The cross of Jesus Christ – John Stott
The book of John Stott (1921-2011), The Cross of Jesus Christ, was published in English by Inter-Varsity Press, the publisher of the English University Bible Groups. It is intended for a reflecting reader who wants to deepen his knowledge of a fundamental truth of the Christian faith without making do with a superficial or narrow approach.
The author, who was a theologian, a pastor and a Christian statesman, introduced the doctrine of the cross in a particularly clear and complete way, in a pleasant style, even in translation. He treated the subject from the whole of Scripture and related to the historical theology and to the systematic theology, and he does not miss out clear applications to the Christian life as well along the different chapters as in the latter part of the book .
The cross of Jesus Christ, people will say, that’s quite simple, you just take it for granted, you just believe in its effectiveness, receive for yourself its spiritual benefits and draw the practical consequences thereof for your Christian life.
But limiting the understanding of the crucifixion to even a few correct principles, without developing or deepening these by a sound teaching, does this not risk to live a superficial faith and practice, even with the risk of more or less subtle deviations from its exact meaning and implications?
The book includes four major parts:
- An approach to the cross deepens the reflection on the causes of Jesus’ death.
- At the very heart of the cross lies the problem of sin and of the holiness of God : man needs forgiveness, God needs satisfaction with the solution of self-substitution by God himself.
- The work accomplished at the cross, with the explanation and development of the concepts of atonement, redemption, justification, reconciliation, … glory, justice and love of God,… triumph over evil and victory of Christ.
- Life under the cross develops the practical applications of the doctrine of the cross, either in personal Christian life or in the community of the Church.
This recension will treat the first two parts
The centrality of the cross
Whoever ignores Christian culture and finds the trace of the cross in art, in religious architecture, in ceremonies with their symbols, will wonder why … everything converges towards the cross.
John Stott explains the significance of the choice of some symbols of Christianity.
The symbol of the fish, IXTHUS, = “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”, was the rallying sign of the first Christians.
• I (i, iota): Ἰησοῦς / Iesous (“Jesus”)
• Χ (KH, khi): Χριστὸς / Khristós (“Christ”)
• Θ (TH, theta): Θεοῦ / theou (“God”)
• Υ (U, upsilon): Υἱὸς / huios (“son”)
• Σ (S, sigma): Σωτήρ / Sôter (“savior”) (from Wikipedia)
For the Fathers of the Church, theologians who have developed the Christian doctrine against the heresies of the first centuries, to make the sign of the cross was not a superstitious act. It showed that the object or the act on which it was invoked, was truly sanctified as belonging to Christ.
Crucifixion was the most abject punishment … in antiquity. Invented by barbarians, it has been adopted by the Greeks and Romans, who usually … exempted their citizens from it… For Jews, the crucified criminal was under Gods curse.
You must not leave the body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him the same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree, brings God’s curse upon the land. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:23).
The enemies of Christianity ridiculed in the form of a caricature or of a piece of graffiti the idea of worshiping a crucified man.
The cross at the center of Jesus’ plan
Jesus was invested by God, his Father, with a special mission: to reconcile sinners with God through his death on the cross and his resurrection. He has therefore committed himself voluntarily in obedience and suffering.
After hearing the testimony that Peter made to his being the Messiah, Jesus reveals to his disciples the purpose of his life:
“But what about you,” Jesus asked them, what do you say I am? “Peter answered :” You are the Messiah “Then Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.. (Mark 8.29-30)
He openly announces his suffering, his death, his resurrection:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and after three days he will rise from death.” (Mark 8.31)
He will do it twice more, in Galilee and at his arrival in Jerusalem.
An amazing determination
The most amazing thing in this triple announcement of the Passion is not the betrayal by his people … his death and resurrection nor the title of Son of Man destined to suffer and to die. It is his determination, the voluntary choice of Jesus to accomplish all that had been written about him.
They were on their way up to Jerusalem. Jesus walked before his disciples, who were worried, and those who followed were afraid. He took again the twelve disciples aside and began to talk to them about what would soon happen to him. He told them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles. These will mock him, spit on him, whip and bring him to death. And after three days, he will rise from death. (Mark 10.32-34, 20.17-19 cf. Matthew, Luke 18.31-34).
A death corresponding to a specific purpose
Jesus knew that his “violent, premature death corresponded to a specific purpose.” He was going to die because of the hostility of the Jewish authorities of his day,
“The Pharisees left the synagogue and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3.6).
but not before the time appointed by God. After Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth,
“They got up, drove him out of the town and took him to the brow of the hill on which Nazareth was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4.29-30).
He would die according to “the fate designed for the Messiah by the Scriptures.”
The Son of Man will indeed die as the Scriptures announced it about him, linking his death to the resurrection, his suffering to the promised glory.
Then Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory? “. And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said about him in all the Scriptures (Luke 24.25-27).
Three words on the cross are taken from the Psalms:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22.2),
They put gall to my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. (Psalm 69.21)
Into your hands I commit my spirit, redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. (Psalm 31.6)
These words describe the suffering of the innocent victim who puts his trust in God.
The sufferings of the Son of Man and Isaiah 53
Jesus’ statements about the sufferings of the Son of Man (Mark 8.31), who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) bring us back to Isaiah 53.
There the Lord’s Servant is described as despised and rejected by men, as a man of sorrows and familiar with grief (Isaiah 53.3) wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities … (Isaiah 53.5) … who will justify many ( Isaiah 53.11).
A freely chosen death…
He would die especially because he had freely chosen to enter … the plan of the Father for the salvation of sinners.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
…that fulfills God’s purpose
According to the Apostles who had a clear awareness of what it involved, the death of Jesus, due to the wickedness of humanity, is … God’s purpose.
This man was handed over to you by God’s purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2.23-24).
The apostolic preaching of the cross
The doctrine of the preaching of the cross by the apostles is based on solid scriptural basis, the apostolic message is as much about death as about resurrection.
So Paul preaches a crucified Jesus,
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2.2)
Peter refers to the Lord as the one who bore our sins and took our place,
he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
The Letter to the Hebrews emphasizes its absolute supremacy
Once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5.9).
The book of Revelation describes him as the Lord of history, worshipped by the heavenly beings.
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5.9)
Keep the cross on its central place, remaining faithfully committed to Christ.
To take faith out of its central in the work of the cross is the death of the Church (Forsyth, English theologian of the early 20th century). The cross is the unique brand of Christian faith (Emil Brunner, German theologian of the early 20th century)
The death of Jesus Christ, who is guilty ?
Jesus Christ was charged with blasphemy by the Jews and with political rebellion by the Romans. At his trial, the courts have respected some legal proceedings but with an innocent prisoner, false witnesses, a parody of judgment by men (Caiaphas, Pilate) led by their passions.
The Gospels show more the guilt of Pilate and less the responsibility of the Roman soldiers in the crucifixion of Jesus. They give an unflattering portrait of the Roman procurator, confirmed by secular history.
A competent administrator, he was a contemptuous and provocative man with a quick , cruel and violent temper. Convinced of the innocence of Jesus, he made several pitiful attempts not condemn him and at the same time not to acquit him because of the Jews, discharging his responsibility on these.
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude. “ I am innocent of this man’s blood, he said, it is your responsibility”. Matthew 27.24
But do we not act sometimes likewise, as Pilate, whose conscience was stifled by the views, the requirements of others, and who was compromised by his cowardice?
The Jewish leaders
The Jews and their priests are the most directly responsible for the death of Jesus. Without title nor recognized authority, Jesus upset the traditions of the Pharisees. He accused them of worrying about ceremonial requirements of the law rather than being concerned about people, moral purity and love. But above all he declared himself to be equal to God, what was, in their eyes, a blasphemous statement.
Beyond the reasons given for his arrest, there was particularly their jealousy stirred up by their pride, feelings that made them look at Jesus as a inconvenient rival.
Judas is responsible for his betrayal of Jesus Christ
An instrument of Providence to accomplish God’s purposes or a toy accomplice of Satan, Judas remains responsible for its despicable betrayal. According to some scholars he was a zealot  and would have delivered him out of political disillusionment or to force his hand.
Rather it was his greed that explains the sordid calculation of the “sale” of Jesus for the price of a slave; this same sin is also the source of many abuses and dishonesty in all ages.
All are guilty
The point is not to unload the Jewish people from their responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ, even with extenuating circumstances, but to be aware that all nations share this responsibility and that we too are guilty.
However, Jesus did not die as a martyr, an unwilling victim of sin of men, but he chose to give his life according to the will of his Father.
By dying for our sins, Jesus Christ suffered our own death, not as a result of his sins, but as a criminal punishment for ours. Having never sinned, he could return to heaven without dying, but deliberately chose the death we deserved.
John Stott offers a theological approach beginning with the events of the upper room, Gethsemane and Golgotha.
Three lessons of the Last Supper
By the actions and words of the Last Supper in the upper room, the Lord makes visual for his apostles what will be the fate that awaited him, and teaches them three lessons
• The cardinal role of his death, at the center of his thoughts and his mission
• The purpose of his death which makes possible the new covenant and his promise of forgiveness
• The absolute need for everyone to appropriate his death personally.
Thus Jesus announces the substitution of Passover by the Last Supper by identifying himself with the Passover lamb itself and by engaging in death as the true Paschal sacrifice.
The agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
Jesus Christ was considering his ordeal with extreme apprehension and acute mental suffering .
The bitter cup is the symbol not only of the wrath of God against his disobedient people but also of the universal judgment for the sinner.
This cup is neither the death nor the suffering, but the spiritual agony that consists in taking over the sins of the world and in suffering the divine punishment for these sins. It is with this objective that he enters death, keeping a serene and resolute confidence in God.
Four explanations were proposed for the cry of abandonment on the cross:
• A cry of anger, disbelief and despair for not having been rescued at the last moment. According to this incorrect interpretation, Jesus was in error and has lacked confidence on the cross
• A cry of loneliness, “the dark night of the soul”, experienced by many believers of the old and the new covenant. This interpretation is possible, but it does not take account of Psalm 22: the experience of a man truly abandoned by God.
• A shout of victory, according to Psalm 22, which ends on a note of confidence, a shout of triumph. But why would Jesus have cited the beginning of the psalm, if he wanted to allude to its end?
• The cry of Jesus expresses a real state of abandonment, a true abandon, willingly accepted by the Father and the Son, but without breaking the unity of the Trinity.
The cross highlights three fundamental truths about ourselves, about God, about Jesus Christ
• Sin is a horrible reality. We must realize its seriousness in order to place our trust in Jesus as our Savior.
• The cross gives us a glimpse of God’s love which goes beyond the imaginable and is offered to those who do not deserve it.
• The salvation offered by Jesus Christ is a free gift and the most powerful stimulus to a life of piety and holiness.
 Rebellious movement against the Roman ruling power
 B.B. Warfield in On the Emotional Life of our Lord
Reconciling forgiveness of sins, holiness and love of God