The Cross as Bad News

By Justin Johnson

Have you ever heard the cross preached as bad news?
It happens. A lot.

I can remember attending church meetings where pictures of a bloody British man posing as Jesus were shown so that the viewers would feel guilty about what Christ suffered on our behalf.
That was bad.

The explanations of pain, suffering, and the nail piercing the Lord went through were excruciating to my soul, and were all used to make me feel the burden of rejecting Christ, and putting him on that cross.

This is the bad news of the cross.

An altar call and a petition to “receive Jesus” always followed. (Receiving Jesus is not the gospel that saves.) After all, he went through so much suffering, why wouldn’t I become a “follower of Jesus“?

Would I be the one yelling, “crucify him!”, or would I be with Mary at the foot of the cross weeping that he was put to death.

Tears of regret and sorrow always accompany the preaching of the cross as bad news. The bad news of the cross is not a gospel message (remember, gospel means good news). It is a guilt message.

Bad News of Isaiah 53

The bad news of the cross is commonplace in churches that fail to rightly divide. Why?

Outside of Paul (where the good news of the cross is found) the cross is taught as bad news often.

Isaiah 53 is one example that prophecies a suffering servant who dies innocently because of the sins of Israel.

How is an innocent man being put to death because of the sins of others good news? Of course, Isaiah says that God rewards the suffering servant, but who wouldn’t? He was innocent! He deserves reparations!

Isaiah 53 is an obvious prophecy of the death of Christ, but it does not contain the good news of the cross. It contains the bad news that Christ died at the hands of Israel because of their transgressions.

Peter’s Bad News / Good News

Peter and the twelve apostles of Israel preached the cross… as bad news.

“ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” – Acts 2:23

”God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ”- Acts 2:36|

”Pilate was determined to let him go, but ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer…and [ye] killed the Prince of Life…” – Acts 3:13-15

“Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” – Acts 5:30

All of this was intended to place the responsibility for the death of Jesus on the hands of unbelieving Israel (Acts 5:28). This was bad news for them.

The good news Peter preached was that Jesus was Christ and King, he was resurrected, and and he would return with his kingdom. Israel had a chance to be forgiven for their sin of killing Christ if they would repent (Acts 2:38, 3:17-21).

They were blamed and burdened with the cross which they should have regretted in order to compel them to ask God for forgiveness. According to Peter’s preaching, it was a mistake that they crucified the Lord, but God is willing to forgiven them, and so it is in so many Christian churches today.

Why did the Lord die? For many so-called Christians who do not know the gospel, they think it was a shame and mistake that he died.

The Mystery of Good News

It was not until the mystery of the gospel was revealed to the apostle Paul that the preaching of the cross was heard as good news.

“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” – Gal 6:14

The cross itself was no longer a burden, but the means through which all men could be saved by grace through faith (1 Cor 1:18; 1 Cor 1:21).

Why was it now good news? What had changed about it? It was still an innocent man dying because of sins. Only now the cross of Christ would be preached as a means of salvation.

The cross was a means to separate us from the world, and the world from us (Gal 6:14). Through the cross, we can be crucified and yet live!

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” – Gal 2:20

The Good News of the Cross

Why would it be good news that we can be crucified in Christ? We are all sinners deserving of death and through the gospel preaching of the cross, God counts us dead in Christ with our sins forgiven when we trust the cross of Christ as good news.

Now, what a glorious thing that Christ died for us!

It is no longer the source of shame or guilt, but the shame remover and guilt reliever. We are reckoned dead, and the body of sin destroyed, by the glorious good news of the cross of Christ (Rom 6:1-5).

The cross is no longer a condemnation, but should be preached as the means to justify all men. It is a sin payment, an offer of substitution, an imputation of righteousness by faith alone (2 Cor 5:21).

It is not Christ getting what he didn’t deserve, it is now Christ doing for us what we didn’t deserve!

Right division affects how we preach the cross of Christ. Nobody before Paul knew the mystery good news of the cross of Christ, and if we make ourselves the covenant people with Isaiah 53 and Acts 2 as our pattern, we may think the cross is bad news.

The bad news of the cross was replaced by the good news of the cross when the mystery of Christ was revealed. Now the cross is good news for all, and it’s a shame if any church is caught teaching it otherwise.

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Published: February 20, 2016
Last Modified: February 20, 2016
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