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During a recent Holy Week a cross with the mocking sign ROFL (a texting abbreviation for “rolling on the floor laughing”) was placed on Cross Campus at Yale. It stirred considerable conversation about free speech and respect for religion and whether Christians are privileged or persecuted. Some Christians complained that they are the one group allowed to be bashed in public, a complaint that — even if it were true — sounds oddly unlike the response of the early church.

This was not the first time mocking words had been associated with the cross. According to the scriptural account, Pilate had the words

“Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”

printed on the cross. Jewish leaders complained that it should say, “This man claimed to be king of the Jews.” But Pilate said, “What I have written, I have written.” Churches often place the Latin acronym for what Pilate had written on crosses: Jesus-Nazareth, King-Jews, giving the Latin letters INRI. But it was not a tribute. It was a roast. ROFL.

Garret Fiddler, a guest columnist in the Yale Daily News, noted the irony of the cross as a piece of jewelry: “Really, the cross does not belong on the Christian; the Christian belongs on the cross.”

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching lies this strange command:

Take up your cross, die to yourself, and follow Me.

The cross is a reminder that there is something in me that needs to die. It is true for individuals and for nations and for the church. The resurrection hope is the hope that lies on the other side of dying. “It is when Christianity has forgotten this that the faith has been at its worst.”

Historian Michael Grant wrote that Constantine, perhaps not surprising for a Roman emperor, found the crucifixion an embarrassment. He saw the cross “not so much an emblem of suffering as a magic totem confirming his own victoriousness.” Constantine’s vision of the cross called him not to die but to conquer. He had his soldiers paint it on their shields so they could kill their enemies. It was painted on other shields in the crusades; it was drawn on seals to claim empires; it was placed on robes to hold inquisitions; it was burned in yards to terrify the “least of these” in whom Christ was present.

Maybe the cross doesn’t belong to us.


The hope of resurrection is woven into a thousand stories. One of the stories I love most is called The Shawshank Redemption. (The last word in the title is the first clue of where the story is headed.) The hero, Andy Dufresne, initially underwhelms the narrator Red: “I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy the first time I laid eyes on him... Looked like a stiff breeze could blow him over.”

Dufresne is unjustly arrested, tried, condemned, and beaten. But as we watch him through Red’s eyes, something like wonder begins to grow. In a brutal world he is kind. He is a man of hidden strengths who creates a library and helps his captors with their taxes. He is anxious for nothing: “Strolls like a man in a park without a care or a worry,” says Red. He ascends to a high place (the warden’s office) and plays Mozart over the intercom, and for a transcendent moment, every prisoner stands motionless in unexpected glory. And Red confesses: “Those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream ... for the briefest of moments — every last man at Shawshank feels free.”

Andy is persecuted by the warden, a pharisaical hypocrite who hands him a Bible and tells him “Salvation lies within.”

In the end, salvation does lie in the Bible. The Bible is where Andy hides the small hammer with which he chips to freedom. (The cut-out space in the warden’s Bible where Andy hides the chisel begins on the first page of Exodus, the story of God liberating his people from bondage.)

Andy descends into hell. He crawls to freedom through five hundred yards of prison sewer pipe half filled with sewage and comes out the other side cleansed by the river and the rain and raising his hands bathed in light and freedom. If you can’t see the resurrection, you haven’t been watching. His empty cell is the beginning of the end for the regime of the warden. (“Judgment cometh, and that right soon” reads the sign in his office.)

Andy, the Christ figure, and Red, the noble pagan, have a running argument about hope. Andy says that music is important in a prison —maybe more important in a prison than anywhere else, because it reminds hearers that there is an unseen reality the powers of the prison cannot touch.

Red asks what he’s talking about.

  • Hope.

Red says hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Andy says hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.

Let’s pause here a moment.

The ancient Greeks lined up with Red. There is one art form, wrote Alain de Botton, that dedicates itself to telling stories of great failure without judgment or mockery. Tragedy was invented by the Greeks. The first traces of drama come from Greek religious ceremonies involving the sacrifice of goats; the word tragedy itself comes from the Greek words for “goat” and “song.”

The purpose of tragedy is the moral elevation of the audience by reflecting on how the fate of the hero could be their fate.

Aristotle said that in a good tragedy, the hero has to be neither perfect nor evil but someone we can identify with. The tragedian’s task is to confront us with the inconvenient truth that we are capable of any folly. A good tragedy will leave the spectator sympathetic and humble.

The invention of tragedy was an enormous moral gift to the human race. Tragedy teaches that suffering can help us grow. The ancients taught that reason is noble because it enables human beings to endure suffering with patience and courage and therefore grow stronger. Suffering can build character so that the wise person can be ruled by reason in an uncaring and harsh world.

The apostle Paul appeared to concur with this idea when he wrote to the church at Rome:

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character.”

But at the end he added as a climax what would never have occurred to a noble pagan:

and character [produces] hope.

No nonchristian ancient writer would have added that. The goal of life was to seek to live by reason and courage in a universe governed by uncaring necessity. Nietzsche said that Zeus gave hope to men to torture them: “In truth, [hope] is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.”

Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive you insane.

Paul added it for one reason. He believed that Jesus, who came to set the prisoners free, had now triumphed over death. Death is the way to life.

In The Shawshank Redemption, though, Red finds out paradoxically that when he leaves prison, life without hope cannot sustain him. His options are suicide or return to prison, except for a promise he made to his friend Andy. He does what Andy had asked. And at the foot of a tree, Red finds that his friend has paid, out of treasure Andy acquired through suffering, for Red to join him off the coast of Mexico, free and full of hope. In the final images, we see Andy, Red’s friend, dressed in white, rehabbing a fishing boat at the edge of a long coastline next to the blue Pacific. Red’s narration closes the movie:

I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head... I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope....


I think of the change Jesus brought to the world around hope when I think about two tombstones. One of them marks the resting place of Mel Blanc, the famous voice of countless characters in Looney Tunes cartoons. In accordance with his instructions, his family inscribed as his final epitaph the words that he had said to end a thousand cartoons: “That’s all, folks.”

The other tombstone is described by Philip Yancey. It marks the grave of a friend’s grandmother who lies buried under ancient oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with the grandmother’s instructions, only one word is inscribed on the tombstone:


Excerpted with permission from Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg, copyright John Ortberg.

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Your Turn

Waiting. We believers have hope and we are waiting! Others may mock and ROFL that Jesus is the King of the Jews, but we know that He is! Amen! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily