Archives for posts with tag: Cross

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The story of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is at the core of Christianity. We believe this story is the great climax of history; it is the hinge point of all things because it is through Jesus that God brings new creation.

Easter speaks a better word than any other. Easter declares life, not death is God’s future, the reign of God is here. Easter proclaims that God is faithful to creation, and all of creation will be put right as the waters cover the sea. Easter sits at the center of the Christian story because we believe Easter is the salvation all of things.

But the logic of the Christian story does not begin and end at Easter. Ours is a story that follows the way of suffering. Holy week takes us to places we would not expect. We will follow Jesus to the upper room with a betrayer and the garden where the mob finally gets their man. The crowds will crowds cry, “Crucify Him,” and the crown of thorns will sink into Jesus’s head. Holy week leads us to cross, and demands that we look upon the tomb.

And the cross of Christ is a big deal. Jesus’ death was for us. On the cross, Jesus took our iniquities and atoned for our sins, but that is not all.

The writer of Hebrews reflects on the suffering and death of Jesus,

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Holy week reminds us that we are not called out of this earth; instead, we are called to follow Jesus outside the camp.

Douglas John Hall says, “Unlike religions that draw their converts away from the world, a faith informed by a theology of the cross constrains the community of discipleship to enter into its historical situation with a new kind of openness, attentiveness, and compassion.”

We are called right into the midst of the world, to be part of it. The crucifixion of Jesus was not simply a transaction for us; it is the heartbeat of our movement. We are to follow the way of crucified Messiah.

I am not sure what this looks like for everyone. It might mean standing with a friend against cyber-bullying. Or it might be volunteering your free time at a food pantry. This way of life might call you to full time ministry or maybe you will teach in an underperforming school. There are a million ways to move this into your life, but the logic of the Christian story runs this path. It demands that we suffer with those who find themselves outside of the camp. We can go here because we believe ours is a city that is to come.

This is faith. It is when you know deep in your bones that life is found outside the city with the outcast and the lame and the poor and the broken and the war tore and the homeless and the dirty and whoever has been pushed out by society. As Jurgen Moltmann says, “The theologian of the cross is led by the visible nature of God on the cross. He is freed to love that which is different and other.”

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Love is from eternity. As I have written before, the Triune God is love. This means much more than a characteristic; it is the reality of God. The eternal being of our God is the mutuality of the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Love is from eternity.

This loving God is often lost on me because much more often I hear of an angry God. A Holy God who is angry with creation. Angry with me…a sinner. This especially comes to light as we talk about the cross. The idea most often described in American culture paints a picture of a vengeful God who sends Jesus to satisfy God’s anger. Jesus paid our debts on the cross. The angry God is satisfied as the perfect son dies the death that our sin should have afforded us.

The thing is I am not sure this is good news because I am not sure I want to be around this God.

Now I know God cares about justice and part of justice and love requires God to uphold certain things. God must be able to deal with the guilty. God cannot dismiss the wrongs done because dismissing the wrong does not offer salvation.

This also does not mean I am to dismiss the centrality of the cross as the saving work of God. I believe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has cosmic significance.

The cross does not satisfy an angry God; it is the ultimate proclamation of the love of God.

As we learn in the most popular Christian text, “For God so loved the world, God gave God’s son.” The incarnation, Jesus’ taking on flesh and blood, is a “yes” to the material world. The cross signals the flesh, blood, and dirt of this world have value; God is bound to this world. The faithful God does not give up on creation.

Even more, God displays love in the act of suffering.

“Love,” writes Jurgen Moltmann, “demands suffering.” I think he is right. Suffering and love are wed to one another. Love carries with it a pathos or passion. Scripture tells an unfolding story of God’s pursuit of people. This is not a far-off God struggling to fix a human sin problem. This is not a God who is to be appeased with sacrifices or hymns or what-have-yous. This is a personal God; an emotional God. A God who will stop at nothing to repair the broken relationship with mankind.

The cross is not so much appeasement as it is the act of a lover seeking reconciliation. The death of Jesus on the cross is the acceptance of suffering for our sake. It is the proclamation: God loves the world.

This brutal death, on the cursed tree, reaches to the full depth of human experience. Jesus’ death on the cross is the final step of the incarnation because humanity is not just born, we also die. So Jesus is God coming all the way into our world. God did not just wear humanity as a facade; God took on flesh, humbled himself, suffered, and died.

The crucified Messiah announces to the world that God will stop at nothing for us. God’s love is so great that he dives to the very death of human experience.

God is in solidarity with us. Jesus experiences everything; joy, happiness, pain, suffering, and even death. Death on a cross.

This means the cross of Christ is good news for all. No one can stand outside of God’s salvation. God in Christ suffers with us all. 

This post is a contribution to Tony’s Jones #progGod challenge. He invited bloggers to respond to the questions Why a Crucifixion? 

[This is a followup post on Eric’s post on Friday. I want to expound on his thoughts on suffering]

Why is this happening to me? I hear this question–better said–I ask this question all the time. Suffering for me is related to my failure; I am working from retribution theology. Just like the disciples, I am asking, “who was it that sinned in reference to the blind man?” Jesus, the suffering servant, brings this philosophy of suffering into question. With the cross in view, we cannot think about suffering in the same way. Instead, suffering is life-giving. It is related to kenosis, the self-emptying life. Johnson says, “Suffering is the pain of a system in disequilibrium.” Jesus models the life-giving system in disequilibrium as He says, “Not my will but yours be done.” Or as John Howard Yoder says, “The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the Kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.” The way of the cross is the power of God.

This means suffering is not the markings of evil or destruction. Suffering is central to all of life and compassion, the willful suffering with is the place where we meet the other. Cultures are different, languages are different, but human suffering is universal. Learning to minister with others, not so much to meet their need, but to suffer with them is central to the missional life. Luke Timothy Johnson argued during suffering it was the silence and the holding of his wife’s hand that brought the most relief. Cognitively, I do not understand this because I want to give answers, but experientially I know he is correct. A few years ago a church member called me to share with me she had a brain tumor and immediately a surgery was scheduled. The morning of the surgery Jill, my wife, and I met her at the hospital. We were able to sit in the pre-op room with her and a few others as she waited for the delicate surgery. There were no big questions answered that morning, our presence was what eased the suffering a bit.

Romans 5 says, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We participate in the faith of Jesus. A self-emptying faith of suffering which ultimately leads to hope. We participate in the self-emptying life, we suffer and suffer with others because in this self-emptying life we are participating in the new creation of God. Suffering is not the marking of destruction, but the participation in the life of God. I do not know how this works itself out, but the Church has to learn to lean into this reality.

The missional impulse here is related to compassion and openness to the other. It is about joining people as they suffer toward the fullness of God’s new creation. Evangelism looks different here. It is not that we leave off the good news, but the good news cannot be absent of suffering with. I am not sure how this looks, but I believe the Spirit is calling us to mission right here.