Cross+Culture: A Look at the Cross, Culture, Example and Impact of Jesus

In a world focused much on racial tensions and social injustices, culture, cross culture and cross-cultural are hot topics of discussion and consideration. Yet even more significant and life-changing is the real cross+culture of Jesus Christ. Let’s take a closer look at the cross and culture of Jesus, His example of cross+culture, and how these impact every nation, tribe, people and tongue in history.

Understanding the Terms

First, let’s try to establish a basic understanding of the now commonly used terms culture, cross culture and cross-cultural.


One definition of culture is “a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Culture is symbolic communication.”[1]

As noted in an online Live Science article, Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, explains, “Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things.”[2]

The Live Science article goes on to say, “The word ‘culture’ derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin ‘colere,’ which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture. ‘It shares its etymology with a number of other words related to actively fostering growth,’ De Rossi said.”[3]

Cross Culture and Cross-Cultural

In the business world, cross culture “refers to a company’s efforts to ensure that its people interact effectively with professionals from backgrounds different from their own. Like the adjective cross-cultural, it implies a recognition of national, regional, and ethnic differences in manners and methods and a desire to bridge them.” [4]

In regard to the focus of culture fostering growth within a cross culture environment, this need for cultivation and nurture becomes especially important yet incredibly complex when it involves moving across two or more cultures (and multiple aspects of those cultures).

Cross-Cultural Jesus

Speaking of cross culture holistically, Jesus was the epitome of cross-cultural values, actions and lifestyle.

In an interview about her book, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart, Christena Cleveland explains how she sees a consistent cross-cultural theme within the heart and actions of Jesus: “It seems that everything Jesus did was cross-cultural: the Incarnation, his meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people, his ability to speak to people in a way that affirmed their specific culture, the Cross.”[5]

The Cross of Jesus

As described by Cleveland, “The cross, of course, is the epicenter of cross-cultural relationships. The cross is all about Jesus sticking his neck out for people who have problems that are nothing like his own. So we know that when Jesus says, ‘I’m going to send my Spirit,’ we should have expected that the first thing the Spirit would do is say, ‘Let’s go be cross-cultural, everybody! This is what I’m about. I’m the Spirit of Jesus. This is what Jesus is about.’”[6]

To the Apostle Paul, the cross of Jesus was a paradigm of faithfulness to God and a symbol rich with meaning. As described by Richard B. Hays in The Moral Vision of the New Testament,

The cross is a complex symbol in Paul’s thought-world, encoding a rich variety of meanings. The cross signifies the pivot-point of the ages, the place where Christ took “the curse of the law” upon himself (Gal. 3:13) so that blessing might accrue to the Gentiles, the ultimate demonstration of God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:24-26) and God’s love (Rom. 5:8), the event in which God acted for the redemption of the world. It is the mystery that confutes human wisdom and shames human power (1 Cor. 1:21-31).[7]

Additionally, Hays presents the cross as the second of three focal images (including community, cross, and new creation) that “can focus and guide our reading of the New Testament texts with respect to ethical issues.”[8]

Hays further describes how Jesus’ death on the cross is interpreted as an act of self-giving love, and how the community of believers are “called to take up the cross and follow in the way that his death defines.”[9]

The Culture of Jesus

Similar to today’s world, the various cultures and ways of life during Jesus’ earthly life were filled with racial tensions and social injustices. Yet Jesus pushed past the cultural norms, including social stigmas and self-seeking use of power, choosing instead to love, serve and sacrifice.

Cleveland describes Jesus’ example of crossing various social boundaries of cultures: “And then even as Jesus was on earth, as a human, as a male, Galilean, somewhat-upwardly mobile person who owned a business, he still hung out with women, and he hung out with people who weren’t as upwardly mobile, and he hung out with people who weren’t Galilean.”[10]

Regarding the use of power, Jesus voluntarily moved down the established Roman power and social structure in order to lift up others. This was in sharp contrast to the Roman impulse to climb up the social/power ladder, often at the expense and suffering of others. Rather, “Christ lets the Father exalt him into the seat of honor.”[11]


The intersecting of the cross of Jesus and crossing into other cultures for the sake of the gospel is what I call cross+culture

Jesus’ Example

Jesus provides the model and perfect example of cross+culture through his way of death and his way of life.

Through the cross, Jesus lays down his own life as the holy sacrifice for all sins. His way of death and sacrificial love births new life and eternal hope through his resurrection.

Then he becomes the way, truth and life for all people: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’”[12]

Through culture, Jesus demonstrates a way of life that pushes past social norms and uses his power to love, serve and sacrifice for the sake of others.

As noted by Cleveland, Jesus uses power in unexpected ways: “Rather than using his power to distance himself from us, Jesus uses it to approach us. He follows his own commandment to love your neighbor as yourself—often to his detriment, I might add—by pursuing us with great tenacity in spite of our differences. He jumps a lot of hurdles to reach us.”[13]

Following Jesus’ Example

By following Jesus and his example of cross+culture, we can experience cultivated and nurtured growth in our relationship with God as well as in our cross-cultural relationships.

Cleveland describes how this cross+culture (my term) are key components of following Jesus and growing in our faith:

People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross. Discipleship is cross-cultural. When we meet Jesus around people who are just like us and then continue to follow Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division. However, when we’re rubbing elbows in Christian fellowship with people who are different from us, we can learn from each other and grow more like Christ. Like iron sharpens iron.[14]

Cleveland describes her own growth while following Jesus’ example and teachings: “By examining the Gospels, I’ve discovered that a significant part of following Jesus involves caring about people whose experiences, cultural backgrounds and problems are nothing like my own.”[15]

Regarding the three New Testament focal images (community, cross, new creation) introduced by Hays, the order of these images offers helpful insight into the example of Jesus and guidance to all believers:

By placing community first, we are constantly reminded that God’s design of forming a covenant people long precedes the New Testament writings themselves, that the church stands in fundamental continuity with Israel. By placing cross in the middle, we are reminded that the death of Jesus is the climax and pivot-point of the eschatological drama. By placing new creation last, we are reminded that the church lives in expectation of God’s future redemption of creation. In other words, the images are to be understood within a plot; they figure forth the story of God’s saving action in the world.[16]

The Impact of Jesus

As we have discussed, Jesus is the perfect example and model of cross+culture living (and dying); he is the way, truth and life, and he offers guidance for Christian growth and cross-cultural relationships. But there is an even bigger plot that impacts every nation, tribe, people and tongue in the history of the world.

Every Nation, Tribe, People and Tongue

The plot of the redemptive story of Jesus reaches into every culture that ever has and ever will exist! God’s heart and plan are to have an eternal relationship with at least one individual from every ethnicity, walk of life and corner of the earth.

We get a glimpse of God’s vision for every in the book of Revelation: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’”[17]

For His Glory

But why is this gathering of every nation, tribe, people and tongue so important to God and critical within the redemption story?

One pastor, Jonathan Parnell, offers the following from author John Piper: “The reason God decreed that the gospel would obtain people from every tribe and people and nation is that the aim of the gospel is the glorification of his grace and this ingathering of diverse peoples into one Christ-exalting, unified people who would glorify the power and beauty of his grace more than if he had done things another way.”[18]

It’s all for God’s glory! As Parnell explains, “several texts which command the pursuit of all ethnic groups are explicit that this pursuit is for the glory of Christ.”[19]

 “So the apostolic vocation (Romans 1:5) and the messianic example of Christ (Romans 15:9) and the consummation of all missions (Revelation 5:9) have one explicit aim: to display the glory of Christ through the ingathering of a hugely diverse and unified redeemed people,”[20] summarizes Parnell.


Even as cultures of the world experience racial tensions and social injustices, Jesus exemplifies cross+culture by the intersection of his sacrificial death on the cross and his choice to cross into other cultures in order “to seek and to save that which was lost.”[21]

Following Jesus’ model of cross+culture living and engaging in cross-cultural fellowship and relationships can cause us to grow deeper in love with Christ, as well as better prepare us for the promise of heaven when every nation, tribe, people and tongue will gather.

Ultimately, God’s purpose for cross+culture will be fulfilled, and Jesus will be glorified by the worship and praise of every culture, as depicted in Revelation 7:9-10: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”[22]

To God be the glory.

[1], “Culture,”

[2] Kim Ann Zimmerman, “What Is Culture,” Live Science, July 13, 2017,

[3] Zimmerman, “What Is Culture,”

[4] Carol M. Kopp, “Cross Culture,” Updated Oct. 3, 2019,

[5] Thabiti Anyabwile, “‘Disunity in Christ’: An Interview with Christena Cleveland,” posted October 31, 2013,

[6] IVP, “Christena Cleveland, author of Disunity in Christ, On Cross-Cultural Jesus,” Vimeo video, 01:34, posted November 8, 2013,

[7] Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 27.

[8] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 197-198.

[9] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 197.

[10] IVP, “Christena Cleveland,”

[11] Ron Sanders, “Paul’s Use of Jesus as an Example of How to Use Power: Philippians 2:1-11 (From Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi by Joseph Hellerman).”

[12] Jn. 14:6 (NASB)

[13] Christena Cleveland, “Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart,” Goodreads “Quotes,”

[14] Cleveland, “Disunity in Christ,” Goodreads “Quotes,”

[15] Anyabwile, “Disunity in Christ”,

[16] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament,199.

[17] Rev. 5:9 (NASB)

[18] Jonathan Parnell, “Why Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation?” John Piper,, posted October 18, 2011,

[19] Parnell, “Why Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation?” John Piper,

[20] Parnell, “Why Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation?” John Piper,

[21] Luke 19:10 (NASB)

[22] Rev. 7:9-10 (NASB)