How often do you think about the cross? It’s something we see in all kinds of places, and it is a symbol we instantly recognise as Christian. We assume a building with a cross is a church, or a person wearing a cross is a Christian. At this time of year, just after Easter, maybe you’ve been thinking about the cross more than normal. But when you think about the cross, do you think about this deeply, or are you foggy on the details of why this is such an important part of the Christian faith that this has become its universally recognised symbol?
I recently read “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott, and I have to admit that after the first chapter I found myself thinking ‘surely he’s already talked about everything there is to talk about with the cross’- but this is one of the most in depth looks at the importance of the cross I have ever read. Reader be warned: this is a LONG book. For scale, here is the book “The Cross of Christ”, next to the block of chocolate I ate when I was reading the book “The Cross of Christ”. As you can guess, I ran out of chocolate long before I ran out of book.
The whole book is based around looking at why and how the cross is the absolute centre of Christianity, not just because of what it achieved for us, but because of the impact it should have on the Christians’ lives. John Stott kicks things of by setting the scene: why was the cross necessary, and how have Christians viewed this through time. The rest of the book then dives straight into the deep end from this point, to think about what the cross achieved by looking in detail at how we are saved by the cross (have you ever wondered what is the difference between propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation?), what it teaches us about God, and how it defeated evil and what this means for us.
When he’s finished with this theology of the cross John Stott looks at how this should practically change our lives. The areas he thinks about specifically are how this impacts how we treat others, how we understand our own identity as people, and how we think about suffering. These are some of the biggest questions of the Christian life, but often the cross is not where we look to see how we should live in these ways. By going through the New Testament scriptures Stott looks at how Christian living is shaped by looking back at the cross.
I was really challenged by how this book said the cross should shape how we think about ourselves and our own identity. Social media has left us in a world of limbo, where we are stuck between looking for authenticity and looking for the perfect filtered life. So many people struggle to know where they should find value, and how they should value themselves, and I can admit I have struggled with this. Stott doesn’t dismiss the search for identity as shallow, because he says we need to understand who we are as new people to know how to serve others well in a self-sacrificial way. But when we look for identity, we need to make sure we look in the right place- to the cross which shows us we have been made new people.
The cross today has become a symbol that has become so common that it has almost lost its meaning. We DO make assumptions when we see it, but in the back of our minds, we also know that for some people it doesn’t have the same meaning as it does for us. For some wearing the cross is a symbol of cultural heritage rather than belief. Wearing a cross can be a rebellion against religion, or just a fashion statement. For Christians even, the cross can become just a pretty pendant, or something you think about once a year at Easter. John Stott’s challenge is for Christians to see that this is the most unlikely symbol for Christians to use to represent themselves in some ways: why choose something so cruel and unusual to identify yourselves? You would only choose this if it had some incredible significance that went beyond its original meaning. The importance of the cross is so great and it represents the heart of the Christian faith, so this has remained the symbol that identifies Christians and what they believe.
Despite my early scepticism that John Stott could find enough to say about the cross to fill this book from cover to cover, I found every chapter dove in even deeper to what the cross of Christ means. And I also found it helpful that Stott talked about a lot of false understandings people have had of the cross, even ideas that have come from theologians, and showed how all these views misunderstood the cross. It can be hard to tell sometimes who is worth listening to and who isn’t, and Stott goes back to the bible to see how these ideas stack up, because he doesn’t want us to be misled when it come to the cross.
This book, despite the many jokes made about its length, is definitely worth the read. If you’ve ever wondered why the cross is so important that it is the centre of the gospel message, or you’ve wondered how the cross should shape our understanding of God and how we should live our lives, make time to read it. John Stott makes good, biblically backed up points that will expand how you see the cross, and should help you to be able to explain clearly to others why Jesus had to die on the cross. Just make sure you have an adequate supply of chocolate before you start.