Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Centrality of the Cross

Why is the cross so important? We have crosses in churches, we wear crosses around our necks, we sing songs about the cross. As Christians we can sometimes seem almost obsessive about the cross.

I don’t think it is possible to overemphasize the cross. In spite of all of the material in the Gospels, all of the teachings of Christ and all of His miracles, nothing is more important than the cross. It can be easy to inadvertently deemphasize the cross, but we do so at our peril. It is easy to rationalize it, people don’t want to hear about that cross all the time, they want some relevant and uplifting and applicable to where they live. There is a reason people like Joel Osteen rarely mentions the cross (or sin). It is not a topic that makes you feel warm and fuzzy when you really study it. But the cross is unique in the Bible in a way that Christ’s teaching and miracle are not.

There were many wise teachers throughout the ages. Some specifically prophetically imbued like Isaiah and Jeremiah, others apostles like Peter and Paul and men since who were gifted like Augustine and Calvin. God can and often does use the most flawed of men to be His messengers and deliver His oracles.

Miracles are rare but not unheard throughout the Bible. Many of the “big events” of the Bible revolve around miraculous events: the parting of the Red Sea, the collapse of the walls of Jericho, the triumph of Elijah over the prophets of Baal. God can and did use mere men as the instruments of His miracles.

The miracles and teachings of Christ are wondrous and precious to the Christian, but God could have used other men to accomplish those ends. What no man but Christ could do, what makes Him unique is a cross on Calvary, an innocent man condemned between two criminals.

It can be tempting to focus on the miracles and the teaching because they don’t convict us the way the cross does. The cross paints a story of an innocent man dying, not as an unjust act but as an act of grace. To the Christian that cross and those nails were rightfully ours. A cross is a shameful thing, a humiliating end. It was not a private execution but a public spectacle. I can hardly think of something more shameful. If I had died on that cross, if you had died on that cross, no one would speak of it with joy and reverence. When Christ went to that cross, what was intended to be a humiliating death, a warning to others who would cross the religious leaders became an hour of glory. In what appeared at first blush to be defeat, Christ was eternally victorious.

The apostles certainly knew the centrality of the cross. Look at how the cross is described:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14)

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2)

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12: 1-2)

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1: 19-20)

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2:14-16)

For the apostles, the cross was where all of our focus should be. They realized that on the cross, at the crucifixion is where the power and glory of Christ was made manifest:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1: 22-24)

We do great harm to the Gospel when we preach something other than the cross. Being a better father or husband, managing your finances, anything else that is preached that does not point people to the cross is not preaching at all but idolatry. They may be important, pertinent topics but being a better husband is not going to save anyone.

At the cross we see the great pivot point of history. Everything from the fall in Genesis 3 leads up to that moment and everything since has pointed back to that day. It is at the cross where salvation was secured for the elect. Without the cross, and the atoning substitutionary death of Christ no one would be saved. That is why the cross is so important and that is why we ought to preach the cross and know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.


Steve Martin said...

Amen, Arthur, amen!

Christ enough.

He is enough.

gloria said...

Amen & Amen, brother!

Christ is our all.


drgregb said...

Thank you for carrying this message. Michael Horton's new book "Christless Christianity" could also be called "Cross-less Christianity."

Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."