Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

At the Foot of the Cross

[This article is available in Urdu here.]

Now I can trade these ashes in for beauty
And wear forgiveness like a crown
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy
I lay every burden down at the foot of the cross
– Don Moen

This is the chorus of a popular song that we sang at our church meeting last Sunday. There is a lot I love about this song except that I have a problem with the phrase about laying every burden down “at the foot of the cross”. I cannot find in the scriptures the notion that we can, or should, lay our sins, problems, or burdens at the foot of the cross.

Perhaps I’m too unimaginative. Or perhaps it has something to do with my aversion to Christian sentimentality. The reality of the gospel, however, is far greater than our imaginations and far more powerful and profound than sentimental notions.

The Cross

Jesus’ death on the cross was a true, historical event. On the cross, Jesus was humiliated and degraded. On the cross, Jesus suffered an agonising and cruel death. Also, on the cross, Jesus effectively paid the ransom price for our redemption from sin and death with his innocent life blood.

But Jesus is no longer on the cross. His redemptive act was successfully completed—once and for all. The crucifixion is a past event. The cross no longer exists. Thankfully, however, the amazing blessings, which Jesus secured for us on the cross, are eternal (e.g., Col. 1:9-14).

The Exalted Lord

Jesus is no longer the suffering sacrifice. He is the triumphant Saviour and victorious Lord situated in the heavenly realms. He is resurrected, exalted, and glorified, and seated at the right hand of the Father. And he intercedes on our behalf from this amazing vantage point (John 14:12-14). Jesus brings our prayers and needs directly to God the Father who cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).

Therefore [Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:25

The Early Church worshipped Jesus as the exalted and glorified Lord. The surviving Christian hymns from the second and third centuries are mostly praises to the exalted and glorified Jesus. Very few are about the cross or Jesus’ suffering.

Heavenly Realms

If we keep looking back at the past event of the crucifixion, our faith may be less powerful than if we are focusing onwards and upwards (Phil. 3:14). I believe that how we see Jesus, whether on the cross or in glory, will affect our prayers and the way we approach God.

How we see ourselves will also affect the way we pray and approach God. Not only has Jesus been exalted to the heavenly realms, but the scriptures tell us that we are somehow there also.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6

We need to raise our thoughts higher. We need to understand the reality that Jesus is the powerful victor over sin and death whose role, right now, is as our mighty intercessor. We need to raise our thoughts to the fact that, right now, we are already citizens of the kingdom of heaven and have some access to the heavenly realms through the Holy Spirit (e.g., Eph. 2:18).

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

Conclusion

Should we place our sins, problems and burdens at the metaphorical (or imaginary) “foot of the cross”? Or should we hand them over to God the Father through the real, resurrected and exalted Jesus Christ?

I am grateful to the Lord Jesus who sees my situations, knows my thoughts and hears my cries—who is able to help me, bless me and love me in ways beyond my understanding and imagination. I can confidently give my prayers and my trust to God the Father, knowing that Jesus is the powerful, effective and loving mediator between myself and God the Father. I don’t want to rely on an imaginary or metaphorical cross when I have a real, heavenly intercessor!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3: 20-21


Disclaimer: I have several Christian friends who, when they pray, mentally place their issues at “the foot of the cross”. They see a sacrificial aspect in placing their sins and burdens at “the foot of the cross”. I am aware of at least one remarkable and quick answer to a prayer request “placed at the foot of the cross”. Thankfully, God’s grace and mercy does not depend on “correct” theology in our prayers. However, the more we truly know God and understand the amazing salvation that is ours, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the more we are able to expect, experience and appreciate all that God has graciously made available for us.


11 thoughts on “At the Foot of the Cross?

  1. Marg, you have given me something to consider. I’ve been a Christian for a long time and never thought of this.

    Is communion an invitation to consider the cross? It kind of works that way for me.

    I have to admit I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus being in heaven, yet of course, that’s where He is!

    Thank you for this.

    1. In Philippians 3:10-11 we hear Paul cry out. “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection likewise to know how to share in his suffering, by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at the resurrection from the dead.”

      In Philippians 4:4 St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always”. In Colossians 1:24 “I rejoice now in the sufferings I bear for your sake”. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16. “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”. These are but a few verses where St Paul instructs us to literally embrace the cross through our trials and learn to offer a sacrifice of praise to our God.

      This exhortation to embrace the cross in our lives seems to many to be complete absurdity. Why would anyone rejoice in suffering, surely this is masochistic?

      In 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 Paul writes. “The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation it is the power of God.”

      The cross is a stumbling block to many. 1 Corinthians 1:23 “But we preach Christ crucified-a stumbling block to Jews and an absurdity to Gentiles.”

      Paul goes onto say in 1 Corinthians 2:2 “I determined that while I was with you I would speak of nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

      Paul sees the graces that are available to us as we embrace the cross. In Col. 1:24 ” Even now I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the church.”

      Is anything lacking in the suffering that Christ endured for you and me? No, nothing is lacking. What Paul is saying is that Christ invites us to share in his suffering by embracing our cross so that we can participate in the work of redemption. He is asking us to assist in the salvation of the world! What an amazing request from Jesus. He the creator of the universe, the second person of the Holy Trinity. God become incarnate, invites us to share in his work of salvation. What a privilege, so why do we waste the trials we will certainly experience in our lives. There are many little difficulties we experience daily and we can join them to Christ’s sufferings especially for those loved ones who have drifted away from the faith. In this way God’s graces are released to turn souls back to God in repentance and to once again embrace Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

      We often tend to focus entirely upon sickness as the only form of suffering, but this is a false understanding. Certainly when sickness comes we can ask God to help us to bear this trial and use it for his glory, but that does not mean that we should not seek medical help and ask God to heal us. A reading of the Gospels shows us the compassion Christ had for the sick in that wherever he went he healed the sick. He told us to do likewise. That is why we pray for the sick and often God chooses to answer our prayers by healing the afflicted.

      Most often the sufferings we bear originate from outside of us in that we can experience rejection or even persecution for our faith in Jesus. A reading of 2 Corinthians:11:24-27 will help us to see what St. Paul endured for the sake of the Gospel. He lists the times he was beaten, scourged, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, knew cold, hunger, exhaustion all so that he could reach as many as possible with the Good news of Jesus Christ.

      So beloved let us learn from St. Paul through this year, who implored us to imitate him as he imitated Christ. 1 Cor. 11:1.

      Then we too will see the victory of the cross in our lives and look forward in blessed hope to the prize which God calls us to, “Life on high in Christ Jesus” (Phil.3:14)

      Peter Thompson.

      1. Embracing the cross and suffering is different to placing our troubles at the cross. They are two entirely different concepts. The first one has a firm biblical basis, the second one does not.

        In a similar vein, everyone who follows Jesus as Lord and Saviour must take up their own cross and live sacrificially and humbly. But this, again, has nothing to do with the idea that we can lay our troubles at the cross.

        Miryam, you are welcome to leave a comment and express your own thoughts. This is preferred to copy and pasting someone else’s thoughts.

  2. Hi Becky,

    I do think of Jesus and his crucifixion. This week I spent some time thinking about it and was struck again by the profound humiliation and degradation of the experience.

    Crucifixion was a shameful, utterly disgraceful way to die. (Roman citizens could not be crucified, only slaves and trouble-makers.) Shame and honour was the social currency at that time, so people strenuously tried to avoid shameful situations. But Jesus willingly allowed himself to experience not only the pain but also the very public humiliation of being crucified – practically naked – on our behalf.

    Jesus and Paul certainly seemed to indicate that we were to remember Jesus sacrifice – his broken body and shed blood – at Communion. Most Communion messages focus primarily on Jesus’ death; however this may not have always been the case. Interestingly, in the Didache (which was a widely used church manual from around 100AD), Jesus’ death is not spoken about in the context of Communion (or the Eucharist). Rather, the Didache gives prayers that are all about thanksgiving. (Eucharist means thanksgiving.) In fact, Jesus death is not mentioned at all in connection with the Eucharist! (Instead there is a referrence to the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand.) The Early Church, unlike us, understood the disgrace of crucifxion. So they focussed on the glorified Jesus.

    I do think it is important to think about all that Jesus has done for us, including his death on the Cross which was the very act that secured our redemption. However, I do believe our prayers should not be directed to the suffering, dying Jesus on the Cross, but to the exalted, triumphant Lord who is seated at the right hand of the Father in power and glory. The reality is that Jesus is now glorified in heaven. Moreover, glorification is what we also look forward to! (Philippians 3:20-21)

    Eric wrote about Communion and the Didache here.

    You may also be interested in my article on The Creed of Philippians 2:6-9 which covers some of the points above.

  3. FYI: Here are the sections from the Didache concerning Communion (or the Eucharist.) At this time Communion was probably a full meal shared by the Christian community; and not a stylised ceremony such as we have today. (Note: No mention of the Cross or Jesus’ death.)

    Personally, I’m not sure what to make of the differences between the Didache’s version of Communion and modern church practises of Communion.

    Didache Chapter 9
    1. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks as follows.
    2. First, concerning the cup: We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant; to you be the glory forever.
    3. And concerning the broken bread: We give you thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant; to you be the glory forever.
    4. Just as this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and then was gathered together and became one, so may your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.
    5. But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.”

    Didache Chapter 10
    1. And after you have had enough, give thanks as follows:
    2. We give you thanks, Holy Father, for your holy name which you have caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant; to you be the glory forever.
    3. You, Almighty Master, created all things for your name’s sake, and gave food and drink to men to enjoy, that they might give you thanks; but to us you have graciously given spiritual food and drink, and eternal life through your servant.
    4. Above all we give thanks because you are mighty; to you be the glory forever.
    5. Remember your church, Lord, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love; and gather it, the one that has been sanctified, from the four winds into your kingdom, which you have prepared for it; for yours is the power and the glory forever.
    6. May grace come, and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let him come; if anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha! Amen.
    7. But permit the prophets to give thanks however they wish.

  4. Yesterday when I took communion I prayed a little bit differently and I thought of Jesus as exalted, in heaven. Thank you for posting the didache above, I found the prayer in Chapter 10 quite inspiring.

    I wonder how many other ways our churchly customs have changed over two thousand plus years?

  5. Christian theology and church customs and practises have changed considerably over the centuries. Mapping these changes makes for an interesting study.

    I’m glad the Didache was helpful. (I thought including it might have been excessive.)

    One thing that disturbs me about the Didache is that its instructions are already moving away from the freedom of the gospel. It regards prophets as priests and seems to exclude women as candidates for leadership ministry. And the Didache was only written at around the turn of the 1st century.

    The more I read early church literature that wasn’t included in the New Testament canon, the more I realise how inspired the New Testament writings are. The New Testament is also remarkably gender-inclusive, especially when compared with the writing of the Early Church Fathers.

  6. There are 2 sides to the cross on one side u see the physical sufferings and pains but the cross also reps redemption grace sanctification…Yes he is not on the cross but we believe in the Power of the cross

  7. Thanks for your comment Trishan. I think we are in agreement.

    I agree that the message of the Cross is powerful (1 Cor 1:17-18). The Cross is where redemption took place. It is the the message of redemption that lives on and is powerful.

    My point is that the Cross, as a real object, no longer exists, and Jesus is no longer on that Cross. Jesus is seated in heaven, and so, when I pray and share my needs with God, I direct my prayers to him in heaven, and not to a Cross that no longer exists.

  8. I believe that those who “lay their burdens at the foot of the cross” are simply using a known metaphor to express the offering of their burdens to Jesus. I think they know that he is not on the cross anymore but has conquered sin and death and sits at the right hand of his Father, our Father, in heaven. I think that they are expressing the gratitude in their hearts that they no longer have to bear those burdens because of what Jesus did for us on that cross. Yes, it is metaphorical, and if it works for their expression of faith and love and gratitude, and it breaks no biblical dictates, then I think it is perfectly okay to lay their burdens at the foot of the cross where Jesus sacrificed himself for them. I can guarantee you that they are looking to their savior in Heaven with as much gratitude and thanksgiving for the risen LORD and His mercy and grace as any of us.

    1. Thank you for your very sensible comment, Csilky. I’m sure you’re right in the case of most people who use the metaphor.

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