When we talk about the cross of Jesus, we are talking about history’s most famous execution. The historian Tacitus tells us “Christus… suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” At the same time, the cross is a reminder that God was serious about His relationship with people and willing to go to extravagant measures to get His people back. This presents us with a paradox. On the one hand, we have a first century means of shameful, violent criminal execution. On the other, we have a symbol of God’s extravagant sacrifice for us. In our discussion about the cross we cannot overlook that it is a violent story. We cannot overlook that it is a love story. It is scandalous and glorious. The cross is a shocking part of our story. Still, we believe that the cross makes a difference. Here and now.
Yet, the cross cannot be separated from the first century socio-politico-religious scene. Politics and religion were mixed and ideas of a Messiah were viewed as threatening to the status quo. That is to say, the teaching of Jesus threatened the rulers of the day. This becomes important because the ministry of Jesus, including his death on a cross, must make sense in its historical context. There is danger in removing the cross from the Jesus story. If we can disconnect the cross from the rest of the Jesus story, we can easily disconnect it from our own story as well. The fact is, we keep trying to convince ourselves that our stories are something of our own design, but the bible keeps bringing God into them. That is what is happening when Jesus is executed. People are acting as if they are in control, then one Friday afternoon Jesus shows up on a cross and everything changes.
The Gospels would have us believe that the cross, along with the birth, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus, is the pivot point of history. You and I are participants in a great story of cosmic implications. Who expected a first century execution to have this kind of impact? Who expected so much to happen on a Friday afternoon?
Some things are obvious. The scene is called the place of the skull. Priests are mocking and soldiers were dividing the clothes of one being executed. Two revolutionaries were being put to death. So was Jesus of Nazareth, crucified for being King of the Jews. This is not the kind of place one expects to find God. Yet, that is exactly what the Gospels tell us is happening here. Civilians and authorities are caught by surprise and recognize that more is taking place than any of them expected.
It is easy to picture your hometown, your alma mater, or your grandmother’s house as part of your story. It is more difficult to picture the cross as part of your story. Yet, that is what the Gospels insist on. We take a relational view of the cross. How would we interact with one another without the cross? How would we interact with enemies? What would we think about God? Yet, God shows up on a cross and everything changes. Our relationship with God changes. Our relationship with one another changes. Our relationship with outsiders changes. Because of what happened on the cross we can be loving, giving, and forgiving. When viewed in a relational way, we realize that the cross will continue to threaten the status quo. Following one who was executed by the state may put you at risk.
The cross is a reminder that the world is not ok as it is. That is why God will go to such great lengths to save us. This is important, for without the cross our message is no different from other messages out there. A serious view of the cross will shape our behavior in ways that are different than the ways others conduct business and spread their message. There is no Christianity without the cross. We are forever connected to what happened there. It is a pivot point in our history. The world changed on a Friday afternoon at a place known as the skull. Whatever we may think about the cross, we cannot deny the way it is connected to our own story. We cannot separate ourselves or deny the implications it has for us. We cannot pretend that we are simply onlookers – we are participants.
A Look at the Cross reminds us that we are part of a larger story than we ever imagined. This is a story of cosmic implications.
Pastor of Prayer Susan Vigliano adds the following prayer to the above meditation “Lord, I invite you to challenge my status quo with the Cross of Christ this first week of Lent. There are places in my heart and life that I wish to apply the power of the Cross more fully. Please search me and test me to show me the places of brokenness, pain, and unforgiveness that need your touch. In this season of Lent I want to know and experience the meaning of your Cross in my life in deeper ways.”