Most Christians enjoy singing Franny J. Crosby’s wonderful hymn Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross. With enthusiasm the church sings the chorus “In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever…” But there are days when I wonder if we really mean that.*
As I preach through the Gospel of Mark, I am reminded of the centrality that the cross takes in the life of those who follow Jesus. After speaking of his coming crucifixion and resurrection, an indication that he was not leading a violent revolution against Rome, Jesus spoke what the cross means for his followers. Jesus says in Mark 8:34-35, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it.”
What Jesus says and what Mark wants reminds us of is that the cross is not something just to admire but the means of our way of life… if we’re going to follow Jesus. In other words, our glory in the cross must shape our way of life, which is discipleship, as much as it shapes our hope in life, which is for salvation. We cannot glory in the cross for salvation but disavow the cross when it pertains to discipleship. Neither Jesus nor Mark will let us take this route.
Wars, Terrorism, and The Cross
Now why does this matter? Why do I want to remind us about the cross which we are called to pick up if we’re are follow Jesus?
Well, I don’t want to dwell on doom and gloom or sound like a fear-monger but if you’re watching the news at all and watching what is happening both in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, it’s hard not to believe that a large war may be on the horizon. I don’t like that at all and I hope my suspicion turns out to be nothing. But if war of some sort takes place then I wonder what responsibility we have as followers of Jesus Christ?
Let me unequivocally say that I believe the responsibility of the church, as followers of Jesus, is first and foremost to remain faithful to Jesus and his teachings, which includes trusting in God rather than the presidents and kings of this world. That goes for all Christians, not just a select set of disciples like those who serve as pastors or missionaries. But I also know that as humans, when we’re faced with threats of injustice, violence, and other forms of evil then we’re prone to take matters into our own hands and this usually involves setting aside the cross as our way of life.
For instance, Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty, who is now a celebrity Christian of sorts and a fellow member of the Churches of Christ, recently spoke with FOX New’s Sean Hannity regarding the terrorist group ISIS. Robertson said, “In this case, you either have to convert them, which I think would be next to impossible… I’m just saying convert them or kill them — one or the other” (here’s the article and here’s the video) That’s it… No talk of how we might love our enemies and pray for them, just convert them or kill them. Ironically, that’s the same philosophy that some accuse Islam of embracing. What this illustrates is just how easily the cross is forgotten… when perhaps it matters the most too.
Embracing The Cross
I’m not sure how the nations of this world should respond to terrorism or unprovoked acts of war-aggressions by one country upon another. While I would like to have an easy answer, I am concerned more with what sort of witness Christians live in such a dark and evil world. And as a minister of the gospel, I believe God calls me to voice this concern.
Far too often, Christians leave Sunday’s worship gathering after singing a chorus like “In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever…” only to become cheerleaders of a nationalism, militarism, and everything else that relies upon human wisdom and strength. Yet God’s response to evil is in the cross of Jesus! We don’t always like that… I sure don’t. Yet this wisdom of God, the cross of Jesus, is what we are called to faithfully embrace.
Sometimes faithfully embracing the cross will cost us our very own physical lives as it has for many followers of Jesus. Other times it requires us to courageously point people back to the cross in the way we speak and act, even as unpopular as that may be. Whatever the case may be, if the church cannot faithfully embrace the cross of Jesus as its way of life then the cross becomes nothing more than religious talk within the church building but means superstition among a lost world.
* Except for a few stylistic changes, this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (September 3, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.