The Cross: For Us, By Us and In UsBy David Turner on March 27, 2016
In many evangelical churches, Easter is relegated to a single Sunday each year. In more liturgically-minded churches, Eastertide is observed as the eight-Sunday season between Easter and Pentecost, which this year falls from March 27 to May 15. Either way, Christ's death and resurrection is the very heart of our experience of new life in Him. We need to reflect on the absolute centrality of the cross—that it isn't merely for us, it's also by us and in us.
Grace: The Cross for Us
It's a foundational biblical truth that the cross is for us. In love, Jesus the Christ died and arose on our behalf (Matt. 20:28; 26:26-29; Rom. 8:31-39; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:18-20). However, there is a danger when this truth stands alone, separate from its biblical setting—we can end up with a triumphalist "it's all about me" mentality: I'm really something if Jesus did that for me. Such shallow "faith" covers narcissism with the thinnest scriptural veneer. We do absolutely need to understand and believe that God speaks for us in the cross, but there's more...
Guilt: The Cross by Us
We can't really appreciate how the cross is for us until we contemplate that it's by us. Jesus died because of our sin, taking our guilt upon himself. He arose to show our guilt was gone, replaced by new life in Him. We were all there when "they" crucified our Lord. They are us. This is another foundational biblical truth (Isa. 53:4-6; Rom. 3:23-26; 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:21). However, again, there is danger when this truth stands alone. We can end up with a defeatist "Woe is me!" mentality: I'm so despicable, I made Jesus die. But self-loathing is just as self-centered as the "it's all about me" mentality. We do need to believe that we are guilty, and that God answers our guilt with His amazing grace, but again, there's more...
Godliness: The Cross in Us
We can't fully appreciate how the cross can be for us yet also by us unless we realize that it also must be in us. Christ's death and resurrection are the model for our life in Him. We die with Him to all our old vices, and we're raised with Him to a life of new virtues. Our life of following him is shaped by His life, death, resurrection and Second Coming. This is a third foundational biblical truth (Matt. 16:24-26; Rom. 6:1-14; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:1-10; Phil. 2:1-13; 3:7-11; Col. 3:1-17). Our lives as followers of Jesus should take on the character of cruciformity—the daily process of denying self and affirming Christ as we embrace and embody God's love in Christ through the Spirit's work in us.
Putting it all together, even though our guilt put Jesus on the cross, He went there in amazing grace and love, in order to transform us from an empty, self-centered, living death to a full Christ-centered, cross-centered, dying life which is godliness (and "Christliness"). God loves us sinners enough to send Christ to die for us, but He loves us too much to leave us in sin. Today, on Easter Sunday, let's ask God to help us not only to believe in the cross, but also to behave it and to become it.
An Eastertide Prayer
Adapted from "The Book of Common Prayer"
O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection. Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit. Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
If you're interested, here is a song by Shai Linne called "Were You There?" that fits this Easter theme well.