A man visited New York City for the first time and became turned around and confused. One evening during the rush hour, he stopped at a newsstand in the heart of Times Square and asked the vendor which direction was north. “Look, buddy,” he replied in a loud and annoyed voice, “We got uptown, we got downtown, and we got cross-town. We don’t got north.”
While that is poor English, it does depict our modern religious scene in America. In far too many cases, religion has lost its bearing. Some churches seem like enterprises, and others seem like concerts. Still others seem caught up in ritualism or in displaying their righteousness before men. One has to wonder where the cross is in all this. Where is north?
New Testament Christianity is first and foremost centered on Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was crucified with Christ in the sense that he renounced his former way of life in Judaism and embraced Christ (Gal. 2:20). Because of his relationship to Christ James said he would not be friends with the world (James 4:4). In doing so one would become an enemy of God. The apostle Peter urged Christians not to be surprised that the world would malign them (1 Pt. 4:1-5), and John said the world with its lusts is passing away (1 Jn. 2:15-17). People are motivated to live for Jesus based upon what he did at the cross. Righteous conduct, holy living is encouraged by the sacrificial death of Jesus.
It is the cross of Christ that motivates people to obey the gospel and become Christians. It is no wonder, then, that each of the ten sermons recorded in the New Testament book of Acts focused on the crucifixion of Christ. Our teaching and preaching should give the same emphasis to the death of our Lord today.
Jesus said, “If I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn. 12:32). Crucifixion on a cross was meant by the Romans to be a horrible and shameful death, reserved for the vilest criminals. The crucifixion of Christ was preceded by a cruel scourging in which nails and pieces of bones were stuck in the whip to heighten the pain the victim suffered. Usually the victim’s back was laid open by the whip brought across it, exposing sinew, muscle, and bone. While the Lord’s crucifixion was the darkest moment in the annals of human history, it was the brightest moment in divine history in making human redemption possible. Without it we would have no hope, only gloom and despair
We must go back to the cross and stand firm, not moved by the culture of our day or the pressure to compromise our faith for popularity. We must not give in to any substitution of the Christian faith. It is the death of Christ that should be emphasized, not entertainment, social reforms, political interests, or business ventures. It is the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified that is the attraction force that brings men out of a life of sin into a life of righteousness. The Lord did not come to take men out of the slums, but to take the slum out of men. He came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10). That remains the only business of the church. Christianity emphasizes the cross in seeking to convert men to the Lord. It does not fall victim to the latest cultural fad, for it is the cross that saves, not culture.