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The Power of the Cross

Aaron M. KauffmanBy Aaron Kauffman

Each morning these days, my daughter rises early to check the status of the tomato seeds she has sown. She’s conducting a kind of experiment. A few of the seeds are planted in pots under a fluorescent light in our basement. Others are in pots in a south-facing windowsill upstairs. Which will sprout first? Which will have the best chance of surviving outside? So far, the seeds under artificial light have a significant head start!

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells of his impending death, using the image of a seed: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (12:22-26).

The counterintuitive power of the gospel is that God does not overcome our sin and rebellion with overwhelming force, but by taking their destructive consequences upon himself on the cross. Jesus’ sacrificial death undoes the curse of sin and makes new life possible for those who trust in him and surrender their lives in service to his kingdom. Like a seed that dies to be reborn as a fruitful new plant, death is the path to life in God’s economy.

Death brings new life to those who believe both now and into eternity. First, in this life, we willingly lay down our old sinful selves at the foot of the cross of Christ, and we rise to a new way of being in and through him. That’s what baptism is all about. As Paul famously put it in his letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Yet this is not merely a one time event. We die daily to self and sin and experience the resurrection power of Christ alive in us by his Spirit.

Second, this life-from-death gospel gives us power to persevere in our walk with Christ and his church until the end of our earthly lives, because we know that after we die we will inherit the eternal kingdom of God along with the saints who have gone before us. I say persevere because walking with the Lord and his church is not easy. If Jesus was ridiculed by the world and betrayed even by his own disciples, can we expect to be treated any better than our Master if we are faithful? Yet the suffering is worth it, not only for the refining effect it has on our character (James 1:4), but because eternal glory awaits those who endure to the end.

My daughter’s first attempt at sprouting tomato plants didn’t go so well. A couple of seeds came up, but then promptly withered. She was beside herself with disappointment. With some encouragement, however, she tried again. Now she has more tomato seedlings than our small backyard garden will be able to hold! Such is the kingdom of God when we gladly sow the gospel again and again, giving our lives away in pursuit of the glory we will know when we finally see the Lord face to face. Such is the power of the cross.