Everything is separated and identified by the cross. Everything that aligns with the cross can be identified as Christian. Everything that does not align with the cross, that does not conform to the cross, cannot be called Christian.
What do we mean by “the cross”?
And, why was the cross necessary?
The cross is simply a symbol for Christ crucified. Or, in other words, the crucified God. It’s not so much the cross that is important, as there were numerous people crucified by the Roman empire. However, just one, and only one, of the people crucified by the Roman empire – Christ Jesus – gives the cross its meaning, its importance, its symbolic value to the Christian faith and life.
As I blogged my way through the Bible last year, the cross – that is the crucified Christ, the crucified God – took central focus. By the end of the year, the crucified Christ became the focus of every passage of scripture for me.
Jesus taught that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter his glory. He taught that it was necessary for the Christ to die and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The gospel of Mark says that it was the one thing that Jesus taught plainly to the disciples as he made his way to Jerusalem. Jesus only taught this plainly after the disciples had identified him as the Christ. And, each time he taught it plainly was the result of the disciples’ misunderstanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ.
In addition to this being the one thing Jesus taught plainly, the necessity of the suffering of the Christ – the necessity of the crucified Christ – was the word that occupied Paul, according to Acts 17. This word of the crucified Christ was the one thing Paul made a habit of preaching and proving through the scriptures everywhere he went.
So, after two months of not blogging as I researched how to repair my health from a near massive heart attack , I found myself half way around the world with the opportunity to speak at the Sunday service in the church of two of my closest friends (two people who I consider my family). Of course, I chose to speak about the necessity of Christ suffering, dying, and rising from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. I repeated this over and over and over during the message.
As I spoke, I sensed that some of the leaders in the church were not following me. Later, one of my friends told me that my message was not really understood. It wasn’t because of any language barrier. Rather, the misunderstanding was because the necessity of Christ’s suffering, dying, and rising from the dead was not what people were used to hearing. Further, as my friend and I discussed the message at lunch, the real misunderstanding came from what this word meant for us today. I did not really address this in my message so the misunderstanding was my fault.
But, upon my return home, I began reading The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann. I’m just into the second chapter, but I have been flooded with words and thoughts that convey the meaning of the cross, the crucified Christ, Jesus’ plainly taught message for us today. The following is an extended passage from the second chapter of The Crucified God.
“For ultimately, in a civilization which is constructed on the principle of achievement and enjoyment, and therefore makes pain and death a private matter, excluded from its public life, so that in the final issue the world must no longer be experienced as offering resistance, there is nothing so unpopular as for the crucified God to be made a present reality through faith…Before there can be correspondence and agreements between faith and the surrounding world, there must first be the painful demonstration of truth in the midst of untruth. In this pain we experience reality outside of ourselves, which we have not made or thought out for ourselves. The pain arouses a love which can no longer be indifferent, but seeks out its opposite, what is ugly and unworthy of love, in order to love it…
“The cross in the church symbolizes the contradiction which comes into the church from the God who was crucified ‘outside’…The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought but change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned…Where this contradiction in the cross, and its revolution in religious values, is forgotten, the cross ceases to be a symbol and becomes an idol, and no longer invites a revolution in thought, but the end of thought in self-affirmation…
“To make the cross a present reality in our civilization means to put into practice the experience one has received of being liberated from fear for oneself; no longer to adapt oneself to this society, its idols and taboos, its imaginary images and fetishes; and in the name of him who was once the victim of religion, society and the state to enter into solidarity with the victims of religion, society and the state at the present day, in the same way as he who was crucified became their brother and their liberator.”
Why should we preach the message of the cross, the necessity of Christ suffering, dying, and rising from the dead?
What is its relevance for us today?
This message reveals and arouses a love within us that leads us to seek out those that are not like us, those that are opposite to us, those are deemed unworthy and unlovable, so that they can be loved.
This message takes us to where God is…outside the gates, outside the city, outside religion, outside the society, outside the state, outside the wealthy, outside the privileged…and puts us in the place of those abandoned and forsaken by religion, society, and the state.
This is the message that reveals God’s love for the abandoned, the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the tired, the downtrodden and creates that love of God within us when we suffer with Christ, participating in the fellowship of his sufferings as Paul says.
This message takes us out of religion, out of church, our of established patterns, structures, and traditions and puts us in the place of the strange, the unfamiliar, and the uncomfortable.
And, this message takes us to the one and only true God.
This message leads to a change in our minds of who God is.
The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who suffers with you and not the God who causes you to suffer.
The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who dies for you and not the God who causes you to die.
The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who comforts the forsaken and abandoned and not the God who forsakes and abandons you.
This changed mind about God leads us to pick up our own cross, to follow Christ outside…the gates, the city, society, the state, religion, the church…to meet “the victims of religion, society and the state at the present day.”
Just who are those victims of the present day?
The poor. People of color. Homosexuals. The homeless. The dirty. The diseased. The mentally ill. The imprisoned. And many more.
Once we have experienced the change, the restoration, that only the cross, the crucified Christ, who necessarily had to suffer, die and rise from the dead, we always carry the death of Jesus in our bodies so that we can bring life to others. We suffer with Christ by abandoning our identification with the world, with society, with religion, with the state. We suffer the rejection of what it means to be normal, approved and like by the powers, to be with those that are deemed not normal, disapproved and not liked by the powers that be.
Just as Jesus did for us.
This is how God was reconciling the world through Christ.
And, this is how God now makes his appeal to the world to be reconciled to him through us, Christ’s ambassadors.
There truly is no other message that needs to preached and heard.
There is no other message that is Christian.