Vol 1:9 God’s Mission and the Cross

One of the earliest Anabaptist confessions is a declaration of Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (TNIV). As we focus on Christ’s passion and death upon the cross this week, we are aware of the central place the cross has in the redemptive purposes of God and our salvation as the people of God. Yet, though there are numerous theological understandings of what happened on the cross and theories of atonement, our understanding may be clouded regarding how the cross and God’s mission are indeed connected.

Michael J. Gorman in Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, relates that, “in Paul’s experience, God’s will and person are known through the cross of Jesus the Messiah and Lord. In other words, cruciformity is the character of God” (p. 18). He relates further that “for Paul cruciformity encompasses and defines all the divine qualities. These would include faithfulness, love, power, wisdom, and so forth. Fundamentally for Paul, because the cross reveals God, God is known to be cruciform” (p. 18, n. 29).

In what way is God cruciform? What is revealed by God’s cruciformity? James Dunn notes that Paul in declaring, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ – that is, Jesus Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), that this is to characterize the gospel as proclaiming the weakness of God (Jesus and the Spirit, 329).

What is unique about Jesus, among other first-century world messiahs, is that he was crucified. Hans Kung notes that “it is not indeed as risen, exalted, living, divine, but as crucified, that this Jesus Christ is distinguished unmistakably from the many risen, exalted, living gods and deified founders of religion, from the Caesars, geniuses, and heroes of world history” (On Being a Christian, 410). Indeed, this weakness that God embraced in Christ upon the cross, which all others regarded as ludicrous and eccentric, is at the heart of God’s mission.

God confronted the powers and authorities – the powers and authorities which seek to enslave humanity in a culture of fear and death, to imprison humanity in their brokenness and sin, keeping human beings captive, blind, and oppressed, – God in Christ Jesus confronted these powers, not by warring against them, but by taking on the full force of their death-wielding power upon himself on the cross.

Paul writes, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). It is in God becoming weak, rather than displaying a warring strength, that God in Christ exposed for all to see the utter powerlessness of the powers and authorities, revealing the true character of these powers which purport to offer life, but only steal, kill and destroy (cf. John 10:10).

Using the cross, Satan, the evil one, came against God with all of the deadly force he could muster, only to encounter Jesus, who did not intervene with the power of his divinity (cf. Philippians 2: 6), but hung there as a man – a human being who identified with all humanity, taking upon himself the death blow being waged against all humanity – as the evil one sought the ultimate victory of death over life. But Jesus, in taking the full force of the power of death upon himself, exposed the power and authority of all that imprisons and alienates humanity to ridicule (O’Brien, Colossians, WBC, 128).

And here we see the kind of mission God’s mission is. It is not a mission of conquering sin and death with force, but a mission which gets in the way and embraces all that brings sin and death upon humanity. God in Christ, displaying the intentional weakness of God, yields to the power of sin and death, entering the realm of death through the grave – in order to set the stage for overcoming, once and for all, the power of sin and death over humanity (cf. Hebrews 9:26). Christ, in confronting power with weakness declares from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is not a declaration of defeat, but a declaration of God’s mission being accomplished. As Life enters into death – what will happen next?

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