by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
The “books” of the Bible comprise what is known as the “canon of scripture,” from the Greek word “kanon,” which means, among other things, “standard.” The canon was pretty well established by the end of the fourth century; but before the Bible existed as we know it today, there were many “books” and writings that were considered scripture. In the Christian era, some claim to have been authored by some of the first apostles, including the “gospels” of Thomas, James, Bartholomew, Philip, and Peter. These writings didn’t make it into the canon for various reasons and are not considered to be scripture.
One such example, the gospel of Peter, appears to have been written in about 150 AD, many years after the epistles attributed to Peter were written (1 & 2 Peter) and after the apostle Peter himself had died a martyr. However, there is one fascinating aspect to its account of the resurrection, given here from M. R. James’ 1924 translation (see http://wesley.nnu.edu/noncanon/gospels/gospete.htm): “When therefore those soldiers saw that, they waked up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping watch); and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other (lit. the one), and a cross following, after them. . . . And they heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.”
In this passage, the cross itself comes to life! It moves. It speaks. The whole thing sounds like an animated Easter special on television: “The Cross That Came to Life!” Fanciful? Absolutely. Possible? Well, “. . . nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37b NIV). And Matthew writes that the dead came out of their tombs and, after the resurrection, went into the city proclaiming Jesus as messiah (Matt. 27:52-53). But likely? Not really. The “gospel” of Peter was quoted by some Christian writers during the latter half of the second century; the implication is that there were at least some people who were actually prepared to believe that the cross of Calvary had come to life. But among other things, if it were true, the other “canonical” gospels would reflect it and they don’t. There is a sense, though, in which the cross “came to life.” Before Christ’s resurrection, the cross was a symbol of death, much as a gallows is today. But when Christians see a cross, we don’t think merely of death but of life. Eternal life. The cross represents both the life of Christ and the eternal life he purchased for us through his death and resurrection. An object of death became imbued with life. It was there that he purchased our salvation. With his resurrection, Christ transformed the cross forever from a symbol of death to a symbol of life, and he transforms us from death to life. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things . . .” (1 Cor. 1:27-28a NIV).
God “chose the lowly things of this world” to show God’s power and God’s love. Things like a cross. Things like you and me. When we “survey the wondrous cross,” we see death. But we also see life: new life in Christ, eternal life. We were dead in sin but God has made us alive through Christ (Eph. 2:1-5). We can “come to life.” We can live for Christ, and Christ can live in us. We owe it to someone to share the reality of this life, this wondrous cross, with him or her today.
“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”
“His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.”
(“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” vs. 1 & 4, Isaac Watts)
Copyright © 2004 by David Phelps