Since the beginning of the 20th century, over 170 million people have died in over 120 wars around the world. Based on today’s estimated world population of 7 billion people, that means each year one out of every 44 people on the globe dies in a war. To put this in perspective, a pro football team carries 53 players. Imagine each year that on that team a player would die at the hands of his teammates. The rate at which human beings kill each other has never been so great as the time in which we are living, right now.
Some of the most notable of these wars, and their death toll, leave one speechless at the thought of what men are capable of doing to one another: World War I (1914-1918, 20 million), Soviet Union invades Ukraine (1932-1933, 10 million), Stalin’s genocide of his own people (1936-1937, 13 million), World War II (1939-1945, 55 million people including Hitler’s atrocities), Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ genocidal campaign (1958-1961, 38 million), Vietnam War (1964-1973, 3 million), Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ (1966-1969, 11 million), Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge (1975-1979, 2 million), Soviet Union invades Afghanistan (1979-1988, 2 million), Sudan Civil war (1979-1988, 2 million), African Civil Wars in Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe (1994 & 1998, 5 million).
What could be the reason behind the start of these wars and such unspeakable violence of men against each other? They all have a common thread: mans’ unquenchable thirst for power, to conquer and rule over other men, to take something from what belonged to someone else. In his book ‘Can Man Live without God?’, Ravi Zacharias explains this truth by recounting how Joseph Stalin, one of history’s greatest mass murderers, demonstrated how to rule over people: “Stalin called for a live chicken and proceeded to use it to make an unforgettable point before some of his henchmen. Forcefully clutching the chicken in one hand, with the other he began to systematically pluck out its feathers. As the chicken struggled in vain to escape, he continued with the painful denuding until the bird was completely stripped. ‘Now you watch,’ Stalin said as he placed the chicken on the floor and walked away with some bread crumbs in his hand. Incredibly, the fear-crazed chicken hobbled toward him and clung to the legs of his trousers. Stalin threw a handful of grain to the bird, and it began to follow him around the room, he turned to his dumbfounded colleagues and said quietly, ‘This is the way to rule the people. Did you see how that chicken followed me for food, even though I had caused it such torture? People are like that chicken. If you inflict inordinate pain on them they will follow you for food the rest of their lives.’”
In this week’s verse, most of the people who were there when Jesus Christ hung on the cross were actually mocking Him as they watched Him die. They taunted Him because over the past three years He had shown the power of God in His words and actions. But now they were furious because this was not how God’s power is supposed to end up - on a wooden cross of humiliation and death. Like all of us, they expected Christ to exert political power over the Romans, to take control over their oppressors as the King of the Jews, to lead them in victory in war. But the Cross of Jesus Christ is the expression of what true power is: mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. And the irony of the One who continues to offer these things to us all has the unlimited capacity to dominate over us by force.
As the verse says, the onlookers told him to do what all of us tend to do daily - ‘save ourselves’. The Cross will always be a stumbling block to most people because it challenges the very core of how they think. In Jesus’ way of thinking, victory comes not through control or domination but through love and a change of heart. Following Jesus Christ means you have bought fully into this worldview, which is completely counter to all other belief systems. To the onlooking skeptic, the cross is the way of defeat, but to God Almighty it is the ultimate expression of power - His design for victory over our sin that brings death upon us all.
Ravi Zacharias once explained this in a speech he gave at a United Nations Prayer Breakfast: “Let me just tell you the absolutes we look for in four areas: evil, justice, love and forgiveness. We want to define evil. We want to define justice. We want to define love-and when we blow it, we know we need to be forgiven. We’ve all experienced this... Where is the one place in human history that the four of these came together? They came together on a hill called Calvary, where evil was seen for what it was. The justice of God was at work. The love of God found its expression, and the forgiveness of God was offered to all of us.”
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.