For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:20-24
If one were to do a survey of the common responses of people in our time to the cross of Christ, the responses may be as wide and varied as one can imagine. Some people may scoff and demand that it be relegated to a fairy tale. Others may think it was a just punishment for a man who falsely claimed to be God. Some might think that it was a shame that such a wise and noble teacher died such a cruel death. While certain people may meet the idea of the cross with excitement, believing that it is the means for God to bless them with every earthly blessing and luxury. In such a survey, some responses may generate some truth or half-truths, while others may miss the mark entirely. But for those who call Jesus their Lord, the cross should mean something entirely different.
An honest look at Scripture, Genesis to Revelation, demands that the gospel, and the cross being its epicenter, be viewed as its central theme. The Bible is the story of God bringing salvation to mankind in the face of our rebellion against Him. As sinners we are all chained to death and are in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. Athanasius of Alexandria, an early church father who played a big role in maintaining the deity of Christ, understood this and penned his understanding for future generations.
“He, the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those other His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognised as finally annulled. A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.”
Thankfully, God has not left us on our own to figure out that the gospel is essential; He has placed this exact idea in His Word. As the apostle Paul wrote to the troubled church in Corinth, he regarded the gospel that he preached to them to be “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The Corinthians were a church ripe for a three step program to church unity, or a manual on how to sue your fellow Christian in a godly way or even a four volume set on how to use spiritual gifts but Paul realized what the church really needed. It was the gospel. Yes, Paul did instruct the church in the areas that they needed help in but it all came under the banner of Christ dying “for our sins according to the Scriptures.” This is how we begin to see that the cross has more implications in our lives than being just the way to salvation.
The apostle Peter had his life dramatically changed by the gospel. Peter himself had an inside track on the weight which God’s forgiveness can remove and the depth of His mercy and grace. A career fisherman, Peter was not trained in the highest levels of Jewish religion, and in fact, those in high positions could clearly see that Peter had not been formally educated (Acts 4:13). Yet, after a few years of following Jesus, Peter would soon find himself to be the central leader of a religious movement that was exploding across the known world, and would go on for at least another 2000 years. So how did a man who was apparently unqualified excel in such a position? First of all, the Lord clearly had his hand on Peter and his ministry like He said He would. Secondly Peter saw the gospel as the motivation for how to live life and it was also his motivation for obedience.
In his first recorded letter, Peter addresses the issue of submitting to authority. His audience was made up of Jewish believers and the call was for unswerving obedience to those in authority, even the harsh and unjust. For them this meant submitting to the Romans, which was a less than cheerful task for at this time Nero was hunting for Christians. The focal point of this obedience was not religious duty or strict law keeping but rather it was the cross. Peter’s motivation stems from the fact that Christ also suffered for us and left us an example to follow. Furthermore, Jesus committed no sin and yet “He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter. 2:22-24). This is how one is motivated to submit to authority and other matters of obedience. Peter started with a simple imperative; “submit to authority,” and turned in directly to the cross, revealing his motivation for obedience and righteous living, and therefore ours as well.
For us today this truth has massive implications in our daily lives. If the cross really is so crucial, and if it truly is the center of everything, then our priorities may need to be shaken up. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that as long as God is at the top of our priority list, items two through nine can be separate items. Whatever these priorities may be, we feel entitled to them and we keep them distinct from priority number one as long as they remain smaller than priority number one. I believe that the gospel brings about a different approach. This gospel is still of first importance, no change there. But when our hearts and minds are aligned with the gospel, it becomes the center of everything that we do. The gospel was at the core of how Peter submitted to authority, and so it can be at the center of how you raise your children, how you show generosity or even how you spend your vacation time away from work. If ever we find ourselves trying to fit the gospel into the center of some situation or decision where it clearly cannot operate, then perhaps an honest assessment may be needed. An easy example of this is when we choose to commit sin. The gospel cannot be at the center of your choice to gossip about your coworker. In that case the gospel cannot operate.
When the gospel is at the forefront not only does it keep us from falling into religious legalism but it also keeps us reeled in from abounding in sin and exploiting God’s grace. The gospel really is that important. So this Easter, as we go about our family traditions, don’t forget the cross, for the one in the middle truly is the center of it all.