The Imperative of the Cross

The suffering and death of Jesus provide the pattern for how his disciples must live in this fallen world, and the measuring rod for judging spirituality. Whether examining anyone’s wisdom, teachings, conduct, or supernatural deeds, the Cross of Christ is the dividing line between truth and falsehood. No man can know God or comprehend His ways and words apart from the imperative of “Christ crucified.” God has revealed Himself in the Crucified Messiah.

Cross Photo by Hugo Fergusson on Unsplash
[Cross Photo by Hugo Fergusson on Unsplash]

In Corinth, certain members of the assembly were boasting of their spirituality, which in their minds was demonstrated by the abundance of spiritual gifts operating among and through them, especially “
speaking in tongues.”

To such presumptuousness and immaturity, Paul retorted: IF YOU ARE SO SPIRITUAL, WHY DO YOU BEHAVE SO CARNALLY?

  • (1 Corinthians 3:1-4) – “And I could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you were not yet able to bear it. No, not even now are you able; for you are yet carnal: for whereas, there is among you jealousy and strife, are you not carnal, and do you not walk after the manner of men?

The dissension and backbiting among the Corinthians proved they were anything but “spiritual.” Spiritual gifts and miraculous displays by themselves do not constitute wisdom or power, and certainly NOT “spirituality.”

Instead of impressive displays of spiritual power or eloquent speech, Paul pointed to the Cross of Christ as the model and evidence of genuine spirituality:

  • Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; to Jews, scandal; to Gentiles, folly, but to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power and the wisdom of God” – (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

To any patriotic Jew, the idea of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. To Gentiles, the claim that God dealt with humanity’s plight in the shameful execution of a powerless man by the world’s mightiest empire was sheer nonsense.

TRUE WISDOM AND POWER


The death of Jesus was the very means by which God achieved victory over sin, death, and Satan, therefore, the proclamation of this “crucified Messiah” was and is the “wisdom and power of God.” What this fallen age sees as scandal and folly is, in fact, the same “power of God” that accomplished salvation for humanity.

In contrast, the “rulers of this age” did not understand this. If they had, they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory,” an act that sealed their own doom. By the “rulers of this age,” Paul means the nonhuman entities he elsewhere labels “principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.”

Despite the powers of these otherworldly entities, they proved incapable of comprehending what God was doing through His Son. They were as clueless as the men who opposed Jesus and plotted his demise.

The real significance of the Cross can only be comprehended through revelation “by the Spirit of God.” CHRIST CRUCIFIED is contrary to the “wisdom” of this age. Only those who have the Spirit of God, and thus the “mind of Christ,” can understand the “wisdom” displayed on Calvary.

TRUE SPIRITUALITY


If a follower of Jesus is “spiritual,” instead of asserting his superior “rights” or “spirituality,” he will set aside such things for the sake of others. As Paul wrote to the Philippians:

  • In lowliness of mind, each counting the other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you to the things of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to “become like God,” but chose instead to “pour himself out, taking the form of a slave.” That meant denying himself and becoming “obedient unto death.” For that very reason, God “highly exalted him” – (Philippians 2:1-11).

Power, spirituality, and wisdom are found in his Cross, and his disciples are summoned to live accordingly. Even the ability to perform supernatural feats is no guarantee of genuine faith, wisdom, or righteousness.

Jesus warned his disciples that many who prophesied, cast out demons, and performed many “mighty deeds in his name” would hear him declare, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!” – (Matthew 7:21-23).

Whether his life is filled with the miraculous, each day the disciple must “deny himself and take up the cross,” just as Jesus did. But what does that mean in practical terms?

Fortunately, Jesus provided a clear explanation. When the disciples were arguing over who would be the “greatest” in the Kingdom, he intervened:

  • You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones tyrannize them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave: even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – (Matthew 20:25-28).

The term translated as “servant” represents the Greek noun diakonos, which originally referred to the household servant or slave who waited on tables, one of the most menial tasks in any household.

Self-sacrificial service to others is how the disciple becomes “great” in the Kingdom. Jesus illustrated this by laying down his life “as a ransom for many.”

There is no Christianity without Christ, and there is no genuine Christ apart from Calvary, the same Jesus who “gave his life as a ransom for many.” Every disciple is called to emulate THAT Christ, and doing so is the mark of the true disciple.


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