No end runs around the Cross

Here is a graphic that our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, at St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia, uses to explain how we should always factor in the Cross when we consider our relationship to God and His relationship to us. (A parishioner made this visual image to illustrate what our pastor had been teaching.)

So, in God’s relationship to us, we might wonder, “Am I really saved?” “Am I of the elect?” “Is God angry with me?” “Why does God allow suffering in the world?” In each case, if we leave out the Cross, questions like these can drive us to despair or insanity. But consider them in light of the Cross–of Christ’s intercession, His atonement, and His suffering for us–and the paradigm shifts. I am saved because Christ paid my penalty. I am elect in the Cross where God placed my sins. God’s anger is appeased in the death of His Son. God does not just look down in detachment at the sufferings of the world; rather, He entered that world in His incarnation in Christ and Himself suffered on the Cross, where He also bore MY afflictions.

In our relationship to God: “Does God hear my prayers?” “What do I need to do to satisfy God?” “I’m not worthy of God’s love.” God hears us through our Intercessor Jesus who has won perfect access for us to the Father through His death and resurrection. God is already satisfied because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are not worthy, but Christ is worthy, and because of the Cross His worthiness is imputed to us.

Again, end runs around the Cross lead to doubt and torment, but considering God through the lens of the Cross, and understanding that God considers us through the lens of the Cross makes all the difference.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    I’ve heard it said that “all theology is Christology”. Excellent application of this!

  • Pete

    I’ve heard it said that “all theology is Christology”. Excellent application of this!

  • David

    To attempt to understand the Father any way apart from the Son can only lead to mysticism and what Luther would have called the enthusiasts (Schwarmeri) who seek the Father outside of the place he has chosen to reveal himself. If you want to find this in Scripture look no further than the gospel of John.

  • David

    To attempt to understand the Father any way apart from the Son can only lead to mysticism and what Luther would have called the enthusiasts (Schwarmeri) who seek the Father outside of the place he has chosen to reveal himself. If you want to find this in Scripture look no further than the gospel of John.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I love this visual! Wonderful teaching tool.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I love this visual! Wonderful teaching tool.

  • JonSLC

    David @2: Your comment reminds me of a diagram that one of my college professors would draw, similar to the one here. God at the top of the diagram, us at the bottom and the gospel in between. Then he’d take the chalk and draw squiggly lines from us to God, going around the gospel, all while making buzzing sounds — a memorable visual depicting the Schwaermer, i.e., those who buzz around like bees trying to have communion with God apart from the means God himself has chosen. (The Schwaermer are those, and David notes, that are translated “enthusiasts” and “fanatics” in many English translations.)

    Thanks for the diagram, a great reminder of something we’re all tempted to depart from: God’s way to commune with us is through his incarnate Son only, and his incarnate Son chooses to come in the gospel only, in the form of Word and Sacrament. Could he give us contact with himself directly? Sure, since he can do anything. But how has he promised to come? Look to the humble manger, to the despised cross, to the foolishness of preaching, to the sacraments, so lowly in appearance.

  • JonSLC

    David @2: Your comment reminds me of a diagram that one of my college professors would draw, similar to the one here. God at the top of the diagram, us at the bottom and the gospel in between. Then he’d take the chalk and draw squiggly lines from us to God, going around the gospel, all while making buzzing sounds — a memorable visual depicting the Schwaermer, i.e., those who buzz around like bees trying to have communion with God apart from the means God himself has chosen. (The Schwaermer are those, and David notes, that are translated “enthusiasts” and “fanatics” in many English translations.)

    Thanks for the diagram, a great reminder of something we’re all tempted to depart from: God’s way to commune with us is through his incarnate Son only, and his incarnate Son chooses to come in the gospel only, in the form of Word and Sacrament. Could he give us contact with himself directly? Sure, since he can do anything. But how has he promised to come? Look to the humble manger, to the despised cross, to the foolishness of preaching, to the sacraments, so lowly in appearance.

  • Gregory DeVore

    And here we see the problem with non-sectarian prayers to a non-sectarian god advocated in modern American civil religion.We have no God apart from Christ. Nor does God hear any prayers apart from Christ.

  • Gregory DeVore

    And here we see the problem with non-sectarian prayers to a non-sectarian god advocated in modern American civil religion.We have no God apart from Christ. Nor does God hear any prayers apart from Christ.

  • Gulliver

    Thanks for the illustration. To teach another point, I would add a black bar across the middle of the illustration with the word “sin” on one side and “death” on the other (The cross would be in the forground). This version of the illustration would teach that there is no access to God because sin and death have cut it off. Only through faith in the cross of Christ and His atoning sacrifice for sin can we be confident that God hears our prayers (Heb 4:15-16) and makes us His children.

  • Gulliver

    Thanks for the illustration. To teach another point, I would add a black bar across the middle of the illustration with the word “sin” on one side and “death” on the other (The cross would be in the forground). This version of the illustration would teach that there is no access to God because sin and death have cut it off. Only through faith in the cross of Christ and His atoning sacrifice for sin can we be confident that God hears our prayers (Heb 4:15-16) and makes us His children.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Great stuff!

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Great stuff!

  • George A. Marquart

    If this graphic helps someone overcome doubt about their salvation, then, “praise God!” But may I suggest that the Cross is not the end of the Gospel; it is the beginning. Did our Lord become flesh for the sole purpose of making atonement for our sins? In Luke 4:43 He says, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore am I sent.” Why does the church neglect the proclamation of this Kingdom, when our Lord said that He was sent to proclaim it? Do we ever hear the word “kingdom” when someone explains what the Gospel is? If the Cross were the end of the Gospel, it would be of no benefit to us whatsoever. But, as Martin Luther and the Reformers knew, as did the ancients who gave us the Te Deum, “He opened the Kingdom to all believers.” When Martin Luther was assailed by doubt, he said, “I am baptized”; that is, God has made me a child in His Kingdom. By water and the Spirit He has made us new, and (Col 1: 13) “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of His dear Son.” We ponder the Cross with awe and gratitude, but we also know that if, when we were baptized, the Holy Spirit had not come to make His home in us, we would not and could not have faith, joy, or certainty in the knowledge of God’s love for us. So, as large as the Cross looms, our salvation also depends on what our gracious Father does for us after His Son made satisfaction for our sins, by making us heirs of His Kingdom. (Luke 12: 32) “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

    Peace and Joy,
    George A. Marquart

  • George A. Marquart

    If this graphic helps someone overcome doubt about their salvation, then, “praise God!” But may I suggest that the Cross is not the end of the Gospel; it is the beginning. Did our Lord become flesh for the sole purpose of making atonement for our sins? In Luke 4:43 He says, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore am I sent.” Why does the church neglect the proclamation of this Kingdom, when our Lord said that He was sent to proclaim it? Do we ever hear the word “kingdom” when someone explains what the Gospel is? If the Cross were the end of the Gospel, it would be of no benefit to us whatsoever. But, as Martin Luther and the Reformers knew, as did the ancients who gave us the Te Deum, “He opened the Kingdom to all believers.” When Martin Luther was assailed by doubt, he said, “I am baptized”; that is, God has made me a child in His Kingdom. By water and the Spirit He has made us new, and (Col 1: 13) “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of His dear Son.” We ponder the Cross with awe and gratitude, but we also know that if, when we were baptized, the Holy Spirit had not come to make His home in us, we would not and could not have faith, joy, or certainty in the knowledge of God’s love for us. So, as large as the Cross looms, our salvation also depends on what our gracious Father does for us after His Son made satisfaction for our sins, by making us heirs of His Kingdom. (Luke 12: 32) “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

    Peace and Joy,
    George A. Marquart

  • fws

    http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/129luther_e13.htm

    Luther´s sermon on the two kingdoms.

    “Where Christ is, there, is life and salvation.”

    George has a point.

    But dear George… the graphic is just that, a shorthand for a huge thought. And Jesus hanging dead on the cross is probably the best image to present in the triumphalism that is american christianity in general.

    Also George, as a slight wrinkle to your thought, Luther in his sermon, makes a huge point at the beginning, that we cannot hold certain the heavenly kingdom unless we first ponder what is fully included in the earthly kingdom and therefore fully excluded in the heavenly kingdom.

    So at the same time, kingdom talk is more simple (about Jesus) and more complicated that it would seem at first blush.

  • fws

    http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/129luther_e13.htm

    Luther´s sermon on the two kingdoms.

    “Where Christ is, there, is life and salvation.”

    George has a point.

    But dear George… the graphic is just that, a shorthand for a huge thought. And Jesus hanging dead on the cross is probably the best image to present in the triumphalism that is american christianity in general.

    Also George, as a slight wrinkle to your thought, Luther in his sermon, makes a huge point at the beginning, that we cannot hold certain the heavenly kingdom unless we first ponder what is fully included in the earthly kingdom and therefore fully excluded in the heavenly kingdom.

    So at the same time, kingdom talk is more simple (about Jesus) and more complicated that it would seem at first blush.

  • http://beholdingthebeauty.blogspot.com Steven Carr

    @George: If you properly understand Luther’s theology of the cross, then you would know that “the cross” is shorthand for the entirety of Christ’s work, i.e., He was incarnated for the purpose of the atonement, He lived a life that was obedient even to the death of the cross, He rose again from the death of the cross, and the cross has implications for His intercessory work in heaven. “The cross” for Luther was not the beginning, but the entirety of the gospel. If you haven’t read Gerhard O. Forde’s book “On Being a Theologican of the Cross,” then I would encourage you to tolle lege. You can’t find a better book on the subject.

    I also would challenge the notion that all theology is Christology. All theology is just that–theo-logy, but we cannot understand theo-logy apart from the cross.

  • http://beholdingthebeauty.blogspot.com Steven Carr

    @George: If you properly understand Luther’s theology of the cross, then you would know that “the cross” is shorthand for the entirety of Christ’s work, i.e., He was incarnated for the purpose of the atonement, He lived a life that was obedient even to the death of the cross, He rose again from the death of the cross, and the cross has implications for His intercessory work in heaven. “The cross” for Luther was not the beginning, but the entirety of the gospel. If you haven’t read Gerhard O. Forde’s book “On Being a Theologican of the Cross,” then I would encourage you to tolle lege. You can’t find a better book on the subject.

    I also would challenge the notion that all theology is Christology. All theology is just that–theo-logy, but we cannot understand theo-logy apart from the cross.

  • fws

    #10 steve carr

    “I also would challenge the notion that all theology is Christology. ”

    “All theology is just that–theo-logy, but we cannot understand theo-logy apart from the cross.”

    so then you are saying that nothing can be understood in theology without christology? So what is your point then steve?

  • fws

    #10 steve carr

    “I also would challenge the notion that all theology is Christology. ”

    “All theology is just that–theo-logy, but we cannot understand theo-logy apart from the cross.”

    so then you are saying that nothing can be understood in theology without christology? So what is your point then steve?

  • http://beholdingthebeauty.blogspot.com Steven Carr

    fws,

    The end of theology is to know God; the means to that end is through Christ. Christ is the Mediator between God and man. His purpose is intercessory. I can appreciate the good intentions of those who say that all theology is Christology, but it is an inaccurate statement. To say that all theology is Christology is to say in effect that the knowledge of Christ more the end and less the means of doing theology.

  • http://beholdingthebeauty.blogspot.com Steven Carr

    fws,

    The end of theology is to know God; the means to that end is through Christ. Christ is the Mediator between God and man. His purpose is intercessory. I can appreciate the good intentions of those who say that all theology is Christology, but it is an inaccurate statement. To say that all theology is Christology is to say in effect that the knowledge of Christ more the end and less the means of doing theology.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Steven,
    Are you then maintaining that Jesus is not God?
    Lutherans believe that to know Christ is to know the Father. I think someone famous said something similar to that once… who was that?
    Oh, yeah Jesus.
    “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
    John 14:9 (ESV)

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Steven,
    Are you then maintaining that Jesus is not God?
    Lutherans believe that to know Christ is to know the Father. I think someone famous said something similar to that once… who was that?
    Oh, yeah Jesus.
    “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
    John 14:9 (ESV)

  • Mark

    In an election “everyone’s vote counts”. In the Divine Election only vote counts: the Lord’s. How do we know how He voted? In some secret balloting in heaven? No. He voted for us and for our salvation on the Cross. He marked the ballot with a huge ‘X’ for all to see. And we preach Christ and Him crucified: note, not “we preached”, past tense, but today: a present day Savior for present tense sinners.

    Great graphic!

  • Mark

    In an election “everyone’s vote counts”. In the Divine Election only vote counts: the Lord’s. How do we know how He voted? In some secret balloting in heaven? No. He voted for us and for our salvation on the Cross. He marked the ballot with a huge ‘X’ for all to see. And we preach Christ and Him crucified: note, not “we preached”, past tense, but today: a present day Savior for present tense sinners.

    Great graphic!

  • Stevem Carr

    #13

    I take God to mean, as all the Church Fathers and the Reformers mean, the Triune God. The purpose of theology is to know the triune God. The only way we can do that is if God becomes man. Christ is man and Christ is God. He is as the Bible says, “The mediator between God and Man.” Christ is not the end of theology, but the means. The end is not to know Christ the Man or even Christ the divine. The end is to know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christ says, “No one comes TO the Father except THROUGH me.” Mediator is just what it means, a means to an end. All theology is not Christology, but Christology makes theology possible.

  • Stevem Carr

    #13

    I take God to mean, as all the Church Fathers and the Reformers mean, the Triune God. The purpose of theology is to know the triune God. The only way we can do that is if God becomes man. Christ is man and Christ is God. He is as the Bible says, “The mediator between God and Man.” Christ is not the end of theology, but the means. The end is not to know Christ the Man or even Christ the divine. The end is to know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christ says, “No one comes TO the Father except THROUGH me.” Mediator is just what it means, a means to an end. All theology is not Christology, but Christology makes theology possible.

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