Half a Jesus, Half a Cross

I called at St Mary’s, Thornton Watlass, which is in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire. It was not the perpendicular tower that impressed me, much less the Victorian nave, but some artefacts built into the porch wall. They were both fragments of Saxon stone cross heads, one of which had a figure, which resembled a stylised Christ crucified, arms and legs outstretched. Of millstone grit, the right side of the wheel cross is lost and only one face is visible. Hence, half of the figure is missing, and half the cross. An object so ancient is bound to have suffered knocks, especially at the hands of frothing Norsemen, medieval warlords, righteous reformers and precise puritans. It is a wonder so much of survived at all, and is now displayed for our pleasure.

In many respects, this cross and its figure neatly pictures many churches’ and Christians' understanding of the Lord Jesus and His cross. They have half a Jesus; they believe in half a cross. Let me explain.

The Jesus that speaks of love and forgiveness, who commends generosity to the poor, who preaches no more than the Sermon on the Mount, is highly regarded. That half is fine; that half shall be kept. The slightly awkward Jesus who speaks so often of hell, who describes His return to judge, who denounces the hypocrite and who proclaims in Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”- that Jesus we don’t like. It’s a bit embarrassing, see. That’s the part we ignore and cover up; that’s the section we break off and hide.

And then there is the cross, that bloodied wooden cross-beam upon which The Lord Jesus died. The explanation that says the cross shows God’s love for us, we all like very much. It shows how important we are, it proves how nice God is. Yet the part, so clearly taught in scripture, that explains the cross as a righteous God's utter abhorrence and hatred of sin, and is an expression of His vengeance thereon, oooh, that we do not care for. No, let’s just talk about love and sermons on mounts. Let’s just have the bits we like and make us feel good, and not the bits that make us feel uncomfortable. That’s half a Jesus. That’s half a cross.

But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.

1 Corinthians 1:23