(Churchmouse Campanologist‘s 2009 Good Friday entry was ‘The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote’.)
The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. The Revd Paul T McCain of Cyberbrethren discussed it and the significance of its subject matter in a 2009 post entitled ‘A Painting that Preaches Christ’. I hope that you will be able to take the time to read it in full. A few excerpts follow:
The heart of the 16th century Reformation and indeed of the Christian faith, is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ. This is how Luther expresses it in part 2 of the Smalcald Articles…
That Lucas Cranach clearly understood the central teaching of the Lutheran reformation and the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is illustrated by his altar painting at Weimar…
Dominating the painting is Christ on a cross. The amazing message of the Gospel is that by his death, Christ takes away the world’s sin. The message written in Latin on the transparent banner held by the lamb in the centre foreground declares that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). His outstretched arms and generous loincloth are also reminders that He is the world’s Saviour. This was John the Baptist’s message, and John is shown standing underneath the crucified Christ on His left side. With right hand pointing up at Christ on the cross and left hand pointing at the lamb, John is shown proclaiming the meaning of Jesus’ death to Lucas Cranach, the painter. Cranach represents all who believe. A stream of blood from Christ’s pierced side splashes on to this head. It is as the first verse on Luther’s Bible says, “The blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). Therefore like Luther, Cranach also stands confidently.
There is another verse on the open Bible, to which Luther’s finger points directly. It reads, “Therefore let us approach the seat of grace with joyousness, so that we may receive mercy within and find grace in the time when help is needed” (Heb. 4:16). Such approach is possible because Jesus is our victorious high priest. Having paid for sin, He has defeated death and the devil and now lives to intercede for us. Jesus is shown on the painting’s right as the risen One, youthful and full of life, standing on death and the devil, with the staff of his victory flag pushed in the monster’s throat. His gold-edged cloak flows toward the lamb’s banner and the cross. As a result it’s actually both banner and cloak that bear the words, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.
“Believe in God; believe also in me,” the Lord says (Jn 14:1). From this painting His eyes meet ours, inviting us to believe in Him. The other set of eyes that meet ours belong to Cranach, the painter. His feet face in the direction of Christ. But he has turned from his adoration of Christ to look at us also, inviting us to believe and be saved along with him…
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). This, in summary, is the message of the Lutheran reformation and of its foremost artists, Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger.
At Refocusing Our Eyes, Holly Dye posted an essay by Calvinist musician and writer Steve Camp (see CampOnThis in my Blogroll) entitled ‘Removing the Offense of the Cross’. Camp urges us to drop the moralistic therapeutic deism of our postmodern era and to get serious about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Excerpts follow from this powerful post:
Listen, Jesus Christ isn’t anybody’s “spiritual Pez dispenser” that we can turn into whomever we choose by repackaging Him in order for Him and His message to relate to our lost world. He is not to be trifled with. He is God incarnate, beloved, and He must be reckoned with in His virgin birth, His sinless life, His gospel of sola fide, His once for all death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension, His reign as King and Mediator at the right hand of the throne of God.
He is not asking you to accept Him, fall in love with Him, shower bouquets of flowers at His feet, bring Him candy, or date Him. He is not proposing to you or asking you to marry Him.
He is commanding you to repent of your sins; submit to Him as Lord of your life; forsake all other loves and all other claims to eternal life; to come to the end of yourself; believe solely in Him; take up your cross and follow Him.
You don’t have the luxury or His permission to turn Him into a passive, effeminate Divine lover who can only beg, but cannot elect.
Some represent God as a powerless lover, bending His sovereign knee proposing marriage to sinful man, begging him to accept Him as their Savior; rather than picturing sinful man bending the knee before a holy God crying out for mercy that his sins be forgiven in repentance to inherit eternal life and be given saving faith to confess Jesus Christ as Lord unto salvation. Which picture of God and man do you present?
Do you proclaim Jesus as your divine Pez dispenser or do you proclaim Him as the only hope of salvation… as Sovereign Lord?
Is the cross just a trinket that you wear?
Has your presentation of the gospel removed the offense of the cross or do you preach “Jesus Christ and Him crucified…”
We must get this right–this is not a game.
Cranmer’s Curate, Church of England vicar Julian Mann, is committed to orthodox Anglicanism. Like Steve Camp, Mann also urges us to approach Jesus’s death and resurrection properly. In ‘Gospel for Blogging Prima Donnas’, he says:
The common theme is the wrong and right responses to the revelation of God’s eternal Kingdom through the Cross of Christ and His bodily resurrection in space-time history.
The wrong responses are 1). a failure to grasp the centrality of the Cross to our acceptance into God’s eternal Kingdom and 2). an arrogant obsession with our place in the pecking order of this transient and fleeting world.
The right responses are 1). a godly desire to serve those who like us depend completely on the Lord Jesus Christ’s gift of forgiveness through His Cross and its eternal validation through His resurrection and 2). a godly concern and support for those who are excercising a child-like dependence on the Lord Jesus because they realise that they can never earn God’s approval through their achievements.
The Revd John Corapi, who is well known to EWTN viewers, tells us that we have a spiritual and secular battle to fight. In order to win this battle, which is constantly ongoing, we must return to prayer and penance: ‘Don’t wait for a bishop to tell you!’ We also need to remember the importance of the Cross, which as the other priest in this video notes, is absent from many of today’s Catholic churches. For more, please watch ‘Fr Corapi and Corruption in the Church’, especially at the 6:00 and 9:00 markers. I hope you will be able to view this 10-minute video in its entirety, however, as it has many urgent messages about the Catholic — and Christian — life today:
In closing, I recommend reading blogger Anna Wood’s post, ‘To Know the Cross’, which is ideal for our postmodern world. You won’t want to miss reading it in full. Here’s a preview:
We think we know the Cross:
A payment for our sin, a debt we could never pay;
For this Jesus was whipped and spat upon and abused.
We’ve heard it so many times so we say it without flinching;
reciting as if from memory: first this, then that, and, oh yes, finally He died.
We say it and then easily move on to another subject.
“Jesus died for us…oh, isn’t that a pretty dress?”
“Jesus died for our sins…yes! I loved that movie!”
“Jesus died. I’m tired. Are you ready to go?”
Are we really so devoid of feeling, of understanding?
The Son of God died bearing my sin.
My sin. MINE.
Do we even understand that?
Do we have a clue just what that means?
Do we have any inkling how horrible this good news is?
The Son of God…died…for me…because of me!
And, yet, I can so easily turn away and get engaged in something else,
talk about something else, do something else
without even giving it a second thought …
Look at what we say:
“Jesus died so that I might live.”
“Jesus gave His life so that I can live in heaven one day.” …
The Cross has become all about us!
The Cross was, is and will always be about me.
The Cross was, is and will always be mine.
It wasn’t just the Romans who put Jesus on the Cross.
It wasn’t just the Jews who called for His death.
My sins put Him on that Cross.
I called for His death.
Oh, yes, even I …
Please don’t miss reading the rest of Anna’s intensely honest meditation today of all days, Good Friday.