“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.”
-1 Corinthians 15: 3-4
Everyone has their particular songs where they can’t figure out the proper lyrics, and so they make some up instead. Or often, they never realize they were singing it wrong in the first place. You can say you haven’t, but then, you’re either a liar, or just don’t listen to nearly enough music.
I had this happen to me a few years ago with the song, Jesus Messiah, by Chris Tomlin. The lyrics to the bridge start out “all our hope is in You”. And it suddenly hit me that I had been singing it all wrong. But, allow me to provide some context so that it all makes more sense.
Paul begins to wrap up his first letter to the church in Corinth in Chapter 15 by very plainly spelling out the gospel message- Christ died for our sins. End of story, end of chapter, end of book, right? Definitely not. But, for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at the repercussions of such a declaration. The Messiah came to Earth, was wrongly crucified, and died a criminal’s death because of my sin. And, at the end of the day, nobody hears about it, and nobody cares. Because, you see, the death wasn’t nearly as significant as we like to make it. Yes, there’s no denying the importance of Jesus’ death. But, if we choose to leave Jesus on the cross, He becomes no different from any number of other so-called Messiahs who had come before (or after) Him. Gamaliel, a respected Pharisee tells us this in Acts 6.
Which is why it’s so vital that Paul continues on to say that Christ rose again. In fact, it’s important enough for Paul that he spends the next 54 verses explaining the significance of the resurrection. That got me thinking- why are we Christians so eager to leave Jesus on the cross? Paul tackles it again from a slightly different angle:
“And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” –v 14
“And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.” –v 17
In fact, he even goes so far as to say, “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” –v 19. Imagine, holding so strongly to something so temporary that even unbelievers would feel sorry for us! Some translations spell out that verse to say “we are, of all men, the most miserable.”
And really, isn’t that how we act? That’s certainly the impression the world has of Christians. We’re rule-loving, fun-hating judgmental hypocrites who are just aching to share our misery with others. “But,” you say, “I never gave them that impression.” Didn’t you?
One of the most widely attended church service days of the year is solely devoted to this mindset. “Christians” worldwide gather on a day known as “Good Friday” to commemorate the death of Christ. We feel sorry for our role in His death, we cry a little, we remember His suffering, and then we go home a blubbering mess, all while the crown of thorns still sits atop the wooden cross we’ve build just for the occasion, or while the passion play still hangs heavy on our hearts.
The mainstream media and Hollywood has begun to pick up on this, too. The phenomena that was The Passion of the Christ, which excited the entire Christian community, closes with Jesus still dead. Jesus Christ, Superstar wraps up with everyone hopping on the bus and heading out of town- no Jesus. Godspell closes with the cast members carrying away His dead body. Each example leaves Jesus on the cross. And, each example leaves us sad, dejected, and, just as Paul put it, miserable. And this is what the world sees as the typical Christian mindset.
So, it was with all of these thoughts circling my mind that I came to the realization that I was singing Jesus Messiah incorrectly. It wasn’t so much that the words were wrong. I simply had fallen into the trap Paul mentioned in verse 19. I had forgotten where my hope lay. When we sing “all our hope is in You”, what is our mindset? Is our hope in the cross? Is the death of Christ truly where we place our hope? Then it’s certainly no wonder we are so often miserable and incomplete.
“Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” -Romans 8:20-25
Paul says that even creation is longing for the day when we can be free from this world. And that the Holy Spirit gives us just the slightest glimpse of what is to come. So then, all our hope is in Him- and the promise of His return!
And then, Paul gives us the kicker- hope is not hope at all if it’s in something that has already happened or that we already have. So, my hangup on the song was that I had begun to sing about a hope in the cross- a distinct point in history and factual event. There is no real hope in that. Scholars and historians, Christian or not, all agree that there was a man named Jesus, and that He was put to death on a cross. There’s nothing in there for me to hope for. And my hope can’t simply be in salvation, because that’s something I already have. My hope, then, must be in something I haven’t yet experienced. Or, more specifically, something that hasn’t yet occurred.
And yet, we insist on leaving Jesus on the cross. A place where that hope can’t even begin to take root.
I’ve started to wonder if perhaps the gospel message actually holds two equally important truths. The first- the understanding that Christ died for our sins cleans us and makes us new. That’s the part that most of us hear and believe. It’s a change that happens on the inside.
But somewhere in the mess of the “repeat after me” prayers, what gets lost is the second truth- this new life in Him comes with a promise of something far better. It gives us an excitement that is infectious because it’s impossible to keep such a promise to ourselves. Certainly, this is a change that happens on the outside.
So maybe now, we’re getting somewhere. Because I think, sometimes- many times- we never get this second part. Maybe, we aren’t even told the second part. And so this Christian life feels somehow empty and unfulfilled.
Why do we leave Jesus on the cross?
One, because we’re told to. Or, we’re not told not to. The Christian symbol is that of a cross. It’s displayed prominently everywhere you look in or around churches. We wear it around our necks as jewelry. The horrifying ISIS videos even refer to Christianity as “the cross”. Our major holidays, even Christmas, directs us to remember the cross and the payment that was made on our behalf. But very little ever directs us to consider beyond our temporary condition here on Earth.
We need to be very deliberate when we’re sharing with others the fact that our hope is not in this world. That things may be messed up down here, and coming to Jesus may not fix all of that. But knowing Him does provide a peace that, in the end, everything’s going to work out perfectly- because we’re looking forward to something far greater than this world has to offer.
The second reason we leave Jesus on the cross is fear. If we don’t fully acknowledge that He is living and present with us, then we can choose to leave our “Christianity” behind whenever we want, and just be a “normal” person. We’re afraid of what others may think of us. We’re afraid we may lose our so-called friends if they begin to notice a change in how we act or in what we are saying. And so, we sacrifice our hope and joy in exchange for the comfort of knowing our friends still like us. And we end up miserable and torn.
The truth is, if we begin to truly believe that Jesus is alive, that He’s present with us, and that every step of the way, He’s there to guide us, we should want people to know. Because that’s what He would be directing us to do. And even without words, that excitement should be visible on our faces and in the things we do. But then, that leads us to the last reason we leave Jesus on the cross.
That being, convenience. I want to compartmentalize my walk with Jesus so that I can pull Him off the shelf, dust Him off, and pack Him away again when I’m done with Him. That way, my life will only be different if I want it to be different. The people around me will only see Jesus if I want to bring Him out of hiding.
So, time and again, we place Him back on the cross, somehow believing that there, He can’t bother us and won’t be looking over our shoulder. That then, we can come back and say hi on Sunday morning or at youth group, and it will be a sufficient and functional relationship. And then, when we really need Him, we cry out and, praise God, miraculously He leaps down off the cross every time and comes to our rescue…
…only, He was there all along. And that realization may have saved us from getting into the mess in the first place.
So, what lyrics have you misheard? Is it the gospel message that never fully sunk in? Have you been placing your hope in something of this world? Has your devotion to the cross blinded you from seeing the full glory of a resurrected Jesus? Are you daily putting Jesus back on the cross out of fear, convenience, or a sense of duty?
It’s time to grow beyond all of that. Today, make the decision to see Him for who he truly is- alive, active, and present in every part of our lives. Don’t leave Him behind. It’s impossible to really do anyway. But the difference will be enough to blow your mind.