The Horror of the Cross that shall not Leave Me

The crucifixion of Jesus is horrifying and it should stay that way.[1]  I seem to encounter, oh, so often a retelling of Jesus’ life that sanitizes his cross.  I’m actually amazed by how often I hear Christian leaders explain the gospel in a way that leaves the cross out altogether.[2] It’s no wonder to me that when we make the cross shallow we struggle to love folks who are different then us.[3]   Think about these four really big issues that everyone’s been talking about this summer:

- The terror of the Islamic State
- Same-sex marriage
- Planned-Parenthood and abortion
- Racial tension and police conduct

What’s interesting to me is that no matter which of these topics people are talking about I hear the same thing over and over again: the other side is horrible, wrong, and really unlovable.  I want nothing to do with them and neither should you. This has become the modus-operandi[4] of the internet age. Christians and non-Christians alike default to this argument.  But I pray you and I can see that this line of reasoning is as far from the cross as it gets. In fact, it’s antithetical.  Christians, of all stripes, tell me that this is okay, because we are in a truth war and the number one prerogative of the Church for today should be to proclaim the truth.  Well what about the truth of the cross; the horrible, ugly, bloody truth?[5]

What would it look like to proclaim the truth of the cross in the midst of terrorism, sexuality, abortion, racism, riots, brutality, and name-calling? Well, let this soak-in for a second:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8 (NRSV)[6]

That’s crazy! So while the Church says, “Repent or get away from us!” Christ says, long before you repent I’ll bleed for you!  While you’re spitting in my face, I’ll forgive you. While you’re ripping my skin to shreds, I’ll forgive you.  While you make my beaten frame carry a 100lb crossbeam, I’ll forgive you. While you’re stripping me naked and humiliating me, I’ll forgive you. While you sink the nails through my ankles and wrists, I’ll forgive you.  While you leave me hanging and bleeding, I’ll forgive you.  While you ruthlessly watch the last breathe leave me, I’ll forgive you.[7]

This is a beautiful work of art, but do you notice that there's nothing horrifying about this?  In fact, he's glowing so much he kind of still looks alive.  I don't know that we need to subject ourselves constantly to gruesomeness, but if we diminish the cost to Christ, I also think we diminish our sense of calling to act likewise.

Can we be empowered by the forgiving sacrifice of the cross to associate with people we believe to be sinners?  Even heinous sinners? Can we be people thoroughly shaped by the thought that Christ offered himself for us in a gruesome fashion that cost him everything?  Can we imaginatively lean on the Spirit to find ways to apply the cross to these big cultural issues, as well as our local and personal challenges?

Because here’s the thing, Jesus could have responded to each of us the way that we respond to people we think are sinners.  He could have said of me, “Oh that Matt Ingalls, he’s horrible, wrong, and unlovable. I want nothing to do with him.”  Instead, he submitted himself to the murderous hands of the authorities and suffered a death that would result in him drawing close to me and offering me forgiveness. 

So, really, what does it look like for the Church to live the cross?  For River Street?  For me? For you?

I’m only asking because the cross keeps shaking my soul with its horrifying image of gracious love in the face of destructive evil.

[1] There’s some enlightening information on Wikipedia’s “Crucifixion,” article (Warning: there are some graphic images).
[2] Shorthand for the Gospel these days is, “repent and leave your godless ways,” which is entirely moral/transactional and has nothing to do with the cross and grace. Or they say, “Repent, because Jesus died for your sins.”  And the sentence before and after is about how sinful we all are.  God’s radical, reckless love and grace are diminished to the rather bland, “Jesus died.” Why can’t we flip that upside down and talk on end about the love and grace of God in the midst of our sin?
[3] I’m thinking in particular about 1 John 4:19 which says, “We love because he first loved us.”  The implication being, if we don’t know how he loves us then how can we even begin to live out of that love?
[4] That is, “standard operation.”
[5] If you’re stance on truth has no root in Jesus’ birth, life, cross, and resurrection, can you really call it Christian truth? So that when we say abortion is wrong and stop there we are not proclaiming Christian truth, are we?  Don’t we also have to offer how Jesus’ birth, life, cross, and resurrection speak redemption/hope into that tragic circumstance?
[6] I realize this is a departure from our series through Hebrews, but I just can’t get this stuff off my writing-mind. 
[7] Perhaps I’m making too much of Luke 23:34, “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’” Even if I am, I’m not sure how to make this an unremarkable statement. I’m not saying that Jesus’ offer of forgiveness on the cross saved the people who were killing him (that seems to be the intended audience). Only God knows what happened to those soldiers after they died. Instead, I think what we have to hear is that the offer of forgiveness precedes repentance.  In fact, it is the offer that makes repentance possible.  At least, as a good Wesleyan, that’s what I believe.  See, the Wikipedia article for “Prevenient Grace,” also known as preceding grace.


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