Or something entirely different?
Recently, I've come to the conclusion that the answer is different than what I've held in the past. This is a post that might require a little more thinking than what we typically blog about, but has important implications as we teach our kids the gospel. And I think it will lead you to worship your Savior more richly this Easter.
Growing up I was always taught that Christ's resurrection from the dead was the most important aspect of the Easter story. Christ was victorious over death and sin. This is our hope. This is the joy we wake up to on Easter morning. Many theologians contend that the first apostles preached a "resurrection gospel" and emphasized it, especially in the book of Acts.
But then I read The Cross of Christ by John Stott (which is good and "meaty" but perhaps a little wordy). He contends that "the reason for emphasizing the resurrection may be rather to emphasize something about the death which it cancels and conquers... The resurrection was the divine reversal of the human verdict."
He goes on to argue that we often do not place enough emphasis on the work of Christ on the cross. He points out that Paul defines the gospel as "the message of the cross" and "Christ Jesus and him crucified," and preaches that we are "reconciled to God through the death of his Son." He goes on to show that many other disciples and writers of Scripture emphasize the cross in their books and equate the gospel with Christ's work on it.
I agreed with his point and so, my mindset shifted and I begin to see the cross in a whole new light and see it as the central message of the gospel.
And THEN I read, Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian and once again my thinking changed. (I highly recommend the book, by the way. It's written by Billy Graham's grandson. It's kind of like reading sermon manuscripts of what a pastor would say as he preached through the book of Colossians. I'm going to admit, I found myself nodding off as I read some pages and then hanging on his EVERY WORD on others.) Anyway, he points out that every part is meaningless without the others. I want to just type out his whole section on this point to share with you, but it would be too long... check out pages 142-144 if you get your hands on a copy of the book... so good!
Here's a few highlights:
There's a lot of talk about "cross centeredness," as if the death of Christ (what theologians have called "his passive obedience") is more important than the life of Christ (what theologians have called "his active obedience"). The truth is, however, that our redemption depends not only on Christ's substitutionary death but also on his substitionary life.
He goes on to point out that God requires perfect fulfillment of his law which we obviously cannot attain. He quotes John Murray as saying, "He (Christ) took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness." Day in and day out for 33 years he lived in complete perfection. In response, Tchividjian points out that:
"Christ's life is just as central to our rescue as his death. We are not saved apart from the law. Rather, we are saved in Christ, who perfectly kept the law on our behalf. After all, Christ himself said that he had come "not to abolish the law but to fulfill it" --not for himself, but for us."
He concludes with this thought:
So, Christ's death is not the center of the gospel any more than his life is the center of the gospel. One without the other fails to bring about redemption. It's much more theologically accurate to say that Christ himself is the center of the gospel. He lived the life we couldn't live and died the death we should have died.
Touché, Tullian, touché.
I'm seeing with new eyes how every aspect of Christ's life, death and resurrection are so beautifully critical. Each one should be emphasized in it's own way, but never at the expense of saying one is more important than the others. I want to convey that to my children as they grow and, Lord willing, come to embrace these truths themselves. The gospel always astounds me with how much bigger it is than I often make it out to be. I love how it is simple enough for a child to understand, yet profound enough that I'll never delve it's depths and will continue to learn more of what this "Good News" really is until the day I die.
Have a blessed Easter worshiping the One who lived the perfect life, died the saving death and rose the victorious King!
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