The drama of the cross

– by Jonathan Kopke*

The cross is not a machine where we can feed in Sin and Death, turn the crank, and have it spew out Light and Life.

I want the cross to work like that, but it just doesn’t.

The cross is a drama.

A drama that’s completely permeated with paradoxes.

Maybe the closest analog we have in our own time is the drama of Rosa Parks on the bus.  Did Rosa Parks sit there and passively absorb the racial hatred of the whole City of Montgomery into her own self-sacrificing love? Yes.

Did Jesus hang on the cross and passively absorb all the Sin of the world into his own self-sacrificing love. Yes.

At the same time, by taking her seat on the bus, did Rosa Parks actively provoke the Enemy in its own territory? Yes.

On Palm Sunday, did Jesus actively provoke the Powers of Sin in their own territory? Yes.

But what exactly did Rosa Parks do on that historic afternoon? Did she vindicate herself so that the laws of Alabama had to be changed? No. Did she put an end to racism in the United States? No. At the end of the day, did anybody think she had won? No — she went to jail. If Rosa Parks did anything that afternoon, it was to publicly shame the powers of racism throughout Alabama and the rest of the country.

What exactly did Jesus do on Good Friday? Did he vindicate himself? No. Did he put an end to Sin in the world? No. At the end of the day, did anybody think he had won? No — he went to the tomb. If Jesus did anything, it was that he “shamed the spiritual rulers and authorities publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

And yet, by the time Rosa Parks (a little Christ) was dragged off to jail, our country had been irrevocably changed.  And by the time Jesus was laid in his tomb, the whole heaven-and-earth cosmos had been irrevocably changed.

Nobody even noticed that change in the world because, when we say that Jesus defeated all the Powers of Sin on the cross, we don’t mean that no one can ever sin again. We simply mean that we don’t have to.

The people who waved Palm branches thought Jesus was going to free them from slavery to Rome. But instead, he freed us from slavery to Sin.

The people who understood Jesus route into Jerusalem thought that he was going to bring the glory of God back like the pillar of flame that had once stood over the tabernacle. But instead, he brought a tongue of flame to the head of every devoted follower.

The people who recognized that a donkey was a reminder of King David thought that Jesus was going to restore the Kingdom of Israel. But instead, he inaugurated the Kingdom of God.

What would be the practical applications of all this in our everyday lives? The implications are so revolutionary that the only examples I can think of are “what ifs.”

  • When the fans of one basketball team yell racial and homophobic slurs at the other team through three quarters of a game, what if one little Christ would stand up and absorb the hatred of the fans into his own self-sacrificing love?
  • When a boss is sexually harassing a woman at his company, what if one little Christ would stand up against that sin, even at the risk of his own job?
  • When a drug deal is going down on our block, what if one little Christ would pull out a cell phone and take a picture of the dealer’s license plate, even at the risk of her own safety?

Jesus doesn’t seem to care how much the Kingdom of God costs us, any more than he seemed to care how much it cost him.

I can’t explain exactly how the death of Christ on the cross defeated the Powers of Sin. I only know that in the light of the cross, we can already see the glory of Christ, and we can already experience his eternal reign.  And we have the expectation that when Jesus comes again, he’ll establish not just the Kingdom of God among us, but the Kingdom of God in the New Heaven and New Earth.

*Jonathan Kopke is an elder at NorthChurch.  Click HERE to listen to Jon’s sermon based on this post. 

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