The cross has stood as the central theme of the Christian faith for over 2000 years but it’s relevance isn’t always appreciated. The Apostle Paul said that Christ crucified was,
“A stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
The Jews, we know, we’re looking for an all conquering messiah King who would rid the nation of their oppressors, which is why a King dying on a cross becomes a stumbling block. Jesus, in their eyes, failed to fulfill the expectation for an all conquering King, the promised King. The Gentiles looked for wisdom, some higher, fuller, secret knowledge. A King offering himself on a cross, surrendering his own life failed to fit with the kind of wisdom the Gentile nations and especially the Greeks were looking for.
Despite these political, philosophical and religious objections to the way of the Cross, it Is evident that at the cross is where we see God at his most powerful and God at his most wise.
The Victory Parade
There’s a road in Rome, (I’m desperate to go there) a road that you can walk down called the Via Triumphalis. It is the ancient road of the Roman victory parades. Victorious emperors and generals lead their armies down this road in celebration and triumph and the people would come out to greet them and salute their conquering heroes. The Apostle Paul was aware of this parade and used it as a metaphor for our life in Christ. He said,
“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance and the knowledge of him.” 2 Corinthians 2:14
It doesn’t, however, always feel like it. It doesn’t always feel like we are living a life of victory. Sometimes it can feel more like death than life. That is when the cross is at its most powerful and God is at his wisest. For it is from this cross 2000 years ago, the darkest moment in all of human history, when we chose to kill God, when we chose to destroy the author of life, that the greatest and most powerful light has shone. The message of the cross is always this, that in Jesus, what looks and feels like defeat is actually victory. Paul, this time writing to the Colossians says,
“Having disarmed the powers and authorities (the powerful and the wise), he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15
This moment which the Jews thought powerless and the Greeks thought foolish, was the moment of God’s greatest triumph. The moment when sin and death, those twin imposters that had entered way back in the garden of Eden, were put to death themselves.
“It is finished,” Jesus cried, “The old has gone the new has come,” Paul concluded. “Death is dead,” is what I say.
“Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34.
This is what Christianity looks like, it looks like love absorbing sin and death and trusting God for resurrection. The cross is the act of radical forgiveness that gives sin, violence and vengeance a place to die in the body of Jesus. The world that was born when Adam and Eve fell. A world that entertained blame, murder, pride and a power that tramples on the weak. A world that in its pride thought it could both blame and out muscle God, that world died in the body of Jesus on the cross. That dead, lifeless, hopeless world died.
What is God Like?
Jesus on the cross, bleeding, dying, suffering, it is Jesus in this moment that most radically and clearly defines for us what God is like. He is love, co-suffering, all forgiving, sin absorbing, never ending love. God is not like Caiaphas looking for a scapegoat. God is not like Pilot enacting justice through violence and power. God is like Jesus absorbing and forgiving sin. This is the power of the cross, a world of sin is absorbed by the love of God and recycled into grace and mercy. No wonder one hymn writer penned these words…
Here is love vast as the ocean
And on the third day he rose again…Wisdom and power beyond measure.
Thank God for the Cross.