Spiritual Kick in the Head

Do you ever really ponder the cross of Christ? One of my current reads is Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ The Heart of the Gospel. In chapter two, he asks this rather penetrating question: do you see [the death of Christ] as the one thing that really matters?

Interesting question. Over the years I’ve been taught that it’s the resurrection that really matters.  For many Christians, I think, the death of Christ is only important as a necessary precursor to the resurrection. But, says Lloyd-Jones, this is the wrong understanding of Christ’s death.  In fact, he says, the death of Christ  is, in itself, the single most important fact/event in history.

In Matthew 11, Jesus responds to John the Baptist’s question regarding the Messiah, by pointing to the miracles that were occurring during His ministry and then says, ‘Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.’  Are we offended by the death of Christ? Lloyd-Jones writes about two types of people who are offended by Christ’s death based on 1 Corinthians 1:22-23–‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks.’  Which am I?  Which are you?

The ‘Greek’ looks for wisdom as defined by humanity, and thus, when she sees the death of Christ, she sees foolishness.  Even more than foolishness, she sees immorality. Isn’t it immoral to punish someone for crimes he did not commit? Don’t we classify such actions as human rights abuse today? Was it really any less offensive then? We cannot deny that, en face, the death of Christ seems completely immoral.  That God would mete out punishment on One who was patently innocent seems absolutely unconscionable. But this could be true only if we take the death of Christ out of the context in which it occurred.

If wisdom is to be meaningful to the ‘Greek,’ it must be situated in a context in which it makes sense. In this case, the context of the death of Christ is not a matter of murder, but a matter of choice. Today we do not condemn the innocent person who willingly pays a price to see another go free, we celebrate him. What’s more we are awed by the person who does this on her own because she knows it’s the right and necessary thing to do, rather than because the one who owes the debt begs and pleads. Thus the morality of the cross seems to be tied to the willingness of Christ to submit to it.  Lloyd-Jones interprets Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane like this: “‘Father, if it be possible let this cup pass by me–if there is anyway whereby I can do the work You have sent me to do without dying, if there is any other way let me take it.  But if there is no other way, I will do it.'” Lloyd-Jones continues, “The death upon the cross was the one thing that He ever asked God if it could be avoided. But it could not. It was an absolute, utter necessity; it was the only way.” Christ could not avoid the cross, and for all it’s counterintuitive and offensive nature, neither can we.

For the ‘Greek’ the cross is foolishness, an immoral tragedy.  For the ‘Jew,’ however, the cross is a stumbling block because of its weakness. This person would have found it much easier to understand if Christ had called down His angels and had led them in the slaughter of every man there to arrest Him in Gethsemane. His very willingness to die that seems to counter much of the ‘Greek’ dilemma is an anathema to the ‘Jew.’ To this person, the resurrection is tolerable because at least it shows power, the ultimate conquering of the great divide! But death? The Lamb led to the slaughter? No fight? No struggle? No revolution? It smacks of contemptible weakness, if not outright cowardice in a messiah, particularly in the One claiming the be the Messiah.

How does one answer the ‘Jew?’ For this person, the cross is their disappointment. The cross represents dashed hopes of a better life now. It is a reminder that the One who could have literally set them free and brought vengeance to all their enemies stood by and let the enemy apparently triumph. This person stumbles over the cross because the cross turns the meaning of power on its head. In the cross, we find the ultimate strength and power in humility. In the cross, the God who created the universe willingly subjected Himself to that creation, and to the worst form of its twisted falleness. And He did it because He alone could do it.  He alone was powerful enough to pay the debt humanity had accrued since the garden.  He owes no one, but is owed everything. Somehow, only He could pay what is owed to Him. Is this not a display of strength? Isn’t there a quiet strength that is implicit in humility, the strength we have in knowing who we are rather than letting others define us. It was this kind of strength that allowed Christ to “set His face like flint toward Jerusalem.” Oh how often is this humility mistaken for weakness. How often my pride recoils at the thought of going and doing likewise.

Coming to grips with the cross is not an easy thing. I’m am faced with the unpalatable fact that like ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ before me, I am scandalized by the cross. As much as I would like to be the twenty-first century equivalent to St. Peter or St. Paul, I all too often, bear a closer resemblance to Judas. And yet, in the infinite mystery of atonement, I can still run to Christ, and because of His death, our relationship can be restored.  The restoration of that relationship really is the heart of the Gospel.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. scrap_hag
    May 08, 2011 @ 04:16:39

    there is no timing like God’s. Thank you for being His means of getting through to me today.
    1 Cornithians 2:5


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