“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Today’s scripture brings us to the crux of the matter – the cross. Significantly crux is the Latin word for that barbaric instrument of slow torture and execution perfected by the Roman Empire. In the way that the cross is the crux, the very heart of the Christian story, so we have come to use the word “crux” to speak of something as the heart of the matter. The cross of Christ is just that “crucial” (Latin: “of the cross”) for those who follow Jesus.
I heard about a little girl going to church for a Christmas Eve service with her parents, who were CEO – Christmas Easter Only — attendees. When she saw a cross at the front of the sanctuary, she was heard to say excitedly to her parents: “Look at the big plus sign!” That is what the cross is: God’s big plus for all things on earth and in heaven! It is truly cosmic in its scope!
Paul tells us in today’s scripture that it is “through the blood of the cross” that God has reconciled all things to Himself. Astonishingly, breathtakingly, God puts all things right through the cross! With those words Paul brings us down from heights of God’s preeminence into the horrific depths of human barbarity and suffering. Those two words, “blood” and “cross”, express unimaginable brutality and humility. In the Bible “blood” denotes not just death but death by violence (Genesis 4:10; Matthew 23:30; Revelation 6:10). The word “cross” conveys the bitter shame of a public execution on a criminal’s cross (1 Corinthians 1:18; Galatians 3:13, 5:11; Hebrews 12:2).
This is staggering to think about! The eternal Son of God, described in preceding verses as Creator of all things, deigns to enter His creation to take upon Himself the totality of sin in order to “make peace through the blood of the cross.” Where there is hostility, Jesus brings peace. Where there is estrangement, Jesus brings union. Where there is death, Jesus brings life. This means
“we are those whose place has been taken by another, who lives and suffers and acts for them, who for them makes good that which they had spoiled, who – for them, but also without them and even against them – is their salvation.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV 1).
God is “pleased”, through the blood of the cross, to bring an unharmonious universe into concord. It delights God to do it!
William Tyndale is remembered as the father of the English Bible who was the first to translate the original Hebrew and Greek into English. Fluent in seven languages, he worked hard to come up with just the right word a ploughboy or charwoman would understand. Sometimes he found it necessary to modify an older English word, while other times he even invented new words, such as Jehovah, Passover, scapegoat and mercy seat. As Tyndale searched for the right English word to express the reconciling work of God through the cross, he saw the need to invent the new word: “at-one-ment”. We say it today as “atonement”. God was in Christ bringing all things into a state of “at-one-ment” through the atoning blood of the cross. Elsewhere Paul says it like this: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19b). Wow! Ponder the mystery!
Wendell Berry, American poet and novelist, affirms his faith in God’s atoning love:
“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love…I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always towards wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” (Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Screw)
This is not something we make true. It is truly already true! It is the crux of the matter!
- Why is the cross an appropriate Christmas symbol?