BY: JONATHAN KUO
Why it’s good news that the good news doesn’t depend on us.
I love the cross. I love the cross because it’s good news. I love that it’s good news. Good news isn’t very common these days. Good news nowadays tends to be trite, naïve, and cute. Cute, but nothing solid to stand on. Nothing steadfast to hope in. Nothing to anchor our souls in. Cute news can make us smile, but it can’t bear us up. It can encourage us, however momentarily, but the emotional lift fades as soon as we shift our attention.
Good news needs to be steadfast, solid, unshakeable. In other words, it needs to be good news precisely in that it’s not about us – about what we’ve done, what we can do, or what we should do. We won’t find good news in the human race – not in a race so nervous, so unsteadied, ever unsure of the certainty of tomorrow. God knows how we can be so finicky. So fickle. So anxious and terrorized just a moment after we thought we found peace. But that’s why I love the cross. It speaks a better word than anything about us. It tells the story of a God who came as a man named Jesus – nailed to a crucifix, buried, and resurrected to save. It tells of the Gospel: the good news.
And that’s why I love the cross: it’s actually, really, good news. Good news precisely because its being good is not contingent upon me. Good news of Jesus’s power to redeem me from Satan, sin, and death which is not threatened by my all too often tendency to get myself into circumstances which require redeeming. And that’s why it’s good news. It’s effective despite me. Joy-inducing apart from me. Relief-bringing not because it calls attention to the good in me, but the bad in me only ever in light of a greater good outside of me.
In other words, the cross is good news because it’s not just good advice. If it was just good advice – how to live, why we should do certain things and not others — its goodness would be contingent upon our ability to live up to the advice it offers. Good advice only delivers good results when it’s followed. Good news contains within itself all the ingredients for joy apart from our needing to respond by anything other than receiving it as already true. And that’s why faith receives rather than achieves. Faith is belief, receiving as achieved what Jesus accomplished when He breathed His last and said, “It is finished”1. Jesus was declaring that conquering the damning effects of our sin was done. Unbelief tries to finish the job by looking for somebody or something else to save us. Good advice alone all too often leads us to try to believe in ourselves. The good news demands we believe in God over and despite ourselves.
And that’s why I love the cross. It involves me, but it doesn’t revolve around me. It invites me to come, die to myself, and live for God, but it doesn’t invite me to start working to create my own hope and salvation. And once I realized this, I really started loving the cross. After trying for so many years of trying to find good news in myself, I finally stopped. I stopped trying to find something to hope in myself once I realized that the whole point of the gospel is that it points to a Hope and Rescuer outside of me. When I struggled with habitual sin, when I found myself apathetic to the death of Christ, when I thought myself potentially damned to Hell because I couldn’t see any hope within me – it was then that I realized: the gospel is good news because it never banked on me finding find hope in me.
I learned that despite me, I can hope, because I found that my hope isn’t grounded in myself, my circumstances, or any other person other than Jesus alone. I realized that the formula for gospel joy didn’t have a variable for “But, my sins,” or “But, I.” In fact, it hit me that the gospel never started with “But you.” It starts with “But God.”2 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved”3. I never factored into this glorious equation of good news, so nothing I do could alter it.
So I realized that sometimes it’s when all you can see in yourself and the world is the guilt and wreckage of sin that you’re best able to stop saying the damning phrase of, “but I,” and realize that the gospel had nothing to do with our competency in the first place. It begins with, “But God,” continues there, and ends there, and that’s the only place sinners will be saved, struggling Christians will walk in victory over sins which once plagued them, and apathetic believers will be shaken out of their apathy. Only one can save, only one can give us the power to defeat sin, and only one can give a call clear enough to stir the sleeping soul. And the good news is that it’s not you. It’s Jesus.
“But my sins are so great…” – “behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”4.“But I have wronged my Heavenly Father too many times, how can I go back?” – “But God shows his love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us”5. “But my failings… how will I ever change?” — “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you”6. “But I’ve gone too far. I’ve dug a pit too deep, and only I am to blame” — “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”7. “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” “and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”8
The cross always speaks the last word, even when it seems like our world is falling apart, our loved ones are suffering, and we, along with all of creation, “groan inwardly as we await” “the redemption of our bodies”9. It’s a sure hope, but a hope not seen. But “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience”10. And so we remember. In the past, Jesus won. In the present, Jesus redeems and saves us despite our stupidity, in spite of what others have done to us, and over our inability to help ourselves. And in the future, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, and the former things have passed away”11. And this – this is why I love the cross. It’s truly good news. News worth living for. News worth dying for. Because whether we live or die well for it, it’s good. So I invite you. Join me. Let’s live together in awe of what God did at the cross together,
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
2Ephesians 2:4 (ESV)
3Ephesians 2:4-6 (ESV)
4John 1:29 (ESV)
5Romans 5:8 (ESV)
6Romans 8:11 (ESV)
9Romans 8:23 (ESV)
10Romans 8:24-25 (ESV)
11Revelations 21:4 (ESV)