Jesus of Nazareth remains the most important individual who has ever lived. Nobody else has had comparable influence over so many nations for so long. Nobody else has so affected art and literature, music and drama. Nobody else can remotely match his record in the liberation, the healing and the education of mankind. Nobody else has attracted such a multitude not only of followers but of worshippers. ¶ And nobody else has been subjected to such intense and prolonged critical study. After more than two hundred years of detailed examination and argument, many of the critical issues remain astonishingly open. The high-water mark of scepticism has receded somewhat. It is no longer assumed without question that nothing orthodox can be true. But certain emphases, methodologies and presuppositions, common in New Testament studies, are widely held to militate against the reliability of the picture of Jesus presented to us by the documents. There is a rumour abroad that in these days of redaction criticism it is neither proper nor necessary to ask what actually happened, and that the Jesus of history is indistinguishable behind the Christ of faith.
I quickly found that the exposition of the hard sayings of Jesus is a difficult and responsible task; yet I am glad that I undertook it, for it has proved specially rewarding. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, but his sayings are often hard because they run counter to well-entrenched presuppositions and traditional assumptions about life and human relations. When they are hard for this reason, I hope I have not made them easier, for that would be to obscure their meaning.
The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.
Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend — man can sympathize with a horse but a horse cannot sympathize with a rat. Only One has descended into Hell.
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death — we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time — death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.