The cross is losing ground these days. While it is true that the cross remains a popular fashion piece, wall decoration, and tattoo, it has fallen out of popularity in the most unlikely of places–evangelism.
Many Christians have found that it is far easier to tell people of the great love of God by pointing to Jesus’ miraculous acts of mercy or God’s desire to know us as friends. After all, is it not easier for modern man to think of God in his benevolence and relate-ability rather than crucified and bleeding upon a cross? Isn’t the point simply that God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us? Why do we need to talk about the cross? For many, good intentions have hung the curtain over the bloody cross, hiding it and putting it in the background. We don’t want to turn people away. We don’t want to make things uncomfortable. We don’t want people to think we are like those Christians.
Front and Center
Avoiding the cross in our gospel presentations is a far cry from the gospel of the New Testament. When Paul wanted to remove obstacles to the gospel, he did not get vague about the cross. He said he wanted to speak of nothing except “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul knew that the greatest need of all men and women is to be forgiven of their sins by God and reconciled into a relationship with him. The gospel tells us how this happens, but this message cannot be told without the cross being front and center.
When we preach a cross-centered gospel, we tell people the truth about sin. God cannot abide sin, nor will He let us hold onto our sins. God will and must punish sin because he is holy. In our sins, we cannot know God and we cannot be with him. At the cross, however, the perfect Son of God took on the wrath of God due our sins. At the cross, Jesus received the death we deserve. The horror and grief of the cross tells us the truth about sin. But the cross doesn’t leave us there.
The cross also tells us the truth about God’s love. In this day and age, we will spend any amount of time, effort, or money to avoid social discomfort or conversational awkwardness. The message of the cross flies in the face of our self-preservation with a bloody execution. The cross does not allow us to preach a gospel of puppy-love and well-wishes from God. It’s real love. It’s hard love. It’s sacrificial love. It’s love that drives one to lay down his life. Romans 5:8 tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Christians can become so consumed with questions of justice—“How could God punish his own Son? How can God punish us for our sins? Does sin really deserve all of that?”—that we become misguided in our thinking. The cross does not take away from the justice of God; it demonstrates the justice of God, even as it displays his mercy and grace. At the cross, Jesus laid down his own life for ours. At the cross, our sins were taken away and now we have the righteousness of the Innocent One who went there instead of us (2 Cor. 5:21). At the cross, the lyrics of the old hymn ring true: “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.” The punishment due our sins was carried out on Jesus. At the cross, Jesus reconciled us to God.
If we love people, then we cannot get bogged down in our worries that the message of the cross will be uncomfortable. Every man and woman has an urgent need for the gospel. Any minute spent outside of Christ is a tragedy. If we are ambassadors for Christ urging people to be reconciled to God, then there is no place to point them to other than the cross. Apart from the cross, there is no forgiveness, no reconciliation. There is no other message; there is no other salvation.
We do not point people to the cross to be obscene or crass. We point them to the cross because that’s where they see God: just, sacrificial, forgiving, merciful, and loving. Loving the lost means telling them to look to the cross and see God.