The Cross Is Not a Celebration of Suffering, But of Jesus’ Victory Over It

Cristo StatuesThere is nothing noble about suffering.

Pain, sorrow, poverty, sickness, disease, violence and death have no redemptive value.

They are not a part of God’s plan to save the world. They are what Jesus came to save us from.

We need to remember that this weekend.

This Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we will have remembrances and celebrations of the cross. Some crosses will be backlit and draped with cloth. Others will be decorated with lilies. We will sing songs about the Wonderful, Beautiful Cross. All of that is good.

But let me encourage and caution my fellow pastors about something as we honor and praise what Jesus did on the cross. We must leave no room for misunderstanding. Let’s be very clear that this is not a celebration of violence and death, but of Jesus’ victory over it.

I’ve never known a church to glorify violence on purpose. But over the years I’ve heard far too many sermons and watched too many passion plays that seem to emphasize the pain and violence of the cross as if pain was the point.

Pain was never the point.

The cross did not become glorious until the tomb was empty. 


Why Take Up Our Cross?

When Jesus told the disciples to take up their cross and follow him, I do not believe he was telling them to suffer for him. Some have suffered greatly. Many, including me, never have.

But I do believe he was asking us to be willing to suffer for him.

There is a great difference between the two.

Being willing to suffer is noble. Wanting to suffer is some kind of sickness. Not alleviating suffering whenever we can is sinful.

Jesus doesn’t call us to suffering. He calls us to joy, hope and love. But he was honest enough to let us know that the path to all those wonderful things goes through some painful territory.

Life involves suffering and pain with or without a cross. The cross of Jesus gives purpose to that suffering. It calls us to speak and act redemptively within our suffering. And to relieve the suffering of others.

While there is no nobility in suffering per se, there is great nobility in a willingness to endure suffering, poverty, pain, sorrow and death for a cause greater than ourselves.

That is what Jesus did on the cross, and what he calls us to do when he asks us to take up our cross.


Jesus Never Embraced the Cross

Jesus did not go to the cross easily. He resisted it, despised it and ultimately endured it. But he never embraced it. If we imagine Jesus going to the cross with anything less than rage, anguish, grief and something close to regret, we’re fooling ourselves.

So no, Jesus do not go to the cross easily. But he went willingly. And that’s all that matters.

The early Christians knew this. They did not sing songs about the beautiful cross. As Philip Yancey correctly notes in his brilliant book, The Jesus I Never Knew, it was not until a couple generations after the Romans had outlawed crucifixion that it was ever used as a Christian symbol. It’s unimaginable that anyone who saw a crucifixion in person would have considered using a cross as a symbol of faith.


The Purpose of the Cross

Jesus didn’t endure the cross because he wanted to experience the suffering of shame and separation from God.

He endured the cross because he didn’t want us to experience any of that.

The wonder of the cross is not that Jesus suffered, but that it put suffering in its proper place – as a step along the path, not our final destination.


So what do you think? What does the cross mean to you?

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(Crucifixion Statue photo from Pablo Dodda • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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12 thoughts on “The Cross Is Not a Celebration of Suffering, But of Jesus’ Victory Over It”

  1. Love it! I’m accused of being a prosperity preacher by a few in our church because I don’t talk about “how we are supposed to suffer for our faith,” whereas I talk about hope found in Jesus. There are some that seek to avoid suffering (which is wrong) and those that seek to suffer (which you aptly described).

    1. Wow, that’s a pretty broad (and wrong) interpretation of the prosperity Gospel. Some people aren’t happy until everyone is miserable. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  2. You are so right on Karl! The cross is what I deserve. Jesus took my place.
    I like your statement, “The cross did not become glorious until the tomb was empty.” That says it all. With credit, my congregation will hear those words in my sermon Sunday.
    Blessings on You!
    Jesus Loves YOU the Most !
    And He will NEVER Love you any less !
    Make this Resurrection Celebration the Greatest ! ! !

  3. The cross is both a celebration of victory as well as a symbol of suffering and shame. If given the choice to pick just one of the above aspects to delve on, our innate preference will be obvious.

  4. Pingback: We Do Not Celebrate The Suffering | Worship Links

  5. I seldom post comments such as this because mostly folks just want you to agree with them, and are seldom truly interested in dialogue. But having looked through your 12 essentials, I thought I might share a word in hopes that dialogue might grow.

    My understanding is that Jesus came to save us from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9; 1 Thes 1:10). He did not save/deliver us from the list of things you had because that would mean taking us out of the world which He did not do (John 17:11, 15). We live out our lives in this fallen world testifying of Christ (Acts 1:8) and indeed suffering many ills and challenges (John 16:33; 1 Pet 4:12-19) and even persecution. Indeed, it is a misplaced ideal that seeks to suffer, and it is our place to relieve the sufferings of others, with that I heartily agree, but it is a privilege for us to suffer for His name sake (Phil 1:29); a privilege Jesus promised would come upon His followers (John 15:18 – 16:4). It is not a privilege one should desire, but it is granted to us just the same.

  6. My hardware rebelled in the midst of my comment…sorry. I would add, that I was left questioning a couple other things you said regarding taking up our cross and the idea of willingness being noble.

    I am confident that in the context Jesus was not just implying a willingness by taking up our cross, because He said, “If any one would come after me, let him first deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Denial of self and embracing what is indeed despised is the act of utter self-less humility which Paul encourages us to understand and thus model our lives around (Phil 2:1-11). In humility “counting others as more important than ourselves,” is the idea that Paul is pointing us to in Christ’s suffering and death on the cross…for people like us.

    I agree that there is nothing noble about suffering, it is the picture of humility!

    Finally, I thank you for your thought provoking post which also has many more thoughts that are so very worth thinking through. Your zeal for the Lord and thoughtful words are encouraging. I may not fully agree, but this does not stop me from enjoying and being challenged. Thank you for being a willing a vibrant servant of Christ.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Bob. I like a good back-and-forth, too. Especially in the spirit with which you wrote them.

      But I’m having a hard time understanding where the disagreement is. I’ve read through your comments twice and can’t find a single word I disagree with. Perhaps the difference is a matter of word tense?

      You wrote, “He did not save/deliver us from the list of things you had because that would mean taking us out of the world which He did not do (John 17:11, 15).” I agree. Maybe the key word in that sentence is “did”.

      I agree completely that he DID not deliver us from that list. Obviously we still have pain, sorrow, poverty, sickness, disease, violence and death. But he WILL deliver us from that list. As I wrote, “They are what Jesus came to save us from.” But I never stated that such a state will be realized this side of heaven. That’s why I also wrote of the nobility of those who are willing to suffer and that the path to the wonderful things God has for us still “goes through some painful territory.”

      Does that help, or am I missing something still?

  7. Hey Karl, that does help! I was maybe misinterpreting what you were saying, and to be honest it felt a little like you were promising everything up front so to speak, which is not the true gospel at all. Your subsequent comments are clear, and clarified your post for me! Thanks! Hope for some more dialogue in the future. Blessings to you!

    1. Thanks, Bob. I share your cautions. Too many churches emphasize the blessings, but deny the cross, while many others seem to love beating people into shame with the bible. Neither is the Gospel.

  8. Pingback: Easter Quote: The Cross did not become Glorious until the tomb was empty! | Lent & Beyond

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