Sitting across the table from me, he picks up a crumpled napkin. Amid our lively conversation, my friend—who is a pastor—explains his sermon preparation. He is brilliant and creative, deeply concerned with the Bible and why it matters to his congregation. Flattening out the napkin, he writes an X in one corner to represent the biblical text. Then he draws a giant cross in the middle of the square. Finally he adds an arrow moving from the X to and through the cross. Whether preaching from Ecclesiastes or Philemon, he explains, “after I sit with a text for a while, I always ask, how does the cross relate to this?”

The napkin cross is a fruitful approach to sermon-writing. As Christians, we believe that all of the Bible points to Christ and that he, as the focus of the Scriptures, gives us the best vantage point for understanding what the sacred writings are about. More specifically, if the cross is the focal point of Christ’s life and work, then interpreting a text through that focus seems like a good idea. Here we see the love of the Father at work, forgiving our sins and reconciling us to himself. The apostle Paul tells us that he preaches only Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1–2). He makes it clear he will never boast in anything but the cross (Gal 6:14). So, we’re good, right? If we have the cross, what could possibly be missing?

This cross-centered viewpoint shows us a lot. But if we go by the Bible, it doesn’t go far enough. The New Testament doesn’t end its account of Jesus’ work with a description of his burial. Instead, it makes quite a big deal of Easter. Limiting our interpretations to the cross is like a golf swing with no follow-through: The ball doesn’t ...

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