It is a normal part of everyday life. People around us do things and we make guesses about their behavior. I use the word “guesses” on purpose because it is pretty impossible to be certain about why people do what they do. Maybe the best words to describe the process of attribution are we make interpretations of others’ behavior. This is not an exact “science” to say the least.*
The reason I start my comments with this discussion is the following statement by John Stott: “The fact that a cross became the Christian symbol, and that Christians stubbornly refused, in spite of the ridicule, to discard it in favor of something less offensive, can only have one explanation. It means that the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus Himself” [Stott, 35].
Sounds to me like Stott has ventured into unknown territory. He is saying that our emphasis on the cross came from the life that Jesus led and the things that Jesus said. He is attributing the cross to “the mind of Jesus.”
The next question follows: How can he say that?
Here is a summary of his argument.
Granted, the popular opinion of the Jews of Jesus’ day was that the Messiah would be a revolutionary political leader. Instead we all know the story; that the Messiah was born of a virgin in a manger in a livestock shed. We know of no sign that Jesus was even aware of His divinity until He was twelve years old. He was in Jerusalem with His parents for the celebration of Passover. They lost track of Him and when they found Him, He was in the temple and when His parents approached He said the following words: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” [Luke 2: 41-50]. Stott points to how He said this as a sign that He knew He was on a mission. God had sent Him into the world for a purpose.
The next momentous occasion was His baptism and the moments of temptation after His baptism with the devil in the desert. There was no hesitation in His response to the temptation. He knew to avoid the powerful prizes offered by Satan. He knew His purpose.
In His public ministry, Jesus began to reveal His mission. When His disciples began to state that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus told them to “not tell anyone.” Stott writes that He was aware that the Jews wanted a powerful hero to save them from Roman oppression. After feeding the five thousand, the crowd intended to force Him to be king, but He slipped away. He knew His mission must be completed through His crucifixion, not elevation to some earthly throne.
Peter blurted out that Jesus was the true Messiah, but what was Jesus’ response? “Out of my sight, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man.” Again, He knew this statement by Peter would only impede his pathway to the cross.
Jesus took His disciples aside several times and predicted His future. We see this in the book of Mark: “We are going to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.” We see this prediction three times in Mark 10, Matthew 20 and Luke 18. This was a man on a mission.
In the last week of His life on earth, Jesus referred to perfume that was going to be poured over His head as preparation for His burial. He gave out bread and wine as emblems of His body and blood, a sign that He knew that these elements would be in commemoration of His death.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, He could have called on men and angels to help Him in His time of need but He didn’t, saying “how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way.” Stott writes that Scripture “bears a common witness to the fact that Jesus both clearly foresaw and repeatedly foretold His coming death [on the cross]” [brackets mine].
What we are discussing here is Jesus’ perspective on His own death. What Stott is arguing here is that Jesus knew He had crucifixion in His future and He responded to events in a way that would get Him up on that cross. Repeatedly Jesus used the expression “My time has not yet come” to say that circumstances were not quite right yet. When He changed water into wine, He was urged to go Jerusalem and declare His divinity and He said “My time has not yet come.” When he made what the Jewish leaders labelled as blasphemous statements there was a push to seize Him but He slipped away “because His time had not come yet.”
But when circumstances were right, He changed His expression. He went from “My time has not yet come” to “the hour has come for the Son to Man to be glorified.” In Jerusalem when some Greeks asked to see Jesus, he repeated that sentence about His glorification. He commented later on His death and said that it was to glorify the name of His father. Twice in the upper room He said that it was almost time for Him to leave the world and be “glorified.”
This shift to “my time has not come” to “the hour has come” is solid evidence that Jesus knew the reason He had come into the world. He knew that He was destined to meet a violent, premature and purposive death on the cross and He was directing Himself to that end.
Stott goes further in his writing: “From this evidence supplied by the Gospel writers, what are we justified in saying about Jesus’ perspective on His own death? Beyond question He knew it was going to happen” [Stott, 35]. Are we willing to go as far as Stott and say “the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus Himself?”
As in all attributions, Stott may be right or he may be wrong. It all boils down to his interpretation of the Scriptures. Stott feels that the cross became the Christian central symbol of the faith because of loyalty of Jesus’ followers and Jesus intended for it to be that way.
In the next post, we will discuss three more reasons for the cross to be central to the faith, what Stott calls “three intertwining reasons for its inevitability.” However, he already feels justified in saying that Jesus was following God’s plan for Him to be crucified. He already feels justified in saying that the cross of Christ is the central symbol of Christianity. He has looked at Jesus’ words and Jesus’ actions and feels he knows the plan. We have the cross at the center of our faith because Jesus wanted it that way.
It was supposed to be that way all along…
*Attribution is a core concept in the study of human communication. As humans, we are geared to make meaning out of others’ verbal and nonverbal expressions, even though we “miss the mark” a lot.