Get to the Cross and Never Leave

The cross slays worldly wisdom.

For the apostles and early church, that Jesus was crucified was not accidental or peripheral; it was profoundly revealing. Counter intuitively, the early church didn’t try to hide his crucifixion but pushed it front and center. The Son of God had not only taken on our flesh and blood, but he had given himself, sinless, in our stead, to execution at the cross.

 

Christians, in theory, cling to an “old, old story” in an era freshly fixed on what’s new. As a society, we are increasingly like—and now perhaps exceed—those ancient Athenians who “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). The information and digital revolutions have conspired to create a veritable vortex of telling and hearing new things (“news,” for short). Meanwhile, we Christians hold to our admittedly (and gloriously) ancient truths—truths both out of step with the news milieu, and precisely what we most need to regain our bearings and restore spiritual sanity.

In the early 1990s, D.A. Carson identified a danger now all the more pressing a generation later: “The cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 26). And the temptation goes back even further than that. Pastor and poet Horatius Bonar (1808–1889) wrote in 1864 in the book God’s Way of Holiness,

The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily [communion] with a crucified and risen Lord. All divine life, and all precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism. If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labor, diligence, fasting, praying, and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.

Bonar’s charge cuts painfully across the grain of our day, and perhaps his antiquated language might give us a much-needed angle of focus as we cling to the ancient center in the era of media inundation.

All Springs from the Cross?

What is the biblical support for such a claim that all true holiness and good works “spring from the cross”? For the early Christians, that Jesus had been crucified was not simply a singular event, but it quickly became part of his identity, and theirs. Everything changed when God was crucified.

“Crucified” became a kind of identifying descriptor of our Lord even in the immediate aftermath of his resurrection, when the angel speaks to the women at the empty tomb: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen” (Matthew 28:5–6; so also Mark 16:6, “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified”). Then, fifty days later, at the climactic moment of his Pentecost address, Peter declares, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

Soon after, in Acts 4, when Peter has healed a lame beggar and been arrested, and now stands before the council, having been asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7), he answers, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10). “Crucified,” as an identifying marker of Jesus, then came into its own in the ministry of the apostle Paul, who writes to the Galatians that, in his preaching, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1).

For the apostles and early church, that Jesus was crucified was not accidental or peripheral; it was profoundly revealing. Counterintuitively, the early church didn’t try to hide his crucifixion but push it front and center. The Son of God had not only taken on our flesh and blood, but he had given himself, sinless, in our stead, to execution at the cross — which revealed to us, through Jesus, the very person and heart of God for his people (Romans 5:8). As Carson says about the cross, this was “the most astonishing act of divine self-disclosure that has ever occurred” (16).

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