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 cross 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” (Mk 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. (Mk 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)
NB: literal or approximate quotes of John Stott are in italics
To be continued