Christianity without the cross is a sham, but the cross is not enough. You heard me: The cross is not enough. Before the cross came incarnation, and after the cross came resurrection: Jesus modeled all three, and so should we.
I’ve watched recently as an increasing number of teachers and leaders encourage us to follow Jesus’ example by going to the cross. Our Lord is a model—the model, actually—of self-sacrifice and humility. This much is true: He is our example, and he went willingly to the cross. He didn’t miscalculate, he wasn’t blindsided by people or events beyond his control. No one took his life from him: He laid it down freely, and so should we.
Before the cross, however, all of heaven gasped in wonder at the miracle of Incarnation. The Creator become part of creation. He did not stand afar off and offer advice, he became present in his world. He arrived in the usual way for a man, and the most unusual way for God. Nor did he simply drop in for a weekend redemption spree. He lived life to the full and left a record of how we should live. This part of his example required humility and sacrifice as well.
The Apostle Paul tells us the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The cross, he says, is a scandal to the religiously minded and ridiculous to the wisdom of this age. The world does not value humility and sacrifice, but they are the calling cards of another realm. Still, Paul did not leave Jesus in the grave, nor did the Father. To win by losing is an oxymoron. But Jesus didn’t win by losing. He won by winning, and the winning came by the resurrection.
Jesus’ example did not end with the agonizing beauty of his tortured death. His final words on the cross were not his final words. He had much more to say, and plenty for us to do. His work beyond the cross required the Father’s intervention in his life, and our work should require no less. Have you ever considered the humility and faith Jesus displayed by placing his future in the Father’s hands? Jesus died in faith, trusting in the Father’s promise of resurrection, but he had no guarantee beyond the love and trust he exhibited that night in Gethsemane. In this, too, we can follow his example. The Spirit of God is hovering and poised to infuse our lives with resurrection empowerment even now.
No witness is complete without these three vital elements: incarnation, sacrifice and resurrection. Our attempts at ministry are incomplete without the three. We cannot stand far off and offer advice. We cannot follow Jesus without bearing the cross, and we cannot carry on his work without the Father’s intervention. Our tendency, though, is to prefer one of these above the rest. Which is our default position, and how can we make room for the other two aspects Jesus modeled?