A reflection from Sunday’s message:
As I mentioned Sunday, the cross is not only like a scalpel that penetrates deeply into our hearts. It is the healing agent that turns us from our idolatry and leads us to wholeness in Christ. Thus the gospel—the message of the cross, what was preached, Christ crucified—more and more becomes the center of our existence.
At the end of the message I discussed how the cross becomes the center of what we celebrate: let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. Lewis observed that praise is a universal, continual activity. If that is true, the question is not whether we will praise, but what we will praise. Because of the gospel, we begin to see everything we praise in this life—books, music, occupations, hobbies, technology, people, companionship—as gifts from a great Giver, whose ultimate Gift is Christ crucified, because of whom we enjoy every other gift. Thus our celebration does not stop at the gifts, but more and more we praise the Giver.
But the cross also becomes the center of what we proclaim. Over against the Jews’ demand for signs and the Greeks’ seeking wisdom, Paul writes, we preach Christ crucified. That is a gloriously indefinite statement. He doesn’t say when we do it, where we do it, how often we do it, or to whom we do it. It is simply characteristic of our lives.
So let’s reflect on the various groups to whom we preach Christ crucified. And let’s start with the person in the mirror.
The gospel is not simply a message for others—the lost, the broken, the hopeless. It is that, to be sure, but it is more. It is a message for us. I need to hear the gospel as much as anyone, for apart from Christ crucified, I am the lost, the broken, the hopeless.
When do I need to preach Christ crucified to myself? Here are three specific occasions:
- When I sin. I find that this is at once the most obvious and most difficult time to preach the gospel to myself. I feel like I need to wallow in my guilt for a while, prove how sorry I am that I erred, offer some kind of penance that will grant existential relief. Robert Murray M’Cheyne has helped me greatly on this point. He writes
I feel, when I have sinned, an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would do no good to go,—as if it were making Christ a minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe,—and a thousand other excuses; but I am persuaded that they are all lies, direct from hell. John argues the opposite way: ‘If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father;’ Jer. iii. 1 and a thousand other scriptures are against it. I am sure that there is neither peace nor safety from deeper sin, but in going directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is God’s way of peace and holiness. It is folly to the world and the beclouded heart, but it is the way.
- When I do well. And I mean well in every possible way that it relates to my performance. Have I done well in my job? with my family? in my relationships? in my spiritual disciplines? in evangelistic opportunities? in displaying any measure of the fruit of the Spirit? If I look at any area of my life and give myself a good grade (say, a B- or better), I need to preach Christ crucified to myself. For my temptation will be to think that I am something, that I have accomplished something, that even my growing Christian maturity is the result of my work. And what a dangerous thought to think! This is not to say that we are not actually doing well in our job, family, etc. Perhaps we are. But if we are, it’s only by grace. And the message of the cross will humble us by reminding us of what we are like apart from grace. So we preach Christ crucified.
- When I am down. There are many reasons that a person may be down or depressed, ranging from the spiritual to the physical. Prolonged periods of depression should merit a medical opinion. But many times we are simply down. Things aren’t going our way. We work hard at our job, but without much progress. It’s a cold and rainy day. We can’t catch a break. And we’re just plain worn out. In these moments, our hope has not changed: it is the message of the cross. So we remind ourselves of the gospel. And we remember there that the God who graciously delivered up his Son for us will not fail to give us all things. No, it is not an instant cure for being down. But it is the truth your heart needs to hear.
Bottom line: Come back to the gospel. Again and again. Let us characteristically preach Christ crucified to ourselves.