“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
“On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:5-10)
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the significance of Christ’s cross for his own ministry and for the Christian life. The motivation for Paul’s mission is the “love of Christ,” a love that was revealed in that Christ “died for all”. This sacrificial love gives Paul a new approach to life; he lives no longer with the values of the world but as “a new creation”. For us, too, an appreciation of Christ crucified turns the values of the world upside down and allows us to live anew.
Because of Christ’s sacrifice, the relationship between humanity and God is dramatically different; we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Objectively, the moment of reconciliation was the moment of the cross — Jesus’ death and resurrection. Subjectively, the process of reconciliation is our acceptance in faith of the message of the cross. Through the cross God ceases to count our trespasses against us and reconciles us to himself; through our acceptance of that gift, we are “reconciled to God”.
In order to explain the effects of the cross, Paul uses the sacrificial language of the Old Testament. In the sin offering described in Leviticus, the sinner identifies with the animal victim of a sacrifice, so that when the victim is sacrificed, the sinner in effect dies with it. The blood of the victim sprinkled on the altar signifies giving the life to God. Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for humanity; through his death “all have died”. But through his blood shed on the cross, we have been reconciled to God so that we might live for Christ. Like the Suffering Servant on whom God laid the iniquity of us all, making his life “an offering for sin”, Jesus bore our sin on the cross. He “who knew no sin” was made “to be sin” for us, dying, as our substitute, for sin.
Later in this same letter, Paul speaks personally about his own limitations and sufferings. The test of an authentic mediator or ambassador for Christ is the extent to which he manifests Christ’s sacrificial love. How Jesus died is how we must live. So Paul says that he gladly boasts in his weaknesses, because God’s grace works in him only when he acknowledges his weakness. Paul describes his affliction as “a thorn in the flesh”. It is uncertain whether this suffering refers to a physical illness, a disability, a temptation, or a persecutor. The lesson in Paul’s suffering is this: Christ’s power is manifested most fully and obviously when we are weak. Paul boasts in his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in him.
When have you experienced that Christ can work better in your weakness than in your strength?
Eternal Redeemer, you have reconciled me to God through your cross. Teach me to accept the message of your cross, boast in my weaknesses, endure my suffering, and give you the glory in all things.