Summary: The Cross is the Central Message of Christianity.
The Centrality of the Cross
In the Cross Christianity lays claim to having the most universally recognized symbol in all of world history. The Cross is more recognizable than a Coca-Cola can, CNN, or any nation’s flag. And the centrality of the Cross has even become part of our language. Every time we say,"this is crucial", or "that is the Crux of the matter"we borrow language from the centrality of the Cross. Yet many both inside the church and outside do not understand the message of the Cross, or its centrality. Perhaps is it even more accurate to say that the Cross is both the center and the circumference of Christianity.
It’s common to hear people object to the Christian gospel by saying, "Isn’t the real point of Christianity the ethics and love that Jesus taught us?" Can’t we get away from these divisive things like His death and resurrection? Martin Luther wrote that "no word in the Bible can be understood apart from the Cross". When the Apostle Paul minstered in Corinth, he said, "I resolved when I was with you to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified." If you read Paul’s writings you will find that he takes up many topics, but he relates them all to the Cross of Christ.
Other religions at their best give us and founder and fine ethical teachings. The Buddha said that it matters not if his followers even remembered him. Once I asked a Muslim friend about Mohammed’s moral life because a college professor had asserted that Mohammed was a "womanizer". My friend dismissed my question by saying, "we don’t follow Mohammed’s life, but only his inspired writings. We believe he is a prophet, and only his writings matter.’ But in Christianity, the person of Jesus Christ is the whole of the matter, and the Cross is the crux or crucial point.
The real need in the world is not more moral teaching, but a gospel that can bring change to the hearts of all people. The editorial decisions of the the gospel writers reveal that in the eyes of the people who knew Jesus firsthand, and lived beside him intimately for three years, the Cross of Jesus is the most important event of all. In fact,a gospel scholar insightfully stated that the New Testament gospels are not so much biographies as they are "passion narratives with extended introductions." The Apostle John ends his 28 page (in a typical NIV Bible) by saying if he were to write down the many things Jesus did "the whole world would not have room for the books." What biographer would ever write about a fascinating person by spending the bulk of his time writing about that person’s death even omitting whole eras of that person’s life? No publisher would allow such an account to go to print. It would be considered grossly unbalanced. Yet all through John’s gospel we read of the Cross. The N.T. writers would lead us to the opposite conclusion. That anyone who seeks to understand Jesus apart from the importance of the Cross is unbalanced in their understanding.
The Apostle Pauls’ understanding of the Cross caused him to write, "May it never be that I should boast except in the Cross". Is that your understanding of the Cross? There is an easy test for everyone. If you understand the Cross, you will either prize it or your will hate it. If you are neutral about the Cross, saying "I can take it or leave it" then you don’t understand it enough to even reject Jesus credibly. The NT makes it clear that we will either find the Cross and Jesus supremely important or we will find it and Jesus to be of no importance. The one thing the Bible would argue is impossible and illogical, is to find the Cross and Jesus Himself to be of "moderate" importance.
The Cross is the greatest monument to our sinful rebellion. The Cross tells me that my heart is twisted and wicked beyond my understanding. That is one reason that those who preach the Cross are often persecuted. It tells us that our SIN is so serious that it demands a judgement. People often say, "Sure, I’m a sinner, but we’ve all got our problems". The Cross says our sin is a serious, eternal matter before a Holy God.
When John the Baptist was in prison he asked Jesus through his followers if Jesus was truly the Messiah. Jesus answered by saying something enigmatic in Luke 7:23 "Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me"(NASB). Jesus is recognizing that there is an offense to Him because of the Cross and His suffering. And every believer must pass through the bitterness of the Cross before we understand its sweetness. It must offend our self-sufficiency, our self-pity, our rationalizations and attempts to placate God by our actions. And because the Cross does repudiate all of these attempts to satisfy God through our effort it is offensive. Ask yourself this question: Have I sufficiently examined the message of the Cross that I have passed through its bitterness so that I might know its sweetness?