Are we making too much of the cross?

With Easter coming I’ve been thinking, along with most other Christians, a lot about the cross. I am still blown away that God came and died so that I might live. The cross is what separates Christianity from all other religions in the world. We alone serve a God who died for us, who sacrificed for our sins, who willingly took the punishment I deserved. The cross is a breathtaking reminder of the cost and depth of grace.

And yet…

Over the past few years it seems the cross is being moved from the center of our faith to the totality of our faith. We are told that every sermon, every lesson, every thought must point back to the cross. All of faith is simplified to three icons: the manger, the cross and the empty tomb.

My fear is that in emphasizing the death of Jesus we are losing the meaning of the life of Jesus. It’s not as though he was killing time between the manger and the cross. “I’ve got 33 years to get this done, so I guess I’ll heal some people and teach some lessons.” Jesus lived life on purpose, and he intended us to follow the pattern he established.

So what are significant rhythms of Jesus’ life? Here are some things that jump out at me:

  • Jesus healed people. A lot of people.
    We have moved as far away from healing people as possible because it is mysterious and we don’t know how it works. But you can’t read the life of Jesus or his disciples without realizing there was a lot of healing going on. How can we incorporate healing into our lives on a daily basis?
  • Jesus hung out with his disciples all of the time. They ate together, they traveled together, they went to the beach together.
    Jesus specifically and publicly chose an exclusive group of close friends and then he spent an inordinate amount of time with them. This seems like a pattern he wanted us to follow. Do I have a group of friends that I have specifically identified as people I am going to invest the rest of my life in? Do I spend the time with them it would take? The answer for me is not so much.
  • He spent time with men AND women. Some of his closest followers were women and he was ok with that.
    Jesus didn’t seem too concerned about what people might say, or the fact that women were looked down on by most men. He seemed comfortable with women as leaders and as a part of his closest circle. (All of his disciples were men, but the fact that they lived together may have precluded bring women into that group.) No matter how I interpret Paul’s teaching on women as elders/pastors it seems to follow Jesus pattern women should have major roles of leadership in any ministry I’m involved in.
  • He spent a lot of time at parties.
    Jesus seemed to have a ministry of partying with sinners. Not just churchy events, but real live party till the sun comes up parties. And he got invited to a lot of parties, so he must have been fun to be around. Maybe I am going to too many church parties and not attending enough keggers.
  • He didn’t seem to care how big the crowd was.
    Jesus never seemed impressed with attendance at his events. In fact he seemed to purposely say things that drove people away. I can’t imagine Jesus paying attention to any “Largest” or “Fastest Growing” lists. I am too worried about the “how many” question and not worried enough about the “how well”.

These are just a few of things that I find lacking in my life when I compare it to Jesus, there are many more.

This Easter while I am celebrating the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, which are absolutely central to my faith, I’m going to spend some extra time examining the life of Jesus and how mine matches up. Will you join me?

3 Responses to “Are we making too much of the cross?”

  1. Yvonne Trimble (@YvonneTrimble) April 5, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    As a 35 year missionary in Haiti where I still live and will celebrate Easter, I have no idea in what American church circles the cross has become “the totality of our faith!” I am so grateful when in a US church to even hear the name of Jesus Christ or any preaching of the repentance ending at the cross I can almost not relate to what you have written.

    On the other hand I do know what you are referring to as far as “celebrating the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, which are absolutely central to my faith.” In other words, Christ is the beginning, the end and the middle of my faith and the gospel message from Genesis to Revelation.

    Christology sees Him alive, healing, offering, falsely accused, presecuted,speaking offensive truth, partying, Prophet, Priest, King and Judge in all 66 books. Perhaps the failure to preach and teach a Christocentric theology from beginning to end is the deficiency that nails American Churches to the cross over and over again.

    BTW I love your writing, your views, your egalitarianism and your tweets! Be encouraged God has got a people.

  2. Will Robinson April 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Made my way here from a link on Facebook. Pastor Surratt, I greatly appreciate your writing and your preaching, but on this point I will have to respectfully disagree. Referring to his cross and the tomb, the Lord Jesus himself rebukes the two disciples on the road to Emmaus “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory”-Luke 24:25,26. The Lamb receiving glory and honor (Rev 5:12;13:8) is one that was slain. Also, the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:14- “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”. The cross is the thing that the Christian faith hangs on. You rightly mention Jesus’ righteous life of thirty-three years. A sinless, faultless human life is impossible for us to rightly imitate. Nothing that Jesus did is, properly speaking. But it is Christ in us who is the hope of glory(Colossians 1:27). There is no question that we are sometimes too heavenly minded, but the cross grounds us rightly. It is a reminder of exactly how unspeakable the holy creator is, how much he despises sin and the incredible love that he has for us, that he would redeem us even at such a cost.The lives of grace and love toward our neighbors friendship and sacrifice laughter and suffering and kindness that all of us in Christ are called to, starts with the cross.

  3. Andrew Dowsett April 8, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    I hear you, Geoff.

    I believe Jesus’ life has become divorced from our lives, because we have misunderstood the nature of the uniqueness of Christ. The person of Jesus is unique, uniquely Son of God, uniquely the spotless Lamb of God. But Jesus very clearly involved his first disciples in the life he lived, included them in his mission – so that that mission radiated out from one person – and commissioned them to make disciples who make disciples, who are to do everything the first disciples did, through every generation and people-group…Jesus is not only our Saviour, but also our model. Actually, right down to the cross: for even though my death cannot take away the sins of the world, yet I am called to take up my own cross and follow him; and, indeed, many of the first disciples were crucified. I believe that one of the most successful schemes of hell is to persuade us to misunderstand the uniqueness of Jesus, so that we believe that his life can in no way be our life, that there is no appropriate comparison, no possible connection there. And so our churches are full of people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but who have no concept of what it means to be his disciples, learning to live as he lived.

    Thank you for your post. It gives me much to reflect on. It speaks both invitation and challenge to me: challenge, where my life does not reflect the way of life of Jesus; and invitation that calls me to follow him, knowing that he has done all that is necessary for that to be possible.