One of the things Christians sometimes argue about is whether the gospel is more about the kingdom or more about the cross.
Kingdom-emphasising folk perhaps want to focus more on the joy and power that flow from God having broken in to human history in Christ. Whereas, cross-emphasising people want to talk about being counter-cultural and other-regarding and stuff like that.
But I’ve been gripped by the way the cross casts its shadow over Jesus’ kingdom-preaching and kingdom-demonstration in the early chapters of Mark as I’ve prepared Bible study material on it over the last few weeks.
In Mark 1.40-45, for instance, Jesus demonstrates the power of the kingdom in reaching out and healing a leper, wiping away the leper’s uncleanness and his status as a social outcast with a single gesture. And yet in doing so Jesus swaps places with the leper — he’s no longer able to come openly into towns and populated places. The cross casts its shadow here.
Something similar happens if you put together the next two incidents that Mark relates: Mark 2.1-12 — the famous story of the paralysed man who is lowered through he roof by his friends only to have Jesus (almost) overlook his obvious physical need in order to declare his sins forgiven — and Mark 2.13-17 — where we first see Jesus beginning to associate himself with sinners, risking his good reputation in order to fulfil his mission.
Since God is the only one qualified to forgive sins, Jesus’ friendship with sinners takes us into he very heart of God. And, on the flip-side, in order to offer forgiveness God himself pay the price of being numbered with the transgressors. Again the cross casts its shadow over the kingdom.
What this means for whether we consider ourselves kingdom-people or cross-people is hard to calculate.
At the very least, it should mean those who want to emphasise the kingdom have to reckon with the same sort of shame and humiliation that Jesus faced as his launched the kingdom. Likewise, it presumably also means that those who want to emphasise the path of the cross need to acknowledge the glory of this path in God’s apparently strange and foolish economy…