One of the things that strikes me about crosses – earrings, necklaces and so on – the vast majority of people wearing crosses appear to be non-Christians! The world sees it as a talisman, something to magically ward off evil – a good luck charm. Which is a little offensive! This is THE symbol of Christianity – but for many it has been reduced to the level of myth and fantasy.
It has endured for 2000 years as the mark of the church. Most church buildings have one – though why is a bit of question mark. Have a look around and you will see everything from little timber versions through to giant glowing fluorescent ones mounted high on steeples. There is a church in Prague that is decorated with 27,000 bones, including crosses made of bones. There are churches in the US with glass crosses – which seems like an open invitation to my mind – I wonder how long a glass cross would last in Sydney. Most Catholic churches have crucifixes – an appalling image because it suggests that Jesus has not been raised. Many church logos have at least a passing reference to the scene of Calvary. More and more churches have names that reflect the cross – “Calvary Chapel”, “The Church of the Crucified Christ” and so on.
Though having an image on a building, or in fact around your neck, means absolutely zero – it does pick up the importance of that one event for us – the crucifixion. Unfortunately it’s a sanitised event – with so many crosses around us, some beautiful in appearance – polished, shiny, glowing, expensive – it’s lost the confrontation – it’s lost the jarring note, the thing out of place, the event that shouldn’t happen. To have the Son of God die on a cross should be an abomination – instead it’s just something that happened a long time ago.
But for us – Christians – the cross is the priority of life.
The Work of the Cross?
Ephesians 2:12-13 “…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
It’s great being an Australian citizen We have a great country – war is relatively unknown, we’re prosperous, our politicians are accountable, our laws aim to favour all, and we have access to a wealth of opportunities and benefits. We complain about health care and everything else, but the reality is in more than half the world’s countries we’d be worse off.
But as a foreigner in our country your rights are limited and as an illegal alien you have almost none. The people in our detention centres have some access to food, medical attention, education, housing, and other benefits – but they aren’t free. They are refugees until their status is confirmed – otherwise they are “illegal aliens”. They can demand their rights all they like – but they’re here at the governments’ pleasure – that’s how it works.
That’s a great description of life on earth – we’re here at God’s pleasure – we may not like that idea – but as God’s enemies we have no rights – illegal aliens. Without God we have no hope – and as Gentiles we don’t even have the benefits the Jews had – citizenship of God’s earthly people, access to the word of God, and rights under the covenant. But here’s where the work of the Cross is so incredible. By the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, we are suddenly – inexplicably – brought into God’s presence. No longer aliens without rights not even citizens under the covenant relationship but in the very presence of God. Christ’s blood works a miracle – we were separated by our sinfulness – no longer.
The Result of the Cross?
Paul says the result of that work of Christ on the cross is this…
Ephesians 2:18-22 “For through him [Jews and Gentiles] both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
There are two results of the death of Jesus on the cross – apart from forgiveness.
- We have access to the Father – to the God of the universe – and not as slaves, though we are, and not simply as servants, though we are that too – but through the blood of Christ – we are made children not strangers – citizens. I was born in Australia – as were my parents, grandparents and most of my great grandparents. I am a full blooded Australian – I don’t have to earn my citizenship, or pay for it – I don’t have to take an oath that I will protect my country and serve her – I have the rights of an Australian by birth. That’s what we get as God’s children – by the blood of Christ shed on the cross we become full family members of God’s eternal family – we gain rights that we never had – the right of a son and heir. Senator Bob Brown found out last week what happens when you insult and abuse the President of the United Stated of America – he was barred from meeting him. But George Bush’s kids would still get a hug from dad even if they insulted him. The first result of Christ’s death on the cross is access into the King’s presence here and now by his Holy Spirit.
- We become lifetime members of the living body of Christ “The Church” vs 19-20 “…God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” Vs 22 “…you … are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” We so often misunderstand the church – this is bricks and mortar and cement and steel and glass and timber – if it burnt down tomorrow we might be a little sad but the church remains. [P] I hate signs that state that a certain church building is the temple of the Holy God – or a house of prayer or some other garbage. Utter rot – we’ll come back to it in few weeks – you and I are the Father’s house of prayer – we are being built as the living building that grows and changes and moulds around Jesus. We stand on the work of the Apostles and prophets – an old building – together we stand on the foundation of Christ – a foundation that is set at the cross – a foundation that is so important that to remove Christ on the cross is to remove everything that holds the building up.
The Foolishness of the Cross
The problem of the cross of Christ – especially as the pivot point around which the whole of our life revolves – is that it is foolishness. Paul to the Corinthians…
1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
We have ample evidence of the truth of this verse – even within the church. This past month in Synod we had people in one of the largest and strongest evangelical diocese’ in the western world – clergy included – stand and seriously try to undermine the truth of Jesus on the cross. We have Anglican Bishops and Archbishops in our country – who deny the death and resurrection of Jesus – exactly what they do believe is a bit of a mystery – take the cross out of Christianity and you’re left with nothing.
We can try to argue the sense of the cross – we can argue its merits with worldly wisdom. Or like so many we can deny its truth and take away its power. We can be like those who claim Christ was simply a radical who died a sad death – he fought against oppression – he was on the side of the poor – his life is just an example of love for us to follow. God says that it is the foolishness of the cross that is everything.
1 Corinthians 1:20b-24 “…Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Our world demands the same stuff – a sign, wisdom that makes sense to us humans – the sign is the cross – the wisdom is what we preach – the jarring note of a crucified king. He will be a stumbling block to people – even those who claim to be Christian but refuse to accept his death and resurrection as payment for their sins. That’s what it is – it’s pride – I can’t accept that it would be necessary for God to allow his son to die for my sins – there must be some other meaning. But there’s not.
The Priority of the Cross
1 Corinthians 1:27-31 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
As Christians we have a lot to share with people – love, kindness, grace, mercy, hope, joy – value based on God’s love, the wonder of God’s kingdom and eternity in his care – I love the description in Psalm 23…
Psalm 23:2-3 “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
But it’s God’s plan that we boast in one thing only – that we value one thing so highly that it surpasses everything else – and that is the death of Jesus. It is a strange thing to value – but if we loose the priority of the cross of Christ – then we loose everything. If we share with people all the wonderful things of a relationship with God and fail to show them the fact of their situation before God and the drastic nature of God plan to save us through Christ then we our wisdom has taken the place of God’s. Paul again to the Corinthians…
1 Corinthians 2:4-5 “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Stand by a deathbed – in those situations there are a whole pile of emotions and even temptations going on – especially with grieving family. There is a temptation for a minister that it’s not really worth telling them about the cross and salvation. They won’t listen, they won’t hear, they won’t respond – they’re too far gone in their grief. It can feel foolish to tell a grieving family that the death of one man can take away the pain of the death of another. How can Jesus’ death be any different to this man, or this woman? Wouldn’t it be better to just comfort them – pray an innocuous generic prayer, try not to offend them and keep the door open, give them some faint wisp of hope, tell them he’s going to a better place and hope that it’s true? Give them comfort, a shoulder to cry on, answer their question? The truth is – as foolish as it is – the one priority before us is the cross – this is our priority in all of life.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2 “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
The work of the cross is to bring us into a relationship with God through Christ’s blood. The result is eternity in God’s presence and as an active member of the living body of Christ that is called the Church. It is foolish to trust in the death of a man – it is jarring to see the Son of God dead – and then rising – but for us – Christians – the cross is the priority of life that informs and directs everything about us. What will that look like – in my life – in yours?
Personal and practical question – how do I maintain the priority of the cross in my life?