The upside-down cross

  • Tony Payne
  • 19 May 2015

The recent Nexus Conference on ‘Crucified Ministry’ left me with a notebook full of scribbled thoughts and insights from a richly stimulating and encouraging day. Over the next few days, as we post video of the three main morning addresses at the conference, I’ll be reflecting on a key point from each of the talks (starting today with Simon Manchester’s opening talk).

What struck me from Simon’s penetrating (as ever) exposition of Galatians 6 was how thoroughly the gospel of the cross turns things upside down.

For example (in verses 1-5), it transforms formerly selfish people who thought they were ‘something’ into selfless servants who know that they really are nothing, except in Christ. “People who get the gospel want other people to get the gospel, and to stay in the gospel”, said Simon. They bear each other’s burdens.

This is so different from the two bogey-men of Galatians: the legalist, who buttresses his superior self-regard by looking down on and judging others; and the libertine, who is so focused on the indulgent exercise of his own false freedom that he couldn’t care less about others. (Which one of these is the danger for you? For me, and I suspect many of us in the hedonistic post-Christian West, it’s the latter.)

Again, in verse 6-10, the people of the cross are not deceived by the outwardly attractive prospect of sowing to the flesh, because they know that in due season by sowing to the Spirit (that is, sowing gospel-shaped words and gospel-shaped deeds), they will reap eternal life. God is not mocked. He will turn our upside-down world right-side up again—of which the cross is the defining example.

Simon has always been a canny and effective quoter. He wheeled out this classic from Spurgeon to reinforce the point:

The world is upside down, and therefore, the first are last and the last first. See how the servile sons of Satan lord it in the earth! What a high horse they ride! How they lift up their horn on high! Haman is in the court, while Mordecai sits in the gate; David wanders on the mountains, while Saul reigns in state; Elijah is complaining in the cave while Jezebel is boasting in the palace; yet who would wish to take the places of the proud rebels? and who, on the other hand, might not envy the despised saints? When the wheel turns, those who are lowest rise, and the highest sink. Patience, then, believer, eternity will right the wrongs of time.

This upside-down trust in the weakness of the cross, rather than in the impressiveness of external show and popularity, also describes the difference between apostolic Christianity and the fakery of the heretics Paul is opposing in Galatians (vv. 11—18). They want to make “a good showing in the flesh”—which in their case means emphasizing circumcision for all the benefits it brings now, in terms of avoiding persecution and remaining part of the club.

Paul boasts instead in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in a different set of marks on his body—the marks of persecution and suffering in the name of Jesus.

There was plenty more to chew on in Simon’s talk. Watch it here.

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