The Preeminence of the Cross
In the 1930s, before the dark crimes of Nazism were even thought of, liberalism took control of many of the churches in the U.S. This theology believed that the modern world had left behind superstitious, childish beliefs like the divinity of Jesus, his virgin birth, his substitutionary death, his bodily resurrection, and his second coming back to earth. The Bible was not God’s revelation, but a first century human witness to an exemplary life. Jesus’ genius was his ethical teaching and his message was for each of us to love each other as we love ourselves. Churches needed to stop talking about sin and emphasize the warmth of the Galilean carpenter. Reject all this Medieval stress on the need for an atoning sacrifice to pay for our sin and woo folks to Jesus’ universal, kind example of love.
Into this Pollyanna rejection of the God’s righteous judgment, a theologian at Yale Divinity School exposed the foolishness of this liberal vision of Jesus. In 1937, before Hitler’s reign of terror and engineered plan to exterminate the Jewish race, H. Richard Niebuhr in his classic work titled The Kingdom of God in American countered liberalism’s naïve optimism by exposing the counterfeit God they were proclaiming. He encapsulated this false teaching, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
It’s time for us to remember, like Niebuhr, the Apostle Paul’s laser focus on the cross. Here’s his conclusion to his letter to the Galatians.
“But as for me, may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, through whom this present world system has been crucified to me (“this present evil age” Galatians 1:4) and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. May peace and mercy be upon all who keep in step with this absolute centrality of the cross, even upon God’s Israel.” Galatians 6:14-16
Paul declares himself dead with Christ to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the foolish pride in our present possessions and positions. He knew that our hope was to be delivered out of this present evil age shrouded in death, so that we could be alive to God’s eternal life where death and wickedness will be no more. He rejected rituals, moralistic rules, and a dependence upon religious authorities to cure the evil within. There was no room for even a speck of human work. It was God’s work alone. So, with the old hymn I still sing, “My hope is built on nothing less, Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
LORD, thanks that you are still giving the gracious gift of a totally new creation firmly based in your Son’s death and resurrection on the cross. Thanks that you continue to generate true sons of Abraham, not by physical birth or human religious rituals, but still based on the same fact that Abraham believed your promise and you declared that he was right before you.
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