Why Was the Cross Necessary?

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.”

So…

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.

Who Is Worthy to Open the Scroll and Break Its Seals?

TODAY’S READING: REVELATION 4-7

“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?'” (Revelation 5.2)

Revelation 5.1 says that there was one seated on a throne who had a scroll in his right hand. The scroll was written “within and on the back,” but it was sealed with seven seals.

What is this scroll?

Almost everything in the book of Revelation is an allusion to something in the Old Testament. But, often John turns the imagery of thing being alluded to in the Old Testament on its head. So, it is with the scroll.

The scroll in the right hand of the one on the throne was sealed with seven seals. The Greek word translated scroll is biblion and also means book.

First, the sealed scroll is an allusion to Daniel 12.4, which says, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end.” The previous verses give us an idea of what “the time of the end” is.

“And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12.1-3)

At the time of the end there shall be trouble like never before in the history of Israel. There could be a time of worse trouble for Israel than when their messiah was crucified?

At the time of the end, Daniel’s people, Israel, would be delivered. Did not Jesus’ crucifixion mark the beginning of the deliverance of Israel?

At the time of the end those asleep in the dust of the earth would awake. It even seems that some of these would witness like the stars in the sky. Speaking of the time immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the time of the end, Matthew 27.52-53 says, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went in the holy city and appeared to many.”

Second, the sealed scroll is an allusion to Isaiah 29.11-12, which says, “And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.'”

Whether one could read or not, the scroll couldn’t be read. It could not be understood.

But, what is the vision that couldn’t be understood?

Let’s just highlight one part that is important to the context of the scroll in Revelation. Isaiah 29.1-2 says, “Ah, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped! Add year to year; let the feasts run their round. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be moaning nd lamentation, and she shall be to me like an Ariel.”

The city where David encamped is Jerusalem. It seems Isaiah is calling Jerusalem by the name Ariel.

What does the name Ariel mean?

Lion of God.

As you read the rest of the vision, Jerusalem, Ariel, the lion of God, will be besieged and brought low. But, this vision was sealed, like a book that could not be read, “because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isaiah 29.13)

Several times in the book of Revelation the number seven seems to speak of the Holy Spirit.

  • “from the seven spirits who are before his throne” (Revelation 1.4)
  • “before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 4.5)
  • “with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 5.6)

The Greek word for seal is sphragis. It means a signet. But, the meaning has the idea of sealing as fencing in or protecting from misappropriation. And, a signet is a stamp that is a mark of privacy or genuineness. We could think of this scroll sealed with seven seals as being sealed by the Holy Spirit to protect it and keep it from being misused. The Spirit also mark’s the scroll’s genuineness. These are interesting ideas when we consider the inspiration, or God-breathed, nature of scripture.

In addition to being “sealed with seven seals,” this scroll or book in the right hand of the one on the throne was “written within and on the back.” This is an allusion to Ezekiel 2.9-10, which says, “And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and back, and there were written words of lamentation and mourning and woe.”

It’s very important to read all of Ezekiel 2 and 3 for the full context. Ezekiel saw this scroll when he was told as the “son of man,” Jesus’ favorite name for himself, to go “to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels,” who rebelled against God. They were “impudent and stubborn.” God tells Ezekiel, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” “You shall speak my words to them.”

Sounds like the mission Jesus was sent on doesn’t it.

But, I really want to highlight that Ezekiel read the words of the scroll as words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

It is with this context, that John hears an angel ask the question, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”

At first “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.” (Revelation 5.3) So, John began to weep.

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5.5)

Finally, there is one powerful enough to break the seals and open the scroll so that its contents can be read and understood. That one is the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the Messiah. It’s none other Jesus. He can open the scroll because he has conquered.

But, refer back to the vision of Isaiah 29 that was a like a book that could not be read or understood by anyone. Jerusalem was like an Ariel, like a lion of God, besieged and brought low.

However, something is not as it seems. Something catches John’s attention.

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5.6)

John thought it was the lion of Judah that had conquered so the scroll could be opened. The lion is fierce, powerful, strong, mighty, the king of beasts. The lion is at the top of the food chain.

But, in reality, the lion was a lamb. A lamb is weak, helpless, defenseless. It has nothing with which to protect itself. And, it’s not just a lamb, but the Greek word means a little lamb. Everytime you read the word lamb in the book of Revelation it is the Greek word for little lamb.

And, the lamb appeared “as thought it had been slain.” So, it was not the lion of Judah that conquered and was able to open the scroll of the book. Rather, it was the crucified lamb, Jesus Christ crucified, that had conquered. It was Jesus Christ crucified that the scroll, the book, able to be read and understood.

What is John saying?

I have filled my revelation of Jesus Christ with imagery from the Old Testament. But, the only way you will understand this revelation and all of the imagery of the Old Testament is to read to read it through the lens of the lamb that was slain and not the lion of Judah.

This revelation, indeed all of the Old Testament, the scriptures, can only be read and understood through the crucified Christ, the crucified messiah, a king killed by his enemies.

This revelation, the Old Testament, the scriptures, cannot be understood through a conquering king who defeats, destroys, and kills his enemies.

This is exactly what Jesus proclaimed the meaning of scripture to be.

“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.'” (Luke 24.45-46)

The Greek word opened here has the same root as the Greek word for open in Revelation 5.3, 5.

Recall from Ezekiel 2 and 3 that the scroll written on both sides could not be read because Israel was “impudent and stubborn.” They were hard hearted.

“But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3.14-18)

The “old covenant,” the old testament, the scriptures, are veiled.

What removes the veil?

What unveils, uncovers, reveals, the true meaning of scripture?

What is “the revelation of Jesus Christ?”

He is the slain lamb, the crucified Christ, the Lord.

When you turn to him and see Jesus this was, the veil that has covered the true meaning of scripture is removed.

But, the Lord is the Spirit.

The Spirit is the signet, the fence that keeps scripture from being misused. The seal, the inspiration, of the Spirit infuses the scripture with its true meaning.

Therefore, 2 Corinthians 3.5-6 says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

If you read scripture, the Bible, literally without first putting everything through the lens of the crucified Christ, then you get nothing but death.

But, if you read scripture, the Bible, through the lens of the crucified Christ by allowing the Spirit to open the seals protecting the true meaning of scripture, then you will only and always get life.

Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2.2)

Recall from Ezekiel that he read the words written in the sealed book as “lamentation and mourning and woe.” Ezekiel saw that the son of man was being called to die despite speaking the words of God to the people of Israel.

But, notice the result of the crucified lamb opening the scroll so that it can be truly understood.

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign.” (Revelation 5.9-10)

Then the angels said “with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5.12)

But, not just the angels, for John says, “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Lamentation, mourning, and woe has been turned into celebration, joy, praise and blessing.

Why?

Because the lamb, the Christ, did not just get crucified. He also rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24.45-47).

Death and resurrection life.

Interestingly, this is the meaning of the number 23 in scripture. According to Dr. Stephen E. Jones, the number 23 is written with the Hebrew letters kaph and gimel. Kaph symbolizes an open hand, and gimel symbolizes a lifting up. Therefore, it is the open hand lifting up from death.

The imagery, symbolism, and use of words is very intentional in Revelation.

Can you guess how many times the Greek word biblion, meaning scroll or book, is used in the book of Revelation?

23!

When we read the book that was sealed, the Old Testament, scripture, through the lens of the slain lamb, the crucified Christ, and not the lion of Judah, it takes us from death to resurrection life.

What Will the Owner of the Vineyard Do?

TODAY’S READING: MARK 12-13

“He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.” – Mark 12:6-9

This is from the famous parable of the vineyard.

The vineyard is the land of Israel, which God planted to bear fruit, that was given to the tenants, the people of Israel. God sent servant after servant to collect the fruit. But, the tenants beat or killed every servant that God sent.

Finally, God decides to send his beloved son, Jesus. Surely, Israel will listen to him. But, Israel sees this as its chance to have the inheritance, the land of Israel, for themselves. So, Israel kills Jesus and throws him out of the vineyard.

Having told this story, Jesus asks a question.

“What will the owner of the vineyard do?”

How will God treat Israel for killing his son, Jesus?

Jesus answers the question, “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Many have used this scripture to support their belief that Jesus nice and peaceful when he went to the cross, but when he comes back he is going to destroy and burn in hell forever all those that rejected him and failed to believe in him.

But, is this really Jesus’ answer?

Is this really God’s answer to what he will do to those who killed his son?

Is God going to destroy the people of Israel in return for killing Jesus?

No, this is not Jesus’ or God’s answer to what they will do to Israel in return for killing Jesus.

In Mark, Jesus says, “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others,” as the expected answer everyone would give. Vengeance is what mankind wants and expects. So, if you kill my son, then I am going to destroy you.

However, in Matthew’s account of the giving of this parable, Jesus does not say this. In Matthew Jesus asks the same question, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

This time the answer does not come from Jesus but the chief priests and the Pharisees. Matthew 21:41 says, “They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

The word destroy in Jesus’ answer in Mark and the word death in the chief priests and the Pharisees’ answer in Matthew are the same Greek word. So, in Matthew the chief priests and the Pharisees answer Jesus’ question while in Mark Jesus is answering the question for them as they would have answered.

We know this because Jesus asks another question that throws a twist on the answer we would all give. It is expected that if our son was killed then we would destroy the people that did it. So, Jesus asks, “Have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

That seems a rather odd question to ask in response to the expected answer that God will come and destroy Israel for killing his son.

So, why did Jesus ask that question?

Of course, Jesus is the stone the chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, and Israel rejected.

When they rejected Jesus what were they rejecting?

They were rejecting God’s wisdom and God’s power. They were rejecting God’s way of answering violence. They were rejecting the cross.

But, the stone that was rejected became the cornerstone, or the head of the corner. It is actually the cross, loving your enemies, returning good for evil, the wisdom and the power of the God, that is preferred. Ultimately, this results in forgiveness as Jesus asked of the Father on the cross. This is what the owner of the vineyard will do in response to the tenants killing his beloved son.

The stone that was rejected, dying to yourself, loving your enemies, blessing those that persecute you, is the stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. It just doesn’t make sense.

1 Corinthians 1:22-23 says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” Jesus Christ crucified, a God who dies rather kills trips up the Jews and is done right dumb to the Gentiles. It makes no sense to either.

But, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)

The word destroy here is the same word for destroy that Jesus uses in regards to the tenants. Man expects God to destroy people, but Jesus, through the cross, shows that God does not destroy people. Rather, God destroys what man thinks is wise, which is actually foolishness.

Trying to destroy violence by destroying the men committing the violence is foolishness. Is does not work. Mankind has tried it for thousands of years. All it has done is create more violence with ever more powerful weapons.

But, the stone that was rejected, Christ crucified, the cross which seems so foolish and weak, is actually wiser and stronger than anything man has ever devised.

This is the ultimate point of the parable. It is the answer to the question, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?”

God will not destroy people in return for killing his son. But, God will destroy the wisdom of those who killed Jesus. God will destroy all the wrong thoughts we have of them. God does this by dying on the cross. It seems so foolish and weak. But, it actually reveals the greatness of God’s wisdom and power.