Wednesday 5 March 2014

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and the start of our spiritual journey to the Cross

All religions have a symbol which represents them. The Muslims have the crescent; Judaism the Star of David, but for us Christians it is the Cross.

The Roman Empire used the Cross as 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 as being cursed by God. No one would have thought of wearing a Cross as an item of jewellery, it would have been like us wearing a model of the gallows or an electric chair.

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

We now have a situation in which it is permissible for anyone to wear a cross of any kind, but the moment it is displayed as a sign of faith, you offend fragile sensibilities and are likely to find yourself suspended from work or taken to Court, although such religious discrimination does not apply to other faiths, who are permitted to wear articles and clothing to demonstrate their faith.

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. A Council in Somerset made a Church remove a cross embedded in a window which faced the public. Such judgement are made on the frivolous excuse that other faiths may be offended, when no such offence is taken; it is just officious public officials seeking a few moments of publicity pushing their own secularism.

The Cross strikes at the heart of human pride which cannot accept that a man (Jesus) hanging on a Cross could save the world and that there is no other name under heaven by which people can be saved.

We all have to ask, what does the Cross mean to me? Perhaps you haven’t given it much thought, but it is an important question to consider for it may concern your eternal destiny.

When we talk about the Cross people often think of two pieces of wood. This not the Cross in which Paul gloried. He would have shrunk in horror from the idea of glorifying pieces of wood. He was not referring to the wooden structure; he was meaning what Jesus achieved on the Cross. The message of the Cross is what the Christian gospel is all about. Jesus Christ was executed there taking our punishment so that all our sins are forgiven. He went through all the beatings and scorn to die a painful death so that by that cruel suffering He made atonement, a once for all complete sacrifice so that all who through the ages would accept Him as their Saviour, would received pardon for their sins and so achieve eternal salvation. The Cross reveals the only Saviour, and we are saved by that message

Paul had to face those in the Church who claimed to be wise and proud of their human wisdom and so were dividing the Church and promoting themselves by changing the message of the Cross to make it more palatable to the world. This resonates with those in to-day’s Church who seek their own agendas, irrespective of the damage they are doing to the Church. There are those who are more interested in promoting their own careers than the gospel, and others who would like to adopt a more liberal attitude to morality.

The world has its message. Anything that you believe is right according to your conscience IS right. You don’t have to live to the morals and ethics of a book written many years ago in some distant country. But this is the message of those who have rejected God.

The message of the world is a subtle message, and many Christians buy into it, at least in part. We must be very careful. This message is one that sounds reasonable to many. But it is not the message that has the power to save us.
It is the wisdom of the world, not the wisdom of God. The message of the world sees us as self-sufficient beings. We have no need of God. After all, we all evolved. We are not the product of a creative God, rather the product of evolution. And we are continually evolving in every sense of the word. Our ability to think and reason will prove sufficient to eventually solve all of our problems. This is the message of the world. But just where has all the wisdom of the so-called wise brought us? Can we really feel proud of what man has done?

There is now more disease despite all modern discoveries of medicine because of the way people are conducting their lives morally.

There is much suffering because of man’s inhumanity to man.

There is hatred right across the world as people of different races will not abide each other. Consider the barbarism right across Africa as people of one religion burn down Churches of another faith and murder the believers.

Paradoxically hatred has been introduced into our society by legislation. The Equality and Diversity Bill, which in practice is quite inequitable, has caused considerable distress. Consider the hate mail and persecution experienced Christians who do not wish to surrender their beliefs to society’s morality.

We now have the most wonderful technological aids ever known with all kinds of gadgets, but we cannot solve the problems of the heart and the lust of peoples’ desires.

The message of the world is that we are special. We don’t need God. In effect, they have created a god who fits with their idea of self-sufficiency and relative morality. They are unwilling to believe in the God of the Bible.

There are still those that demand that God conform to our logic and reason, in other words God must adapt to the 21st century. We reject the true God because we are unwilling to give up our idea of self-sufficiency. We refuse to acknowledge our need.

There are two reactions to the Cross. First it is silly to claim that all who live honest lives and all their achievements are worth nothing is absurd and offensive and if that is what the Bible says it is ridiculous. We may make some mistakes, but we are not sinful. We are good at the core. To admit that we are sinful is too much. But that is the implication of the Cross. Jesus had to die because we were sinful. In dying on the Cross, he paid the penalty for our sin.

But for those who do receive this message, this foolishness becomes the very power of God. The Cross of Christ becomes their salvation as they humble themselves and receive what Christ did to pay for their sins. What seems foolish to the world is in fact the very wisdom of God. God said you come to me my way or you do not come at all, and that way is through Jesus Christ. There is no other name by which a person can be saved; no one can come to the Father except by Him.

The world simply doesn’t understand the message of the Cross. Those of us who have grown up in church, see the Cross with pride on our Churches, on Bibles, we wear or display the Cross. To others the cross is just a piece of jewellery with no significance, they fail to see the radical nature of what the Cross represents. Only the Church can proclaim the glory of the Cross, and it should not forsake doing so. Jesus told us that is our primary function.

You see, the Cross upon which Jesus died not only was a place where he bore the sins of humanity and paid the penalty for those sins, it is also a way of our lives by his power.

The Cross is the turning point for all mankind, the gateway by which we come to God as Father. Without the Cross Jesus would be just another good man. It says that God became weak in order to save us.

The world looks at this and says it is foolishness; but it is the very power of God, concealed from the so-called wise and sophisticated and revealed to those who come as a child, in simple faith and trust.

We all have a choice to make as to our future life when this one is over. Many people dismiss it from their minds, others think there is no need to worry as we will all go to heaven however we now live and it is foolish to believe all this religious talk. I have taken many funerals over the past years and never known anyone doubt that the deceased has gone to heaven irrespective of the fact there was no Christian belief.

Paul indicated there were two fundamental positions, two distinct black and white absolutes which can never be reconciled because they produce different responses to the teaching of our Lord.

If you were due to fly to the United States and as you boarded the plane it was announced there was just a 5% chance the plane may incur some problem over the Atlantic would you still continue the journey? Yet so many are prepared to take the chance on their future life and fail to yield to the Bible teaching.

When however we become Christians we should be free of any disagreements, factions and arguments, but we still find severe disruption being caused to the faith which are seized upon by the secular press.

Far too many people adopt the Frank Sinatra theme and think they can do it their way. We all need forgiveness and the Cross is the only means of obtaining that.

Billy Graham at the start of his ministry vowed always in every sermon to preach the message of the Cross and did so in 185 countries to 220 million people, and consider what tremendous difference he made to so many lives.

May the Cross always remind you of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made so that salvation can be yours.

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

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