I can understand boasting when your football team wins the FA Cup – as my daughter is doing here.
But what is Paul on about when he writes to the Church at Corinth and exhorts people to boast about the crucifixion of Jesus?
As Good Friday approaches and we remember again the ignominious ending to Jesus’ life – the mocking, the beating, the suffering, the bleeding, the dying – we ask again why the death of Jesus is so foundational to Christianity.
Why does Paul proclaim the heart of the Christian message to be ‘Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1.23)? Why do all four Gospels climax with several chapters about Jesus’s last week, death and resurrection?
Many Christians would say that Jesus died to save us from our sins.
And it’s certainly true that when we come to the Cross, we do experience forgiveness. But I would say that this is because, when we come into the presence of God – the source of all love – we cannot help but be forgiven. For what is love, if it does not forgive?
However, the problem with thinking of the Cross as solely a means of forgiveness is that it obscures the truth that Jesus didn’t just die – he was killed. And killed by the powers that ruled his world.
When we read the Gospels (in Mark, Matthew and Luke), we see Jesus three times predicting his death in Jerusalem. But those predictions are never about dying for our sins. They are about the fact that the authorities will kill him.
So why does Paul boast in the Cross of Christ?
In the first century, crucifixion was the punishment for those who systematically defied Roman authority, whether chronically rebellious slaves or leaders of resistance movements, violent or non-violent.
The fact that Jesus stood against the oppression of the Romans was and is something to be proud of.
2. Dying and rising with Christ
The death and resurrection of Jesus were symbols of the personal transformation that we experience when we come to God. Paul says, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2.19-20.) In Romans, Paul talks of dying and rising with Christ as the meaning of baptism (Romans 6.1-4.) In Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus, as he journeys to Jerusalem, tells his disciples to ’take up their cross.’ That is, to embark on a path that leads to death and resurrection (e.g. Mark 16.24.) In John’s gospel, the same message is given but in a different way, when Jesus tells his disciples that they must be born again – of the Spirit (John 3.3.)
The power of God to bring personal transformation – to give people new life – was and is something to be proud of.
3. The love of God
Paul and other early Christians saw Jesus as the decisive revelation of God. And Christians still see this today. In Jesus – in what he was like – we see what God is like.
In the Cross, we see that Jesus was willing to give all – even to die on a cross – for his passion to see a new kingdom. A kingdom where we are given new life, forgiven, and where injustice is challenged. And this willingness to sacrifice his life for this passion shows the depth of God’s love for us.
Sacrifice and love go hand in hand.
When we truly love someone, we are willing to make sacrifices for them – sometimes even to give our lives for them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sacrificed his life because of his love for the German people. Martin Luther King sacrificed his life because of his love for his people. Oscar Romeiro sacrificed his life for the Salvadoran people. God didn’t ’require’ their lives – they were killed because of their passion for a better and fairer world. They were killed because, as disciples of Christ, they truly took up their crosses and followed Jesus.
That Jesus gave his life for us to bring in the ‘Kingdom of God’ – to see a better, fairer world - was and is something to boast about.
So this Good Friday, let’s draw near the Cross.
Let’s recognise the courage and sacrifice of Christ and the power of the Cross to bring us forgiveness, new life and hope for a better world – when we draw close to God. And we too take up our crosses.
Posted by Martine Oborne