April Magazine Article: The Cross at Easter

This is my article for the Easter edition of our church magazine.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18a NIV)

At Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know the story almost as well as Christmas. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey to the acclaim of a king, but soon enough he is betrayed by a friend, abandoned by his disciples, tried unjustly and crucified even though the judge knew he was innocent. Of course, the story doesn't end there. Having been laid in a tomb, three days later he rises again, a miracle witnessed by hundreds of people.

While the Easter story hasn't been so amenable to the greetings card industry as Christmas - no cute babies and cattle lowing - it has left Christianity with its most enduring image: the cross. It's an enduring, but also a bemusing image. Why do Christians focus on what seems to be the darkest point in their history - when their leader died? Paul recognises the problem when he writes in 1 Corinthians 1:23 "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." (NIV) And yet he still goes on to write that in Corinth "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2 NIV) And he also writes "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal 6:14a NIV)

I wonder if this bemusement, along with the sheer brutality of the cross, is what means that the symbols people prefer for Easter these days are eggs and bunnies. Certainly they are more child-friendly. However, if we avoid the cross, then we avoid the heart of Christianity. In fact, we avoid the centre-point of history.

To understand the fixation of the church and its founding apostles with the cross, we need to understand what the cross was about. 1 Peter 3:18a gives us that understanding in a nutshell. First, Jesus' death on the cross was "for sins." In Genesis 3, death came into the world because of sin - it is the punishment for sin. Paul writes in Romans 3:23, "for the wages of sin is death." (NIV) But what is shocking about Jesus, is that his death was different, because he hadn't done anything wrong (1 Peter 2:22). He was "the righteous." What we have here is a substitution. Jesus, who was perfect, was dying in the place of those who aren't, "the unrighteous." As the song writer Stuart Townend writes "Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon his shoulders."

And the purpose of this was simple: "to bring you to God." Our sin separates us from God. It leaves us facing his judgement and punishment - eternal death and hell. But Jesus died on the cross, taking that punishment for us, so that we can once again be friends with God, as Adam and Eve were when they walked in the garden with him.

Whether we know it or not, what we do with Jesus is the central question of our lives. Why? Because it is the question of our relationship to God. With the resurrection, Paul makes the cross the key thing about Jesus we must believe to be saved and be brought to God: "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1Corinthians 15:2-4 NIV)

This Easter, let me ask you two questions:
1. What are you relying on for your relationship with God? The cross of Christ or something else?
2. How will you share the message of the cross this Easter?

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us,
Took the blame, bore the wrath:
We stand forgiven at the cross.
(Stuart Townend and Keith Getty)


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