At my church, the pastor has spent the last month or so on “The Last Sayings of Christ,” and has harped on the centrality of the Cross to our Christian faith. Last night (isn’t that how it always happens: the best thoughts come to you when you can’t write them down), I thought, Why?
Undoubtedly, without the Cross, you have no forgiveness, so there is no question that it is crucial. However, around this time of year particularly, people tend to harp on the Cross for the entire month or so before Easter, and then just give the Resurrection a passing “Yippee” on Easter Sunday. Actually, the more I think about it, the more Christianity in general seems to do that. The Cross is heavily emphasized, and the Resurrection is almost an afterthought. Admittedly, I don’t have another source to back this up, but I remember reading in at least one of John Eldredge’s books that it used to be the opposite: the Resurrection was considered the primary symbol of Christianity. I wonder why the pendulum swung the other way. Maybe, somewhere deep down, we like dwelling in guilt. We like the thought of having our sins forgiven, but don’t care so much about the new life that is possible because of it. I don’t know, just tossing an idea out there. But, without a question, we need more balance in our approach to this Easter thing, because without balance, Easter wouldn’t have happened anyway.
If Jesus had just died on the cross and not risen, He couldn’t have fully been the Son of God. In essence, He would have been the same as any other sacrificial animal: born and raised for a purpose, and, upon being chosen for His purity, slaughtered, with the rest of His carcass tossed aside. Then, the people would wait for the next one and do it all over again.
On the other hand, if Jesus had come to earth just to die…somehow (by His own hand or an angel or something) and raise himself from the dead, he couldn’t have been fully human. There would’ve been no process; He would pretty much just be showing off: “Look what I can do. You will never be forgiven; you will never have another life, so you may as well just choose to respect me in this one or I’ll zap you all.” Simply resurrecting Himself would deprive us of His heart.
Both of these “Easter elements” are necessary to have the full picture. In fact, I’ll take it a step further: On the Cross, Jesus was the most human. In the Resurrection, Jesus was the most divine. I think we can all pretty much agree that humanity was not designed to be like it has turned out. We get in the way too much. Every now and then, we see glimpses of humans living at the highest level: unconditional love, charity, selflessness, sacrifice. We were made to be that way all the time. But, like I said, the twisted parts of our nature get in the way, and we morph into something we were never made to be. On the Cross, Jesus demonstrated that highest level of humanity. At that point, He wasn’t wielding any supernatural power. Yes, He took on our sin, but personally, I think that on the Cross, Jesus became a vessel for that. He wasn’t waving any magic wand, saying, “Watch as I take your sin from you!” No, it was dumped on Him. Anyway, despite being at His weakest (at least physically and mentally), being tortured, being mocked, being devalued, being temporarily cut off from God, Jesus still had enough of that “divine humanity” in Him to sacrifice, forgive, and endure. In those moments, He was the ultimate example of what we were meant to be.
When He rose, He demonstrated the highest level of divinity. He wasn’t just showing off; He had earned it. He rose to prove a point. New life is possible, even from the direst of circumstances. The craziest part is, this new life is not only demonstrated for us, but also offered to us. That Deity would choose to lower Himself to the point of suffering with us, and then in return, offer to raise us to the point of paradise with Him, is mind-blowing. The Resurrection represents the most unfair exchange in the world. However, it is also the greatest offer in the world. The Resurrection proved that Jesus could back up what He said; when He talked of being “born again,” it wasn’t just a nice metaphor. It was—and is—a fact that what appears one way can be miraculously transformed into something new. We don’t have to keep banging our heads against a wall over the same old stuff because when we follow Christ, suddenly, we aren’t alone in it anymore. “Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.”
You can’t have Easter—you can’t have the Jesus we have, either—without both a Cross and a Resurrection. I personally think they should be more balanced in how they are presented because they are equally important to both the character of Christ and the manner of our salvation. This season, I am (as always) learning to be thankful for both. I’m thankful for the hard times, and I am also thankful for the everyday resurrections (and of course the big one) that are to come.