What are the essential places to see or must-do experiences you recommend in New Zealand? I’ve no doubt that at some point, friends have asked you, “What should we see? Where should we go?” Or maybe you have even had the challenge yourself of deciding where to take them.

From Cape Reinga to Bluff, our islands are full of places that visitors really must go. At risk of offending someone, for me Abel Tasman, the Bay of Islands, Tekapo, Central Otago, Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu, Te Papa and Hawke’s Bay are all on the list, as well as many other suggestions of places they could visit if time allows. Usually these requests come with unfeasible time challenges and geographical impossibilities: “We’d like to see Milford Sound on our final day, but have to be back in Auckland for late afternoon.” You get the idea…

Whenever I’m asked where should we take people, I have one place that I suggest they must go to, if at all possible. In fact, it’s so good and so special, I recommend it to everyone. But I really think every New Zealand Christian should make the effort to go at least once in their lifetime.  

Take them to the cross! More specifically, take them to Marsden Cross in Oihi Bay, in the Bay of Islands. Marsden Cross marks the birthplace of Christianity on our shores—the place where te rongopai was first proclaimed. It takes some time and a fair bit of effort, but each time I’ve been there I’ve found it to be worthwhile. On Christmas Day 1814, the words “Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy for all people—a Saviour has been born, Christ the Lord!” were heard for the first time in English and te reo Māori on these shores.

For me, the place has special resonance. My whakapapa goes back to the same home village in Yorkshire, England, as the preacher that day, Reverend Samuel Marsden. Back in Yorkshire, there are two monuments commemorating the work and witness of Marsden, both here and across the Tasman. When my wife and I were exploring moving to New Zealand to serve as missionaries, following in the footsteps of Marsden was a significant part of the calling for us.

Marsden was far from flawless as a character, but his burden and intent were right: to introduce the good news of the gospel of Jesus to all the people of Aotearoa.  

Later on Christmas Day, having proclaimed the good news, Marsden wrote in his diaries: “In this manner, the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand; and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more.” 

Our history, marred and broken though it is, is one that shows that prayer has, thus far, been answered as the gospel has taken root and its glory has not departed these islands.

Why take them to the cross?

Our Christian whakapapa in New Zealand goes back to the message of Jesus in Luke 2:10 arriving on these shores on Christmas Day 1814. But sadly, for many of us, that’s where we’re happy to leave it. We’re happy to say we follow Jesus; we’re happy to call ourselves Christians. We’ll gladly share the good news of great joy and say it’s for all people. But are we happy to take people to the cross?

As we gather to celebrate Easter together, I’ve observed that, as Christians in New Zealand, we’re happy to talk at Christmas of Jesus the baby in the manger, we’re mostly comfortable to talk about his teachings, and we’re even happy to have a cross in our churches, but so rarely do we actually take people to the cross. And yet, through the pages of Scripture, we see the cross is at the heart of all we believe; it’s at the core of what Jesus accomplished.

Let me ask you directly—what place does the cross hold in your life? What place does the cross hold in the ministry you’re involved with? I am convinced that if the cross isn’t central to all we are and all we proclaim, we have a deficient gospel.

For at the cross, Jesus suffered and died, and took on himself the sin of the world. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross…” (1 Peter 2:24, NRSV). I love the way Paul so helpfully explains what happened on the cross: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV). We cannot have the Christian message without the Christ of the cross.

As one songwriter put it, “Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free; for God, the Just, is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me!”1

The Apostle Paul was convinced of this himself. Writing to the Corinthians, he articulated this belief, saying, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV). Imagine that—Paul’s sole focus for his life was on communicating the message of the cross of Jesus Christ—that “we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Corinthians 1:23, NIV).

This Easter, let us commit to being people who come back to the cross. People who resolve to know nothing, except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Let us make sure that in our conversations, our sermons and messages, we take people to the cross—that we get to Jesus and point to his finished work on the cross. Let’s not leave him there, for he has risen, but let’s ‘take them to the cross’, which is at the heart of all Jesus has done for us and all that we believe.

Reflection: Ben Carswell

Ben Carswell serves as national director for Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship and previously served as senior pastor of Hutt City Baptist Church. He’s a ‘Yorkshire Kiwi’ and has lived in Lower Hutt for the last 12 years. He is married to Jen and they have three children.

Reference:

  1. Bancroft, Charities Lees. “Before the Throne of God.”

Scripture:

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Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™