Easter's Gospel: The Centrality of the Cross

Series: Easter's Gospel

by Liam Goligher March 5, 2014

During the weeks leading up to Easter our pastoral staff will tackle theological topics related to the resurrection in a series we're calling "Easter's Gospel."


The Cross as the World Sees It

Christ of Saint John of the Cross is a painting by Salvador Dalí created in 1951; it hangs in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, Scotland, and as a boy I would make my way there to study it. It depicts Jesus Christ on the cross in a darkened sky floating over a body of water complete with a boat and fishermen; it is devoid of nails, blood, and a crown of thorns, because, according to Dalí, he was convinced by a "cosmic dream" that these features would mar his depiction of Christ. The cross is cut off from the world of humanity beneath, more of a metaphysical ideal than an historical reality.

The Cross as Centerpiece for God's Purposes

How different from the Bible’s depiction of the cross as the very centerpiece of God’s purposes. Since the beginning of Christianity it was the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus that were the focus of Christian believers. Initially it was the sign of the fish which, in a politically charged climate, was sufficiently obscure to throw off hostile inquiry. The word for "fish" was an acronym for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." During the second century other symbols were used like Noah’s ark, Abraham sacrificing Isaac, a shepherd carrying a lamb, or the Chi-Rho monogram in the shape of a cross and often with a lamb in the foreground. All these were intended to teach some of the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection. By the third century, however, the cross itself became the predominant symbol of the faith.

The Cross as Jesus' Mission

But the centrality of the cross began in the mind and heart of the incarnate Christ himself. From the age of 12 Jesus made it clear he knew he had come into the world to accomplish a mission, "my Father’s business." His baptism was attested by his Father in heaven who links the Kingly language of Psalm 2 and the Servant language of Isaiah 53 in identifying Jesus as his "beloved son" with whom he was "well pleased." When Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus immediately tells them what kind of Messiah he was to be, "he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly" (Mark 8:31–32). "Plainly" means "openly"—he made no secret of it! He reiterated this announcement several times to his disciples, referring to himself as the "Son of Man," the heavenly figure in Daniel’s prophecy, yet linking himself with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.

The Cross as the Heart of Pentecost

After Jesus' resurrection the cross becomes the heart of the message of Pentecost, as Peter proclaims how God delivered Jesus up to death in accordance with the Scriptures but reversed the verdict of the human court by raising Him from the dead. Paul argues that, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," and he reasoned with the Thessalonians from the Scriptures explaining and proving, "that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 2:14–39; 3:12–26; 17:2–3). In John’s Gospel Jesus is called, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," and in Revelation he is, "the Lamb slain," whose blood redeems people from every tribe and nation.

The Cross as the Heart of the Gospel

In New Testament letters it is the cross where the great transaction that secures the salvation of God’s people is played out. Only they who understand the cross understand Christianity and understand Jesus Christ.