The cross is not simply about rescue but also about restoration. The cross is not primarily about escape from some future punishment but rather about healing our relationship with God. Christ’s death brings us back into communion with our Creator: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18, emphasis added). This restored relationship means that everything has changed.
When sin broke the world, the first thing broken was our connection with our Creator. That was the rupture from which all other evil flowed. By healing this relationship, Jesus isn’t only working some Godward spiritual renewal (although he is doing that) but is also beginning a process that flows out into every aspect of our brokenness. Shattered relationships with others, a scarred planet, and even our own internal shame and crooked hearts can all begin to be addressed because we have been brought back into right relationship with our heavenly Father.
Christ’s death calls us into new life: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). Notice the three things that all fit together there: Jesus dies a substitutionary death for us (”He himself bore our sins”); we have new relationship with God (we have “returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls”); and therefore we are invited into a new life, one in which we might “live to righteousness.” The cross is a symbol of substitution that leads, by way of reconciliation, to transformation of our lives and ultimately of the world.
Or, to put it another way: You cannot separate Crucifixion and Resurrection. We cannot grasp the idea of restoration without speaking of Christ’s rising: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Since we have died with Christ, so we now live in him: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Sometimes Christians focus on Jesus dying without discussing the reality that he rose again. This failure is part of why we feel puzzled by the Christian calling of obedience. Neglecting resurrection also robs us of one of the essential promises Scripture offers when we consider our own suffering and grief.
Manifesting the Life of Christ
The Bible talks about the death and resurrection of Jesus in ways we aren’t accustomed to. We focus on their products—what they do for us. The Bible, while it celebrates what we receive from resurrection, also speaks of participation. We are a part of Christ’s suffering; we are a part of his new life. His suffering and resurrection are not just something done for us; they are also something we are invited into.
Paul speaks of our “carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:10) and “bear[ing] on [his] body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Peter calls us to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13). These ideas come from Jesus himself, who pictures his cross as not only an object of our salvation but also a part of our calling: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
What sort of suffering do these texts have in mind? Certainly, they focus on suffering that occurs because of our commitment to Christ. Peter is addressing people facing religious persecution in his first letter. However, that is not always the case. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, pictures the “death of Jesus” we are “always carrying” as including all kinds of weakness, including the simple fact of our own mortality (2 Corinthians 4:7-11). Later in that same letter, when he recounts his suffering as an apostle, he includes the full gamut of troubles that show his weakness, not only those resulting from human opposition to the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). The concern in Scripture seems to be less with a specific category of suffering as with a specific position of the sufferer, that of being “in Christ.” When we belong to Jesus, we can view any hardship as sharing in his cross.
Remember what we said earlier about finding our purpose in the glory of God. When pursuing such a God-exalting purpose, even our afflictions become channels for grace and hope. My wife speaks of “stewarding our suffering,” treating it as an opportunity, living it out in a way that ministers to others rather than withdrawing from or growing bitter toward them. She’s right—and purpose is not the only thing we find in suffering. As we see our suffering joined to Christ’s, we also have hope that the life of his resurrection will come into the world through us. Paul tells us that we are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10). Think about that. Something in us is dying so that the resurrection of Jesus can blossom in our lives as well. Death, when it dwells in bodies united with Christ, is transformed into life.
The cross and resurrection are the pattern for and the power through which God works in our lives. This is Paul’s insistence in Romans 8: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:32-34). We see God’s love for us embodied in Christ who died and rose again. This Jesus is our advocate in heaven. However, this Jesus is also the source of Paul’s promise that, despite tribulation and distress, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Despite the way certain self-help gurus abuse it, being “more than conquerors” is not an attitude of positivity. Rather, it is the reality of what we have in Jesus. He conquers death through his dying-and-rising, and that conquest becomes ours, as we belong to him. He is at work in our hardship to bring us through such trials and turn the death contained in them into life.
This same idea lies behind Paul’s famous statement earlier in Romans 8 that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul is not dismissing our pain. He is not denying the real evil we experience. Neither is he claiming that any individual trial can be simplistically explained as being alright because of some good result. “All things together” are in view; the tapestry of life as a whole is being woven in God’s sovereign design. And in that tapestry, Paul promises, God is working ultimate good. Our broken hearts and circumstances, just like Jesus’ broken body hanging bloody from that tree, can—through God’s mighty power—be raised into something life-giving.
Excerpted from Either Way, We’ll Be All Right: An Honest Explanation of God In Our Grief by Eric Tonjes. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.