Monday, February 09, 2015

Parish Magazine Item for March - Lee Gatiss, The Forgotten Cross

This season of Lent (which began on Ash Wednesday, 18th February) is traditionally one of preparation for the celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ at Easter. This year I might prepare for Easter, possibly amongst other things, by reading a new little book by The Revd Dr Lee Gatiss entitled The Forgotten Cross (Evangelical Press, 2014, 109 pages, £3.99). I’m hoping the book might provide the basis for our ‘Hour At The Cross’ services on Good Friday too.

The central reality of the cross is that Jesus died in the place of all those who would put their trust in him, bearing the wrath of God against sin, so that we might be forgiven (see for example Isaiah 53:5-6, Galatians 3:13 and 1 Peter 3:18). In the theological jargon this is called “penal substitutionary atonement”. Vital as this is, it’s far from being the only thing the Bible says about the cross and Lee’s book attempts to explore some other aspects and implications of the cross which we might be tempted to neglect. He seeks to apply the message of the cross to the realities of daily life.

For example, the cross might re-shape how we think about success (1 Corinthians 1). The cross seems stupid and weak, but in fact it’s God’s powerful means of salvation. If we take the cross to heart, we won’t be overly concerned with outward appearance. Indeed, the cross requires us to admit our weakness, our need, if we’re to avail ourselves of the rescue Jesus offers. The cross should teach us humility. There is level ground at the foot of the cross – no pedestals, no ladders to climb.

The cross is also the ultimate example of service to others “for even the Son of Man [the Lord Jesus] came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ disciples were very taken up with glory and greatness but Jesus, though he was in very nature God, lowered himself to the humiliating death of the cross. We need to allow Jesus to serve us, to make us clean, and to empower us to serve others.

The cross can also help us if we face unjust suffering. Jesus shows us an alternative to retaliation or revenge: “if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20-21). However hard the way we have to walk, we can know that Jesus has gone before us. He sympathises with us, calling us to go the same way he has gone, and indeed he promises to be with us by his Spirit as we do so.  

Ephesians 2:11-22 shows how the cross deals with separation. It brings peace and unity, overcoming our alienation from God and from one another. The purpose of the cross is not merely the salvation of individuals but that God might save a great people for fellowship with himself and with one another in his Son. God reconciles us to himself and draws us into his new family whatever our background.  

According to Titus 2:14, one aim of the cross was our sanctification. That is, Jesus died to make us holy. Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The cross should transform how we live.   

Finally the cross shows us Jesus’ supremacy. Jesus dies as a king wearing a crown – of thorns. Although it looks like a shameful defeat, by the cross Jesus wins a cosmic victory triumphing over all his enemies. On the first Good Friday evil, sin and death are overcome by good. At the cross Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).

In Christ’s “very weakness we find strength. In his alienation, we are reconciled to God. In his rejection, we have our acceptance. In his death, there is victory and life.” This Easter, may God open our eyes afresh to what Lee calls “the poetry of the gospel, the multifaceted beauty of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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