By Ben Swift
“The cross stands high above the opinions of men and to that cross all opinions must come at last for judgement.” (A.W. Tozer)
Throughout history nothing has been the cause of more contention and division than the cross of Christ. But why?
For the most part, the divisive nature of the message of the cross stems from what happened following the death of Christ. Apart from those who follow the teachings of Islam, it is widely accepted as historical fact, both inside and outside of the Christian Faith that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died according to the accounts presented in the Gospels. It is what Christianity proclaims happened next in Christ’s resurrection that draws a deep, dividing line in the sand.
Our personal view on the cross will to a large extent depend on our view of the truth about ourselves in relation to sin and our need for salvation. Whilst it is a fundamental belief in Christian circles that we have inherited a sinful nature from our ancestor Adam, this is by no means a universal, worldly understanding of the human condition.
One classic example is the Hindu perspective on sin and salvation. In 1983, a lecture was held in the first Parliament of Religions in Chicago where Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu reformer, said, “The Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the children of God; the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth, sinners? It is a sin to call a man a sinner. It is a standing libel on human nature.” (Stott, John, Evangelical Truth)
For one to follow a teaching that defines humanity as anything other than innately sinful and needing salvation from a source that lay beyond the self, the cross of Christ will surely seem foolishness and even offensive.
For the Jews of Jesus day, to be crucified in the humiliating and torturous way as had been perfected by the Roman executioners was far removed from their idea of messianic victory. To be crucified was to be cursed (Deuteronomy 21: 22-23) and surely this was not the destiny of their awaited Messiah. According to their Scriptures though, the crucifixion was exactly what had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Take for example a small section of his prophetic words:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53: 5-6)
Surely from the moment human beings turned their backs on their Creator, feeding on the forbidden fruit that was to open their eyes and ears to the delusion of becoming a God unto themselves, they have refused to believe the truth, exchanging it for a lie. It’s not surprising then that when many seek a form of spirituality they are drawn to teachings that affirm their personal goodness and individualistic right to divinity.
It is for this reason that we as Christians must place at the centre of our lives the cross of Christ. To deny the resurrection and what Christ achieved on the cross is to deny Christ Himself. If the resurrection is a lie then Paul, a great leader in the early church would have to have been a false teacher. The Christian hope he spoke of in being resurrected in Christ would be worthless. But as any respectable historian would have to concede, for Paul to lie in this way just doesn’t add up. Why would a highly respected and positioned, Christian-hating Roman citizen suddenly give up everything and devote his entire life to serving and suffering for the one he was so adamant on destroying? There really is only one explanation. He came to know the risen Christ. The reality of Paul’s conversion can be clearly seen in his new found perspective on the cross.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
Paul was well aware of the divisiveness the cross brings to a world of people who reject Christ.
“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 22-24)
The question that we must all face is one that can often cause intermittent division within our own minds. You could say that there is a psychology associated with the cross as we wrestle with the truth about our need for a saviour in a world that denies this reality. Hope, however, can only be found at the foot of the cross. It is only here that we can find the rest we all seek; the rest that can be found exclusively in the grace of our saviour, Christ. Because He has risen, we who are in Him will also rise. There is no psychology more positive than that.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22)