There is an ongoing discussion regarding professional athletes and the hall of fame for their respective sports. The discussion enters debate when an athlete should clearly be included in history because of their performance on the field, but they have some glaring incident or character flaw that plagued them during or after their career. Can such a person be admitted?
Some say yes – that the hall of fame’s purpose is to memorialize exceptional performances on the field. Their personal life is insignificant.
Historians argue the same issue when evaluating presidential terms. Sure, he did wonderful things in the world and for the economy, but is his legacy tainted by accusations of sexual misconduct and explosive anger?
I’m not here to answer either question, but allow it to illustrate a question about Jesus this Easter season. For there are many who dearly love the teachings of Jesus in all their rebellious love and extravagant grace and audacious freedom, and yet do not want to talk about the cross. It’s an unfortunate period to the story of this great teacher, and so we would do better to play up the teachings and play down the blood and the guts and the gore.
You might do that with athletes. Or even with presidents. You cannot do it with Jesus.
There is no “Christ” without the cross. But don’t take my word for it. Take from Jesus Himself:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven…” (Matthew 16:13-17).
Well done, Peter. That’s the right answer. Amidst the wealth of confusion about the identity of Jesus, you nailed it. So right are you, in fact, that your answer could not have come exclusively by your own intuition or intellect – it was a gift from God Himself. But Peter did not understand the implications of calling Jesus the Messiah, or the Christ:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Peter wanted a cross-less Christ. A great teacher. A charismatic leader. But a dead one? A suffering one? Unthinkable. That can’t be right. But according to Jesus, the very idea that He might be Christ and yet not face the cross is blasphemous. An idea with demonic origins. It cannot be so – Jesus won’t stand for it.
If you take the cross away from Jesus, you strip Him of His mission. You devalue His life. You nullify His authority. And You stand against His crowning triumph and glory.
Jesus withstood the taunts of the soldiers. He was silent before the mocking crowd and the preening government officials. But He will not remain silent when someone tries to separate Him from the very reason He came to earth in the first place.
There is no such thing as a cross-less Christ. As you continue to prepare for Good Friday and Easter, remind yourself of Jesus’ willingness to take on the cross. Consider that this act was His choice, a willing submission, for the sake of us all.