cross manger

The Cross in the Manger, Part 2

While some shepherds were tending their flock, an angel appeared to them announcing “good news that will cause great joy for all the people,” for it news about “a Savior…the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). Most Jews of this time expected a Messiah who would save them by vanquishing their Roman oppressors and liberating Israel to once again be a sovereign nation, as it was under the mighty king David. But, as we know, the way Jesus, the true Messiah, ended up being a “Savior” was not by taking anyone’s life, but by offering up his life. And in doing this, Jesus radically redefined the traditional understand of “Messiah” and “Savior” as well as the “good news” – the “Gospel” – that the Messiah brings.

This is why we must never separate Jesus’ birth, or any other aspect of Jesus’ life, from the self-sacrificial love of God that he most perfectly revealed on Calvary. To the contrary, this self-sacrificial love is the thematic thread that weaves together everything Jesus was about.

No one grasped the thematic centrality of the cross better than Paul. So thoroughly does the cross define the Gospel for Paul that he sometimes uses “the Gospel” and “the message of the cross” as synonyms (1 Cor 1:17-18, 23)! So, to be an enemy of the Gospel of Christ is to simply be an enemy “of the cross” (Phil 3:18). So completely does the crucified Christ define “the Gospel” for Paul that he could tell the Corinthians that he “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). This remarkable statement presupposes that everything we need to know about the Gospel is found in the cross.

This centrality of the cross for Paul is also reflected in his declaration that the cross is the means by which God’s love is most perfectly displayed (Rom 5:8; Eph 5:1-2) as well as the means by which the powers of evil are defeated (1 Cor 2:6-8; Col 2:14-5). It is also the means by which sin is atoned for (Eph 1:7), people are reconciled to God and to each other (Rom 5:10), and people are made righteous, healed, and empowered to live for God (Rom 5:15-19).

Yet, what is, in my opinion, the most astounding confirmation of the central importance of the cross for Paul is found in his teaching that, while unbelievers view it as foolish and weak, to those of us who are “being saved,” the cross it is both “the power” and “wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:18, 24). In sharp contrast to the controlling power that humans have always lusted after, and thus that they have always ascribed to God or the gods, Paul defines God’s omnipotent power as his willingness to be crucified at the hands of enemies, out of love for enemies! He is saying that, when God puts his omnipotence most perfectly on display, it does not look like Zeus vanquishing foes: It rather looks like God offering up his life out of love for foes.

Which means, if your conception of God’s power doesn’t strike people’s common sense as “weak” and “foolish,” you’ve got a misconception of God’s power, according to Paul.

A cross-centered conception of God’s power understands that it is synonymous with God’s foolish-looking, humble, self-sacrificial love. And it is this same power, and this same love, that we begin to glimpse on that first Christmas morning, when God humbly set his divine prerogatives aside to become a weak, vulnerable baby.

The helpless baby we celebrate on Christmas became the helpless crucified criminal on Calvary, and it’s the self-sacrificial love of God that connects the two and everything in-between.

So as we celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas, I trust we can discern a beautiful harbinger of the cross in the little child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger. I trust we can understand how the foolishness of God becoming that vulnerable little baby is culminated in the foolishness of God becoming that crucified criminal. And I trust we can understand that both reveal the self-sacrificial omnipotent love of the one true God.

Folks, have a blessed Christmas!

Photo Credit: edenpictures via Flickr

Related Reading

Following Jesus from the Margins

D. Sharon Pruitt via Compfight Kurt Willems posted a reflection today entitled From the Margins: Following Jesus in a post-Christian culture. I hope everyone will read this. It’s a perspective from the anabaptist tradition that finds inspiration from the same data that evangelicalism finds alarming. May we all follow Jesus from the margins and offer…

Participating in the Divine Nature (Love)

When God created the world, it obviously wasn’t to finally have someone to love, for God already had this, within himself. Rather God created the world to express the love he is and invite others in on this love. This purpose is most beautifully expressed in Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Jesus prays to his…

Gospel “Contradictions” and Orality Studies

* This essay has been adopted from G. Boyd and Paul Eddy, Lord or Legend? (Baker, 2007). One of the standard tests historians put to ancient documents to assess their veracity is self-consistency. Generally speaking, fabricated accounts tend to include more inconsistencies than truthful accounts. Hence, the absence of inner contradictions contributes to a positive…

Not the God You Were Expecting

Thomas Hawk via Compfight Micah J. Murray posted a reflection today titled The God Who Bleeds. In contrast to Mark Driscoll’s “Pride Fighter,” this God allowed himself to get beat up and killed while all his closest friends ran and hid and denied they even knew him. What kind of a God does this? The kind…

The Heresy of “Just War”

Since the time when the Jesus-looking kingdom movement was transformed into the Caesar-looking “militant and triumphant” Church, there has been a tradition of Christians by-passing the enemy-loving, non-violent teachings of the NT and instead appealing to the precedent of divinely-sanctioned nationalism and violence in the OT whenever they felt the need to justify engaging in…

Do All Roads Lead to God?

First, if it’s really true that Jesus is the way to Father and that no one comes to the Father except through him, (Jn 14:6) then it seems that no other religious leader or religious doctrine can bring us to the Father. “The” is a definite article, and it implies singularity. “A dog” could refer…