A couple years ago we had a season in South Korea. Upon our arrival my children immediately noticed that their Grandpa had hung this beautiful transparent poster of Christ crucified upon a glass door. What took place after this was the most remarkable thing to me. In the morning, just upon waking, my children go over to it and without a word just stare for minutes at a time. It was as if they would fall into the great abyss of the crucifixion speechless and in awe. Throughout the day, without explanation they would return and look. Dumbstruck, I would watch on with tears in my eyes and ask for the same intrigue… the same wonder to overtake me that was so consuming to them.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
-The Apostle Paul
This scripture has been paramount in my life for a little over ten years. I return to it often in order to reset my own system with the system of the apostle. Something of a simultaneous reckoning takes place and I rewire my mind back to this specific purpose to know only Christ and him crucified. In order to do so, I often need to cut some wires that have begun crowding the electrical box of my mind and heart. I yank them out and I throw them away. Then I pray… I pray that this one wire of Christ and Him crucified would again be plugged into the mainframe of my mind and heart and carried out in my own will and emotions. I determine within myself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that this would be the consuming flood of purpose carrying my life along on its waters until we reach that glorious beach of resurrection. As a fencing champion relinquishing his sword in the midst of the battle I surrender.
When a man determines to do something he is set on the goal until it is accomplished. Paul does not mistakenly use this language here. For him this is exactly what has taken place within him as he testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live…” (Gal. 2:20). We cannot all say that the same is true for us.
The determination we see within the apostle can actually be quite unfamiliar to the daily routine of our lives. And yet this is not something we can just add to our routine – no, it is far more consuming than that, far more detrimental to our pretty little worlds. Quite the opposite, we must die to our routine, and it, and us, must also become crucified with Christ so that the life we live in the flesh we live in the Son of God. It is all consuming and all encompassing and requires our certain crucifixion. It is as if you are standing on the brink of a sinkhole and wondering how deep it is when all you see is black.
Yet this tunnel is the tunnel with the most glorious light at its end.
The light at the end of that abyss is the hope of becoming lost in Christ alone, while being yet found. There is only Christ, and Him crucified there. As His followers we must all jump in!
In jumping we do not allow this determination to remain a vague spiritualized idea. This determination must pass from idea to form as the clay was transformed into man by the hand of God in the garden. We must allow the breath of His Spirit to breathe into us again and raise us up from the dirt, that we might be pushed down into it again…. and again, just as He was. To know Christ and Him crucified is to allow Him to reciprocate our own crucifixion.
But no one likes to die!
This is certain. Dying is not something that is nostalgic. It happens once and you do not experience it again… unless of course you are the wicked who die a second death, or the apostle who dies every single day. “I die daily.” Paul’s words resound from 1 Corinthians 15, a reverberating echo, having ridden the shockwave through the chapters stemming from where we have started in chapter 2.
For Paul, death was nostalgic.
Every day he relived his death that was bound up inside the body of Christ on the Cross. When his flesh began to live again, then death was nostalgic, as he crucified Paul’s motives to the crossbeam and allowed Christ’s to live. We peer into the coffin of the apostle often as he tells the truth of his state: God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10We are fools for Christ’s sake… we are weak… we are without honor. 11To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
Here is death… and yet here is life.
Indeed the funeral dirge is sounding in this genuine list of apostolic accolades. Each title is dressed in black as the spiritual morgue continues filling with true apostles. Before any man can claim to be apostolic, I have to see proof of this resume in his life––not his PhDs or MBAs. The apostle is living as one who is dead and this is equally how he perceives himself and the world perceives him. His life is lived calling out from the coffin of who he was, as he re-buries himself daily allowing the resurrected power of Christ to keep his body of death in the ground while the testimony of Christ walks on before him.
There is an odd requital at work in determining to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, in that, when you determine to only know only this, you are actually determining to know many other things. Namely, meekness, humility, kindness, servility, mercy – and the list goes on. It is in fact these very things that are pre-filling Messiah and driving Him to so willingly to lay down His life on the cross––to become crucified. If He was not these very things, our Gospel story would be avidly different, most likely having its termination point in a radical zealot Jesus who overthrew the Roman armies, instead of a man crucified by them. When a man then determines to know only Him and His crucifixion, the man is determining to know and become the attributes that gave Jesus the humility to be led as a Lamb to the slaughter. And rest assured, the Lamb will again come as the Lion King (and I don’t mean Sinba).
There is also theology to consider when we determine to know Christ. A commonly used phrase that drives me wild is, “Just Jesus man!” What people typically mean by this is: You don’t need a bunch of theology, Jesus is enough. This is interesting because theology simply means “What man knows about God.” The person who says, “Just Jesus brother!” has a belief system about the Jesus he speaks of, and it is his own theology. Being introduced to Jesus without theology is one thing, and it happens often, but worshipping Jesus in Spirit and truth without theology is not possible. We all have a theology, it’s simply what we think we know about God. It is actually irresponsible to leave vague definition to what we believe about God. It does Him and His Son a disservice. It equally does the person a disservice because they can remain in this odd state of immaturity for years thinking, “Just Jesus man!” However, as a large ship with a small rudder, the right theology directs our ship to Messiah–– Who He is, and what He is going to do, and instructs us to be like Him.
Jesus is perfect theology, and in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… (Col. 2:3).
Our New Testament starts with the sentence: The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, son of Abraham. This is one of the most incredible statements in the entire New Testament and one that strangely often means hardly anything to “Christians.” On a couple occasions, that one verse has been read to orthodox Jews and the response is outrage. Impossible! They shout. Because this phrase is one of the most powerful things the Bible can say about a person. This one verse speaks volumes about the person it is addressing. This great alarm sounds the warning for the reader to return to the 39 books prior and understand what it means to be the Son of David and Abraham. It provokes us to understand Jesus through a theology found in the Old Testament.
To determine to know Christ is undoubtedly determining to know the Scriptures that tell us the most about Him. This Man’s story begins in Genesis, not Matthew, and to understand what Paul means by knowing Christ, we must know the same words Paul knew because the New Testament did not exist was not something Paul read to learn about Jesus, it was what Paul wrote in regards to what the Old Testament had taught Him about Jesus. The glorious abyss of finding Christ in the TaNaKh, is to behold the heirloom of Jesus beauty, the embryo of His person. It is actually very interesting that Matthew doesn’t start his gospel by saying Jesus was the Son of God. His point is being based from the Scriptures of Genesis 12-22, and 2 Samuel 7 which are God’s covenant words regarding the promised one of Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpents head.
The other process taking place in 1 Cor. 2:2 is that the apostle has also determined to know nothing else. This is a hard one to swallow. I have often knelt in prayer and asked the Lord to help me know nothing else except Christ and Him crucified. Then, within fifteen minutes I am often determining to know something else… usually something worldly like the news or social media. I don’t have the answer for this I blatantly confess! It remains an odd mystery to me that Paul could use such a blanket statement. It gives me hope to know that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul was telling the truth because He was writing inspired of God. Therefore I let this resolve, this overwhelming determination, consume me, teach me, reprove me, correct me, and train me in righteousness––I am ok with knowing nothing else.
When I was a boy I was determined to fly jet-fighters. There was a peace that would overtake my childhood mind as I pondered what the earth would look like from up there. I imagined the quiet amidst the roaring engines of that metal bird. I longed to rest in-flight between heaven and earth. This dream, albeit concocted from youthful naivety, was a pillar of determination in my mind. I am now 35 and have never seen the inside of a jet-fighter. You know why? Because determining to fly jet-fighters meant determining to learn many other things for many years. The idea of flying was fantastic and yet I have never flown because I was not determined enough to undergo the many challenges this determination would produce.
Determining to know Christ and Him crucified is similar. It is one thing to read the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels and think I determine to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It is another thing altogether to relate to Him in His sufferings… to undergo a crucifixion of your own… to actually lay down your life and relate to Him there befuddled of knowledge unrelated to Him. Many times, a meek response can be a level of suffering. Other times suffering can be serving undeserving people or your enemies. At times, suffering can be having your life and actions completely overlooked or disregarded. Rest assured, many of us who choose to determine this will experience these things and more as preparation for the glorious day we meet Him there in the place of enduring physical pain and possibly torture and death as we become like Him in His death…
…and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10-11).
My dad, who was a pilot, once told me that flying an airplane is like flying an iron dinosaur through the air. “It’s loud and clunky,” he said. “The birds… they are the ones that really fly!” He then talked about “heaven” and with glossed-over eyes would imagine the day he would spread out his own arms and fly. I am long past the age of being able to fly that jet-fighter but I am young in the hope of flying in the resurrection of the righteous! I am connecting new wires that support who Christ is, and still cutting old ones that divert attention to other things. I am resolving that my determination remain steadfastly fixed upon Messiah and Him crucified. As scary as it is, I want to draw near to Him in the fellowship of His sufferings and be conformed to His death. I want to stumble through the darkness of that pit, bleeding, weeping, and following in His footsteps only emerge into that light at the end of the tunnel and hear, “Well done…”
The joy that will be ours on that day will pale in comparison to the sufferings we endured in this life. Take hold of that hope and plow on!
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” -The Apostle Paul