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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

The Cross

Various Scriptures

Lesson audio

If there is any one thing which strikes the reader of modern Christian literature when comparing it with older literature, it is this: the position held by the Cross. It is a central feature of older thinking; it is almost unmentioned today. If asked, today’s writers would tell you the Cross is important – it’s just that they don’t write about it. Publishers don’t want to upset their readers – and upset they will be if they hear too much of the Cross. This does not now seem like a clear and present danger.

What Christ did on the Cross

Why is the Cross so important? Consider what Christ did on the Cross.

He humbled himself

Philippians 2:8 NASB Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Hebrews 12:2 NASB fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Would you like to get the hang of this? It’s the greatest metamorphosis in history:

· Christ is equal to God the Father from eternity – there is no higher station.

· He becomes a man – like us – even to the point of death.

· What a death! It’s a disgraceful, shameful death – and very painful too.

He bore our sins

1 Peter 2:24 NASB and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

Colossians 2:14 NASB having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

It is well to remember just what we are: sinners. It is part of the fallen nature of mankind to be a sinner. For this sin, the Old Testament Law had very specific provisions. Special sacrifices were to be made – at a precise date and time, in a specific place. Those sacrifices were to be made from only the finest.

It is staggering to find this, but it is true: Jesus the Christ is our sacrifice for sin, our atonement. He died at precisely the right time, in the right place, in accordance with the Law.

Is this important? Remember that the test to be given to spirits to distinguish them from demons was this: they must confess that Jesus had come in the flesh.

Reconciled to God

Ephesians 2:14-16 NASB For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, (15) by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, (16) and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Colossians 1:15-20 NASB (15) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (16) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. (17) He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (18) He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (19) For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, (20) and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

It is a fact: reconciliation costs the reconciler, and benefits the reconciled. It is one person being willing to bear the consequences of another’s sin. That is precisely what Christ did for us.

Remember that without Christ we are without hope. No one promises us anything like eternal life; in fact, the promise is for eternal damnation. Even in this life there would be no walk with God. But the Cross changed that:

· The Cross reconciled us to God, and in so doing

· The Cross created the church, so that now we have both Christ and each other.

What does God ask us for in return? That we would be his ambassadors of reconciliation, and spread the Good News over the earth.

We see what it means to us; Let us next see how the Apostles interpreted it.

What the Apostles did with the Cross

It has been well said that it took only twelve men to turn the world upside down. Twelve men – and one Cross. How did they see the Cross?

Stumbling block

Galatians 5:11 NASB But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.

How is the Cross a stumbling block?

· For those who seek a religion of miracles and wonders, the Cross makes no sense. Why wouldn’t God just come down and liberally pass out miracles to everyone, and thus convince the world? Why is there a Cross in this? (The foolishness of God!)

· For those who seek a “scientific” religion, the Cross is equally a mystery. After all, all God has to do is put it logically – so it will fit into our finite minds. But what if it won’t fit?

· For those who seek a comfortable religion, the Crucifixion seems extremely gory. Why not just a simple ascension into heaven? But what if that gore is simply the price to be paid – and religion isn’t intended to be so comfortable after all?

Boasting in the Cross – alone

Galatians 6:14 NASB But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Boasting? Most of us don’t think of ourselves as boasters, especially when it comes to our faith. But think about these:

· Is it boasting to cluck over the sinful nature of others, thus drawing attention to our own righteousness? We are not to judge those outside the church; nor should we judge those inside.

· Is it boasting to lay out our trials and tribulations – especially if we do this every chance we get?

No, says Paul, in the Cross of Christ I glory. It’s well to remember that we’re just sinners, saved by grace. The Cross is the source of our humility.

Preach Christ Crucified

1 Corinthians 1:17-25 NASB (17) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (18) For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (19) For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." (20) Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (21) For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (22) For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; (23) but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, (24) but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (25) Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Recently, I read a review of a book which asked more than a dozen learned church scholars to render their opinion of Billy Graham. One complained that he was insensitive to modern scholarship on the Bible; another that he didn’t do enough for civil rights; a third complained about his relationship with Richard Nixon, and on it went. Uniformly, however, all of the authors were mystified how Billy Graham was held in such high esteem and considered successful, considering how badly he had failed in each such area. The reviewer modestly suggested that his success came from his purpose – evangelism.

The Apostles would have understood, I suspect. But today how often do we hear that we don’t need “old fashioned Bible thumping.” What is it that we are supposed to need? Practical psychology, helpful hints on marriage – any number of things. Anything but the old, old story. Can it still be said that we preach Christ crucified?

Take Up The Cross

Of all uses of the word, the most powerful is the phrase, “take up the Cross.” It is a rare subject these days for preachers. Interestingly, the concept comes solely from the teaching of Christ – it is his own phrase.

Deny himself

Matthew 16:24-27 NASB Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (25) "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (26) "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (27) "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.

Please note the logic:

· IF you want to be a follower of Christ,

· THEN you must take up the Cross, and

· FOLLOW him.

So what’s that supposed to mean? Let me give you an example.

I recently met with some college friends for dinner. The main topic of conversation was a set of lively descriptions of the cruises they had taken, or were about to take. It was not that cruising was very pleasant; it was that it is very important! These people consider themselves Christians.

Is not the real Christian one who is crucified to the world? Cruises may be pleasant, but where do they fit in the eternal view? The answer seems to be that we now consider it a point of faith that we should live as if our lives could end any day now, and we should seize the day. Seize a pinch of Christ, and the rest of the world is yours. Have you heard the word “sacrifice” lately?

Reward

Christ does not pretend that we should go unrewarded – if we are willing to take up the Cross:

Matthew 10:38-42 NASB "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. (39) "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (40) "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. (41) "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. (42) "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."

It is perhaps too high to say that if you have nothing worth dying for, you have nothing worth living for. Most of us will never be privileged to be martyrs. But if we do not place Christ first, then how can we keep the eternal view? If not Christ, what is number one?

But for those who do put Christ first, he is clear that he will reward – beyond all sense of balance. Most of us are willing to read those words – but how many will take him seriously? Do you have faith that he will provide?

Enemies of the cross

I wish I did not have to bring this passage forward to you:

Philippians 3:18-19 NASB (18) For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, (19) whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

We are faced here with what I call “consumer Christianity.” Christianity is just one more good thing in this world, and we can purchase (or invest, if you like) as little or much as we choose. This is a very popular practice these days – it brings in large crowds who like the idea that they get good things from it without much personal investment. No one seems to think this a problem.

But here Paul puts it in short words: their minds are on earthly things – and they are the enemies of the Cross.

The choice is before anyone who proclaims himself to be a Christian. You can content yourself with things below, and be an enemy of the Cross – or take the higher call.

One last thought, from Thomas à Kempis:

JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus -- love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands.

If a man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is little; if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and especially, the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing, let him make little of what may be considered great; let him in all honesty call himself an unprofitable servant. For truth itself has said: "When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: 'we are unprofitable servants.'"

Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: "I am alone and poor." No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.

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