Saturday 4 August 2012

We preach Christ crucified

All religions have a symbol which represents them. The Muslims have the crescent; Judaism the star of David; but for us Christians we have the Cross.
Our Churches have a Cross outside and most also display the Cross inside. It is embossed on our Bibles and prayer books, and devout ladies wear a gold cross around their necks to declare their faith.

Paul said he gloried in the Cross of Christ. He was one who shook the world to its foundations by the doctrines he preached. He was one who established Christianity. In a call to the Corinthian Church he said, ‘we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to the |Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles; for the message of the Cross is foolishness to the perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God’.

To the Galatians Church he said, ‘may I never boast about anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. He could have boasted about his own intellect, his mastery of languages; he could have boasted about the unique birth of Jesus, the wondrous miracles, even the resurrection, but he didn’t; only the Cross. The Cross of Christ is the central truth in the whole Bible.

The Roman Empire used the Cross a means of execution and it was a symbol of warning, terror and shame. Because it was considered a shameful way of death, a Roman citizen was not put to death that way. The Jews considered anyone so put to death to have been cursed by God. No one would have thought of wearing a cross as an ornament of jewellery, it would have been for us similar to wearing a model of the gallows or an electric chair.

Crucifixion was the most cruel punishment ever devised by man. The victim was nailed through the hands feet and roped around the cross and left to die a slow painful death, which could take up to four days.

In addition, Jesus had been convicted on trumped up charges backed by false witnesses, and then beaten 39 times by a leather belt studded with pieces of metal and a crown of thorns placed on His head, and then made to carry His own Cross until He collapsed with exhaustion.

This should make anyone wearing a cross to think deeply as to what purpose they wear it. We see people on television wearing ornate crosses jewelled crosses whose lives are blatantly immoral and who have no religious belief and for whom Christianity is an irrelevance.

We have now a situation in which it is permissible for anyone to wear a cross of any kind, but the moment you display it as a sign of your faith, you offend fragile sensibilities and are likely to find yourself suspended from work or taken to Court.

Two ladies are due to challenge a ruling that they cannot wear a Cross at their place of employment at the European Court of Human Rights, and are being opposed by a woman Minister at the Home Office, one Lynne Featherstone known for her anti-Church/anti religious views. This woman is also the Minister for Equality, yet no action is taken against people of other faiths who wear symbols of their faith. Thus, some are it appears, more equal than others.

The world is offended by the Cross. Some years ago a Council in Yorkshire forbade a woman from putting a Cross on her daughter’s grave, telling her, ‘crosses are discouraged as excessive use of the Christian symbol is undesirable’. She was allowed to place a model of Mickey Mouse as alternative.
I know some people didn’t like my poster for this service because it showed Jesus hanging on the Cross, but that is what Jesus did, and that is the central message of the Cross,

I was hosting an ecumenical meeting one year in a Church where there was a crucifix on the wall and some people declined to stay in the Church. But this is the message of our faith, Jesus died on the Cross for our forgiveness.
Cross strikes at the heart of human pride. Just as the Jews and Gentiles could not accept that a man hanging on a Cross could save the world, so people today mock the idea. The teaching that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation, but that it all depends on believing that a man named Jesus died on a Cross two thousand years ago in a little country on the other side of the world, is unacceptable to modern men and women.

What men think of as foolishness is the means of salvation. But there is a condition, you have to believe in Him and accept Christ as your Saviour. Even the death of Christ cannot save you unless you believe in him. It is more than just believing facts about Jesus. You have to make it personal.
You come to me my way, says God, or you do not come at all. God came to us weak and powerless in the person of Jesus Christ on a Cross, and we go to Him in a similar way humbly and powerless.

What does the Cross mean to you? May be you haven’t give a lot of thought to that question, perhaps taken things for granted, but it is an important question for it may concern your eternal destiny. May be you haven‘t given a lot of deep thought to that question, taking it for granted, but it deeply concerns your eternal destiny.

When we talk about the Cross, people invariably think of two pieces of wood. This is not the Cross in which St. Paul gloried. He would have shrunk with horror from the idea of glorying in a mere piece of wood.
Sometimes we refer to the Cross as a sign of personal afflictions and trials. We say about some burden in our life as ‘a cross I have to carry’, or to which believers in Christ have to go through if they follow Christ faithfully, for their religion's sake.

Paul was not referring to the wooden structure; he was meaning what Jesus achieved on that Cross. He went through all the agony of beatings and scorn, to die a painful death and by that cruel suffering made atonement, a once and for all complete and perfect sacrifice, so that all who through the ages would accept Him as their Saviour would receive pardon for their sins, and thereby achieve eternal salvation. The Cross reveals the only Saviour, the crucified Christ.

Paul in this passage is speaking to those in the Church at Corinth who claimed to be wise and were very proud of their human wisdom, which they were using to divide the church and to promote themselves by changing the message of the Cross to make it more palatable to the world. Paul is showing them it is worthless in the sight of God and only will destroy the Church

Does that not resonance with those in today’s Church who seek to promote their own agendas irrespective of the damage they are causing to the wider Church. They refer to their academic degrees, but well was it said the Church is falling apart by degrees.

There are those in ministry all the denominations who are more concerned with promoting their own careers and enhancing their c.v.’s than promoting the gospel and diligently performing the duties that (allegedly) mean so much to them. This in turn means they will not say or do anything that may prejudice hoped for advantage.

The gospel message is the opposite of worldly wisdom. Paul is here saying I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who don’t believe when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who do believe recognise this as the very power of God
Paul is indicating that there are two distinct positions, two black and white fundamental absolutes that cannot ever be reconciled because they produce different responses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who do not believe and see the Cross as foolishness are perishing and are lost. Those who do believe are being saved for eternal life. These are not my words or thoughts; they are in fact the very words of Scripture.

Paul said, ‘but we preach Christ crucified’, he didn’t dilute the message or make it out to be something different so that they could accept it, as is now happening.
How we need to hear this message today. How often do you hear a sermon on the Cross? I suspect not often for it inevitably means referring to judgement, which is an unacceptable message. Who knows, it may offend against some legislation under discrimination which this government is obsessed by.

I am told at times that people like to hear a happy and soothing message, yet the Churches are not overflowing with people. Billy Graham early in his ministry vowed to preach the message of the Cross at every sermon he preached. He in fact preached to 220 millions of people in 185 countries telling them what a lot of sinners they were and what would happen to them if they did not repent, and thousands flocked to hear him. There must be a moral in that somewhere.

When Paul uses the expression, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross’, he simply meant he accepted Christ provided salvation for his soul. He pointed right away from himself and all that he went through for his Lord, to all that the Lord had done for him.

Paul travelled right across the ancient world with this as the message he loved to preach about. He gave his testimony of having been a Pharisee who once hated Christians and did all he could to persecute them, until the Lord so dramatically entered his life. He was never weary of telling the story of the Cross.

Paul wrote the greater part of the New Testament and in all his Letters this was the theme of his doctrinal teaching, and practical exhortations.

Beware of a religion which does not centre on the Cross You live in times when the warning is sadly needful.

Remember the Cross where Jesus tells you your sins are forgiven. May it always remind you of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice for you, and the salvation that is yours because of Him. Amen.

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