While the cross of Christ is a stumbling block to our self-righteousness and an offense to our rationalism, this is where God has chosen to reveal His power and wisdom. God has chosen what is foolish in the eyes of the world to shame those who are wise in their own eyes; He has chosen to reveal Himself in weakness to shame those who think they are strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing in the delusion of their own wisdom and strength. But to those who are being saved, the cross is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Our message may seem simple, but it is the message which has carried the church through the last 20 centuries. It is the foundation of our faith. In the words of the Apostle Paul:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15) & “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, testified regarding Himself:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:45)
And so, with Christ, the apostles, and the whole Christian Church throughout history, we boldly announce, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7).
Our message is Christ and Him crucified.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:7-10)
We take it very seriously when the apostle Paul says, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). What Paul says here is profound. This changes everything we thought we knew about God.
God is not up in heaven, arms crossed, waiting for us to appease and please Him. He has stepped into our impossible situation. He has become our brother in flesh and blood. He has made peace in the war between us and Him; a war we started and continued through rebellion and sin. He did not win this war through the slaughter of all the ungodly, but instead gave himself up, ending the strife with the shedding of His own blood. His death instead of ours. His life given up as a ransom for many. And He conquered sin, death, and the devil in the most unlikely and unexpected of ways.
Our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9), was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the fullness of time. God sent forth His Son, born of virgin under the Law (Galatians 4:4). In humility he subjected Himself to the powers that ruled us, lived under them, and was even tempted as we are, but without ever succumbing to sin. Then, at just the right time He died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). Yes, God died. And if that was the end of the story, we would have nothing to tell you and no reason to exist as a church. But that is not the end of the story. On the third day after Jesus was buried, He burst forth from the tomb, risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).
You will not hear sermons or read articles about how Jesus is a “life coach” that just wants to help you get ahead in life. You will not hear teaching that leaves you with the impression that God is stuck in heaven fretting over the world as he looks down in anxiety, just hoping someone will do enough to get the blessings He wishes He could hand out. Why? Because this is not the God of the Bible.
Our God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is a powerful God who does God—TO US. He comes to earth, lives a perfect life, dies a bloody death, is buried, and rises again from the dead for our justification. Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, reminds us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-26). This means that until the day we die, our focus is on the cross of Jesus. His cross is our focus. It is where forgiveness was bought, paid for, sealed, and flows from.
Sometimes people say, “I like a cross without Christ.” That's great. So does the devil. He wants you to forget about the victory that was won on the cross. He wants the cross to be turned into a pop-culture icon that pop-stars living in unrepentant lifestyles can wear and brandish unashamedly.
Sometimes people say, “Jesus is not on the cross anymore, so why do you focus on a cross with Christ on it?” They think because Jesus left the cross and rose from the dead, we no longer need to preach about His dying or display Him there on a crucifix. But tell these same people they need to pull baby Jesus out of the manger in their nativity scene and you will have a riot on your hands. This is the inconsistency in their logic. They say Jesus is no longer on the cross so we should not keep him there, but Jesus is no longer in the manger, so why do they keep him there?
There is only one place where I have hardly ever seen Jesus portrayed: the tomb. The tomb is always empty in pictures and paintings. The tomb is always emphasized as empty in every sermon. Why? Because an empty tomb is an image of God's power over death. But just as the empty tomb is an image of God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil, the occupied cross is also an image of God’s power. And so is the occupied manger.
God is born. God dies. Two things that do not make any sense to us humans. As Martin Luther said, “What man, being God, would humble himself to lie in the feedbox of a donkey or hang on a cross to die?” And the point is, no man would. In fact, we consistently continue trying to remove from our memory, as well as the imagery which reminds us of it, the scandal of the perfect Son of God who hangs upon the cross for our wicked sins. Yet it is in these humble and even humiliating circumstances, God willingly placed Himself. We would like to ignore them because they are stumbling blocks to those who only want a God who portrays His power in… well… situations and actions that seem powerful and amazing to us.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)