frgavin on September 19th, 2011

Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary:

Why is it that the things most emphasised by the early church seem to be the very things we belittle, ignore or omit today? Why is it that the central features of the gospel enunciated and championed by the first disciples get such short shrift from modern believers?

There almost seems to be an inverse relationship between the central tenets of the gospel, and the emphasis we place on them. The more the Bible talks up certain doctrines and truths, the less we seem interested in them. All this shows just how far removed we are from First Century Christianity.

Consider one of the most basic and most vital of Christian concepts and terms: the cross. The cross is everywhere spoken about in the New Testament. It is something the NT writers emphasise, praise, glory in, and celebrate. It is a theme that can never be far from the apostolic writings.

Time and time again we see it referred to, appealed to, championed, and upheld. It is perhaps the summon bonum of Christian thinking. Yet just as prominent as it was back then, just as absent is it in today’s Christian church. And it is not just the doctrine and the teaching which is found missing today.

There are plenty of churches today which almost seem ashamed of it, and have removed any cross or cross-like figures from both within and without of the church. But it is the very heart and soul of biblical Christianity. Take away the cross and we have nothing.

Indeed, simply consider one key text from Paul, and how he elevates the cross above everything else. I refer to Galatians 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

As Leon Morris reminds us, “It is easy for us to miss the shocking nature of this assertion.” He cites F.F. Bruce who wrote that polite Roman society would not even use the word. They instead used euphemisms, and spoke of those who were hung on “the unlucky tree”.

Morris continues, “But Paul not only used the unmentionable word: he gloried in it. He saw with clarity that the central truth of Christianity is that the Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross for the salvation of sinners. . . . No matter how unpalatable this was to the people of his day, he saw it was a truth that must be proclaimed with emphasis. So he gloried in it.”

John Stott very helpfully reminds us why the preaching of the cross is so unacceptable and why such an angry reaction to it occurs: “The cross tells us some very unpalatable truths about ourselves, namely that we are sinners under the righteous curse of God’s law and we cannot save ourselves. Christ bore our sin and curse precisely because we could gain release from them in no other way. . . . Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”

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