The Passion and the Power
April 1, 2004 - Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., says, "I am all for relevance, I'm all for making cultural connections, but we can't leave out the cross." In a conversation with "Decision," Laurie explained why the cross is at the heart of the Christian's message—and how we can live a life that reflects it.
by Jim Dailey
Q: What effect did Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" and its portrayal Christ's sacrifice at Calvary have on you?
A: I have seen it four times, and each time my reaction has been a little different. The first time, of course, it was all new, and I was stunned by it. I was sitting on the edge of my seat with a sense of, "Wow, look at what Jesus went through for me!"
The second time, I picked up on some details that I'd missed the first time. The third and fourth times, since I knew what was happening, I analyzed why certain scenes moved me in the way they did. The one scene that gripped me in particular was when Jesus is carrying His cross and falls underneath the weight of it, and Mary, who happens to be nearby, goes running toward Him. There is a flashback in her mind to when Jesus was a little boy falling and her saying, "I'm here for You." Then they go back to the scene with Christ and the cross, and Mary is saying the same thing, running to Him.
It was a reminder to me that yes, this was the Son of God, but He was also the son of someone who had very real human emotion and love toward Him. Gibson took some artistic license, but I never felt that he violated the essence of the message that we find in the Gospels.
Q: Why is the cross the heart of the Gospel?
A: The cross is the heart of the Gospel because of man's rebellion against God, which started in the Garden of Eden when our first parents turned their back on God and deliberately broke God's commandment. Sin entered the human race.
The animal sacrifice system in the Old Testament pointed, ultimately, to Christ. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. But the Old Testament sacrifices couldn't change the heart. So Jesus, fulfilling all of those Old Testament pictures, comes as the perfect Lamb of God and willingly goes to the cross and dies in our place.
Billy Graham has often said, "With one hand, Jesus took hold of the Holy God, and with the other hand, He took hold of sinful humanity. Then nails were driven through His hands when He died for us." Jesus was uniquely qualified to bridge the gap because He was both God and man. That is why the cross is the heart of the Gospel. Sometimes in our intent to relate to the culture we forget the cross. That's a big mistake.
Q: The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that the cross of Christ was a "stumbling block" and "foolishness." What did he mean?
A: Scripture says, "Cursed is every one who is hung on a tree" (Galatians 3:13, NIV). Crucifixion was saved for the most extreme cases of criminals to be executed by the Roman government. It was designed as a form of torture and humiliation. There were much quicker ways to execute a man, like beheading him. Roman officials would line with crosses the roadways leading into cities, essentially sending a message: "Don't rebel against this government."
So Jesus, the very Son of God, hanging on Calvary's cross in this humiliating, miserable, painful way, was offensive to a cultured Jew. "This was not the way that I would approach God," they would think. But if we carefully read the Old Testament, we discover that the cross is what all of those passages were pointing to from the very beginning—from the first messianic passage laid down in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel" (NIV).
Q: In what way did God's justice, wrath and love all come together at the cross?
A: A lot of people want to think of God as a God of love, but they don't want to think of Him as a God of justice. God has established certain laws, and He has said, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23, NIV). That's the just God.
We may think we don't want that, but when someone wrongs us, suddenly we're interested in justice. When we think of the notoriously wicked people of the world, like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden, we reassure ourselves that there is an ultimate court where they will stand before God's judgment. So we really do want justice, but maybe we don't want it for ourselves.
The love of God is expressed in Christ's sacrifice: "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23, NIV). He loves us and desires a relationship with us.
Although some people have a hard time seeing that God can be both just and loving, at the cross we see it all. God's righteous demands were met in Jesus' death for our sins, yet we see the love of God because this all happened so that we could come into fellowship with Him. I've often said that nails did not hold Jesus to the cross; love did. He came to pay a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.
Q: The Bible says the cross was also a place where we were crucified along with Christ. How so?
A: Christ died for us and that satisfies the righteous demands of God. We are brought into a relationship with the Lord by turning from our sins and believing in Him. Paul speaks of living a crucified life in several scriptures. He told the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, NIV).
So here is the interesting paradox: If you want to live the most fulfilling life, you live the crucified life. But what does that mean to live a crucified life? Does that mean that we live with sort of a dour, miserable kind of outlook on life? No, it means that we are living life to the fullest. We have lost our life in one sense, but we've found it all in Christ.
All of this means you must put the will and purposes and plans of God before your own. You give to God your career plans, whom you'd like to marry, your plans for ministry, your goals, your resources and your future—and you live the crucified life. You say, "Lord, if this is somehow outside Your will, I will not do it. I want to do Your will above my own." You come to discover that God's will is always better than your will, and it becomes a joy to follow His path. God's choices are better than ours, so we shouldn't be afraid to put His will above our own.
Q: What do you think Paul meant when he "boasted" in the cross?
A: I think he was saying that he was not ashamed of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Paul wrote: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16, NIV). That's important in today's culture, when so many in the church are trying to be relevant to our culture. I am all for relevance, I'm all for making cultural connections, but we can't leave out the cross.
I remember having lunch with Billy Graham a number of years ago. After we had eaten, I turned to him and said, "Dr. Graham, if you knew as a younger preacher what you know now, what would you emphasize more?" Without hesitating, he said, "I would preach more on the cross of Christ and His blood, because that's where the power is." I took note and have tried to focus on the cross in almost all of my messages.
Too often, in so-called evangelistic preaching and in our personal witnessing, we don't talk about the cross. Words like "blood" and "repent" seem antiquated to many. But just because people don't understand them doesn't mean that we shouldn't use them. We need to explain them. Paul said, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV). We want to proclaim a crucified, risen, living Lord who can still change lives today.
Q: Paul also talks about wanting to know Christ in the "power of His resurrection." What do you think that means, and how do we do that?
A: It is essential that we proclaim the resurrection because Paul also says that if Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain. So we don't want to just talk about a crucified Savior, we want to talk about a risen Lord. It comes back to what I was saying earlier about taking up the cross. It is through death that we find life. Scripture says that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is there to help us today.
God wants to unleash power in your life, power to resist temptation, power to be a Godly example, power to be a better husband, wife, mother or father; but most important, power to be His representative to a lost world, showing what it means to be a real follower of Jesus. We all need that power in our life.