Joining the Failure of the Cross

“We need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ. And his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure. The failure of the cross.”

Pope Francis recently made that comment in a speech in New York City. And some people aren’t happy about it. After all, we don’t do well with failure. The idea of God failing is something that (rightfully) makes us all uncomfortable.

But it happened.

The God of the Universe was hung on a cross and killed like a common criminal. He was degraded and oppressed and killed. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t romantic.

It was ugly. It was death. And from a human perspective, it was failure.

But God does his best work in failure.

The Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. Many scholars believe that the passage is not wholly original to Paul, but is an early Christian hymn that Paul appropriates into his teaching on unity. Regardless of where it originates, it’s one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament in its description of the nature of Christ in his role as a servant in the New Testament.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

The defeat of the cross may make us uncomfortable, but it’s only after that defeat that God was able to bring about his exaltation. The failure of the cross became the victory of the resurrection. For the resurrection to have any power at all, it has to be preceded by the failure of the cross. So in the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2, Paul unapologetically frames the human Christ as lowly and weak – because that’s where God works best.

But us uncomfortable as the failure and defeat of God on the Cross may be, that’s not the hardest part about this passage for me.

The hardest thing about this passage is that Christ Jesus isn’t the only one called into weakness and humility. Paul opens the hymn with a call for all of us to emulate that.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Christ, who was God incarnate, but who became the lowest of the low to serve all of humanity.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

Christ, who welcomed the weak, and cared for the foreigner, and embraced the traitor. Who did not seek vengeance or justice for himself, but who came to serve and love those who did not deserve it.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Christ, who could have stayed in community with the Father, and left us all to pursue God by futilely attempting to keep the commands of the Law, but who entered into our struggles and bore them alongside us.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Christ, who shared in human nature – all of human nature. Who became the embodiment of those he ministered to. Who did not minister from afar, but entered into relationship with real people, even when they didn’t deserve it. Even when they rejected him. Even when they didn’t want to follow him when he was done.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Christ, who had every reason to boast in his own strength and power, who had every ability to impose his will on the people he came across, but who allowed those people to impose their will on him instead.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Christ, who became so submissive to God, that he allowed that submission to lead him to death in the most excruciating way possible, because his love for us was greater than his fear of persecution or death.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Christ, who died as a criminal on the cross, a failure by every human standard, because without weakness and defeat, there could be no victory in God.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Because it’s in that service and submission that Christ becomes Lord. It’s because of that weakness that Christ could become strong. It’s because of his willingness to enter into death, that he could be raised up. It’s because he became servant of all  that he could become Lord of all.

The hope of Christianity is in the paradox of the Sovereign King of the Universe, who reveals his strength through weakness. Who overcomes death by letting himself be taken by it. Who reveals his glory by embracing disgrace. Who is exalted through humiliation. Who wins by losing.

Which is what makes it so profound, so powerful, and so unbelievably scary when Paul says those words.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

One thought on “Joining the Failure of the Cross

  1. This post needs to be preached! No offense to your writing, it’s brilliant! But as I read the second half of this post Dr. Jerry Taylor was preaching it louder and louder! I kept shouting, Amen!” in my head.


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