Tag Archives: The Cross of Christ

Who am I? What is my ‘self’?

I_dont_know__Who_Am_I__by_madazulu

In our young adults group on Tuesdays we have been working through the book of Romans. When we were in chapters 6 and 7 there were some great discussions about our true identity as Christians.

In chapter 11 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott explains how a Christian’s identity cannot be recognised accurately without reference to the cross.

Who am I? What is my “self”? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity, because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity, because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me. My true self is what I am by creation, which Christ came to redeem, and by calling. My false self is what I am by the Fall, which Christ came to destroy.

Only when we have discerned which is which within us, shall we know what attitude to adopt towards each. We must be true to our true self and false to our false self. We must be fearless in affirming all that we are by creation, redemption and calling, and ruthless in disowning all that we are by the Fall.

Moreover, the cross of Christ teaches us both attitudes. On the one hand, the cross is the God-given measure of the value of our true self, since Christ loved us and died for us. On the other hand, it is uthe God-given model for the denial of our false self, since we are to nail it to the cross and so put it to death.

Or, more simply, standing before the Cross we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die.

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 329-30.

Why we don’t believe sin provokes the wrath of God

Webtreats Tileable Light Blurs and Abstract Circle Patterns in Bright Lights 4

In Chapter 4 of The Cross of Christ, The Problem of Forgiveness, John Stott identifies five vivid metaphors used in Scripture to illustrate that sin cannot approach God, and God cannot tolerate sin: height (Psalm 7:17), distance (Josh 3:4), light (1 John 1:5), fire (Heb 12:29), and vomiting (Rev 3:16).

He continues,

“[these] all say that God cannot be in the presence of sin, and that if it approaches him too closely it is repudiated or consumed.

Yet these notions are foreign to modern man. The kind of God who appeals to most people today would be easygoing in his tolerance of our offences. He would be gentle, kind, accommodating, and would have no violent reactions.

Unhappily, even in the church we seem to have lost the vision of the majesty of God. There is much shallowness and levity among us. Prophets and psalmists would probably say of us that ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes’. In public worship our habit is to slouch or squat; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before God. It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands with joy than to blush with shame or tears. We saunter up to God to claim his patronage and friendship; it does not occur to us that he might send us away.

We need to hear again the Apostle Peter’s sobering words, “Since you call on a father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives… in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17) In other words, if we dare to call our judge our Father, we must beware of presuming on him. It must even be said that our evangelical emphasis on the atonement is dangerous if we come to it too quickly. We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won only after we have first cried, “Woe is me for I am lost.”

In [R.W.] Dale’s words, “It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 128-9.

We need to hold fast to the biblical revelation “of the living God who hates evil, is disgusted and angered by it, and refuses ever to come to terms with it.” That’s the essential background to amazing grace offered at the cross.

 

Worshipping a crucified man?

Alexamenos graffito

Christians are often openly mocked for ascribing honour and worth to Jesus Christ. To skeptics and enemies of Christianity, it seems an absurd idea to worship a Jewish carpenter whose greatest accomplishment (humanly speaking) was to incite a riot and get himself executed.

Yet John Stott points out that this derision is not new:

“…Whether their background was Roman or Jewish or both, the early enemies of Christianity lost no opportunity to ridicule the claim that God’s anointed and man’s Savior ended his life on a cross. The idea was crazy.

This is well illustrated by a graffito from the second century, discovered on the Palatine Hill in Rome, on the wall of a house considered by some scholars to have been used as a school for imperial pages. It is the first surviving picture of the crucifixion, and is a caricature. A crude drawing depicts, stretched on a cross, a man with the head of a donkey. To the left stands another man, with one arm raised in worship. Unevenly scribbled underneath are the words ALEXAMENOS CEBETE THEON, “Alexamenos worships God.”

The cartoon is now in the Kircherian Museum in Rome. Whatever the origin of the accusation of donkey-worship (which was attributed to both Jews and Christians), it was the concept of worshipping a crucified man which was being held up to derision.”

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 32.

 

It’s hard for us to imagine now, but to think of the Saviour of the world as a crucified Saviour would have been unthinkable to the Roman and Jewish cultures of the day.

 

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“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” – Acts 2:36-38

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A fictional shadow and type

(William: I finally started on John Stott’s “The Cross of Christ”. Considered to be his magnum opus, and until last week sat proudly on my bookshelf as a paperweight. Well 30 pages in and I am already transfixed and ready to discover why the universal symbol of the Christian faith is a cross, and why Christ had to die.)

The Shadow of Death (clip)

The Bible is full of historical events that act as a type of, or foreshadow, Jesus’s work of redemption. John Stott opens his book by describing an 1873 artwork of Jesus Christ (viewable here):

“Do you know the painting by Holman Hunt, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, entitled ‘The Shadow of Death’? It depicts the inside of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Stripped to the waist, Jesus stands by a wooden trestle on which he has put down his saw. He lifts his eyes towards heaven, and the look on his face is one of either pain or ecstasy or both. He also stretches, raising both arms above his head. As he does so, the evening sunlight streaming through the open door casts a dark shadow in the form of a cross on the wall behind him, where his tool-rack looks like a horizontal bar on which his hands have been crucified. The tools themselves remind us of the fateful hammer and nails.

In the left foreground a woman kneels among the wood chippings, her hands resting on the chest in which the rich gifts of the Magi are kept. We cannot see her face because she has averted it. But we know that she is Mary. She looks startled (or so it seems) at her son’s crosslike shadow on the wall.

The Pre-Raphaelites have a reputation for sentimentality. Yet they were serious and sincere artists, and Holman Hunt himself was determined, as he put it, to ‘do battle with the frivolous art of the day’, its superficial treatment of trite themes. So he spent 1870-73 in the Holy Land, and painted ‘The Shadow of Death’ in Jerusalem, as he sat on the roof of his house. Though the idea is historically fictitious, it is also theologically true. From Jesus’ youth, indeed even from his birth, the cross cast its shadow ahead of him. His death was central to his mission. Moreover, the church has always recognized this.” 

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 17.

 

I haven’t been this hooked by an opening three paragraphs in a long time!

 

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18

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