“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without a cross.” This quote penned from the hands of the liberal theologian Richard Niebuhr in 1937 could summarize the state of American evangelical Christianity today. Could this possibly be a reality that we have a “Christ-less” and a “cross-less” Christianity in America today? While most conservative evangelicals would agree with the exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation and the blood atonement on the cross, how much preaching and emphasis is placed upon the wrath of God and the amazing grace found through the substitutionary atonement of His Son?
Often Jesus is presented more as a life coach–a therapist to help people deal with self-esteem issues or as a genie to be used to guarantee health, wealth, and prosperity. He has been reduced to a Galilean peasant with feathered back hair who wears sandals and gives pithy sayings and never really offends anyone. Where is the scandal of the bloody cross, the wrath of God being appeased in Christ’s sacrifice, and the transforming announcement that we can truly have peace with God?
First of all, Jesus is not a life-coach. He’s not a therapist. He’s not a cosmic genie. He’s not a wimp. He’s not just a great teacher. He’s not just one of many enlightened persons who have come upon the scene of history to provided direction for the aimless. In the introductory verse of Mark’s gospel, we find the true definition of Jesus.
Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “beginning” in the original language carries the idea of authority. God has spoken with absolute clarity and authority in His very own Son. This verse serves as not only the title and thesis of Mark’s gospel, but gives us the title of our Savior. If we carefully study these inspired words of Scripture, we find the true identity of Jesus.
The name “Jesus” means salvation is of the Lord. How often do we hear it as a cuss word and expressions of anger? His very name carries with it the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. The word “Christ” means “anointed One” or “Messiah”. In the Old Testament, three different types of persons were anointed and set apart for God’s special tasks—prophets, priests, and kings. Prophets came declaring the word of the Lord while priests were appointed to be mediators in bringing the people into the presence of the Lord. Kings were anointed to reign in the power of the Lord.
John Calvin in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” was the first theologian to describe how Christ fulfills the consummate role of all three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. As the Prophet, He is the living Word of God. He speaks with the authority of God as God in the flesh. As the Priest, He is the Mediator between God and man through His sacrifice on the cross. Hebrews 9:26 says, “But as it is, he (Jesus) has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” As the King, Jesus reigns over the entire universe as the King of kings and Lord of lords. (Ephesians 1:20-23)
Not only is Jesus the Savior of His people and the anointed Christ as the pre-eminent Prophet, Priest, and King, but He is also the Son of God. This title means that He is absolutely the fullness of all Deity. He shares full equality and eternality with God as all of God. Christ is not just one of many earthly prophets, but is indeed God in the flesh who reigns in all power and authority.
This reigning Christ left the glories of heaven and became obedient to a cruel death on the cross to fully absorb and exhaust the wrath of God that stood against us as sinners. Our most dire need is to be reconciled to the Father through the cross of Christ. In our psycho babble, therapeutic, consumeristic, narcissistic, seeker-sensitive evangelical sub-culture, the church in America has lost focus on the power of the gospel. We no longer proclaim that man is dead in sin and needs absolute reconciliation and forgiveness from a holy and righteous God who should justly pour out his fierce anger on sinners. We no longer proclaim the absolute majesty of Christ as the Sovereign Lord who demands ultimate obedience and submission. We no longer proclaim the scandalous offense of the bloody cross and the glorious resurrection that God through His grace grants to undeserving sinners.
As Americans, we think we are pretty good. After all, God grades on a curve and will overlook our minor imperfections. What we need is a life coach to help us have our “best life now” so that we can “become a better me”. We need the American dream with a little bit of Jesus added on top as whipped cream. We need self-esteem, direction, health, wealth, and prosperity, but heaven forbid, we actually admit that we as guilty and vile sinners who stand condemned by a holy God need the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross to bring us to the Father. My prayer is that God would raise up mighty men of conviction who will once again preach from their pulpits the wrath of God, the glories of Christ, the mercies of the cross, and the absolute sovereignty of our reigning King who has chosen to save ill-deserving sinners like you and me from eternal judgment.