For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. [O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!]
The Blazing Center and Simplistic Cross-Centeredness
We are familiar around Bethlehem with the phrase: “the blazing center.” The sun is the center of our solar system. The planets rotate around the sun as the central point. I have felt the need for a blazing center more than ever in these days. Many questions arise in the process of succession. Some things feel up for grabs. People bring to your attention things that they would like to see change. People ask how you as a pastor will be different—how will Bethlehem as a church will be different. Those are good questions and there will be plenty of opportunities to ask more of those types of questions. But this sermon will focus not so much on what will change, but on what will remain the same. Let it be known, one question is gloriously not up for grabs. “What will be central?” The cross of Christ. There will not be any shifting concerning what is central. On Christ the solid rock we stand—all other ground is sinking sand. We have taken our stand. Bethlehem, consider the centrality of the cross a line drawn in the sand.
Let me offer a word of warning and clarification right from the outset about the centrality of the cross. It is in vogue to use the language of gospel-centered or cross-centered and we should be glad that it is in vogue. But verbalizing what is in vogue is not enough. No, it is not enough to verbalize our aim to be cross-centered at Bethlehem; we cannot afford to be simplistic in our cross-centeredness. In fact, simplistic cross-centeredness is a contradiction in terms because the cross is not a simplistic reality. It has such height and depth and length and breadth—who can plumb the depths of grace on display at Calvary? How do we avoid simplistic cross-centeredness?
Outline of Three-Part Series
This is a three-part series on the centrality of the cross and the right relationships that flow from it. I could sketch the main theme and the main application of each as follows:
Sermon 1. Reality of the Cross = Right relationship with God.
Sermon 2. Personal Identity in Christ = right relationship with oneself
Sermon 3. Corporate Identity in Christ = right relationships with one another
The first sermon takes a deeper look at the Passion narrative in Mark’s gospel. Our prayer is that the reality of the cross will be both clear and real to us and that we will avoid taking a lazy passing glance at it. I have said many times to my students that I meet many people who believe that the cross is like the ABC’s of the Christian faith. It is a good thing to study at first, but then we move beyond it. We are not in spiritual kindergarten anymore and we do not watch Television programs brought to you by the letter “C.” I never tire in stressing that we never move beyond the cross, we simply move further up and further into its reality. As we come nearer to the cross, we even find ourselves nearer to the heart of God.
Therefore, be careful how you look at the cross this morning. We do not want “Christ crucified” to become like a picture on the wall that begins to blend into the background so that it is no longer appreciated, cherished, and studied. Once it blends into the background, it is tragically easy to take our relationship with God for granted because we minimize our sin and minimize the purchase price paid to secure that relationship.
Transition: My Prayer—God would bring this story to life before our very eyes.
Kids, let me speak directly to you before we pray. I want to explain my prayer for Mark 15. I have a word picture for you from C. S. Lewis’ book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. You may remember that the Dawn Treader is a ship. And the adventure begins with a painting on the wall of Eustace’s home. The painting is a still shot of the Dawn Treader. Lucy and Edmund cannot help but stare at its beauty and before they know it the picture comes to life and they find themselves entering the story that follows.
Like the painting of the Dawn Treader, the phrase “the cross of Christ” is like a painting. It is a still shot or a snapshot that tries to capture what happened at a moment in time when Jesus died. We do need to know details about the cross. But our greatest need is to enter the story and to experience the cross in living color. Only God can bring the picture to life. So let us pray.
O to see the dawn of the darkest day, Christ on the road to Calvary. We want to see, Father. I can make some things clear, but I cannot make anything real. You must bring the picture to life. If you do not bring it to life, we will not see it with the eyes of our hearts and we will not boast in it with all of our hearts. I feel my weakness and I know the weaknesses of others. As sinners we are in such danger of turning to other things and putting our trust in them. Guard us from indifference. We want eyes that are open and hearts that are alive to the cross. Father by the power of the Holy Spirit may Jesus be lifted up and may he draw all people to himself—as many as you would draw here, and across the three campuses, and even throughout the world.
Transition: I am asking God to bring three points to life this morning: (1) the reality of the cross (verses 33–37), (2) the result of the cross (verse 38), and (3) the response to the cross (verse 39). I will spend the majority of my time on the first point, the reality of the cross, because it is the foundation for both the result and the response.
1. The Reality of the Cross (Mark 15:33–37)
Verses 33–37 are an awkward place to start this story, because it is the climax of the cross. It would be like watching the end of a movie without first seeing or feeling the plot or like trying to join an emotionally-charged conversation that has already been building for some time. Let us back up and see what is at work in this narrative beginning at Mark 14:43 and take it to its climax in Mark 15:37. I want to talk about six paired points of human rejection and divine irony (could be called divine comedy or deep magic at work).
Isaiah 53 is an essential backdrop for seeing both of these realities at work. There is human rejection because Isaiah 53:3 says “he was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” There is irony because God is sovereign over all of it. Isaiah 53:10 says that “it was the will of God to crush Him; he has put him to grief.” These two points (human responsibility and divine sovereignty) show up in the NT in back to back verses in Acts 4:27–28. “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27–28).
But what is irony? Irony is the presence of a deeper meaning that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of someone’s words or actions. This deeper meaning creates dissonance or tension between what people say or do and what is actually happening. Why irony? Irony forces a moment of decision. Readers are forced to interpret the events as either coincidence (seemingly random correspondence) or the will of God (intended and planned choices from the author of history).
Rejection #1: The Rejection of the Disciples
Mark also documents the first moment of rejection in the next two verses. All the disciples left him and fled, including a young man that ran away naked (14:50–52). This rejection did not take Jesus by surprise as seen in his prophecy in Mark 14:27. The sheep scattered when the shepherd was struck.
Irony #1: Who is responsible for the capture of Jesus?
Jesus takes it upon himself to reveal the first element of irony in the Passion Narrative. The Jewish (and maybe Roman) authorities come with their swords and clubs. He confronts them with a question for interpretation. “Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me” (Mark 14:49a). In other words, Jesus forces them (and the readers) to come to grips with the reason for the present state of affairs. Has he been an outlaw on the run from them and now they have finally caught up with him? Has he been a notorious threat to society as a lawbreaker or robber so that it will take a squad of heavily armed authorities to capture him? No, Jesus was not outmaneuvered and overpowered; he offers a different explanation: “But let the Scriptures be fulfilled” (Mark 14:49b). They may think that they have Jesus and the situation in hand, the “hand-writing is on the wall” for Jesus, but whose hand-writing is it? Jesus points to an unseen hand and an unseen author steering the course of the unfolding drama.
Rejection #2 – The Rejection of the Jewish Leaders
Mark takes pains to inform us that Jesus faces his trial alone. Peter followed him, but at a distance in the courtyard. “Many” bore false witness (14:56). The high priest charged him with “blasphemy” (14:64). He asks everyone for their decision. They “all” condemned him as deserving death (14:64). Mark does not record the voice of anyone that defended Jesus. He stood trial all alone and everyone rendered a verdict against him.
Irony # 2: Jesus’ “Trial” – Who is on trial? Who is guilty?
Jesus the Shepherd is now Jesus the Lamb of God at his trial as he remains silent, just like a Lamb which before his shearers is silent (Isaiah 53:7). They finally bring this silent Lamb to speak a word of self-identity. He confesses that he is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (Mark 14:61–62). The high priest claims that Jesus is guilty of the charge of blasphemy (Mark 14:63-64). The Sanhedrin confirms the charge and begins to carry out “justice” by spitting on him and hitting his face with many blows.
However, the reader knows that Jesus is who He says He is (Mark 1:1). Therefore, he is also correct in stating that the roles of the high priest and Jesus will be reversed in the final judgment because He is the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision and thus they will see Him sitting at the right hand of power, coming on the clouds of heaven as the Judge. They stand in judgment of Him at this meeting, but Jesus will stand in judgment over them at their next meeting. It is difficult to know if the Sanhedrin caught the pointed element of irony. The Jewish court has convicted him of blasphemy, but the heavenly court has convicted them of blasphemy and their roles will be reversed at the coming of the Son of Man.
Rejection #3 – The Rejection of Peter
The third rejection is personal and pointed. Peter, the disciple that swore with the most bravado back in Mark 14:31 that he would not fall away, denied Jesus in the most detailed, repeated way (14:68, 70, 71). The “how” (the oath and the curse) and “how many” (3 times), and the “before whom” (a lowly servant girl) of his denial make the rejection all the more stunning.
Irony #3 – Whose “prophecy” will come true, Peter’s or Jesus’?
In contrast to Jesus’ “official” trial before the Jewish high priest, Peter had an unofficial trial before the servant girl “of the high priest”* and some of the bystanders. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times (Mark 14:68, 70, 71), even putting himself under “oath” and calling down a curse on himself (Mark 14:71). The irony here is that Peter says more than he knows. We read it and think Peter is lying. He really knows Jesus. He really is a disciple. But his response calls aspects of his confession into question. Peter’s claim to not be a disciple of Jesus or know Jesus is partially true. Would someone who was a real disciple deny Jesus? Would someone who really knows Jesus’ true divine identity fail to confess him before a lowly servant girl?
The second irony at work in this story relates to the last word spoken by the Sanhedrin in the previous periscope: “Prophesy!” (Mark 14:65). While the Sanhedrin mockingly asked Jesus to prophesy, the reader witnesses the vindication of Jesus’ prophecy uttered back in Mark 14:30. The validity of Jesus’ words stands in stark contrast to the failure of Peter’s earlier prediction: “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (14:29); “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (14:31).
Rejection #4 – The Rejection of the Chief Priests, the Crowd, and Pilate
Once again in the narrative, Mark does not record a single Jewish voice in Jesus’ defense. He emphasizes that the chief priests and the crowd as a whole are unified in their rejection of Jesus. There may have been people in the crowd that did not support the death penalty, but they remain silent in Mark’s narrative.
As mentioned above, the pagan Gentile Pilate is the only one to come to Jesus’ defense. One would think that the verdict would be favorable for Jesus since the judge of the trial became his advocate. However, in a spineless perversion of justice, Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged and then released him to the crowds to satisfy their bloodthirsty cries for crucifixion (15:15). Jesus’ one-time advocate rejects him because he cares more for about the reign of Caesar and its demands on him than the reign of “the King of the Jews.”
The intensity of Jesus’ rejection and suffering now escalates to a new level with the report of his scourging. Mark gives one sentence to a scene that seems like it lasts for an eternity in the movie, the Passion of the Christ. Some have argued that Mel Gibson exaggerated the intensity and duration of the scourging, but one could make the counterpoint that the historical reality was actually worse. The Romans, unlike the Jews, were not limited by how many blows they could inflict (39 lashes; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24). It was up to the whim of the torturer.
Irony #4 – Trial Before Pilate: Who Is on Trial and Who Is Guilty? (part two)
Next the Jewish leaders hand Him over to the Gentile leaders. The reader has access to Pilate’s private verdict: he knew that Jesus was innocent because he saw that they handed him over because of their “envy” (15:10). Mark emphasizes that even a pagan Gentile can see Jesus’ innocence and the falsehood of the chief priests.
Mark not only drives home the innocence of Jesus; he also stresses the guilt of the chief priests and the crowd.  The charge shifted from the religious sphere (blasphemy; 14:64) to the political sphere (King of the Jews; 15:2). Pilate thinks that he has found an ingenious, politically expedient way to exonerate Jesus before the Jewish crowd. He takes advantage of the tradition on the Passover feast of releasing one prisoner. He presents to them a notoriously guilty murderer and forces a verdict by making them choose between the “innocent” Jesus and the “guilty” Barrabbas (15:6–10). The chief priests stirred up the crowds to choose Barrabbas. When Pilate asked them what they wanted to do with Jesus, they cried out for his crucifixion (15:13).
Surprisingly, the private verdict of Pilate now becomes public. The “pagan Gentile” judge now functions as the public defense attorney for God’s true “Son” before the crowd composed of those who were supposed to be “God’s children.”  Pilate comes to Jesus’ defense with an interrogating question for the crowd concerning the supposed “evil” that Jesus had done that could possibly justify the charge of crucifixion (15:14). The fact that he is asking the crowd to defend their “verdict” shows that he did not see Jesus as an evildoer. The crowd refuses to produce any evidence; they simply shouted more for his death (15:14). This lack of evidence turns out to be the clearest evidence against the crowd, which proves their guilt. Pilate is guilty of injustice as well. Jesus is punished even though the problem is the Jewish leaders’ envy. Pilate did not care about public opinion merely because he wanted to be popular – he wanted to be a friend of Caesar. Jesus’ one-time advocate rejects him because he cares more for about his place in Caesar’s kingdom than Jesus’ kingdom as “the King of the Jews.”
Rejection #5: The Rejection of the Soldiers
The Roman soldiers do not carry out their orders in a workman like way. They energetically join in the rejection of Jesus. It seems that they took sadistic delight in taking special pains to ensure that Jesus is mocked to the maximum degree. Imagine a crown of thorns pressed into one’s scull like a series of nails hammered into place. The manifold disgrace that the soldiers heaped upon Jesus probably exceeds the way in which they would have carried out the capital crimes of common criminals.
Irony # 5 – The Ironic Truth behind the Mocking Scorn of the Soldiers
Now it is the soldiers’ turn to mock the apparent Messianic pretender.
They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him.
The irony is unmistakable. The purple robe, the crown of thorns, the chanting and acclaiming as “King of the Jews,” the reed, the anointing (spitting), the kneeling and bowing all bear royal connotations. They are clearly mocking him, but just as clearly the reader recognizes the truth hidden behind the scorn. He is royalty and thus he should be dressed in royal robes with a crown and a reed. They should anoint him, hail him as King and bow before him. The truth of His deity is suppressed, but at the same time they almost can’t help expressing it, even in a twisted and perverted way.
Rejection #6: The Crescendo of Rejection at the Cross
This scene at the cross also features a final crescendo of rejection and agony. The crescendo goes up as the narration moves closer and closer to the cross. The progression of rejection and pain for Jesus starts on the outside with those who pass by and moves more and more inward as those nearest to Jesus join in the rejection. First, the mockers passing by on the road are the furthest from the cross and they do not come close to watch the drama of Jesus’ death. And yet, even though they have no intention to stick around, they cannot resist the urge to hurl insults at Jesus like a hit and run accident. They are moved to join the rejection and they give voice to it, even if it is from a distance. They wag their heads like Psalm 22.
This rejection intensifies as his original accusers hurl abuse at him once again. The chief priests seem to hang around to watch the brutal results of their involvement in the plot to destroy Jesus. They have already expressed their rejection of Jesus, but they can’t resist the opportunity to repeat their rejection of Jesus when the moment presents itself.
The last act of human insult must have been the most painful thus far. This final wave of human rejection comes crashing down upon Jesus as his fellow criminals mock him. The pointed nature of their rejection is stunning. Victims on the cross would die by suffocating. One would have to push up with their legs and suffer the pain of the nail between their feet in order to get a breath to stay alive. Therefore, it is all the more amazing that they can’t resist the urge to use their dying breath to mock Jesus.
At this point, I marvel that Jesus did not come down from the cross and call legions of angels from heaven to destroy this mass of wicked sinners scorning their sinless Creator.
Let me try to put this pain in perspective. I am ashamed to tell you of the time that I played basketball with my eighth grade neighbor. I was trying to witness to him because he came over one day and was boasting about the fact that he watched the Passion of the Christ movie and did not cry at all—as if his not being moved by the cross would impress or move me! So I had determined that I would let him win as we were playing, but then it came to the end of our pick-up game and my pride simply would not let an eighth grader beat me. How pathetic am I? Because of that experience, I marvel even more at the fact that Jesus let His creation crucify Him. The people around Him should not have mocked Him for being on the cross so that He could save them—they should have marveled at the fact that He didn’t come down from the cross so that He could destroy them.
Irony #6: The Ironic Truth Behind the Mocking at the Cross
“Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!"
Those who pass by speak more truth than they know when they mock Jesus as the one who would destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days. If Jesus spoke of the temple of his body, then they are witnessing the destruction of the temple. Those passing by will not stick around long enough to see the rebuilding of the temple when Jesus is raised on the third day.
The chief priests join the fray once again and mock Jesus on the cross. They are more intimately connected with the events of the crucifixion and geographically they are also in closer proximity to the cross. They say more than they know when they say, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself. Come down from the cross and we will believe in you.” They are right. Jesus cannot save others and save Himself. He can only save others by staying on the cross. If he comes down, there will be no salvation to believe in. They could not grasp the fact that the nails did not keep Him there on the cross.
Rejection and Irony #7: The Ultimate Rejection and the Ultimate Irony
The ultimate rejection is the Father forsaking his Son on the cross. The ultimate irony is that the tree of death for Jesus becomes a tree of life for us. The place where the Son was condemned becomes the place where we experience "no condemnation."
However, we have not yet arrived at the peak of pain. The crescendo reaches its peak with the alienation of Jesus from the One closest to him, his own Heavenly Father.
When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" which is translated, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?"
This cry from the cross has been called the “scream of the damned.” It represents the deepest possible pain. Jesus and His Father have had perfect, unbroken harmony and fellowship in the Trinity for all of eternity—until now. In the climactic moment, the Father places the sin of the world upon Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Father, who has eyes too pure to behold sin, turns His face away from His Son for the first and only time. Jesus suffers separation from God. Jesus is now enduring not only the pain of mocking, scourging, and crucifixion— He is experiencing the pain of hell, which is separation from God.
The significance of Jesus tasting hell and swallowing up the wrath of God can be powerfully seen powerfully in a story from the recent California wildfires. I heard Eddie Cole share the story of a family that waited too long to abandon their home as the flames quickly came upon them. The blazing fires surrounded them and blocked every escape route. The desperate dad had an idea. He had recently burned part of the field next to their home. They went to the burned area. The children laid down first, then the mother covered the children, and the father put his body on top over all of them. The fires raged around them and they felt the intense heat, but the fire stopped at the spot that had been burned the previous week because there was nothing left to burn. The family was saved from the fire.
In the same way, we are saved from the fires of hell and the wrath of God when we run to the cross and rest there, because it is the place where God’s wrath already fell. The cross is the only safe place for sinners to stay.
2. The Result of the Cross (Mark 15:38)
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). We instinctively know that this is a physical symbol for a spiritual reality, but what is it?
There are a couple of clues in the text. This word for the curtain being “torn” only occurs one other time in Mark. It is at the beginning of the book at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus saw “the heavens torn” (Mark 1:10). This is the answer to the prayer of Isaiah 64:1: “O that you would tear the heavens and come down.” Heaven and earth are separated by a barrier—man cannot break it open to come to God—so God breaks the barrier and comes to us. The new creation has invaded this present evil age. The Spirit comes upon Jesus. Jesus carries out His mission of redemption and through his death he now Jesus opens the way so we can draw near to God without fear of death. Access to God is now available because the barrier is broken; the veil is completely torn.
Another clue is found in the book of Hebrews. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” (Hebrews 10:19–22).
3. The Response to the Cross (Mark 15:39)
Jesus has died; the way to God stands open. Now we come to the moment of some key decisions. Do you see that God is the author of this story? Christ is innocent, while everyone else is guilty? At this point, we do not stand back and marvel at what Jesus does—we come to understand who Jesus is, which then sends us back to see what he did with new eyes. We say, “He is innocent. He is the Son of God. Why would he suffer? Why would he die if he is the Son of God.” Suddenly we say, “wait a minute. I understand. This is not simply Jesus dying. This is not even Jesus dying for sinners in general.” We say, “this is Jesus dying for me—paying for my sins.” O Lamb of God, I come. I receive. I trust.
He died so you can live? God gives some eyes to see that He is the author of this redemption story.
Look at verse 39: “And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Notice three things about the centurion: (1) his position (he saw the whole thing unfold; he had the best seat in the house; he was watching intently), (2) what he noticed (the way that Jesus died – not a whimper of defeat, but a shout of victory); (3) he is moved to action: he confesses his faith: Jesus is the Son of God.
Unlike Pilate, this Roman leader, has a new set of eyes—he sees that Jesus is the Son of God, not Caesar. Suddenly God’s kingdom is front and center—not Caesar’s kingdom. In a moment of seeming weakness and defeat, God’s kingdom has come in power and victory.
The centurion came to know what the author already knew (Mark 1:1), which caused him to write. He came to know what the Scriptures had already revealed, which caused them to be quoted so many times in Mark (e.g., 1:2–3). The centurion came to know what the demons know only too well, which gives them such a fearful expectation of judgment. The centurion came to know and confess, what God the Father had already confessed and will confess one more time: Jesus is the Son of God. He confessed it at the baptism: this is my Son, the beloved One in whom I am well pleased” (1:11). He confessed it at the middle of the book at the Mt. of Transfiguration: “This is my Son; listen to him” (9:7). He will confess it again in three days at the resurrection. Arise my Son.
The first two confessions are explicit. What about the third one? You might say, “where does Mark 16 say that?” It is clearly there when the passive voice of the word “raised” is understood. God raised His Son from the dead (16:6). In other words, God put His seal of approval on Jesus. He vindicated Jesus. He in effect said, “all that He said is true; all that He did was right; He is who He said He is. Arise my Son. I am well pleased with You.” Jesus’ words are vindicated in 16:7—“There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Conclusion: Pilgrim’s Progress and the Two Lions on the Path
I have two conclusions: one for unbelievers and one for believers. First, what does the centrality of the cross mean for unbelievers? Everything. There is a scene in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in which Christian has to go through two lions on the path. The only way to get through is to stay on a narrow path of light. The two lions are each on a chain and cannot reach Christian as long as he stays in the center of the path. I reflected upon that image this week and it made me think more deeply concern the centrality of the cross. We could picture the two lions as two deadly dangers that come when one moves away from the centrality of the cross: the lion of license (or liberty) and the lion of legalism. One side of the path has the danger of license which believes that life is found in freedom from the rules. The other side of the path has the danger of legalism, which believes that life is found by keeping the rules. They represent two ways to be lost, and we must keep to the centrality of the cross because it is the only way to be found. We lose everything if we lose the centrality of the cross. No one can ever claim that God did not do enough. You cannot claim “there was nothing to receive.” Through the one thing (the cross), you receive everything.
Isaiah 53:1 asks who has believed our report, to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed. Many people in the story had blind eyes, but God opened the eyes of a centurion. I pray that he will open your eyes to the reality of the cross, the result of access to God, and that you will respond by running to the cross, confessing Jesus as the Son of God so that you draw near to God as a child of God.
Second, the image that I want to use for Christians is “potato soup” and the “word cloud.” Paul could summarize his message this way: “I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1). What does Paul mean? Surely, he knew other things and preached other things. He did not merely keep repeating the words “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” did he? One author I read actually charged Paul with being a deceiver when he spoke these words. This person claimed that Paul intentionally deceived the Corinthians; he let his rhetoric get away from him in this summary—he spoke falsehood here.
I completely disagree. This comment shows an inability to understand how centrality works. It is not rocket science—children can get this. Kids let me aim for your attention right away. Do ever help your parents cook? Imagine that your mom tells you that she is going to make potato soup. She gives you a list of ingredients and you are supposed to put them together. You find that there are many more ingredients in this recipe than just potatoes. Why do they still call it potato soup? There are many other ingredients added, but there is a main ingredient. The main ingredient defines the dish and so it stands out front and center in its very description: potato soup. It is not as though the individual ingredients do not matter, that is not the point. The point is that the main ingredient gives the other ingredients purpose—how would adding this ingredient contribute to the taste of potato soup.
The same image comes into focus with the word cloud. The word cloud has some words appear in larger font that have a greater place of prominence or that are repeated more often. What is the word cloud for your life? What will the word cloud be for our church? It must be the cross of Christ or we have missed Paul’s resolve and we have missed the heart of the gospel.
So the fountain is open. The price has been paid. The cross is not a great act of sacrifice to commemorate, nor a historical display at a museum to marvel at from a distance; it is a gift from the God of the universe to receive. Draw near to the cross—the heart of the Gospel—there you will find the heart of God and become a child of God.
*The Gospel of Mark alone adds the clarification that it is the servant girl of the high priest.