We Protestants tend to be pretty focused on the Cross.
We hear Paul saying that he wanted to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
We transmogrify it to mean we should preach nothing but the Cross, even on Christmas (when the Cross was thirty years in the future) or Easter (when it was two days in the past).
My wife aptly describes the way this comes across in Holy Week: Good Friday is “the Cross, sad” and Easter is “the Cross, happy.” I’ve blogged about the way this comes across in various alleged Easter songs.
Happily, the Heidelberg Catechism (the well-worn and much-loved Reformed summary of biblical Christianity on which I blog so relentlessly) asks the question quite directly:
39 Q. Is it significant that he was “crucified”
instead of dying some other way?
By this I am convinced
that he shouldered the curse
which lay on me,
since death by crucifixion was cursed by God.
This is in the Catechism’s line by line exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. That ancient baptismal affirmation still so widely used in worship in the West does not merely say that Jesus “died.” It points to the very biblical fact that his death was on a cross.
A mere historical fact? Or something more?
Something far more — but to see it you have to think along with the Bible.
I don’t mean you need to memorize or recite biblical proof texts. I mean you have to soak and steep your mind in the way people who wrote the Bible saw God in history.
It starts with the conviction that God’s doings have to do with us.
It is all about the drama of God reaching out to draw us back into life— the life of deep trust and passionate love for God that we were created for.
You see this conviction in the initial assumption that the emphasis on the Cross is there to convince me of something.
It continues with the conviction that the same God speaks from Genesis to Revelation.
This doesn’t mean that every word is taken legalistically or literally.
Rather it means God communicates through in a literary quality of the Bible that is right there in the human authors’ work. They didn’t know the word “intertextuality” but they lived it.
You see this through the notes to biblical passages in the 1563 editions of the Catechism. They point to two passages.
The first is from Deuteronomy 21
for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. (Deut. 21:23, NRSV)
Second is Paul’s direct citation of the Deuteronomy passage in Galatians 3
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ (Gal. 3:13, NRSV)
This is not like the bumper sticker, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
This is more like
Paul said it because Moses said it and that makes sense of what Jesus did so I’m beginning to hear God saying it through them all.
It is a biblical way of thinking, a mind that can be convinced by something within the worldview and logic of the Bible.
Of course for post-modern types like us the real stumper is seeing ourselves under a curse. But maybe that’s a matter for another day.
Looking for a way to grow into that biblical way of thinking and believing? Let me send you a free copy (mobi, pdf, or epub) of my book Love Your Bible: Finding Your Way to the Presence of God with a 12th Century Monk.