When most Christians consider the cross, they think of the debt, not the deposit. They believe it was the unconditional payoff they so longed for, like having a stranger walk into their bank and pay off every credit card and mortgage they had foolishly accrued. Suddenly, their long-standing balance of bondage and debt read zero. But that is only part of the picture.
The same stranger who paid our debt did one other thing before leaving the bank. He handed the teller a cash deposit earmarked with our account number. And the amount he deposited was so enormous, we now have enough to live like a king for the rest of eternity. We went from bankruptcy to royalty in one deposit.
I had never considered the cross as an organizational map for ministry, until recently. But now it has become the driving design behind my ministry and the primary way to define the purpose of our church.
Four scenes in the crucifixion account are worthy of our consideration. Contained within the picture of the cross is everything we need to know about the heart of God and the mission of the church.
1. Upward life. The first purpose of the believer is his or her relationship with God. This was powerfully illustrated by Jesus' upward prayer relationship with the Father as He hung from the cross. It was that strong upward relationship that sustained Him through His trials and sufferings on the cross. It will be that same upward relationship with the Father that will sustain believers through their trials and sufferings.
Our primary purpose is to help introduce people to the Lord and then mature them in their upward relationships with God by helping them cultivate a strong personal devotional life.
2. Inward life. The thief being crucified at the right side of Jesus was the one who believed. He represents the second purpose of the church, which is inward love. Jesus told the thief, "'Today you shall be with Me in Paradise'" (Luke 23:43, NKJV). Those words of inclusion hold the keys to the inward love of Christ. By those words, Jesus gave the man instant belonging ("today") and inheritance ("Paradise").
3. Outward life. A different picture emerges as we consider the other thief being crucified opposite the one who believed in Jesus. He was the one who rejected the message, yet he became the object of Christ's outward reach.
This man represents the lost culture around us who have not yet accepted the message of Christ. Jesus still loves them. He still has a message for them: "'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'" (Luke 23:24).
Every ministry must ask, "How can we reach outward with the compassion of Christ to those who have not yet comprehended the love of God?"
4. Forward life. The final scene involved five mourners at the foot of the cross. These people represented the future of the church. They were the forward focus of the cross.
Men such as John the Beloved, women such as Mary Magdalene, and others were at the foot of the cross. They would soon be launched forward by the Holy Spirit into joyous personal destiny. They were Christ's investment into the future.
Every church must have an aggressive eye and hand toward the future by maturing and releasing new generations into relevant roles of influence.
The cross clearly illustrates the four passions of kingdom ecclesia: spiritual formation, unconditional belonging, passionate reaching and mass multiplication. My prayer is that every ministry partner at my church will know how to draw a simple cross on a napkin and walk people through these four scenes in five minutes over lunch. We have found it unlocking new seasons of purpose, both personally and corporately. I pray it becomes useful to you as well.