Why the Cross Matters In 2019
Happy Easter More Precious community! May you know the resurrection hope that lives in us is as true today as it was that very first Easter day. Hope lives!
Kristi Mair, author, PhD researcher, theologian and all-round powerhouse takes us through Easter Sunday: tackling why the Cross, a historical event that occurred around AD 30 still matters today in 2019, and will matter for eternity. What does the Cross mean for our restless, self-obsessed, phone-dependent generation?
Why the Cross Matters in an Instagram Age
As of December 2018, 4.1 billion of us have access to the internet. That’s just shy of half of the world’s population. The internet has opened up all sorts of great things to us, hasn’t it? If we want to know something, all we need to do is Google’ it! Whether it’s ‘is this rash going to kill me?’ or ‘who’s my ideal Myers Briggs partner?’, we have all sorts of weird and wonderful information at our fingertips. In fact, 5 billion Google searches are made per day. I wonder though, why do we use our phones so much? And what can it possibly teach us this Easter?
Social media helps us to see others
You know, I can see that little blue light flashing right now -- just out of the corner of my eye. It somehow speaks to me before saying anything.
That little blue light alerts us to the potentiality of presence.
It points us to messages from persons (‘Hey, how did it go yesterday?’), or to events concerning people (‘Notre Dame fire: Blaze fully extinguished’).
Social media helps others to see ourselves
Every single day we publish 4 million blog posts, and over 500 million tweets are sent. Every minute 24 hours’ worth of video is uploaded to YouTube. That’s a whole lot of cat videos to get through! Dr. Daniel Reidenberg, Executive Director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education said that, “People are living their lives out online, and that’s true for their mental health as well.”
This reveals something super important about ourselves (and we’ve known it all along):
We want to be seen. More than that, we want to be seen in order to be known and loved.
I mean, how many times have you posted something on social media and just stared at the screen silently waiting for someone to ‘like’ it? And why do 90% of us respond to text messages within three minutes of receiving them?
Question – Do you feel known by others through social media? Do they see you?
The Shame and Loneliness of Social Media
Perhaps it’s no wonder then that on average we spend 40 minutes tweaking Instagram pictures before posting them. Social media is a great place for us to construct an image of ourselves, but it’s very rarely a place where we can actually be ourselves. All too often, we fear being shamed and so we hide. We hide behind edits, filters, re-tweets of social justice issues, pictures of how much fun we are having with friends, when actually, we’ve never felt more alone. Most of us are even too ashamed to admit that.
Psychiatrist and social media expert, Sherry Turkle, said social media platforms ‘not only change what we do, they change who we are.’ Our phones are changing us. They are changing how we relate to the world, to others, and to ourselves.
The thing is, in an age of such connection, we are actually terrified of being alone.
It’s something the writer David Foster Wallace called ‘the terror of silence.’ We become anxious; we fidget. Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved, so we try and solve it by connecting in all sorts of ways.
There’s this hunger deep within us, something which the author of Ecclesiastes described thousands of years ago as God-given: God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). What we do is look for ways we can fill that God-shaped hole in our lives. We collect experiences, chase down good performance, and we try to rule our little online kingdom of images; but we are often left more ashamed than satisfied; more aware of our lack, than any sense of fullness. We become less as we try to keep up at such a dizzying pace. We are afraid others will soon see our all too many deficiencies and blow the whistle on our fake facades, projections of competence and sense of ugliness. If people knew what we are really like, they would publicly expose us and cut us off. Twitter has taught us that, at least.
There’s a strange tension in us: we want to be seen, but we fear being shamed. There’s another: We want to connect, but we are profoundly disconnected and lonely.
The Instagram Story No-One in The Ancient World Would Have Watched
The Instagram story no-one in the ancient world would have wanted to see is Jesus Christ dying a criminal’s death on a cross; a death which began long before he was nailed to it. The Romans themselves considered the cross so barbaric that they did all they could to weaken the individual beforehand so that they would pass out later. They would repeatedly beat the person with jagged pieces of metal on whips that would tear flesh and muscle apart, before strapping the crossbeam onto the bloodied and torn back of the criminal and forcing them to walk it to the place of their crucifixion. Jesus was no exception.
Naked, humiliated, reduced to nothing, this is how Jesus dies so that our shame may be covered by his blood; our ultimate disconnection from God destroyed; and that aching God-given shaped hole filled.
He alone is able to see you as you really are - without pretense - and rather than exposing you, he chooses to expose himself on the cross so that you can be known and loved by God for all eternity; knowing peace with the Triune God himself. Jesus faces the terror of the Father’s silence so that we never have to (Matthew 27:46).
Here’s another angle on what Jesus does: On the cross, Jesus exposes these empty ways of life; those false, crushing mantras we scroll past on our feeds nearly every day: ‘You do you’; ‘be positive’; ‘you can be whoever you want to be’. Instead, through his death, Jesus speaks a better word. He exposes the weakness of these false ideals by showing us how empty they really are.
Oddly enough, it’s through Jesus’ weakness that God’s power is shown off to the entire cosmos. And it’s shown off through us in our own weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10). The pressure is off! When we look at the cross we see we can’t ‘be positive’, we can’t ‘be whoever we want to be’, we can’t even be ourselves. But that heaviness needn’t destroy us.
Through the cross, our heaviest burdens (ourselves) can be exchanged with Jesus’ lightest load of life - himself.
It doesn’t mean it’s easy, it doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, it doesn’t mean there will not be times when we really squirm, but the outcome which changes our ‘now’s is assured. Jesus tells us, “because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19b). Through his death, Jesus triumphs over death itself, separation, the evil one, the false ways of the world (Col. 2:13-15), and by the power of the Spirit he is raised to life. This is the topsy-turvy powerful weakness that triumphs, because of who Jesus is. Death can’t keep him. Instead, he opens a door for us to follow him through.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:19-20).
Jesus presents us with the offer of real peace in and through himself with God.
It’s even the first thing he says to his followers after his resurrection: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:21). Through the Spirit, this blood-bought peace fills and transforms and leads us on in a new way of life. This is no boring dead end, but the start of life with the living God Himself. A million Instagram followers and all the popularity in the world are nothing in comparison with what Jesus offers us.
What if the crucified, risen Jesus is God’s little blue light beckoning you in, alerting you to the potentiality of his presence?
Meeting Jesus is a life-changing encounter. Because now, in Jesus, those of us who have received Him have made peace with God. Our shame has been removed, and that deep longing to be free from accusation; to be above exposure; to be out of the court-room; to be known and loved and full in all our messiness, fears, silences, and regrets is on offer.
As Paul goes on to write to a gathering of Christians in Colossae:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Col. 1:21-22).
Maybe this isn’t the Instagram story you would have chosen to watch either. But now, having seen a glimpse of it, I wonder, is it enough for you to follow him?
Finally: Reconciliation is a word used to describe a big thing Jesus’ death achieves for those who want to follow him. It means we can come home, as we are no longer estranged and removed from relationship with God. You needn’t be on the outside looking in at the party, seeing snippets on Snapchat. Instead, you could be there; feasting. What qualifies us to be there isn’t anything we have done or even anything we could do. It’s what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus reconciles his followers so that they can be free. Once in the Father’s house through the Son by the Spirit, we are free from accusation, we can be without blemish as Jesus’ perfect life is wrapped around us shielding us, comforting us, and restoring us.
This Easter Sunday, we would love nothing more than for you to consider coming home to Jesus. If today’s message has spoken to you, please see more on our Christian Resources page or speak to a Christian you respect and trust.
Kristi holds degrees in Philosophy and Theology and Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. She is currently a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, but she is based in London where she works for Oak Hill Theological College part-time as a Pastoral and Research Fellow. She spends the rest of her time reading books in the British Library for her doctoral work in epistemology (how do we know what we know? - So meta!) as well as speaking at evangelistic and training events across the globe. When she isn't reading, speaking, or writing, Kristi enjoys old buildings, good coffee, and laughing in the company of dear friends. Her first book, MORE>Truth (IVP) was published earlier in the year, and can be found here.