Updated: Apr 12, 2022
I was wrong.
My last posting re. “The myth of the Cross” conveyed something of a myth in itself. By implication, I suggested that the empty tomb of Easter was Christ’s reward for his obedience and not his sacrifice on the day we call “Good Friday.” I took issue with the age’s old belief that God desired sacrifice and, hence, the Cross served God’s need for such in order to bring about our Easter hope of resurrection. But I did so in a way that may have wrongly mythologized the work of sacrifice within God’s biblical plan of salvation.
The biblical record is clear that God desires obedience more than sacrifice, but it is also clear that there can be no obedience to God’s commands of loving others as Christ has loved us unless we are willing to join in God’s own sacrificial love upon the Cross of Jesus Christ. Full obedience requires full sacrifice. By the same token, Jesus calls us to follow him more than to merely believe in him, but such following implies both our having first believed and then counted the cost.
From my own book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” I described the cross in these terms:
Of highest biblical authority, in my own mind, is the use of the Greek word sozo in connection with the sayings of Jesus in scripture. The word most literally means to save, to be saved, to be delivered, to be healed, to be in right relationship with God. And his most pointed use of this word in the biblical text came in these words found in all three synoptic Gospels: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me, for those who want to save (sozo) their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save (sozo) it” -- Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24 and 17:33. Even the Gospel of John seems to concur by quoting Jesus as saying, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” -- John 12:24-26. The context in all four of these texts was Christ’s own impending death as it applies to our sozo or being saved.
Jesus apparently believed rather strongly that the cross was not his alone to carry. Death was not his alone to suffer. Nor ours alone, for that matter.
Rather, this conjoint cross of self-sacrifice was to be our sharing in the Kingdom, meaning we must all take up our cross and carry it “with” him. Such is the unique “salvation Gospel” (or sozo in the Greek) from Christ himself that appears in all four New Testament (Covenant) Gospels. Such is the unique “messianic prophecy” about Christ from Isaiah 7:14 that is said to be named or properly titled as Immanuel. The Hebrew words being immanu (“with us”) and el (“God”). It was altogether in God’s character to be “with” the people he was saving from slavery or from the battlefield. The significance throughout scripture of any successful outcome, salvation included, is that we cannot succeed without God’s work and God will not succeed without our work. We’re in this together. Hence, we are atoned (at-oned).
It was the great British hymnist, Thomas Shepherd, who left the Anglican Priesthood to pastor Nottingham’s independent, non-comformist Castle Hill Meeting House in 1694, after writing this controversial hymn just a year earlier.
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone
And there’s a cross for me.
When I survey the wondrous cross of Jesus, I often consider a concept from my years of clinical experience in working to heal the human symptoms of a depressed mood. In the field of mental health counseling, it is widely accepted that helping the depressed individual requires doing as much as possible “with” that person and little as possible “for” him or her. Such a common axiom is often the first point of coaching in relation to the depressed person’s family members. For them, this is wildly counter-intuitive and goes against the grain of what they’ve long believed is true. In the context of family counseling, folks may well drag their family member off to a different therapist who will tell them instead what to do “for” and not “with” their loved one. Inwardly, they are seeking to be in control over their own fear that they have somehow failed their loved one. Unknown even to themselves, they may seek control over their loved one’s moods in ways quite counter-productive. A vicious cycle then traps both patient and family into dysfunction as they assume the impossible task of fighting these depressed moods “for” their loved one.
So the truth of the cross is……...God came to die with us. To share in our suffering. Sacrificially. Obediently. All the while calling us to love one another as he has loved us.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me, for those who want to save (sozo) their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save (sozo) it” -- Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24 and 17:33.