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Christ Without A Cross

H. Richard Niebuhr said that Americans believe: A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross[i].  That is a convicting statement.  It’s easy to think of the cross as a beautiful piece of art or jewelry, rather than what it fully represents.

When I meditate on my sins, I have no place to leave them but the cross.  As much as I don’t like to think over my sins, I don’t like to think about the cross even more.  It is a truly horrific and inhumane site.  The movie The Passion of the Christ, physicians’ documentation of the cross’s effect on the body, and reading the Bible’s description of Jesus’ sufferings alert my senses to the reality of the suffering Christ endured on my behalf.  But no matter how serious I am about identifying my sins, or meditating on Christ’s sufferings, I could never fully understand what it was like. The cross of criminals was the most brutal treatment one man could impose on another.  It involved shame, humiliation, excruciating pain, mockery and torture.  God, love, torture, mockery, it all comes together in a beautifully repugnant way. 

When I visited Israel I went to place called Nazareth Village where Christians have built a mini hamlet to demonstrate what life was like in the first century.  They prepared a cross built according to the historical documents and its size brought an even deeper awe about the cross to my soul.  The cross was probably only about six feet off the ground, as the crucified human was nailed in a seated position with knees bent so that it would cause more pain when the person attempted to draw breath. 

            Here’s a picture I took of their realistic version of a 1st century cross from at Nazareth Village. What stunned my soul was how intimate it must have been for Jesus.  His mother, John, the mockers and others were closer to Him than I imagined.  The cross of Christ was real.  It was vicious.  It was reserved for rogues.   This is where our God chose to conquer the reality of sin.  In the season of Lent we take forty days to take in this truth.  His sacrifice was not just gruesome, it was redemptive.  It was the ugly answer to the ugliness of sin. 

Like the Apostle Paul, when I truly think about the cross I exclaim: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).  Christ’s suffering helps me accept my own suffering.  Rather than being overcome by it, I look for how God has designed redemptive powers into my own suffering.  Whatever suffering God allows into my life has the same power of Christ’s suffering. 

The American way is the gospel of success, the New Testament teach me the Gospel of the cross.


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