The Empty Cross

So I lied. The next post wasn’t on the Supremacy of God. It’s in the works, by which I mean, not quite started, by which I mean it’ll come out when it’s ready. But this one has been churning in my heart for days.

The Purpose-Driven Life is an extremely popular book. There are some nuggets of truth in there. But I had my reservations about it when I first read it. Why? Because it appeared to be a book that some people treasured more than the Bible.

In my opinion, it does more harm than good. The misuse of Scripture is deceiving. And what’s worse is that there’s no mention of the cross. Of its necessity. That Jesus had to die to take away our sin. There is no gospel without Christ crucified. The Bible calls it the stumbling block. And for good reason. It is weakness and foolishness to those who do not understand it. But it is the power and wisdom of God for those who are saved.

Christian book marketing is becoming viral nowadays. There’s Bruce Wilkinson’s the Prayer of Jabez – another terrible book, and there’s Joel Osteen’s – Your Best Life Now – probably the worst of the lot. In Rick Warren’s defense, he does not commit the errors of these two books – that of a prosperity, health and wealth movement – I won’t call it Gospel, because it is in no way good news.

But he still omits the cross. Whether this is a worse offense than misusing Scripture, I will not be able to say. But if at any time I ever present the gospel to anyone and leave out the cross, feel free to admonish me.

I heard this rhetorical question once. “Would a book titled the Cross-Driven Life sell as well?”

I know it’s rhetorical, but the answer must still be said. No.

I am trying to bring across the central importance of the cross to the gospel. Without it, we are still sinners, and we have no claims to the promises of God. And I’m trying to highlight how culture, and what’s worse, those purporting to be Christian culture, are beginning to twist or omit it. Be wary when you read books on ‘Christian Living’ – I am not sure what the category specifically entails, but it seems to classify those books which addresses the question of how the Christian life should look like – and there is no mention of the cross. And be especially wary when you read books that talk about Evangelism and the Gospel, and there is no mention of the cross.

I’ve written on how the cross is omitted today. I’ll move on to address how it is twisted.

I’m sure many of the people reading this would have remembered watching the Passion of the Christ. Now, while I do not seek to downplay the physical suffering of Jesus, the film is disappointing on three aspects. The first is that it is extra-biblical. People always wonder why they never read some of the scenes in the Bible. They are in fact the writings of a Catholic nun, Anne Emmerich. So be wary of taking the film as truth. The second is somewhat related to the first. I am unhappy at how it ‘plays up’ the physical suffering of Jesus. The reason for this is its Catholic roots, and their focus on the ‘Passion’ or Sufferings of Christ. The third is that it ‘plays up’ the role of Mary – again another Catholic thing.

Being in danger of turning this into a Catholic-bashing post, I want to first add that I do not agree with the main doctrines of the Catholic Church, or at least the beliefs which they appear to hold fast to today. That being said, like many other denominations, just because one’s church is labeled Catholic does not mean you hold to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. There are definitely those that have remained faithful to the Bible and to the Gospel.

It is the second point I want to expound on. I have heard many stories of people being moved to tears by the movie. I have also heard many stories of people being horrified by the sheer brutality of the movie. I myself was a bit shocked and horrified and a bit wet around the eyes, but I was not a big fan of the movie. There was something wrong with it.

I identified why properly sometime last week. While we should never dismiss the physical sufferings of Christ, it is the spiritual suffering he went through that is of greater weight. On Good Friday, we remember not the Passion of Jesus Christ in its physical sense, but in its spiritual sense, in the separation he endured from the Father that our sins might be paid for. For while Jesus was human, I do not see his physical suffering to be of the import as portrayed in this Catholic film, given that he had shown tremendous control over his body when he was tempted by Satan in the desert. In this time, he had sustain himself with the Word of God. At Calvary, I believed He lost the same sort of comfort: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”

The Bible does point to the sufferings of Christ as important. Hebrews 2:18 tells us: “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 4:15-16 says that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

But I want to point out the reason why our symbol is an EMPTY cross. Not the crucifix of the Catholic church. For while Christ suffered and died for us in order to pay the price for our sin by the shedding his blood, and while his sufferings gives us the assurance that he is able to help us, it would have been in vain if he had not risen. His resurrection is the Father’s stamp of approval on the work of His Son.

This is why we have the empty cross. It is proof that Jesus has triumphed over sin and death, and that His promises are true. That whoever knows Him will have eternal life. We do not celebrate the suffering man on the cross. We celebrate the empty cross.

So the next time you see the cross, remind yourself of these two glorious facts. The first fact is that it is a reality. There is a cross. It was necessary to pay the price for our sin. There is no gospel when there is no cross. The second fact is that it is empty. The price for our sin was indeed paid for, and we have the assurance of a living hope. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus – He is Lord over all, even death.

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6 responses to “The Empty Cross

  1. thanks for such a great post.

  2. Joel Lee Weng Yew

    Thanks for the compliment 🙂

    The cross is truly amazing.

  3. Your main point about the Cross is so right, so important. At the same time, your use of popular books you don’t like to make your point is a bit unfair. The Prayer of Jabez was not a book on the Gospel. You might have thought it should be, but it wasn’t. It was originally written for Christians about prayer and expanding one’s ministry for the Lord. It was not a wealth and prosperity book. It happened that the book became very popular, to everyone’s surprise including the author, including for reasons never intended by the author. Because it became so popular people like you then went retrospective on it and said — are still saying — that the author ought to have included everything a non-Christian needs to hear. But he didn’t write it for a non-Christian popular audience. It’s a very small book written for people who desire to expand their opportunities to serve the Lord. Even Jesus and Peter and John and Paul didn’t include every key element of the Gospel every single time they were teaching/preaching to the church on some topic. I think Christians do damage to the cause of Christ by tearing apart authors of books that become popular with audiences for which the book was not originally written, as though God in His sovereignty was caught by surprise and somehow damaged by an unexpected development that an author should have foreseen. Consider whether you can lift up the primacy of the Cross, which you should, without building that “lifting up” on the foundation of criticizing another Christian to make your point.

  4. Joel Lee Weng Yew

    Hey lambie. I appreciate the heart behind your criticism.

    I would like to point out two things.

    1)My main point on the omission or the twisting of the cross in popular Christian culture was made in relation to the Purpose Driven Life and the Passion of the Christ.

    2) The Prayer of Jabez, and Your Best Life Now, was an aside on my distaste at the viral marketing of unbiblical, reputedly Christian, books.

    I acknowledge your point that the Prayer of Jabez was written originally for a Christian audience. However, I will assert again that it is a profoundly unbiblical book that does damage to the cause of Christ when anyone reads it, especially as it promotes the idea that we can compel God to answer us, an idea which is opposed to the grace of God displayed on the cross, and just generally opposed to what God is really like. While not directly claiming to be, its message is not unlike that of the prosperity movement teachers today.

    That being said, this is not the place or time for a thorough critique of the book, and there are already many others who have written very good critical reviews on it. I would only be repeating their criticisms and adding fuel to a fire already gone cold. And I would like to stress this as a critique of the book, rather than the person, for I will never know what lies in a person’s heart and mind.

    In considering whether I can lift up the primacy of the cross in this manner, it is certainly not my preferred manner. However, I believed I had good reason to adopt Paul’s approach to the Athenians, taking what was in culture, and building upon it through deconstructing the untruths and spelling out the fundamental truths.

    Finally, I want to add two questions for you to consider. I would love to hear your answer. When you say that Jesus, Peter, John and Paul did not include every key element of the Gospel every time they taught or preached, what are the key elements your refer to?

    And the second question is, what do you mean by the Gospel?

  5. i personally think the prayer of jabez is a very dangerous and ambiguous portion of scripture to teach from.

    while the most accepted interpretation is that jabez asked for blessings for the sole purpose to ‘expand their opportunities to serve God’, it is very easy to twist it to become a demand for prosperity from God. Unlike the Book of Job, it sometimes could be interpreted unconsciously as a self-centred extract. On a whole, it doesn’t help if things don’t go your way and what if God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers the way we want it to.

    Anyway, the purpose of the old testament is to point towards the cross, and the purpose of the new testament is to point back to the cross which highlights its priority in predominantly every aspect.

    Not that the prayer of Jabez isn’t important, but it doesn’t require as much emphasis.

    *same anonymous person as above =)

  6. lambie you rock!

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