Today was the first day of the most recent Reading Classics Together at Challies.com. This time around, we’re reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, and the assigned reading was the first chapter, The Centrality of the Cross.
So far, this is one of the most orderly and easy to follow books I’ve read in a long time. Stott writes methodically, and I like that. He starts this first chapter with a section on the cross as Christianity’s symbol. The use of this symbol is early, from the second century at least, and persists to the present day, despite the fact that the cross was widely considered to be “the most humiliating form of execution.” That the cross
became the Christian symbol, and that Christians stubbornly refused, in spite of the ridicule, to discard it in favor of something less offensive can have only one explanation. It means that the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus himself.
Stott goes on to show that this is exactly what we find in scripture. Jesus knew and taught that dying was his central mission. Jesus knew he was going to die for these three reasons:
- Because of the hostility of the Jewish leaders. Jesus knew that they would eventually succeed in killing him.
- Because that’s what scripture said would take place. Jesus understood from scripture that “vocation of the Messiah was to suffer and die…”
- Because of his own choice. He was resolved to do the work given him by the Father.
So then, although he knew he must die, it was not because he was the helpless victim either of evil forces arrayed against him or of any inflexible fate decreed for him, but because he freely embraced the purpose of his Father for the salvation of sinners, as it had been revealed in Scripture.
Next Stott surveys the teaching on the cross in the New Testament, starting with early sermons of the apostles recorded for us in Acts and on through the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John, to show us that the cross of Christ was also central to the apostles the teaching on the cross in the New Testament. Paul, for example, puts the cross of Christ as a matter “of first importance.” It’s in 1 Peter that we find the words, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” In Revelation, John tells us “nothing less than that from an eternity of the past to an eternity of the future the center of the stage is occupied by the Lamb of God who was slain.”
It’s doubly fitting, then, that the cross should be our symbol and sign, for it was central to both Christ and his apostles. It’s our tradition, yes, but it’s a tradition that is faithful to the priorities disclosed in scripture.
To Christians, the cross of Christ is a glorious thing, but this is not a view shared by everyone. Writes Stott:
There is no greater cleavage between faith and unbelief than in their respective attitudes to the cross. Where faith sees glory, unbelief sees only disgrace.
The world in general finds the true Christian teaching of Christ and his cross ridiculous, but believers are compelled, still, to insist on it’s centrality to our faith. “Christian integrity consists … in personal loyalty to Jesus, in whose mind the saving cross was central.”