(Consider John 18:28-19:30)
“It is finished.”
What emotion comes over you when you see someone wearing a cross? We see it all the time on all sorts of celebrities, from NBA players to film stars. Is it a sign of faith or simply a fashion statement? What if instead of a cross, the same celebrities wore an electric chair, a hangman’s noose, or a lethal injection syringe – what then would be your reaction?
In the first century, the cross represented the most cruel and inhumane execution method, carried out in public as a frightening reinforcement of Rome’s power. Yet the incarnate God, Jesus, willingly walked the Via Dolorosa. Was it simply a way for forgiveness and the ticket to heaven for those who believe, or was it something much, much more?
In the last couple of centuries, Good Friday has become a day to represent the atonement for our personal sins. This atonement provided the way for us as individuals to be in a relationship with God, and–upon death–for our individual souls to be transported to the heavenly realm for eternity. The atonement part is spot on; all of us must seek forgiveness. But the cross is about so much more than just me.
Unfortunately, in the United States and most of the Western World, Christianity has been transformed exclusively into a personal relationship with God. We have segregated our faith into a private world where our politics, careers, and broader actions and relationships don’t matter; it’s all about me. Starting in the early part of the 19th century, faith became completely separated from the rest of our lives. Faith became private and individualistic, and society at large placed great focus on the “me” instead of the “us.”
Many years ago, I invited Len Sweet to a weekend of teaching and preaching in my local community. One of Len’s comments will always stick with me. Amid the first release of the Nintendo Wii gaming console, Len noted, “America is the only place where we spell ‘we’ with two I’s.” Our hyper-focus on the “I” and “me” causes many American evangelicals to continue to misinterpret the most widely quoted piece of Scripture: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 NIV). God loves the entire creation, including all of humanity. Yes, God offers redemption for us as individuals but also desires the restoration of the whole creation to its envisioned majesty. We see this same idea in the first chapter of Ephesians:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
Lesslie Newbigin’s 1978 Classic, The Open Secret, states, “The Bible, then, is covered with God’s purpose of blessing for all the nations. It is concerned with the completion of God’s purpose in the creation of the world and of man[sic] within the world. It is not, to put it crudely, concerned with offering a way of escape for the redeemed soul out of history, but with the action of God to bring history to its true end.”
In The Day the Revolution Began, N.T. Wright goes even further. According to Wright, Jesus’s sacrificial death separates the Apostle Paul’s present age (the age of chaos and evil) from the age to come (the Kingdom of God). On the cross, Jesus defeated evil forever, “not that we could sort out abstract ideas, but so that we, having been put right, could be part of God’s plan to put his whole world right.”
This Good Friday, look to the cross not only as the key for our salvation, but as the hope for all creation. Jesus’s crucifixion and death restore our relationship with God so that we may be partners in redeeming all creation as we await heaven coming to earth. Good Friday sets the stage for the first day of the new creation that will arrive on Easter Sunday.
As for the cross, humbly wear it often and always, reminding people it no longer represents death but instead symbolizes life for all God’s children and all creation. The cross provides hope, not to escape this world, but to bring God’s will on earth, “as it is in heaven.”
QUESTION TO PONDER
Spend a few minutes reflecting on the power of the Jesus’s crucifixion to restore all creation. How can you use your newfound freedom to assist building God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven?
Then, slowly pray the Lord’s prayer several times, listening for God’s calling on your heart to take part in this this often-forgotten part of discipleship: creation care.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from the evil one.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory, forever.
View and download the compiled Toward New Creation Lenten Devotional here.