Good Friday and The Centrality of the Cross

Regis Nicoll

March 20, 2008

"I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Asked the lord above for mercy, ‘Save me if you please.'"

~ Eric Clapton, "Crossroads"

"Crossroads," the blues classic by Eric Clapton, is a song about a man seeking escape from his desperate existence. Will he find it in a ride to Rosedale, a drinking binge, a flight from one destination to the next, or in God's grace? At the song's end, we are left to wonder. Nevertheless, Clapton's lyrics, laced with his riveting guitar riffs, grab our attention.

A crossroads is a place where divergent paths meet, forcing us to make choices that can be at once exciting and scary. It can be a place of crisis, where the pain of the past butts up against our hopes for the future; or a place of opportunity, where the road ahead promises brighter prospects in the vast frontier beyond.

In either case, a crossroads is a call to change: from where we've been to where we're going; from what we're leaving behind to what we're striving for; from who we are to who we're becoming.

As free-willed creatures, we are continually leaving one crossroads and entering another.  Will we pick up the ball or the doll? Will we eat our food or play with it? Will we wear blue socks or black socks? Will we finish high school or work as a mechanic? Will we propose to Susan or play the field? And on it goes.

Like a string of beads forming a necklace, crossroads connect the past, present, and future of human experience in an unbroken thread of possibility. But the central crossroads, the one through which every life must pass, lies on a hill in Golgotha.

Standing in Paralysis

"I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture." That was the self-description of a first century mystic named Jesus Christ. Not only did this traveling teacher profess equality with God, He insisted that He and God were one and the same.

Was He serious? Or was this the babbling of some megalomaniac, simpleton, or quack? If it was, we are confronted by the absurdity of such characterizations against His life and teachings. What about the followers who backed up His extravagant claims? Were they deluded or deceitful, dying for what they knew to be false, or did they really believe what they testified to have seen and touched?

Yet in the face of these outrageous claims is a moral philosophy held in universal esteem, even among his critics. We are left to attribute this to either a befuddled or dangerous individual or worse—take Him at His word.

We stand at this crossroads paralyzed. On the one hand, we are forced to consider how a moral teaching, no matter how useful, could have any integrity when the message and the man don't match. On the other, we're completely undone by the staggering implications of God's physical visitation. Can we move forward? Will we?

Splitting the Horizontal and Vertical

The God of the Bible is intrinsically complete in the eternal community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, creation is a work not of God's loneliness or lack, but of His love. Love binds, love makes perfect, love completes. Love bridges the chasm of isolation bringing fellowship where there is separation, making true community a reality. And the wider the chasm, the greater measure of love needed to bring distant parties together.

Between God and man, the chasm is unfathomable; in fact, it's unbridgeable. Without divine intervention, communion with God is impossible. Yet between that divide stands the Cross. Jesus Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection, reaches over the infinite expanse in an unequaled act of love.

Along the Vertical

In everything, the Cross is central. As the vertical penetration of God into spacetime, the Cross allows God to present Himself to man and man to present himself to God.

At the head of the Cross, God's love flows earthward from a thorn-gashed brow. At the foot of the Cross, man's gaze moves heavenward to a pair of nail-pierced feet. In divine descent, the Son atones, the Father forgives, and the Spirit indwells. In response, man reaches up to receive and, then, marvels at the wonder of the divine gift. In this divine-human interchange, the Cross brings together the earthly and the heavenly, uniting what was separate and imparting life to what was life-less.

Across the Horizontal

Across the horizontal, the Cross links all that has gone before with all that is yet to come. Standing at the interface of eternity past and eternity future, the Cross is the junction of both historical time and historic time. Although these two expressions of time appear synonymous, they reflect the differing aspects used in the New Testament: chronos and kairos.

Time as a quantity is chronos: a linear measurement of historical change. It's from chronos we get the term chronological time: the continuous thread of time sewing the past, present and future into a seamless fabric.

Kairos time is qualitative of a moment or event metaphysically pregnant with meaning and importance. It is the time spoken of when Paul writes the Galatian church, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." Kairos brings together the types, "shadows," and prophesies of the scriptures with their fulfillments in the spacetime continuum in which, the Cross is central.

In chronos, the Cross splits historical time into B.C. and A.D. In kairos, the Cross stands between the epochal phenomena of the Creation and the New Creation, the Fall and Redemption, Israel and the Church, the Old Covenant and the New, law and grace, and the pre-incarnate Word and the Word made flesh. In kairos, the eternal transcends and fulfills the temporal.

Where They Meet

Where the upright timber and crossbeam meet is a crown of thorns adorning Him whose utterance, "It is finished," announced to the universe the unimaginable: Everlasting communion with God is possible! At that momentous juncture, a pair of hands fastened to a rough hewn log reaches out to a broken and hurting world.

In a posture of divine openness, God invites us to move out from the crossroads toward the Cross and be taken up in his embrace.

From the Crossroads to the Cross

It is at the crossroads of Golgotha we face our true condition: one so desperate, it is beyond our ability to fix. As German astronomer, Johann Hieronymus Schroeder, once wrote, "It has been the cross which has revealed to good men that their goodness has not been good enough." And that can be a hard message indeed.

For those who don't believe in God, feelings of guilt and remorse are not the result of violating some divine code of morality, but are hang-ups to be overcome.

For others, God is a cosmic scorekeeper who keeps track of performance to determine our merit and worth. If the good done in this world outweighs the bad, then heaven awaits. If not, our destiny is either a purifying process of re-cycling or final removal. But since the criteria for a passing grade are unknown, our "worthiness quotient" is up to guesswork and uncertainty.

But for those who accept the divine call, God is the Savior who extends the gift of eternal life to all who receive Him. Like Clapton's protagonist, they have come to the crossroads acknowledging both their need and debt. But unlike him, they move from the crossroads to the Cross. It's there they look up, fall to their knees, and ask the Lord above, "Save me if you please."

Instead of the restless uncertainty haunting the hero of "Crossroads," these sojourners have the settled confidence spoken of by the apostle John: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life."

Such is the centrality of the Cross.

"The cross is central. It is struck into the middle of the world, into the middle of time, into the middle of destiny. The cross is struck into the heart of God."  ~ Frederick W. Norwood


Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Used with permission.

Regis Nicoll is a Crosswalk blogger,  freelance writer and a Centurion of the Wilberforce Forum. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men's ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: [email protected].


Originally published March 20, 2008.

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