A Powerful Demonstration
We come this morning to celebrate the main event in human history, the death of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul declared that he was determined to know nothing save Christ and Him crucified. This was the apostle’s way of emphasizing the extreme importance of the Cross to Christianity. The doctrine of the Atonement is central to all Christian theology. Luther called Christianity a theology of the Cross.
Packer, “Here we reach the real heart—the heart of the heart, we may say—of Christianity; for if the incarnation is its shrine, the Atonement is certainly its holy of holies. If the incarnation was the supreme miracle, it was yet only the first of a series of steps down from the joy and bliss of heaven to the pain and shame of Calvary (Philippians 2:5–8).
The reason why the Son of God became man was to shed his blood as (in the Prayer Book’s words) “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32): that was the measure of his love (cf. 5:5–8).
Content of the message
Contrary nature of the message
Comforts of the message
1. Content of the message
In 1 Corinthians chapter one, Paul uses 4 words to mark out the content of our proclamation and the emphasis of our existence as a body of believers.
(1) “the gospel” Great News 1Cor 1:17
(2) “word of the cross” Great Plan
(3) “Christ crucified” Great Puzzle
(4) v. 6 the “testimony concerning Jesus” Great Person
Why do we carry a message of good news?
Because there is so much about us that is bad news.
But it wasn’t always that way. (Genesis 1-2)
Made in state of holiness, reflecting God’s glory as one of His creatures, but even greater than all the rest because we carried an imprint of His image on us.
In our makeup and in our activities, we were designed to display God’s glory—by our holiness and by our righteous dominion of all things. And in our display of our creativity, we were meant to issue forth creative acts that portrayed the splendor of the One who made us for His pleasure and glory.
How did things change and become what they are?*
Enemies of God—run and hid from Him when he walked in the garden in the cool of the evening. They shook with fear as He cried out tenderly, “Adam, where are you?” They refused to answer openly and honestly when God asked them to tell Him what they had done.
Enemies of Others—the next chapter, sibling rivalry brings about the death of Abel and the banishment of Cain.
Subject to death and misery—In chapter five, the list of great men is provided, but with a haunting echo “AND HE DIED” “AND HE DIED” “AND HE DIED”
Why this hostility? This hatred and fear of God? This subjection to pain, misery and death? The next chapter tells us:
Corrupted on the inside
Genesis 6:5 *Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
To rectify the problem, there had to come initiative from someone outside of man. And the one who came was the one who was most offended—God Himself.
Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey . . . the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36). Wrath remains on us as long as there is no faith in Jesus.
Paul puts it like this:
· We ‘were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind’ (Eph. 2:3). My very nature made me worthy of wrath.
· My destiny was to endure ‘flaming fire’ and ‘vengeance on those . . . who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . [and who] suffer the punishment of eternal destruction’ (2 Thess. 1:8-9 ESV).
· I was not a son of God. God was not my Father. He was my judge and executioner. I was ‘dead in . . . trespasses and sins’, one of the ‘sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 2:1-2 ESV).
· And the sentence of my Judge was clear and terrifying: ‘because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 5:5 ESV; italics added).
There was only one hope for me – that the infinite wisdom of God might make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I might become a son of God.
This is exactly what happened, and I will sing of it forever. After saying that I was by nature a child of wrath, Paul says, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph. 2:4-5 ESV).
This is the very triumph of the love of God. This is the love of God – the ‘great love with which he loved us’. It rescued me from his wrath and adopted me into sonship.
‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . . to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Gal. 4:4 ESV). God sent his Son to rescue me from his wrath and make me his child.
How did he do it? God’s Son bore God’s curse in my place. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’ (Gal. 3:13 ESV).
For those who are called by God and believe in Jesus, this is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (I Cor. 1:24 ESV). This is my life. Now that his wrath no longer rests on me (John 3:36), he has sent the Spirit of sonship flooding into my heart crying Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15).
I thank you, heavenly Father, with all my heart, that you saved me from your wrath. I rejoice to measure your love for me by the magnitude of the wrath I deserved and the wonder of your mercy by putting Christ in my place.
Colossians 1:13-14 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
2. Contrary nature of the message
One would have imagined that when God sent his gospel to men, all men would meekly listen, and humbly receive its truths. We should have thought that God’s ministers had but to proclaim that life is brought to light by the gospel, and that Christ is come to save sinners, and every ear would be attentive, every eye would be fixed, and every heart would be wide open to receive the truth. We should have said, judging favorably of our fellow-creatures, that there would not exist in the world a monster so vile, so depraved, so polluted, as to put so much as a stone in the way of the progress of truth; we could not have conceived such a thing; yet that conception is the truth. When the gospel was preached, instead of being accepted and admired, one universal hiss went up to heaven
The message of the cross stands contrary to human sensibilities, especially when you understand the place of crucifixion within the culture of its day. We don’t appreciate the offense of the cross as much because of the deep Christian influences within our country—most all of us have grown up within a culture that allows emblems of the cross as acceptable.
But in Roman and Jewish culture during the time of Christ and the early church, there would have been no sentimental appreciation for the cross, no display of the emblem on top of buildings or fashioned into jewelry. The cross—without any theological emphasis—was a terrible thing to consider. It denoted one of the cruelest means of punishment and shameful deaths and was considered unworthy of considerate social discussion.
And when the unconverted heard believers speaking of worshippers of Jesus who gloried in this Christ who was crucified, they revolted in disgust.
ILLUSTRATION: One well-known graffito in Rome depicts a worshipper standing before a crucified figure with the body of a man and the head of an ass and the inscription ‘Alexamenos worships his god.’
The Jews make it a stumblingblock, and the Greeks account it foolishness.
THE JEW: By rejecting the crucified Messiah, then, Judaism effectively was only giving lip service to grace. If a Jew, or anyone, claims not to need a crucified Messiah, then he is implicitly claiming to have at least some strength, some little bit of righteousness. Montefiore acknowledges that in Judaism it is “not supposed that human efforts count for nothing.” And that detracts from grace and lessens God’s glory. To cite Ridderbos: “The real and deepest cause for the Jewish [we might add, “or any other”] rejection of Christ the crucified lies in the fact that the cross deprives man of his own righteousness.”
For the Jewish people at that time, the scandal of the Cross was indeed a stumbling block to their receiving Christ. To them it was inconceivable that the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Deliverer and Ruler of His people Israel, would die the ignominious death of the cross.
THE GENTILES: And the Gentiles expressed indifference and even hostility to the Messiah. The political, socially attentive and astute Greeks had to leap over huge barriers to appreciate the crucified Christ.
ILLUSTRATION: In an oracle of Apollo recorded by Porphyry, given in answer to the question of a husband who wanted to turn his wife from Christian belief, the god Apollo said: “Let her continue as she pleases, persisting in her vain delusions, and lamenting in song a god who died in delusions, who was condemned by judges whose verdict was just, and executed in the prime of life by the worst of deaths (adapted from Hengel, Crucifixion, p. 4-5).
Christians worship a dead God; one condemned by judges as a criminal, one who was cut off in the prime of life, and tortured in the worst of deaths, being fastened to a cross.
The heart of the Christian message, which Paul mentions as “the word of the cross” ran counter to the Roman political thinking, the whole ethos of religion in ancient times and particularly against the ideas of God held by educated people.
Mixed Reception of our Proclamation:
Separates people into two classes:
Every person is either in the process of salvation or the process of destruction.
One’s response to the cross of Christ determines which. To the Christ-rejectors who are in the process of being destroyed the gospel is nonsense. To those who are believers it is powerful wisdom.
Why such a strong reaction? Because the cross:
Strips away human pride
Breaks men’s wisdom
Destroys men’s conceptions of divinity within themselves
Stands contrary to men’s self-derived religious ways
3. Comforts of the message
As a proclaimer, a herald of God—a town crier—we have a message to bring, a message about the Christ who was crucified. It is a strange message that stands contrary to the ear of those whose ways are in the paths of destruction (and that means everyone).
It isn’t a pleasing message to those with no palate to accept it. It stands contrary to human achievement, pride, and expectation.
But for those who are without hope—and know it; to those who are at the end of sin; and feel it; to those who know they have nothing to face in death but the wrath and judgment of God, and they fear it—the message we have to bring is a BEAUTIFUL MESSAGE OF JOY AND GLADNESS.
Beauty of message to believers
“gospel” “being saved” “power of God” “demonstrates God’s wisdom”
no weakness, no foolishness, but the means by which God demolishes self-attainment and human pride, no room for glorying in anything but Him.
All of us come to Christ through the same door—the low door of humility and self-abasement. There is pride, no self-glory, no self-congratulations, no attainments to bring. If God had to die, then the problem is serious indeed. If there is no other way to salvation, then no man can boast in having any part to play in it.
We proclaim Christ Crucified—a puzzling message (He who hung the earth in its place hands there, he who fixed the heavens is fixed there, he who made all things fast is made fast on the tree, the Master has been insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been slain—O strange murder, strange crime! The Master has been treated in unseemly fashion, his body naked, and not even deemed worthy of a covering, that his nakedness might not be seen. (from Melito’s Homily on the Passion)
But it is for us a transforming message—for in the message of the cross, we know:
· That our problem is one far beyond needing reformation and a measure of goodness to help us along with religion and a good life.
· We know that if the Christ is crucified, that means that this solution corresponds to a radical problem within us.
· If everyone needs a crucified Christ, then it must mean that the human condition is so bad that a radical new understanding of grace is required. What is necessary is a grace of God which overcomes total, radical weakness in all areas, including ethical ability.
· We gladly reject any and all claims to strength or ability—in order to embrace the scandalous and offensive message in the crucified Christ.
· If coming to the Messiah who became totally weak—crucified for us and was radically humiliated—then we gladly acknowledge that our human weakness was so great that only God’s power in resurrection could overcome it.
This message of Christ crucified is for us a transforming message—for in the message of the cross, we know:
· the greatness of God’s love for us,
· the wonder of forgiveness and pardon from sin,
· the transformation of our nature into one that loves God,
· the guarantee of eternal pleasures in God’s presence.
It is a glorious thought that God has applied the sacrifice of Christ to believers—the shedding His blood on the cross as a substitute for the just punishment of our own sin. In the cross, we have a new birth, a new hope, a new nature and a new home. We glory—in nothing but the cross of Jesus Christ!
Our only boast is in Jesus Christ. The only boast of the Christian is not in what he has done for himself but in what Christ has done for him. His only pride is that he is a man for whom Christ died.
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of Time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
Author: Isaac Watts
Composer: from a Gregorian chant
Tune: Hamburg (Gregorian chant, arr Mason)
Scripture: Galatians 6:14
1 When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
2 Forbid it Lord that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
3 See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
4 Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Charles H. Spurgeon