As I look back over a lifetime spent in religious circles, predominantly in what might be termed ‘Evangelical Christianity’, I have come to the conclusion that, amongst its many faults and failings, its greatest sin has been the practical devaluation of the centrality of The Cross. I am not saying that this central doctrine is ignored – for it is debated, written about and spoken of at length – in fact we have played so many theological games with it I have lost count.
No Minister, Leader or Theologian worth their salt would last long in such circles without a well thought out theology of The Cross – but that is a world away from living in the power, reach and impact of The Cross in the rough and tumble of everyday life. A mere theological concept of The Cross is no more of a reality than a map is of the actual landscape it represents. I can look at a map to my hearts content – but until I move from the concept of a location to the location itself I really experience nothing but a very poor representation of the reality. So it is with The Cross. To quote the Apostle Paul in another context to do so is to have mere form without power (See 2 Timothy 3:5).
Indeed some incarnations of ‘Evangelical Christianity’ have been so arrogant as to even deny the clear teachings of the Bible itself in relation to The Cross. I think of those who claim the power, reach and effect of The Cross, and the love of God expressed upon it, are limited to their own devalued concept of a God who would love only some but not others.
I have mentioned before the old Free Church of Scotland Minister (Presbyterian) who used to call at our home when I was a child and some words of his which have never left me. For, more than once, he said to us – ‘Never forget 1 Corinthians 15:22 – ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ – it is the central text in the Bible!’ In my childhood simplicity I thought he meant this literally – but years later I realised the impact and importance of what he said. The Cross stands as the ultimate turning point in history. It is an event of cosmic proportions which changes everything and without which humanity, nature and the cosmos itself would be forever in bondage. How big is that! The Cross says the Apostle Paul is ‘The power of God’ – not merely the theology of God! (1 Corinthians 1:17). But where is this power centred? It is centred in self giving! It was the love of God that motivated The Eternal to enter time – become flesh and give himself freely on The Cross (John 3:16). Again and again the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the One – ‘Who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20 & Others).
And for me this is where the rubber really hits the road. You see it’s easy to have a theology of The Cross – to have a mental appreciation of its importance in Christian theology – but to surrender to Self Giving and then to join with that Self Giving in the giving of oneself to others is a completely different ball game. But that, to me, is the central issue here and the practical outworking of The Cross. Yes and yes again He loved me and gave himself for me! How we rejoice in that, come back to it every day and will be eternally grateful. Thank you Father! But having fallen in to love, reveled in it and loved The Giver in return (as much as we are able) – we are then bound by Love to share Love!
‘Teacher’, asked the religious expert of Jesus day, ‘which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’ (Matthew 22:36-40 NLT)
If our appreciation of The Cross stops at our own forgiveness, our own redemption, out own peace, our own joy – if we can only sing ‘It is well with MY soul’ – I fear we have missed out on its full meaning at best and, at worst, misunderstood it all together.
The Cross is the pinnacle expression of Love – and such Love should lead us to be the incarnation of The Cross to others. Oh how easy it is to talk, to preach, to stand in the open air sharing ‘The Gospel’, to give out a piece of literature to a passer by or call at the doorway of a home for a few minutes to ‘Share the Gospel’ – and then think we have done our duty to God and man. God forgive me that I once though like this! I am not condemning these things or those who do them in and of themselves – many people have been blessed by these – but to truly be incarnate love to another is to operate at a completely different level. It often takes time, sometimes tears, occasionally frustration, almost certainly inconvenience and at times even determination – but it is to such a love we are called – the ever giving love of The Cross!
The love we see expressed at The Cross is a love that bears all things, heals all things and redeems all things. The Old Testament Sage, Isaiah, saw the Cross Bearer as The One who carried our weakness, brokenness and sorrow in his own weakness, brokenness and sorrow. Yet the question asked of the Prophet was this – ‘To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?’ (Isaiah 53:1). Truly this is the mystery of power! The Cross is the power of God revealed in weakness! No wonder the Apostle Paul could come to the place in life where he could say – ‘So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12). This sounds so far removed from the health wealth and happiness teachings of some in our day as to be a completely different Gospel! Indeed it probably is!
And to be sure all of this is so counter intuitive! It makes no sense! No committee on evangelism could ever countenance such a vision statement! No church constitution I have ever seen requires such a thing from its members! But this is the way of The Cross – and it is in this we are invited to share if we would truly be co-workers in the giving ministry of Christ Jesus.