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The Centrality of the Cross

In the light of Christ’s teaching regarding His own death by crucifixion, it is no surprise that the apostles Peter, John, and Paul make the cross of Jesus Christ the very center of their theology of the atonement (1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:10; 1 Corinthians 2:2). John Stott frames it this way:

"Anybody who investigates Christianity for the first time will be struck by the extraordinary stress His followers put on His death. In the case of all other great spiritual leaders their death is lamented as terminating their career. It is of no importance in itself; what matters is their life, their teaching and the inspiration of their example. With Jesus, however, it is the other way around. His teaching and example were indeed incomparable, but from the beginning His followers laid their emphasis on His death.

And the reason for this emphasis by the apostles is that they had seen it in the mind of Jesus Himself. It set Him apart from the other religious leaders in history. They died of natural causes in a good old age, having successfully completed their mission. Muhammad was 62, Confucius 72, the Buddha 80 and Moses 120. But Jesus died the horrible death of crucifixion in His early thirties, repudiated by His own people, apparently a complete failure, yet claiming to fulfill His mission by His death. Indeed, during His last few days on earth, He was still looking forward to the accomplishment of His work. It is clear, then, that Jesus’ death was central to His own self-understanding.[1]"

This is Paul’s assessment as well for it is he who affirms: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom (or ‘by which,’ i.e. the cross) the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). This is a stunning reversal of cultural attitudes in Paul’s day regarding the horror of crucifixion. The Latin word for cross is crux, a word that was considered an obscenity not to be uttered in civil conversation in ancient Rome because crucifixion was such an obscene and noxious form of death. “Yet this utterly vile form of punishment was that which Jesus endured, and by enduring it He turned that shameful instrument of torture into the object of His followers’ proudest boast.”[2]

Christians rejoice in the cross because of all that Christ accomplished through His cross-death and His subsequent resurrection. In Romans 8:32 (NKJV) Paul celebrates the reality that God the Father “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all . . .” In delivering His Son up to the agony of the cross, He secured for all true believers in Jesus a marvelous litany of blessings, two of which are identified in 8:33-34. The first is that no prosecution can succeed against us – “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (v. 33). The second is that no condemnation can stand against us – “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (v. 34).

In Joshua Bauder’s Oratorio, Abraham, we are given a glorious insight into one of Scripture’s most graphic prophetic portraits of Christ’s cross-death. From the Book of Genesis the Oratorio celebrates Isaac’s rescue from certain death at the hand of his father, Abraham. The Scripture says: “And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said . . . . ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ Then Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide. . .” (Genesis 22:10-14). Jesus is our Lord’s ultimate and final Provision for all humankind, for in His cross-death He was “delivered up for us all” and in that act He became “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Romans 8:32; John 1:29).

[1]John Stott, Why I Am a Christian (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2003), 49-50.

[2]F.F. Bruce, Philippians, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1989), 71.

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