To The Cross, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.
Summary: Transcripts of five expository messages on gospel passages pertaining to the passion and death of Christ.
In the season of Lent, one of the things I try to do along with some kind of fast is to read some kind of reflection on the death and resurrection of Christ. This collection of five messages drawn from five passages representing all four of the canonical gospels met this goal perfectly and brought fresh light to familiar passages. In this case, the table of contents is helpful for seeing the ground Wright covers:
1. The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-30
2. Peter’s Denial: Matthew 26:69-75
3. Insults and Paradise: Luke 23:26-43
4. From Darkness to Light: Mark 15:33-39
5. It Is Finished: John 19:28-37
Appendix: Preparing to Proclaim
There were some fresh insights. Wright argues persuasively that Judas was probably seated in one of the two seats of honor, allowing John, in the other, to overhear the conversation Jesus has with him. It signifies the great love Jesus had for Judas, and the hope that even at this hour, Judas might be turned from betrayal
Wright summarizes Luke 23:26-43 in terms of “Four scenes full of scripture,” “Three last temptations full of irony,” and “Two last sayings full of hope” (“Father, forgive them” and “today you will be with me in paradise.”). One sees here the strong heritage of biblical exposition at All Souls, Langham Place, where Wright preached these messages. This was the parish long served by John R. W. Stott, and Wright carries on this tradition in messages like these, as well as his work with the Langham Partnership dedicated to carrying on the work of John Stott in training ministers in biblical preaching.
A message that connected with me and may for many is his study of Peter’s denial in Matthew 26:69-75. He helps us both see ourselves in Peter, and find hope. Here are a couple excerpts:
There, on the one hand, is Jesus—in danger of losing his life, and yet he stands firm under threats before the highest authorities in the land. And there, on the other hand, is Peter—in danger of probably not very much except embarrassment and possibly a bit of a beating, but he gives way in front of nothing more than a couple of servant girls.
There, on the one hand, is Jesus—put on oath to speak the truth about himself, and he does so. And there, on the other hand, is Peter—calling down oaths in order to deny the truth about himself and Jesus.
. . .
How do we respond, not only to what this story tells us about Peter, but also to what it tells us for ourselves? Why has Matthew reported it? Why have all the Gospels reported this story? I think it tells us three things, at the least: failure is a fact, failure is foreseen, and failure is forgiven.
There was one other insight that I had not thought about that Wright draws from the words of John 19:30, in the last message of this collection:
“John makes one last observation about the inner consciousness of Jesus: ‘With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ That is quite deliberate language. John means that Jesus did not just expire. He did not just lose consciousness. He did not even just lose his life. Jesus gave up his life. This was his moment, it was his active choice, and he was conscious of making that choice, finishing the task he had come to do.”
You might have noted in the table of contents that there is an Appendix on “Preparing to Proclaim.” In this section, Wright takes us into his study and shares both some general practices he uses in study and preparation of messages, and how he developed the outline and content of each particular message in this collection. Having prepared many messages, I enjoyed looking over the shoulder of another for what I could learn. Even if you do not preach, this will help you know something of the practices of any pastor who tries to carefully exposit scripture.
This is a great collection for personal reflection, group study, or for those who might give messages on some of these same texts. These messages take me from the last supper to the foot of the cross, and leave me in wonder and praise, saying, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.