Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not Clinging to the Cross! (a random and spontaneous musing)

That's right, I'm not clinging to the cross. Am I eternally grateful for the cross? Yes! Will I remember what Jesus did there on our behalf? Yes! But I'm not clinging to a piece of wood.

I know, it's supposed to be a metaphor and all that good stuff, but listening to worship music (both older hymns and more modern songs) has brought it to my attention that there may be some sentimentalism, maybe even a weird idolatry, going on when it comes to 'the cross'. So many people are hiding in the shadow of the cross, clinging to it, fixing their gaze on it, drawing near to it, loving it, etc...well, you get my point. But I don't get it. I love Jesus for what he's done, but ultimately, it was a means to an end. And the purpose of the cross was to reconcile us to God so that we could enter into the Holy of Holies ANY TIME WE WANT! So why would I hang around at the foot of an empty cross when I could be worshipping at the throne of my beloved Father and King?

Bottom line, if Jesus isn't on the cross, I don't want to be there either! I want to be with him. So am I crazy?

17 comments:

lydia joy said...

Not crazy, a heretic maybe...:)

Coralie said...

What a fantastic thought. I know that the songs are all referring to the act of atonement, but you're absolutely right, we should be focusing on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith who is sitting at the right hand of God the Father and interceding on our behalf. If he's moved past the cross, maybe we should too.

Hmmmm. Will be meditating on this for some time.

Joel Brueseke said...

I'm with you on this. I'm so very tired of a lot of today's praise and worship music (that I hear too much of) that misses the whole entire point of the gospel! Indeed "the cross" is not what we cling to. We have been crucified with Christ (we died on the cross with Christ), but now we have RISEN with Him and we LIVE!

I do think that there are legitimate ways to speak of "the cross" in our current lives in Christ, such as when Paul said, "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) and "I... say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18)." I think the phrase "the cross" or "the cross of Christ" is a legitimate way of describing the gospel, in a certain context.

But I do see how many people get carried away with the phrase in all sorts of different contexts, and I admit it irritates me. :)

Dan Bowen said...

AMEN!! FINALLY!! :) Someone has said it! I remember singing the "Old Rugged Cross" again and again while I was growing up and similar songs while I was in Bristol and something about them just bothered me and I couldn't figure out why.

Jesus ISN'T hanging on the Cross! So why therefore does the Cross adorn our necks, our church buildings, anything really? Is it some spiritual form of "mortification"? That as we look at those two pieces of wood we hate sin more? Don't think so.

Ern Baxter said "There is NOTHING positive about the Cross". Millions were crucified on Crosses over the years as I am told! But we don't remember their crosses do we?! The thing which highlights the particular one at Golgotha is that the Beloved Son and present reigning King of the Universe hung on it once ... and it was what happened to Him that decides our fate - not what He hung upon.

We should be clinging to the Throne. That's where He is seated now! That's where He is reigning supremely from now! And that is where His authority and His power and the Holy Spirit of glory come from!

Peter Day said...

As far as I can tell from scripture, the only cross we are told to take up is our own. Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt 16v24).

From the context that is to do with being willing to lose our own lives for Him, and in being willingly submitted to His perfect will, even when there is a great cost.

But that is nothing to do with clinging to His cross. Without wishing to offend, that would be like us spending the rest of our lives clinging to the bed in which a loved one had died.

But our Beloved isn't dead - He is very much alive and we can cling to Him because Has HAS gone to His Father (see John 20v17).

Hebrews is the key book about drawing near to God. It uses phrases like "once for all", "having boldness to enter the holiest by the blood", "by a new and living way".

All these things are because of His cross, but they are not His cross. Again, the High Priest did not stay at the bronze altar on the Day of Atonement, He went right on in. Nor should we stay at the bronze altar - the whole purpose of the cross is to enter in, to behold the shekinah glory, to bask unhindered in His presence.

So, as it says: "Let us draw near!"

lydia joy said...

Question: What would you say to someone who says they have to take up their own cross daily.......?????
Just curious.....

Jesse P. said...

First let me say that I agree with the concerns about sentimentalism and such in some worship songs. At times I feel we can throw phrases about the cross around almost as a cliche.

I think there is still a central place for the cross in our worship, both corporate and private. Paul said he would boast in the cross (Gal. 6:14).

I would think about it this way. If someone were to come and save my life, pushing me out of the way of some catastrophe (i.e. a house engulfed in flames), and let's say they died in the house that they saved me from.

I think it would honor that person for me to remember what they did for me. I think it would honor them for me to even visit periodically the place where they saved my life, because I owe my very life to what happened there.

Now, of course Christ rose from the dead, and that's where the analogy breaks down, but my point is that if we can avoid the sentimentality that almost seems to forget that Christ actually rose again, then I think there's a crucial place in our worship to repeatedly remind ourselves of what he did and boast in the cross.

This is what the Lord's Supper is. When we are taking the bread and taking the cup we are remembering his sacrifice and also looking forward to the day that he returns.

So instead of talking about clinging to the cross, perhaps we could talk about clinging to the sacrifice of Christ and what he accomplished on the cross. Using the fire example, obviously I wouldn't want to cling to house that burnt down, but clinging to the memory of my friend and what he did for me there.

So anyway, sorry for the long post. I think your concerns are spot on regarding the sentimentality, but I would articulate the solution a bit differently I suppose.

lydia joy said...

It just seems that more often than not, the church(I say this pluraly) focuses on the cross, in an unhealthy way, lingering there and not going forward or teaching on what our life now holds in Christ because of the cross..Yes...but it's over and done with....maybe to linger there as a new believer, a bit...but we have such an inheritance now to talk about, to learn about....does the cross have it's place..sure...but how much more should we be reveling in the Victory it brought us!
Jesus did say on the cross "IT IS FINISHED!" -do you suppose he meant we can now move on in life....it's over, the battle with sin...the price is paid...God is satisfied ....now let's get to the good stuff....we don't have to keep going back and going back...I think God wants us to go forward into glory with Him, into the heavenly places....receiving our inheritance....enjoying what is now ours......

just my thoughts.....

SLW said...

Paul said he determined to know nothing among the Corinthians (2:2) but Christ and him crucified. So I would say the cross was a focus of Paul's. As Jesse noted, of the two ritual observances actually commanded upon the church, one is all about the crucifixion. So the cross is a central concern of Christ's as well.

That being said, I think you are on the mark discerning a superstitious quality to what can only be described as crucifix worship (definitely idolatry) in the historical church. The question that interests me is why do church folk adopt it?

I wonder if it is a devilish ploy to keep folk on the manageable side of the cross, or if it represents the stubborn tendrils of sin which do not want to be broken in death and left behind in resurrection. Certainly the devil wants to keep folk from embracing the resurrected life of Christ, but the sin loving nature of the fleshly man doesn't want to embrace it either.

You are right, the cross was a means to an end. What should be a natural progression to a logical conclusion (resurrected, reconciled life) is short circuited by lingering (malingering for some) at the cross. Freedom only comes when we walk through the gate which is the cross to risen life in Christ on the other side.

Ellie said...

1Cor. 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel - not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.


18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ...22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God....

Gal. 6:12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 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. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Everyone was trying to look good, everyone was trying to look wise. God's idea of wisdom was different than theirs. The important thing here is the MESSAGE of the cross. God took the idea of using something low & ugly - man's method at the time of killing criminals (and through the death of Jesus, and then raising him from the dead)to show men that they needed HIM. He used something that men would think was stupid (killing the Son of God)to show His own wisdom and power. It is the Message of the cross (the GOOD news, God's way of rescuing us from sin) that shows us the power of God and directs us to HIM.

dogimo said...

The cross is a lesson to us that bound up in our joy is a remembrance of the sacrifice that made it possible, as well as a reminder in times of trial that our own sufferings will not endure, that we too will be raised up.

The joy is the more pleasant to contemplate, of course - and of course we should contemplate it, we should rejoice in it! But it also fitting that we recall to mind the sacrifice that won our joy, that raised us up. I see the cross as a beautiful, meaningful symbol of both sacrifice and redemption. Because of Christ's sacrifice, the cross is joy to me. Because of Christ's sacrifice, even my own suffering should be a joy to me! I know my pain will never prevail.

Great, thought-provoking post, Jul! While I personally do see the cross as a positive symbol, I agree with you that many Christians fetishize that symbol to an extent that undermines the true message, and that while we must never forget that Christ suffered for us, we should not encourage a dark and morbid fascination with that suffering when we should be shouting in exultation!

jul said...

wow, so many great and thoughtful comments. thanks everyone. Just to clarify, I don't think there's anything wrong with referring to the cross per se, but we should be clear what we mean by that, not allowing it to become a cliche and especially not allowing it to actually obscure the person of Jesus. Sometimes it's easier for us to cling to a romanticised idea than it is for us to cling to God himself...

Don said...

I agree with the comment that the reason Paul talked about the cross was to emphasis the foolish and, indeed, scandalous nature of how Christians acquire their intimacy with God and power from God. He was up against some big talkers, smooth talkers who were weaving big philosophies and systems (which he warned Timothy to be on guard against). I don't think Paul meant anything more than to affirm that he was sticking with the simple gospel of Jesus crucified, against people who were trying to delegitimize him with soulish philosophies tacked onto the gospel. Thankfully, the Spirit backed Paul up with signs 'n' wonders.

A number of years earlier, however, the first Christians in Judea assumed their audience knew about the cross (since Jesus had been crucified quite recently and publicly), and instead pointed to the resurrection for the reason that the Spirit was doing signs 'n' wonders among them - to validate the gospel message of Jesus (as Jesus himself stated in John's gospel).

We shouldn't minimize either of these. But I think we need to think of them not as abstractions or doctrinal truths, but instead to think of them in terms of Jesus' own experience of crucifixion and resurrection. IN HIM, we participated in both. And, IN HIM, the Spirit will ensure that we undergo our own equivalents of these experiences, to help make us one with Christ. It's our intimate friendship with Jesus that is most important here, not abstract symbols or doctrines.

I've had to pick up my cross and follow Him, as He's taught me to die to self, endure persecution and misunderstanding, even physical pain at times in order to obey Him.

But He's also blessed me with experiences of resurrection power and joy in His Spirit, which have been transformative and yet are just foretastes of what is yet to come.

I think the biggest difference between the two, however, is this: the cross is totally earth-bound -- it will never pass over into the life to come, only its effects in our sanctification. The resurrection, however, is our God-given hope and destiny, both in this life and in the life to come. Paul testified to this in Romans 8:11:

"And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he...will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit..."

I believe we should focus sometimes on what Jesus suffered in crucifixion, but always on what He has provided us through His resurrection: friendship with Him, access to His Father, and the fellowship of His Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus is our moment-by-moment companion, not "the cross" or "the empty tomb."

I agree completely with slw's remark:

"What should be a natural progression to a logical conclusion (resurrected, reconciled life) is short circuited by lingering (malingering for some) at the cross. Freedom only comes when we walk through the gate which is the cross to risen life in Christ on the other side."

Don said...

PS: Dan - about your throne comment, years ago at TAG, Larry Tomczak said the same thing: that we should focus on the Throne of God, rather than the cross, because that's where we're seated with Jesus, ruling with Him. Then one Tuesday evening a few weeks later, he showed us what someone had just given him: a little throne on a necklace!

Beth Young said...

To me, "the Cross" will never be a cliche. I couldn't fathom saying those words without heartfelt sincerity behind it. Sure, there were many people crucified back in Jesus' days, that's no secret. Those people didn't save us from an eternal life in hell and they sure didn't live sinless lives.

I'm trying to grasp the problem with discussing "the cross" and keeping it such a big deal in our lives, our worship; etc.

We know that he rose again, and that the Cross is done with and that he sits at the right hand of God in heaven -- the beautiful reminder of the Cross to me is that he did it for ME. It's the biggest most unfathomable sacrifice and it's worthy of praise and constant reminder.

I understand what you are trying to do here, though...it does seem morbid and strange to focus on something that is done with and over and that we should rejoice. But can't we rejoice over being forgiven while at the same time being sobered at what Christ did for us?

Anonymous said...

At the Cross, At the Cross, Where I first Saw the Light and the burden of my heart rolled away.... Just kidding
good post keep it up!

Chris Jones - Inspirational Experiences

S said...

You're not crazy Julie! Great post!