Who is the most important person who ever lived? What is the most important thing about that person?How you answer those two questions communicates a great deal about how you view the world and how you approach life.
A new book is challenging me to rethink my own answers to those questions. The book is “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge. Before reading the book my answer to the first question would have been Jesus. My answer to the second question would have been His resurrection. I’ve only begun the book and my answer to the first question has been affirmed. However, I am being encouraged to consider that the answer to the second question should be the crucifixion of Jesus and not His resurrection.
The author presents three basic options for answering the second question: the teachings of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. None of these is unimportant. I think the order in which we give them priority in our lives does make a difference.
If we place Jesus’ teaching in first place it is possible to be led to a works-based life. We can be deceived into thinking that the better we understand and live out Jesus’ teaching the more deserving we are of God’s love and salvation. One risk is that we focus on our past and compare ourselves to Jesus. This can easily lead to a clear view of our failure followed by guilt and shame. To counteract this, we might be tempted to compare ourselves to others. We might compare our knowledge of Jesus’ teaching to that of others and become proud and arrogant. Think modern day Pharisees. We might even go one step further and think knowledge is more important than action and end up knowing and not doing. Think modern day Gnostics.
The second option is to put Jesus’ resurrection in first place. This is a common view promoted to bring people to Jesus. If Jesus predicted He would rise from the dead and then did just that, then we should pay close attention to what He said. This emphasis on the resurrection might lead us to a prosperity seeking life.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.Colossians 3:1-10 (NIV)
7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
In Colossians 3:1-10 Paul emphasizes the importance of setting our hearts and minds on things above, the future life. He then goes on to describe what that kind of life looks like. It is not a life of prosperity and blessing, but a struggle to put to death all the things associated with our former lives. We need to keep our hearts and minds on the future, recognizing that the things above are not yet. Regardless of how much we desire them, and we should desire them with all our heart, we live in the now. What gets us through the now is internalizing that God understands what we are going through because of the cross.
The third possible choice is to put the crucifixion in first place. The deeper our understanding of the crucifixion the better we will understand Jesus’ teaching and the more we will appreciate the significance of the resurrection. Using the crucifixion as the lens through which we view Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection draws into the grace-based life that God desires for us. We cannot change the past, but the crucifixion changes the power the past has over us. We cannot change the future, but the crucifixion assures us of how much God desires for us to join Him there. We can choose how we think about current circumstances and the actions and attitudes we choose as a result.
We are not called to live a resurrection shaped life. We are consistently called to live a cross shaped life. Cross shaped suffering is not a cause for depression or despair. It is a cause for rejoicing and hope.
22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.Luke 9:22-24 (NIV)
To follow Jesus well is to accept the reality of the cross in my own life. I am convinced that the better I understand what Jesus did on the cross for me, the more willing I will be to die for Him, whatever that looks like.
Good Friday is more important than Easter. Lazarus rose from the dead. Lazarus will not save me. It is Jesus’ crucifixion that makes His resurrection meaningful. The people I interact with everyday will never see my resurrection this side of heaven. What they will see is my attitude toward whatever cross God brings my way.
Taking up the cross, as Jesus himself called us to do, means a total reorientation of the self toward the way of Christ. Long before he knew his own destiny, Dietrich Bonhoeffer memorably wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”“The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge
Recently we attended a southern gospel concert. I thought the song that was used at the closing of the conference was an appropriate way to conclude this blog.