Wednesday: The Cross of Christ

In 1985 John Stott published his classic book, “The Cross of Christ.” 20 years later the book was republished to commemorate its excellence and put it in the hands of a rising generation. That’s the same year Stott was named by Time Magazine one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Without question, his magnum opus remains one of the 100 most influential books in the past 100 years.

Stott very astutely organizes his book about the cross of Jesus Christ around 4 great themes: Approaching the cross, the heart of the cross, the achievement of the cross, and living under the cross. As we approach Good Friday and the climax of Passion Week, I’d like to comment on the cross of Christ and its rightful place at the center.

To approach the cross of Christ (to borrow from Stott) in a way that’s consistent with the biblical emphasis on Jesus’ sacrifice, we must do so from the proper starting point. We have to begin by asking how important the cross is? And the answer is, of course, the cross is central to everything. Everything about Jesus’ life was driving towards his death. His miracles, His teachings, His compassion and correction. All of it has a view towards the cross. The cross was central to the life and mission of Jesus, it’s central to the life of the church, its central to the life of the believer. William Farley, in his excellent little book, “Outrageous Mercy” says, “What the heart is to the body, the cross is to our faith.

Yet we can slowly, imperceptibly remove the cross from its rightful place at the center of our own lives, and put something else in its place. This happens in three ordinary ways.

First, we can become so familiar with the message of the cross that we lose sight of its significance. We may read or hear about some aspect of the atonement, but we say to ourselves, “yeah, I’ve heard that many times.” It doesn’t move us emotionally, anymore, and so we begin to grow cool in our affections for God. It’s only a short step from there to a pseudo-Christianity that has no cross at all. In place of the message of the cross we put a hunger for novelty.

Second, we can view the message of the cross as a message for the unbeliever only, as though redeemed sinners need the cross less than unredeemed sinners. This is a deathblow to any hopes of Christian maturity, because your faith is fortified and deepened by laying hold of the achievement of the cross. It was on the cross that your sins were laid on Him, and the blood of the covenant was shed. The believer must never move past the cross, but must always move ever deeper into it. Otherwise, we replace the message of the cross with a message of self-reliance.

Third, we can replace the power of the cross with a message more palatable to our sensibilities. It’s nicer and easier to pursue a religion where I can manage my own ability to deal with sin. What can be less palatable than the sight of an innocent man hung on a tree as One cursed by God in my place? “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood.” The danger here is replacing the scandal of the cross with the scourge of self-righteousness.

Life under the cross, however, is never meant to be reinterpreted as life ‘next’ to the cross. We are never meant to live our lives with the cross ‘near’ us, off to the left or to the right. Rather, we are meant to live our lives with the cross at the center of us because the cross represents not only the forgiveness of sins, but a whole new relationship to God the Father, through Jesus the Son. A loving relationship that can only exist because of the cross-work of Christ.

In the haste of life, or even in the exercise of faith, where passions compete for your allegiance, have you set the message of the cross aside? Taken it for granted? Holy Week is a time for remembrance and returns. Hear the call of the cross beckoning you to its center. Then give praise to the glory of His grace for His outrageous mercy, given for you.


Hymn for Wednesday: Man of Sorrows

Man of sorrows what a name

for the Son of God, who came

ruined sinners to reclaim:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!


Bearing shame and scoffing rude,

in my place condemned he stood,

sealed my pardon with his blood:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!


Guilty, helpless, lost were we;

blameless Lamb of God was he,

sacrificed to set us free:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!


He was lifted up to die;

“It is finished” was his cry;

now in heaven exalted high:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!


When he comes, our glorious King,

all his ransomed home to bring,

then anew this song we’ll sing:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!