Saturday, November 10, 2012

What is the Cross?


Somewhere in the heart of man he has always felt a sense of guilt. For thousands of years pagans have made appeasing offerings unto their deities. Where did man get this notion about sin and divine anger and sacrifice? We know that the residual effects of sin and the entire idea of sacrifice has been around since the fall of Adam and even pagans realize this construct and misguidedly create their own deities and sacrifice all kinds of things in order to appease deities of all sorts.

But the narrative of the Scriptures have a core thread that runs through ever nook and cranny of the written revelation. Man has sinned and God is just and there must be a sacrifice. Now for those of us who are believers in Christ it is difficult to understand just how foreign and offensive that is to those outside the faith. It goes beyond foolishness all the way to disdain. Any normally intelligent person would view the system of sacrifice, to say nothing of blood sacrifice, as bizarre, inhumane, and Neanderthal. And to the natural man it is and the Scriptures tell us of such disdain. But the cross was God in the flesh reconciling the world unto Himeslf. God became sin and was found guilty in our place.

But now God has come in the person of the Holy Spirit in order to reach and enlighten darkened hearts. As I said, the natural man does not receive the things of God and he cannot know them on his own. No sinner can know who Jesus is without being enlightened and drawn by the Spirit of God. People will shower Jesus will all kinds of condescending accolades like good teacher, great man, compassionate, a way shower, a deep thinker, and a host of other compliments that reveal a deadly and carnal view of God’s Son. And many others will give lip service to the deity of Christ and even the meaning of the cross but never be born again by the Spirit. It is part of their religion but it has not made them a new creation.

But the cross is an enigma. It is a brutal place of death and yet a glowing place of life. It is both a suffering man and a suffering God. It is both an offering of God as well as the demands of God. To even come to terms with the fact that God came as a man is a deep and unfathomable mystery. But to then watch as that God-man suffers is a multiplicity of paradoxes and disturbing down to the recesses of our understandings. And then to see that same Incarnation die, is not only troubling, but it presents a mental and emotional challenge that must be illuminated by the Spirit or else it would be rendered as impossible and die in our minds.

But there it is, unvarnished, stripped of any misleading frills, and bathed in unspeakable horror. The cross was an altar upon which the Passover Lamb was tortured, skewed, mocked, punched, beaten, and put to death publicly and denied any shred of dignity. The word cross has slowly become a religious talisman that can chase away vampires, help win football games, and generally be a good luck charm. Even in the movies about exorcism the priest holds up a blessed piece of jewelry and holds it up toward the demonic voices and supposedly demons fear it. That is a mockery and only adds to fables and a superstitious view of the cross.

The cross was a spiritually spectacular event and without it we would all still be lost in our sins. It was the turning point in history and the turning point for millions of believers. The suffering that Christ endured on that cross is far too deep and far too spiritually excruciating for humans to ever fully comprehend. We can understand torture and suffering, but what Christ experienced upon that cross is an eternal mystery. The words of our systematic theologies provide some structured truth, but they fall completely short when it comes to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually entering into the Holy of Holies exhibited upon that cross. The modern church preaches very little about the cross, and we have relegated it to Easter services and cameo mentions at the end of a sermon.

But what does it mean when we are commanded to pick up our cross? If the actual event is now over, and if we are not going to be physically nailed and crucified, then what does it mean for us when Jesus exhorts us to pick up our cross and follow Him? We rarely even speak those words much less dwell and meditate upon their meaning. The modern church rarely calls us disciples anymore, and carrying our cross is usually distilled down to mean enduring some of life’s trouble. It is a disgrace what the church has done to the cross. We are much more interested in earthly pursuits and earthly advice and a path to earthly success and contentment. And because the cross now seems so archaic when preached literally, it has been forced into the more practical usages of metaphors, symbols, sentimentality, and a more sanitized version that is more appropriate when spoken of in mixed company. We avoid being seen as ignorant or unsophisticated and the word “blood” has become offensive and unappealing. We have moved on from the “old time religion” and have created a new and more practical religion that can be processed within our present cultural parameters. But since the cross is very difficult to change and recreate, it sees little action in speech and lives.

Many of us are quick to confront heretics who suggest that the cross never happened literally and that the story must be unpacked as spiritual lessons. But what we fail to realize is that although the cross finds a somewhat prominent component in our written theologies and statements of faith, the self denial and sacrifice necessary to incorporate that cross into living vessels has long since disappeared from the evangelical landscape. There is an amazing amount of time and treasure and energy spent on moral and national issues, while the time and labor expended on living within the dictates and spiritual dynamics of the cross is almost nonexistent. A disciple is now defined as a baptized, regular church goer who tithes, is patriotic, and perhaps reads a page out of Our Daily Bread occasionally. How pitiful.

But you may ignore it and you may even redefine it and make it subordinate to your earthly lives, but you can never change it in its reality and spiritual glory. In fact, most of what is believed and practiced today and which uses the word “cross” is not the genuine cross of Calvary. A painless cross is not THE cross. A pleasant cross is not THE cross. A self serving cross is not THE cross. A bloodless cross is not THE cross. Let us pull down all the plastic images of man and let us bow before the blood and gore and wounds that must always define THE cross!

Away with all this false religion that sets itself up as moral police while reducing the power and the glory of God’s redemption through the cross alone. The evil one distracts us from seeing and living the cross and he placates us with hollow political victories. “Pick up your cross and follow me” says our Master. There is so much profound truth and so much profound sacrifice within that command. This goes far beyond allowing a car to cut in line in front of you. This goes way beyond forgiving your neighbor when he parks in front of your house. This even goes beyond enduring when your children rebel and run into trouble. The moment you pick up your cross you must die.

This is not a quick and painless death.

Gal.2: 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Gal.6: 14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Two statements in one letter by the Apostle Paul. Both refer to the cross as an instrument of death and an instrument of life. But how do we go about being crucified? The event we call the cross will never be duplicated, Christ died once and for all. So how can we die on a cross today? That must mean that the cross was a one time event, however the spirit of that cross lives on through the Holy Spirit. In a glorious mystery, the Holy Spirit of God pours into us the spirit and essence and power of Christ’s cross even today if we are poured out of everything else. We must be empty before we can be filled.

People who say they are filled with the Spirit and yet draw attention to themselves are only filled with themselves. People who suggest they are led of the Spirit but demand their rights are being led of the flesh. People who say that tongues prove they are filled with the Spirit and yet they are boisterous and void of humility are only fooling themselves. To be filled with God’s Spirit is to exhibit a life pattern that is controlled by the example and power of the cross. And those patterns demonstrated by Christ upon the cross go against everything the flesh and the culture believe. To the culture they are weak. To the culture they are mild. To the culture they are losers. But in the Spirit within the kingdom of light they are the power of God.

The cross is the essence of redemption, and anyone who lives in its power will be filled with the spirit of reconciliation and redemption. Those who take political sides no nothing of the cross. Those who seek money and capitalism do not live the cross. Those who embrace violence have not submitted themselves to the complete violence of the cross. And somewhere through the years the church has turned into a place where people who say they have trusted and in believed on Christ meet. That seems to be the only criteria for becoming a church member in good standing.

Have you know church members who gossip? Have you heard church members curse and swear? Have you heard church members complain and murmur? Have you seen church members lavish material goods upon themselves? Have you seen church members bicker and fight? Have you seen infidelity by church members? And yet many of these same church members are not only members in good standing, but some of them are leaders and teachers. This is not the way of the cross. This is not the way that follows Jesus. But because we now compare ourselves with ourselves this is the way that is now accepted.

“I am crucified with Christ” is not just some euphemistic phrase that indicates some past sinner’s prayer or some acquiescence to a doctrinal tenant. That phrase indicates a life that has been so transformed by God’s Spirit that the former person no longer lives and the present life walks, breathes, and lives as did Christ. Think about that. A life which lives as did Christ. Just what would that look like in today’s world? Here’s a hint: It would be so dramatically different than anything deemed as normal within the culture as well as within the present day church that we probably could not receive it in our present state. What I mean is that it would take many months in prayer and fasting and self denial and in a profound consumption of the Word before our hearts and minds could fully comprehend what the Spirit desired to do in and through us.

But so we are left with no choice. Even though the life of the cross is all but lost to the western church, we are still confronted with the glory of its majesty and the commands of its Author. Either we embrace it fully into out lives, or we genuflect to it doctrinally. In essence, either we live unto ourselves, or we die unto Him. One is spiritual death, and the other is life everlasting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen!! Thanku