The Cross of Christ

The Cross of Christ

TEXT: Luke 9:18-25; Philippians 2:1-4

We are three weeks into the New Testament portion[1] of our summer series: “The Bible in 14 Sentences.” Thank you to Jim Hinton for covering the first two New Testament themes of FULFILLMENT and KINGDOM last week. And thank you for Eric for preaching two weeks ago while I was away! His message on authentic worship as lived-out faith ties in directly to today’s message.

Jim reminded us of the first two themes:

  1. FULFILLMENT: Jesus was the fulfillment of those promises and covenants we studied in the Old Testament, from Creation to the Fall to Abraham to David and through the prophets. We’ll talk some more today about what it meant (and didn’t mean) for him to acknowledge himself as the promised Messiah.
  2. KINGDOM: Jesus’ main message was about the arrival and presence of God’s Kingdom in our midst. It is not yet fully realized, but it is present with us and around us and we are invited to be citizens of that Kingdom and part of God’s work in the world.

The third theme that we will focus on today is the CROSS and the key sentence from scripture comes from Luke 9:22, where Jesus says of himself, “The Son of Man must… be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” We’ll talk about Jesus understanding of himself as the Messiah and the meaning of his suffering and death, which is what comes into view when we talk about the cross.

An Uncommon Messiah

I’ve talked before about the expectations for the Messiah in Jesus’ time. Messiah means “anointed one.” Who gets anointed? Kings get anointed and the Messiah was supposed to be a King for Israel from the line and house of David. We’ve talked about that more than once this summer. God had made a promise to King David, not to mention to Abraham and Israel. And in Jesus’ time God’s people were hard pressed. They were out of Exile, true; but there was no earthly kingdom because Caesar ruled the world through the Roman Empire.

Here’s something you may or may not know. There were others who stepped up and claimed to be the Messiah. There were others who checked off the qualifications like being of the house of David. There were others that made triumphal entries through the gate into Jerusalem. And there were others who fed the common expectation and roused up revolutionaries to take on Rome. Some of these would-be messiahs are mentioned in ancient histories. In fact, the 7 Sentences book pointed out something I didn’t know or had forgotten: two of these false Messiah’s are mentioned in Acts 5:36-37 to describe why Jesus is different and the real Messiah.

But Jesus didn’t line up to common expectations in several ways. For one, he did talk about the Kingdom, but it was not an earthly kingdom of Israel to be restored, but God’s Kingdom already here, but also not yet fully realized. And secondly, he talked about his own death as part of his mission. He did not come to become great, but to serve and to suffer, and ultimately die. No other would-be messiahs said that!

Jim talked last week about Jesus’ understanding of God’s promised Kingdom, so I won’t dwell on that now. I’d like to dig into Jesus’ understanding of his own mission, which included his suffering and death. And that leads us to the cross.

A Cross of Atoning Death

Even if Jesus interpreted God’s Kingdom differently than those around him, it is easy to find the common roots in the Old Testament for promises of a King and a Kingdom. But what was not at all a common understanding of Messiah in Jesus’ day was the idea that the Messiah would suffer or die for the sake of the mission. And yet this was Jesus’ understanding of his own mission.

Someone recently asked me about Old Testament roots for this aspect of Jesus mission and ministry. I pointed to Isaiah and his imagery of a “suffering servant.” Later New Testament writers would later connect those dots, but they did so because Jesus did so. One thing I learned this past week from the 7 Sentences book was that Rabbis of Jesus’ day understood those images in Isaiah to be talking about the nation as a whole. It was a radical idea, that a nation could suffer and that suffering lead to redemption. That was Isaiah’s teaching on the years of Exile and the path of God’s restoration.

But Jesus made an interesting move: he understood himself to be the representative for all Israel and to take Isaiah’s “suffering servant” imagery for all Israel and bear it in himself on behalf of Israel, and indeed, the nations. Though it was Paul who would later refer to Jesus as the “second Adam” Jesus understood himself to be gathering up God’s promises, Law, sacrifices, prophecies, and plan into himself. And all this came into sharp focus on the cross, something which was not a surprise to Jesus, but something he started talking about far ahead of the event. At the Last Supper, the basis for the communion we will receive today, Jesus gathered the symbols and meaning of the Passover meal and sacrifice into himself, into his own body and blood. And after asking the disciples who people said he was, he affirmed Peter’s answer: “the Christ (that’s Greek for Messiah) of God.” And then Jesus said that he would suffer many things, be rejected, be killed, and be raised up.

On the cross, then, Jesus fulfilled the role of the Messiah, not only having ushered in God’s Kingdom, but also giving up his life as an atoning sacrifice as in Leviticus, as the servant of all who suffers redemptively as in Isaiah, as the second Adam who undoes the curse of sin and death.

A Cross of Obedient Life

The cross has a second significant meaning, though. It not only is the place where we see the atoning sacrifice that makes us right with God. In Mark 8:34-38 Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus isn’t saying that we have to die on a cross like him (‘cause he’s already done that!), but he is telling us that following him will involve patterning our life after his. It is a life of humility and service, a life of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. There are numerous examples of Jesus teaching this: his reading from Isaiah in the synagogue, parables about neighbors, donning the towel to wash the disciples’ feet after they had been arguing about greatness, and more.

It’s what I was trying to describe in the children’s message: that we often treat the cross and salvation like a driver’s license, but we fail to then do the thing that we are meant to do with that salvation. Jesus made it clear that he suffered and died that we would be made right with God and so that we would then participate with God’s work in the world.

That’s why the two things are always kept together in scripture:

  • Worship and mission
  • Saved and sent
  • Love of God and love of neighbor
  • Blessed to be a blessing

Or, in keeping with my metaphor with a bit of James Bond thrown in: we are licensed to love! And that love is not just a generic, sentimental warm fuzzy, but is spelled out and modeled in scripture in numerous and specific ways.

You are fully licensed! Where are you going next?

[1] The New Testament portion of our summer series comes from the book The New Testament in 7 Sentences, by Gary Burge. For more on Jesus self-understanding of being Messiah as well as the dual focus of the cross, see chapter 3 by Burge.

Some Music Used

  • O Love that Will Not Let Me Go (Indelible Grace)
  • Lion of Judah (Robin Mark)
  • In Christ Alone (Getty/Townend)