Dead Reckoning TV, pointed out in this week’s episode that Christianity is the only religion that actually takes on the problems of this world and deals with the curse of death. Christianity is the only religion where God enters into the death and darkness and overcomes it and restores His Creation.

This is what CS Lewis refers to as deep magic. There is a “different incantation” … a “magic deeper still.” I can never think of Good Friday without remembering Lewis’ parallel section in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe:

When once Aslan had been tied (and tied so that he was really a mass of cords) on the flat stone, a hush fell on the crowd.  Four Hags, holding four torches, stood at the corners of the Table.  The Witch bared her arms as she had bared them the previous night when it had been Edmund instead of Aslan.  Then she began to whet her knife.  It looked to the children, when the gleam of the torchlight fell on it, as if the knife were made of stone, not of steel, and it was of a strange and evil shape.

At last she drew near.  She stood by Aslan’s head.  Her face was working and twitching with passion, but his looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad.  Then just before she gave the blow, she stooped down and said in a quivering voice,

“And now, who has won?  Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor?  Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased.  But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well?  And who will take him out of my hand then?  Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his.  In that knowledge, despair and die.”

The children did not see the actual moment of the killing.  They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.

The chorus that the children of men have echoed throughout history is evident in this story as well as in the Crucifixion of Christ. It is the chorus of those who have decided good and evil for themselves and have denied the power and authority of God. It is the verse first sung by Adam and Eve in the Garden, the verse continued by those who built the Tower of Babel, by Pharaoh in Egypt, by the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai under Aaron’s direction. The verses continue, but the theme never changes. Sinful, unregenerate men set themselves up as gods and judges of what is right and what is wrong.

It is in these moments that God sacrifices Himself out of love and mercy. He points to Christ in the Garden. He points to Christ in the person of Abraham, the Father of many nations. He points to Christ in the person of Moses, the one who leads His people out of the wilderness. He points and points to Christ throughout the Old Testament, and then He actually sends His Son – the Christ – the Messiah.

And what does His Son do? He enters the world in a stable – among the stench of cattle and sheep. His family flees to Egypt out of fear for their lives. His ministry is characterized by a life of poverty and humility, without a place to lay His head. His road is difficult and His path to victory unassuming, but His words are powerful. He preaches and teaches us to love our neighbor. He heals the blind and sick. He forgives the unrighteous. And how do we respond?

Dr. Peter Leithart says it well:

Worse, when God the Creator, source of all good and all life, to whom we owe eternal gratitude for our very being, appears in human flesh, we beat Him back with clubs and crosses, until the body of God is a mangled mess. Putting Jesus to death isthe human project. That is what we do. We are far, far worse than we let ourselves imagine.

Left to ourselves, mockery would have the last word. God has a different project, and He won’t let us get away with ours. Matthew’s ironic passion narrative reveals that as well, as all the mockery is turned back on the mockers. Roman soldiers mock Jesus as “King of the Jews,” but as He dies, they confess, without irony, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Soldiers offer Jesus gall and gamble for His clothing at the foot of the cross, but in so doing they are fulfilling prophecies about David’s Son, who is indeed “king of the Jews” (Psalm 22:18; 69:21). Scribes of the law throw words from Psalm 69 at Jesus (Matthew 27:43), entirely unaware that their words position with David’s enemies. At every point, the mockery is turned inside out to become truth.

But God doesn’t simply bypass the human project of mockery and destruction. The gospel does not announce a new divine fiat, “Let there be peace. Let there be justice.”  Rather, God enters our story of rage and ruin, offers His cheek to us, and then humbly turns the other cheek, all to invert our project and transfigure it into His. God is not mocked precisely because God has been mocked. Left to ourselves, our contemptuous No to Jesus would be our last word. But for God, Jesus’ cross is the revelation that He is God for us. In, with, and under our No, the Father of Jesus transforms our rejection into His resounding, triumphant Yes.

Yes, today is a day of darkness. Today we fast and pray for those who still suffer under the darkness of death – whether they be friends who have lost loved ones, friends who are suffering from a life-destroying illness, children whose lives were prematurely ended by the slaughter of abortion, or missionaries in the truly darkest part of the world, where the light of the Gospel does not shine brightly. Today we remember that day when there was darkness over the land, when the veil of the temple was torn in two and the earth quaked and rocks were split. Today we remember that Death of deaths, but even in that darkness, we are given a glimpse of light.

“And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

– Matthew 27:52

Indeed, this is magic. This is magic that is unlike that which King Saul sought after at Endor. This is magic that doesn’t raise illusions of prophets and their spirits, but that raises the dead to actual life. This is magic that uses the ultimate Death to conquer death itself. This is magic that doesn’t end on Good Friday, but looks forward to a day just beyond the horizon – to the rising of the Son. This is Deep Magic, wherein we are able to mourn and pray and fast, but we do so with the true hope of the Gospel.

This is the Magic of the King.

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