Preaching “Christ and him crucified” is core to the job description of any minister of the Christian gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2). Good Friday drives this home more than any other day in the church calendar. On that day, the preacher’s task is to proclaim and explain why the bloody spectacle of the Son of God murdered upon Golgotha is “good news.” How is this moral rupture the center of God’s great act of atonement–of God reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19)?
Christ’s cross itself has always provoked hostility and scorn whether among pagan Greeks or Jews and is, in many ways, no easier to stomach now than it was then; it still confronts us with our sins and bids the old Adam to come, submit to death, so that the New Adam may rise to new life. But that’s not the only difficulty involved.
The fact of the matter is that many have rightly recoiled at some of the defective ways pastors have preached the cross–especially its penal and substitutionary dimensions–in the past. When we make mistakes in this area, it’s easy to give people a distorted and destructive view of both God and the gospel. This is tragic. Both because we deprive people of the beauty of the cross, but also because, as C.S. Lewis points out, the more powerful and good something is, the more destructive it can be if it goes wrong. Much as a doctor cannot be careless in wielding a life-saving scalpel, so preachers cannot treat the preaching of the cross lightly or carelessly lest we bring death instead of life.
While there are a number of ways preaching the cross can go wrong, here are three key mistakes to avoid in your preaching of the cross this Good Friday.
Some more things for preachers to keep in mind:
(1) The Apostolic preaching of the cross takes the clear and consistent shape of “Sinners killed Jesus, but God raised him.” See the following nine references from Acts. Acts 2:23, 2:36, 3:14-15, 4:10, 4:26, 5:30, 7:51-53, 10:39,13:28. Sinners killed him, but God raised him. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s just reversal of the unjust human verdict.
(2) Jesus’ crucifixion was an unjust death, not a just death. Jesus’ death is analogous to Stephen’s death in Acts 7 (an unjust death at the hands of sinners), not Herod’s death in Acts 12 (a just death at the hands of God). The parallels Luke makes between Jesus’ death and Stephen’s death are clear. 1 Peter 2:18-25 makes it clear that Jesus died unjustly, not justly.
(3) Jesus did not suffer and die so that we could avoid suffering and death. That way lies the prosperity gospel. Jesus suffered and died so that we could suffer and die IN HIM, and rise in him. Isaiah 53:5 says that “By his wounds we are healed from our wounds,” not “By his wounds we have avoided being wounded.”
(4) Scripture gives us a clear and consistent shape of the sacrificial system in which it is the sinner/offerer that kills the sacrifice, not God or a representative of the justice system. See the following ten examples from those sacrifices that deal with sin: In a Burnt Offering (Lev 1:5, 1:11) the sinner slays the sacrifice. In a Peace Offering (Lev 3:2, 3:4, 3:13) the sinner slays the sacrifice. In a Sin Offering (Lev 4:4, 4:14, 4:24, 4:29, 4:33) the sinner slays the sacrifice. In the Passover, it is not God that kills the sacrificial lamb, it is the Israelites themselves that slaughter the lamb. The blood of the lamb then averts the wrath of God when He comes by, but the function of the lamb is not to bear or exhaust the wrath of God in place of the Israelites. Sinners kill the sacrifice, the sacrifice then averts the wrath of God. Propitiation means wrath aversion, not wrath satisfaction. We see this on the cross, as Jesus suffers the sin of sinners against himself, he says “Father forgive them,” thus averting the legions of angels that he could call down and kill his oppressors. Sinners kill Jesus, Jesus averts the wrath of God. This shape of the sacrificial system is clear and consistent from the Passover, through the Levitical sacrifices, to the cross.
(5) The heart of the gospel is not that Jesus suffered God’s wrath in our place. The heart of the gospel is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Biblical gospel, as Paul makes explicit in Galatians 3:8, is God’s covenantal promises to bless all nations through Abrahams descendants. Gods’ promises are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection, as Paul makes clear in Acts 13:32, “we preach to you the good news (gospel) of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus from the dead.” God’s covenantal promises (the subject of the Old Testament), are fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection (the subject of the New Testament).
(6) Forgiveness is not displaced punishment. When my wife forgives me, it is not that she withholds wrath from me because her wrath has been satisfied elsewhere. Forgiveness is the restoration of a relationship from a state of enmity. Forgiveness means that through Christ we have the power to repair the damage the relationship has suffered, because God is repairing the damages our sin has caused by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. The purpose for which she would have wrath, to produce remorse in me, is fulfilled by my apology/confession (my death in Christ), and my repentance (my resurrection in Christ).
(7) Payment must not be confused with punishment, for they are not the same thing. When I buy a cup of coffee, I am not punished $1.50. Similarly, if a friend pays my debt, they are not “punished” in my place. There is a profound difference between my friend paying my debt of $1,000 and going to the electric chair instead of me. What Jesus does on the cross is equivalent to paying a debt for us, by paying our debt of love and obedience to God. Jesus is not punished in our place.
Romans 6:23 says that “The wages of sin is death.” John Stott uses this verse to say that Jesus “paid sin’s wage (The Cross of Christ p.270)” on our behalf. Anyone who has ever had a job knows this makes no sense. Wages are not something that we pay; wages are something we earn. Thus, we do not owe death to God. We earn death for our sin. And we all justly receive the death we have earned when we suffer our sin’s consequences in this life and finally when we physically die. Our suffering and physical death is not a payment to God for our sin, and does not atone for our sin. Our atonement is in this: Jesus has voluntarily interceded to receive the wages of our sin along with us by suffering and dying on the cross. But he, being without sin, has received these wages undeservedly and unjustly. Justice therefore demands that these wages be taken back, and that Jesus’ suffering and death be undone, reversed. Hence, Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus application of His death and resurrection to us through the Holy Spirit is our atonement.
(8) Whenever we talk about Jesus’ death as a “judgment” it must be in connection with Israel’s judgment, Israel’s exile. Jesus suffers the curse just as Israel suffers the curse, as Daniel 9 makes clear, “Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.” Jesus drinks the cup of bitterness to the dregs just as Israel drinks the cup of bitterness to the dregs, as Isaiah 51:17 makes clear, “O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.” The logic is not “instead of” but “just as.” The category of substitution does not really work here. To use the category of substitution is to divorce the cross from the Biblical historical narrative.
The difference in Jesus’ suffering and Israel’s suffering is that of justice. Whereas Israel suffers the curse justly, Jesus suffers the curse unjustly. This is why Jesus’ death brings about the reversal of the curse. Because Jesus unjustly suffered the curse, Justice demands the reversal of the curse, the reversal of Jesus’ unjust death, hence the resurrection.
You had this saved in a file waiting to paste into a comment section, didn’t you?
Haha. No, but I did post it on another post yesterday.