The Cross at Christmas

The Cross is something that has been put on my mind a lot recently. The fact that it wasn’t there in the first place is an issue, but we’ll get to that.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading ‘Living the Cross Centred Life’ by CJ Mahaney, a book I was given 5 years ago and never got round to reading. I honestly wish I’d read it sooner. It highlighted so many important things that I’d become complacent in. Not forgotten about, but things that I had stopped appreciating as much as I should have. Mahaney’s main point is, and I completely relate to this, that as we become more mature in our faith, as we begin to focus on things like how to evangelise well, or how to improve our prayer lives, or how to do a good Bible study, it can be easy to forget about the Cross. I know that in my walk with God, I find it easy to think that the Cross is important to me because it has saved me, but actually I’m saved now so I can move on to focus on other things that are important in my walk with God. But Mahaney says no. He says that this is a dangerous way to think, a dangerous way to approach God and a dangerous way to approach life living in God’s grace. Because if the Cross isn’t at the centre of everything, then we’ve forgotten the point. How do we expect to be able to tell our non-Christian friends about Jesus’ saving sacrifice if we ourselves aren’t constantly awed and astounded by it? And if we approach the cross complacently, how can we expect our prayer lives to be good- if we’re not fully appreciating the privilege that we have of coming to God in prayer through Jesus’ death on the Cross, then we’re not likely to pursue a life of prayer in grateful response.

Following reading and being incredibly challenged by this book, we had our CU weekend away which was amazing for so many reasons. The weekend was focused on the Cross, and we had 4 incredible talks that emphasised the vital role that the Cross has to play in our lives if we want to continue to grow as Christians, and especially if we want to share our faith with those around us.

There were so many amazing and encouraging things said over the weekend, but one of the things that really struck me, especially as we approach Christmas, was when the speaker pointed out that Jesus was born to die. Now I knew this before the weekend, but I can’t say I’d spent any real time thinking about what that actually meant. Jesus came to fulfill the law, and in order to do so, He had to offer the ultimate sacrifice, His life. The Old Testament law required a perfect sacrifice, an animal without blemish or fault.

Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to Him.

Deuteronomy 17:1

This means that if Jesus wanted to fulfill the law and offer a pleasing sacrifice to God, He had to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice. In practise, this means that He had to be sinless. I’d always known that Jesus was a perfect, sinless human, but it hadn’t really occurred to me before that the reason He resisted temptation, the reason He didn’t sin was so that He could die for me. It wasn’t just because He wanted to set a good example of how to live, although He did that too. It wasn’t because He wanted people to think He was a ‘good man’, it was so that He could die. On the cross. For me. Because He loves me.

That just completely blows me away. He offered His whole life as a sacrifice. Not only in that He literally gave it up in death, but in that he spent His whole life living perfectly so that He could be my substitute. He gave up worldly pleasures in favour of living His life in a way that would allow Him to die in my place. How overwhelming. What kind of a love is that?! A selfless, sacrificial, total and fulfilling love. A love that I certainly don’t deserve.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1 Peter 1:19

At Christmas, we remember the beginning of this sacrifice. Christ gave up His heavenly glory, the adoration of the angels and the presence of the Father in order to come to Earth and offer a further sacrifice of His life. I know that I find it easy at Christmas to forget the Cross. But the Cross is crucial to the true meaning of Christmas because the Cross is why Jesus came. The whole of His life was lived with the knowledge of what was to come. God knew that when He sent His Son to earth, He was sending Him to His death. And Jesus also knew that. Someone pointed this out to me the other day, but we know that Jesus knew the Old Testament scriptures very well from a young age, as Luke 2 tells us He spent time in the Temple, asking questions and studying them. That means that as the OT scriptures all point to the sacrifice of the coming Messiah, that Jesus knew exactly what had to happen to Him for the entirety of His life. He knew what He’d come to do.

This means that the Cross is crucial to Christmas. The birth of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas is only half the story. By itself, it is amazing that the Son of God came to Earth, but what’s even more amazing is when we realise why the Son of God came to Earth!
In response to all of this, I need to recognise that I can never move away from the Cross. It didn’t suddenly become irrelevant as soon as I became a Christian. On the contrary.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18

We, God’s people, Christians, are the ones who are being saved. So that means that to us, the cross is the power of God! That’s immense! Why would we ever want to move on from that? What more could we want to seek in our walk with God except His power in us?!

This verse also shows us that we still need the cross. We are being saved. We’re not perfect yet. We need Christ’s sacrifice to sanctify us before God. The cross has to be at the centre of my relationship with God, because without it, there can be no relationship.

How arrogant of me to think that I can move on from the cross. How ignorant of me to think that I no longer need it at the centre of my life.

In my own life, I’ve come as far as identifying the problems. I know a lot of what I’m doing wrong, but I’ve yet to properly work out how my life needs to actively change, other than in purely praying more and constantly dedicating my life to God in response to His sacrifice for me. The chorus of The Wonder of the Cross has become my prayer;

May I never lose the wonder, the Wonder of the Cross

May I see it as the first time standing as a sinner lost

Undone by mercy and left speechless, gazing wide eyed at the cost

May I never lose the wonder, the Wonder of the Cross

The amazing thing to remember for me is that Christ is still completing His work in me. He’s not finished yet. The process of me becoming Christ-like is still ongoing.

And amazingly, incredibly, when my life loses its focus on the cross, when I become complacent in my salvation, my heavenly Father offers me forgiveness at the foot of the Cross.

How awesome.

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