The Crucified, Heaving God-Man and Our Desire to Look Cool

I confess to finding it weird when I see Christians trying desperately to be cool, earnestly groping for the world’s approval. Nothing is more off-putting. This is especially atrocious when it comes from pastors. Perhaps I sound like a jealous, grief-stricken pastor taking below-the-belt shots at other pastors with bigger churches. As far as I’m able to search my own soul, such is not the case.

Christianity is all about Jesus Christ. And the central image of Christianity is the cross. While we may live in a day and age where people wear necklaces and chains with crosses on them because it gives them hope, historically the symbol brought death to peoples’ minds. Thus, when Paul said, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14), it made his readers’ mouths drop to the floor. “Paul, why would you boast in death?” his readers must have been screaming. With this in mind, we would do well to recall that this same Jesus who was crucified told his followers, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). And let’s not forget Paul’s words either: “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Carl Trueman captures what those walking by the cross in the first century must have thought as they looked at Christ:

[B]ased upon rational, empirical enquiry, one would have to say that the man on the cross is a filthy criminal of some kind. Why else would he be dying such an indescribable death as a punishment? The cross is a disgrace, both by the standards of Roman law and Jewish custom, and thus the one upon whom such a punishment is inflicted must be the lowest kind of criminal. . . . As he died on the cross, we see no king, no victory over sin, no cause for rejoicing or glorifying the one who hangs there.

But what do the eyes of faith see?

[N]ot a sinner, but the only sinless man; not defeat, but triumph; not wrath, but mercy. What we have on the cross is not the defeat of a criminal, but the triumph of the king of glory; not the victory of the powers of evil, but the victory of good over evil; not the hopeless curse of God, but the blessing of God by which all may be saved.[1]

The two above quotes from Trueman represent two different ways people can view the cross: one through the eyes of the flesh, and one through the eyes of faith. But here’s the point: Let us not forget that the center of Christianity is about the “brutal, bloody, hideous, heaving, crucified God-Man Jesus Christ.”[2] He’s the one we follow. I seriously doubt anyone walking by the cross thought to himself or herself, “That guy looks so cool up there.”

No! And yet, what do many Christians expect from their lives? Respect, worldly accolades, and heaping praises from secular media outlets? I highly doubt it. So what if the world views the church or Christians as weak, ineffective, and uncool? Here’s my two cents: Who cares? Here’s Trueman once again:

Is the church weak and despised by society at the moment? Well, that is sad; but on another level, who cares? We are not meant to be respectable, to have political influence, to be an ogranisation that those outside admire for our slickness and savvy. We are meant to be those who preach Christ to the world around us both in our words and our deeds. I find it worrying when evangelical success comes to be measured in the categories of worldly success for precisely this reason: we are not meant to be successful by worldly standards; we are meant to be faithful by biblical standards; and the example of Christ indicates that these two are, at the end of the day, implacably opposed to each other.[3]

Amen and amen.

[1] Carl Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2000), 43-44.

[2] John Piper, Brothers, We Are NOT Professionals (Nashville: B&H, 2002), ix.

[3] Trueman, Reformation, 67.

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