The cross is the very heart of the gospel. The cross is about surrendering, giving up power and wealth. It’s about the church pouring out her resources and serving a world lost in sin. In our country the gospel has been around a long time, we are very familiar with, hence quite contemptible of it too. Trouble is, when the gospel has been in a place of power and wealth for a long time, something happens to it. It morphs. It changes. The radical message of sin, grace and the cross becomes either muted or lost altogether. What was once gospel religion becomes nice, safe, cosy, lifestyle religion? Which is for middle-Englanders trying to be good.
I am almost sure I read somewhere that John Wesley at the end of his days was moaning about his beloved Methodism having become just ‘respectable religion’. Nothing much has changed since. The only folk who have been effective amongst the working classes (if such still exists) are the Pentecostals. Our Reformed churches are for posh middle-Englanders, nicely educated, safely housed, in a cosy environment, with a lifestyle and religion that doesn’t really put the lie to the wealth, health and prosperity gospel. It’s not believed in, in theory, at least. No gospel cutting-edge, no outpouring of resources and little self-denying service to a nation that has lost its way. When it came to the cross Jesus was right in their midst, the ‘scum of the earth’ to coin a phrase. Where the ‘rubber hits the road,’ to coin yet another phrase. And believe me there was nothing nice, safe, cosy about the cross, neither did it speak of lifestyle, the opposite, it was a vile death. If you wanted to be a celebrity preacher in the Apostolic world, you kept quiet about the cross. Same as today.
From posh religion to gospel powerfulness will be a hard road to travel. Who will pay the toll? To get with the sinners. You can’t live on knob hill and do a hit-and-run raid into the nearby ghetto and expect to convince the inhabitants that change is either good or necessary. You need to get with them. And to get with them you need to love them. The Incarnate Word took upon himself flesh, and dwelt in our midst, he came where we were, he was with us. The gospel is not a soul-computer, just google salvation and press enter, and find converts popping up all around. The gospel confronts people where they are at and the proclaimer (i.e., the church) needs to be there with them. In home, hospital, prison, Marketplace, no holes barred.
One author speaking of Jesus on the cross between the two notorious thieves said, “It wasn’t as if he (Jesus) was forced to endure the company of sinners. He identifies completely. He lets himself be reckoned as a sinner, and dealt with as a sinner; and not only by men, but by God.” The same author goes on to quote Calvin on the same issue, “By hanging him in the middle, they gave him first place as though he were the thieves leader.” He also quotes Luther, who is even more graphic, “he bore the person of a sinner and of a thief, and not of one, but all sinners and thieves…and all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc., that has ever been anywhere in the world.” Here, says the author, on the cross, he not only bears but is the sin of the world (2Corinthians 5:21).
How do you fancy a position in leadership? Leading, I mean a bunch of thieves, murderers, adulterers, robbers, desecrators, and blasphemers? Being with them, lovingly, willingly so you can lead them to Christ of the cross? Who was made sin for them, that they might be made the righteousness of God, in him?
(© James R Hamilton, written 21st, May 2014)