Good Friday or Easter Sunday?
At the cross Christ was the once-for-all sin-bearer but in the resurrection he is the glorious Lord. The cross was a single event (inextricably connected with a unique life and person, of course) in past history but the resurrection ushers in an unceasing glorious reign as Lord.
Should we then consign the cross to the past, leave it there and proclaim the present and continuing glory and majesty of Christ as Lord?
The answer looks like yes because it is in fact true that the cross is an unrepeatable event in past history. The Christ will not have to undergo that experience again. He died unto sin once for all (Romans 6:9-10). Since it is so definitively in the past, shouldn't we leave it there and now proclaim him only as Lord?
That mustn't be our response; it's a misunderstanding both of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the way in which God carries out his reconciling work in the world.
For starters, Paul who knew very well that Jesus Christ is Lord said he had made up his mind when he got to Corinth that the only thing he'd preach was Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:1-2; of course Paul never saw the cross as completely detached from the resurrection and glorification, which are part of the whole "Christ-event").
To proclaim Christ's Lordship without the cross would be to leave out the atoning work of Christ in bearing the judgment of human sin. If we were to do that, there could be no reconciliation for people in sin because without receiving the reconciliation no person is reconciled. So the atoning work (coming to a head in the cross) must always be a part of the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, the offence of the cross still confronts us even at this late date because we have difficulty in coming to terms with a Lordship that is lordship by virtue of self-giving rather than simply "calling the shots".
We need to be asking what kind of majesty it is that God has vindicated before the eyes of the universe. What led God to make Jesus King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Philippians 2:5-10 gives a part of the answer—in Jesus he found one who surrendered reigning power in order to exercise saving power by the giving of himself. This is what God sees as the supreme use of power and in Jesus the person and character of God himself is perfectly imaged (2 Corinthians 4:4,6).
The glory of Christ is not simply his position of power; the glory of Christ is the character that grounds his position of power and authority. This glory and authority is continuously to be exhibited in "the body of Christ" . [Note the terminology, it is to be exhibited in Christ's body—not the church's body.]
The cross while it was an event in past time exhibited a changeless perspective on God's own form of glory as he works to reconcile sinful humanity and bring it to glory. This means that the character of the one on the throne is the same as the character of the one on the cross. In truth, it's precisely because of the filial character and obedience exhibited on the cross that Christ was made Lord. The Lord of Lords is a specific and unique historical figure, Jesus; but in Jesus God acknowledged his own view of power.
It wasn't Christ's power over demons, diseases and the forces of nature that made him the logical/natural King of Kings. It was holy love of the Father and his Father's wayward children that led him to make himself vulnerable in the extreme—that is what made Christ the right one to receive a name above every name, the name Lord. That same love of the Father is what sets Jesus against all oppression and unrighteousness and which guarantees a universal and complete transformation of the world in a coming day.
There's a third reason why the cross must never be dropped from the Christian message. While it's true that the cross of Christ is an event rooted in past history we aren't to think the suffering of Christ has ended. It's true that the cross outside Jerusalem completed the atoning work, but the message of that atoning work must be brought to each generation so that reconciliation is possible in each generation.
The cross isn't only an atoning historical event, it is the means by which we come to know God. In his body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:27) the killing of Jesus is continually paraded (see 2 Cor 4:10, where Paul uses "nekrosin" rather than the usual "thanatos"—note C.K. Barrett on the text and F.F. Bruce's translation). Note 4:10-12.
So that the suffering which Christ endured on the cross, suffering which completed the atonement, goes on in his body the church to bring before the world the reconciling work of Jesus Christ which took place on the cross in time past.
From a somewhat different angle, but still making the point that the death of Jesus is to be seen as both a past and a continuing experience, is Paul's Romans 6:3-4 which says we are baptized into Christ's death (6:3) and then again, into death (that is a state of having been dead-6:4), from which we are raised.
It isn't into their own death they are baptized; it's into "his" death. This doesn't say that Jesus dies again every time one is baptized into union with him (6:3) for Paul goes on to insist that Christ died once for all (6:10). But it does require us to believe that the death of Christ continues to be accessible to those who want to be part of him and his experience. If the death of our Lord were seen in the New Testament strictly and solely as a single event, completed in past time, then it wouldn't be possible for later believers to access that death as Paul here insists they can and do.
They don't access the story of the death of Christ! They access the death of Christ.
All I'm wanting from the text is the truth that the cross is more than an historical event, it is an event which sets in motion and continues to sustain the truths and possibilities and a relationship for subsequent generations. These truths and that relationship are not maintained simply by the memory of that death. They are all made possible and accessible by the ongoing fact and truth of it.
Paul affirms that the believer is baptized into Christ's death but adds, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death." This state of death (a death to sin, etc) is only possible with Christ and it is in fact Christ's death. In saying all this Paul is saying things about the nature of the death into which they entered through baptism and the dynamic fact of that death for everyone who is baptized into Christ. (Therefore, they can't live any longer in sin, living in union with the "old man".)
Back in Corinthians, Paul is telling us that the once-for-all death of Christ (which is still accessible even as he writes) is carried about, paraded, in the experience of the church which is Christ's body. It is seen most clearly in people like Paul who are the members of the body chosen by God to be put to grief (compare 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 4:10-12). Paul sees this apostolic suffering as "for his body"—Colossians 1:24, as well as for the world at large.
[What we won't do is to make the mistake of equating Christ with the "body of Christ" is such a way as to make them identical. While it's true the only way we experience Christ today is through the Spirit of Christ and in the body of Christ which is indwelled by his Spirit, it isn't true that the body of Christ and Christ are the same. One is a metaphor (however rich and far-reaching it might be) and the other is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ who exists independent of his body the church.]
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.