5 things I learnt from The Cross of Christ

crossofchristI have just recently finished John Stott’s epic book “The Cross of Christ”. I remember receiving this book as a gift during relay and I spent some time in various chapters studying it and chewing on it. But I hadn’t actually read the whole thing from start to finish, so I embarked to do so this year.

Reading this book gave me a fresh reminder of the cross and what Christ had done on the cross. I want to share with you 5 things that I learnt or was reminded of from this book.

1. Christianity is nothing without the cross.

It is the lamb that is slain on the throne. The cross is the center of history and had been on the mind of Christ from the start. It is a stumbling block and most offensive to some people and to others it is a joy and the heart beat of Christianity.

Without the cross there could be no atonement, forgiveness of sins, evil defeated, salvation for sinners, suffering where Christ can sympathise with all our sufferings..and many more things that took place on the cross.

2. The cross impacts every sphere of our Christian living.

Why? John Stott says the cross is the:

ground of our justification (he has redeemed us from the curse),
the means for our sanctification (we have been crucified with him, the world to us and us to the world),
the subject of our witness (we are to placard Christ Crucified publicly before people’s eyes),
the object of our boasting (God forbid that we should boast in anything else!!)

3. We are enemies of the cross if it is not central to our Christian living

If the cross is not central to our Christian living then we are enemies of the cross and to be an enemy means:

self-righteousness (instead of looking to the cross for justification)
self-indulgence (Instead of taking up the cross to follow Christ)
self-advertisement (Instead of preaching Christ crucified)
self-glorification (Instead of glorying in the cross)

How true that is in my own life!

4. Love was the motivation of the cross

Reading this book reminded me afresh of the love of Christ for us. To take human flesh and walk among this earth in order to go to the cross for my sin and shame, to take on the punishment I deserved in order that I might be reconciled to the Father. It shows a great and deep love that I cannot truly understand.

If we were ever in doubt about whether God loves us, we need to look no further than to the cross – his love demonstrated for us there.

5. I need to be reminded of the cross daily

I forget so easily the triumph, victory, pain, weakness and sacrifice of the cross. I too easily become an enemy of the cross and become self-righteous and self-indulgent. I need to be reminded of the Gospel, what Christ has done on the cross.

I need to be reminded of this daily and I know my friends do too as we struggle through this life and our hearts become deceived and caught up in various things, we need to bring each other back to the cross.

If you have not read this book, I would recommend you do so. Don’t be put off by the size of the book, but instead take your time over it and enjoy the refreshing water that comes from it. Stott turns our eyes away from ourselves and what we must do, and places our gaze on Christ and what he has done. Wonderful.

Jesus or Cheesus?

Ned_FlandersReading the Guardian on my friends table last night I came across an article. An article entitled “I bang my head against the wall when evangelicals turn Jesus into Cheesus No PR agency in the world could sell the disturbing message of a broken man on the cross. That’s why we get Jesus-lite” 

This caught my attention. Why is this in the paper? Giles Fraser writes about Evangelicals display Jesus and that it often turns into a Cheesus PR campaign.

My guess is that he hates this falseness. Perhaps he sees a hypocrisy in contrast to the Jesus he has read about? It’s interesting to see how he feels Christians come across to the world and the Jesus they are presenting.

So who is the Jesus he has read about? This is what he says:

“The disciples run away, unable to cope with the impossible demands placed upon them. The hero they gave up everything to follow is exposed to public ridicule and handed over to Roman execution. And the broken man on the cross begins to fear that God is no longer present.

The fact that this is not the end of the story does not take away from the fact that tragedy will always be folded into the experience of faith. Even the resurrected Jesus bears the scars of his suffering. A man who has been through something like that will never smile that cheesy smile or think of faith as some sunny suburban upspeak.”

The suffering Christ is devastating, its weak, it brings about judgement, darkness, the weight of sin suffering placed upon his shoulders. Jesus doesnt bare a cheesy smile. Jesus cries out in pain. This isn’t a bumper sticker moment.
This moment should make us weep.

But it also gives us great joy. This is what Giles Fraser is missing. He says:

“Which is why, for the worst sort of Cheesus-loving evangelicals, the cross of Good Friday is actually celebrated as a moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate. Next week, in the run up to Easter, Christianity goes into existential crisis. It fails.”

The cross looks like failure to the world. It looks weak and pathetic. But it IS a moment of triumph. Those evangelical cheesus Christians have it right – it’s a place of victory.

It is finished – Jesus cries.(John 19v30)

A wave of hope washes over me. My sin is dealt with. The punishment has been paid for in full. The blood shed is covering me.

The_Cross_religious_Renaissance_Mannerism_Antonio_da_CorreggioAt first glance the cross looks like a massive fail. But then look again. There is no failure here. My sin is being dealt with. The Father is showing how much he loves us by sending his Son to die for us. (John 3v16) Come and look at the cross again. 

Giles Fraser concludes with:

“But the problem with PR Christianity is that it can easily transform Jesus into Cheesus, which is a form of Jesus-lite, a romantic infatuation, a Mills & Boon theology that makes you feel all warm inside. The Gospels, however, tell an altogether more disturbing story. And there is no PR agency in the world that could sell the message of a man who told his followers that they too would have to go the way of the cross. That’s the problem with Cheesus. He won’t really suffer and he doesn’t ever die.”

In some sense he is right – we don’t want a Cheesus. We don’t want Jesus-lit or a mills and boons theology. But we DO want the cross and we most certainly want the resurrection. Thats what puts a smile across our face – Jesus is alive. Giles Fraser is right, a cheesus wont ever suffer or die. And we don’t want that Cheesus. But we want a Jesus that suffers, dies and rises again!! That is the good news of the Gospel.

And who is this PR agency that he believes could never sell this message? The message that we all must die to ourselves and carry our cross? Who possible could be this PR agency? Well, for the last 2000 years the PR agency has been the bride of Christ – the Church. The church is the one that beckons people to come and see Christ, come and die to yourself, come and find comfort in this suffering servant who deals with your sin and come and rejoice in the resurrection. Sometimes we get that wrong and it can look like a cheesus. But we as the church are the ones to display Christ to the world – a suffering christ, a weak but triumphant Cross and a glorious resurrection.

Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

entirehistory Imagine if you had a perfect memory. Imagine if you could store in your mind every moment and every conversation you have ever had. You wouldn’t forget anything, you would never lose your keys and if there was a moment that you wanted to watch over and over again you could easily do that.

In Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: The Entire History of You, we are taken into a world where memories are stored on a hard drive in your brain (by a device behind your ear) and you can project those memories on the TV screen for all to see like an episode of Eastenders. This gadget seems like a perfect device for CSI – you can look at people’s past events and see whether they are lying or not. Employers can see your past events to see if your life matches up with your words. Your entire history can be accessed in extreme detail. It seems bliss and this episode shows successful young people in beautiful houses exhorting this technology for laughter and pleasure. But there is a darker side.

The protagonist, Liam, starts to become paranoid about his wife. He has doubts about her faithfulness to him so he goes back over and over situations they are in. He rewinds and plays moments over and over again. The truth unfolds to show that she is unfaithful. He makes her play those moments of the affair. These memories are stuck in his head.

Play. Pause. Rewind. Play…Repeat

The most horrific moment on constant repeat. Sounds terrible. The only relief and salvation is to remove the device from the brain. The only way to forgive and move on is to erase the memories altogether.

This happens in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The main characters Joel and Clementine want to erase their memories of their relationship – it becomes too painful to carry on with those memories so the best way to deal with it is to get rid of those memories and start again.

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.Alexander Pope

erasemeIt sounds like the perfect salvation. Imagine being hurt and having that constant memory stuck in your head, going around and around interrupting your sleep. The best way to deal with it is to get rid of the memory. Pretend it never happened.

“Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Black Mirror challenges us on how we leave an entire history of ourselves on the internet, with our e-mails, bank accounts, facebook and photos. Everyone can see them, our history is displayed to see. Yet if something or someone upsets us, well lets just erase it, lets just delete that friend, lets just untag ourselves. Simple.

Except it really isn’t. We are creatures that often cling to the hurt and pain of memories instead of the good and truthful ones. Just reading the Old Testament  shows how forgetful Gods people are to His goodness and salvation. In my own life its easy to remember the hurt and pain of a remark or a friendship breaking down – it runs deep and raw. It would better to just pretend they never existed. But in reality that won’t ever heal your heart.

There is something of forgiveness that brings a great balm to our souls and memories. If we could just erase memories, I wonder if it would truly remove the heartache, would it truly heal the ache or just bring about emptiness? Sin runs deeper than memories, it’s a sickness of the heart and the painful memories are often a reminder of the need of salvation. True salvation is not simply forgetting or erasing the memory or hurt, but true salvation is forgiveness and love piercing through those memories and hurts and healing the heart.

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
Lewis B. Smedes

Just look at how Jesus forgives. He knows all our sins, all our idolatry and hate crownofthornestowards him and yet while we were still enemies he dies for us. A forgiveness that runs deep into the heart and gives us hope for the future. It can only be satisfied on the cross.

What Liam needed in this episode was not his memories erased, but he needed the cross – the place of true forgiveness where memories of hurt and pain run loud and clear and yet in spite of that they are covered in blood bringing forth a healing forgiveness and love. If we simply forget those moments of painful memories then we will never learn forgiveness, we will only seek a numbing half lived life where we carve out all the best and good bits. It’s the struggles, the pain, the brokenness that brings us to the cross and teaches us about true love, healed hearts and restored relationships.

The Glory of God

gloryflowerI just want to give glory to God” – this is often an honest and heart-felt statement from Christians. It’s coming from a place of surrender and desire to please God and do his will. Yet I often wonder what giving Glory to God means. I wonder what Glory means. I was looking on the Desiring God website and found a little snippet on what Glory means and they said:

“So God’s glory is the radiance of his holiness, the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections.”

You have to ask yourself – who (rather than what?) is the radiance of his holiness? who is the radiance of his manifold, worthy perfections? Well Colossians 1v15 and Hebrews 1v3 says

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
(Colossians 1:15 ESV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)

It seems that the radiance of Gods holiness and glory is Jesus. Jesus is the glory of the Father and the Father pours his love by his spirit into his son. It feels less abstract. Jesus is the Father’s Glory.

It’s really easy to see Glory as something of strength and power. It’s something of greatness and worth. When we say we want to give God glory I know that to mean – I want to be the best I can for God, I want to be strong for God and to give the best talk and be the best evangelist and work the hardest and serve the longest and in that I want to give all praise to Him. It feels like Glory is power and might and its something I must display to give God glory.

When I think about how Jesus glorifies the Father it actually happens at a place of weakness and hopelessness. It’s at a place of feebleness, pain and death. Jesus glorifies the Father at the cross – displaying to all the earth the Fathers love for his children and yet he displays it in utter weakness. Utter powerlessness. The stench of death fills the room, hope hangs and dies. Does that feel like glory to you? Is that what you had in  mind when you said “I want to glorify God?” Probably not.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Jesus goes to the weak, the poor and needy instead of the rich, powerful and pious . I don’t think that it’s an accident that throughout the history of the bible the Lord chooses men and women who are weak, messed up, stumble with their words and not the most clever of the bunch to lead others and share his good news instead of using the most clever, the most eloquent of speakers, the most popular and good-looking. Glory seems to come through weakness.

If you were to say to the Lord “I just want to glorify you” and then something happens in your life – you get cancer, you are housebound, you have depression, you are seriously ill and you are weak and you are helpless and needy. Would you still feel like you can glorify God? Or were you thinking that this glory was more about your abilities, strength and “best ofs”? What if God says that through your suffering you will glorify me more – would you believe Him?

It’s hard. It’s hard because the world says we should be the best and the strongest. The christian organisations say they want the best leaders and best evangelists.

But it seems that the Lord works his glory through suffering and weakness. He showed it on the cross most of all. The Glory of the Lord was broken, weak and bleeding but yet He shone out through that the love and beauty of the Father. I often find that those christians who are most suffering, who are most struggling and just clinging on in weakness taking each day at a time, they are the ones who most show me Gods glory. They are the ones who most show me Jesus.

Glory is about weakness not strength. So when you say, “I just want to glorify God” you may want to recognise that God may take you through a place of suffering and weakness for that to happen. Because it’s in that place that you will most likely be surrendering all to him and give him praise. Glory isn’t about power and might. Glory is Jesus, dying on the cross.

It is Finished

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema
sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mark 15:34 ESV)

Tides of darkness swallow your mind,

Splitting the sheets of red silk

Laid upon by dirty hands. They grab you,

A crowd of thieves taking possession while

Humming a chorus of hissing stares.

In an instant the dirt that’s thrown turns to a thousand stars

Strewn across the canvas of a marked sacrifice.

 

Blood drips from their brow, infinite marks

Stretched out upon their palm.

The shrieking doesn’t stop, echoes of constant tune

Haunting bellows trapped in a vacuum.

Those eyes sunk deep into pulp, a stare sterilized

By blurry lights and nauseating delusion.

There are no crossroads here; it’s a brick wall.

 

Your human shell ripped at the seams,

Peeling the crest of existence onto their faces.

The scraping of transgression leeches to you

Decaying into your pours, streaming into your blood.

You feel it. You breathe it.

Every pumping beat that flows through you

Claws you passed consciousness.

 

But your cries are heard,

They part heaven with tears.

And as silence remains in His court

No flower shall bud, no beauty shall smile.

His strength summons the last breath

While Redemption is spread among the shadows,

And in a final resounding cry; It is finished.

 

Written by Catherine Caird