Christ the Preacher
Recently, American football and particularly the Super Bowl have begun to feature more prominently on British TV. Almost no one plays the sport over here, and so when it comes on the screen, the temptation is to dismiss it as simply an inferior version of rugby. Why has it grown in popularity? Because of the commentary. Slowly the experts who understand the action have taught a new audience what is going on—and why. The eye alone couldn’t comprehend: the ear is the secret to success.
Were we to have stood on a hill overlooking Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, little would have suggested that we were looking at the crucifixion of the Son of God. The skies darkened, the temple curtain ripped (not that we would have seen that), but none of these things in and of themselves provided an explanation of what was going on and why. The eye would have been useless unless the ear had already heard. Jesus, prophetically through the Old Testament, and then in his own preaching ministry, had explained that he had come to give his life “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is his explanation of the cross to which we must cling. As we’ll see, he continues to speak through the apostles and prophets after he ascends to glory. And these words are life-giving.
Jesus demonstrates this in many of his miraculous healings. Were he a mere man, his words could seem cruel. What sort of person tells a paralytic to stand up? A blind man to look? Who goes with a weeping woman to the fresh grave of her brother and then commands the corpse to come out? Only someone whose word has the power to bring about the response to its command. Jesus’s word is never mere information: it is the very word of God, a word so powerful it spoke the universe into being, a word that always achieves its end. Jesus’s word is powerful to save, to bring the life won at the cross to spiritually dead men and women.
The Cross as Pulpit
How that life-giving word comes to us will have to wait. We live, after all, in the age of Christ’s exaltation, and our attention for now is on his humiliation. Before we move on, we need to return once more to the cross. The cross is not just about Christ’s priestly work; it also stands at the heart of his prophetic ministry. The cross preaches to us. The cross is Christ’s pulpit.
Of course, the cross preaches to us of the love and justice of God and of the unflinching desire of Jesus to save us. But let’s focus on how at the cross Christ sets us an example, laying down his life that we might live. Although our lives and deaths obviously don’t atone for sin as his does, his death is still a pattern for us. We are to take up our cross and follow him, suffering and laying down our lives for his sake and in love for our neighbors. This is a major theme of 1 Peter. The apostle encourages Christians to endure suffering and remain godly, however unjustly they are treated. Why? “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
In fact, the cross is meant to completely reshape how we see the world. No one saw this more clearly than Martin Luther. He spoke often of the difference between theologians of glory and theologians of the cross. Theologians of glory still think and work in worldly terms. God is to be found in might and majesty, power and glory. Theologians of the cross realize that when God was acting most powerfully in history, all one would have seen was a naked Jewish man being crucified on a hill outside a relatively unimportant provincial city. There was no outward glory, no angel choir, no triumphant display. Yet that cross was the ultimate revelation of the power and wisdom of God. The cross teaches us not to think as human wisdom teaches. A theologian of glory might reason that because God is great and mighty, the way to heaven must be to become great and mighty too, lording it over others. The theologian of the cross understands that greatness in this kingdom is found in humility and service.
Jesus’s word is never mere information: it is the very word of God, a word so powerful it spoke the universe into being, a word that always achieves its end.
This has much to say to our understanding of church. Theologians of glory will naturally want a church that impresses the world: beautiful people, ideally a sprinkling of celebrities, worship styled after whatever happens to be “hot” right now, a preacher and sermon that fit hand in glove with contemporary culture—funny, chatty, nonconfrontational, nondogmatic. Theologians of the cross are content to trust God’s upside-down means: they know that the power and wisdom of God are found through the preaching of Christ crucified. They know that not many of them look impressive in worldly terms:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:27–29)
They know that the message, the messengers, and the method (preaching) all seem foolish and weak. But they know this too: Jesus also looked utterly foolish, utterly defeated as he hung dying at Calvary. Yet in that death was the power and glory to transform the universe. The cross is Christ’s pulpit.
This article is adapted from Man of Sorrows, King of Glory: What the Humiliation and Exaltation of Jesus Mean for Us by Jonty Rhodes.
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