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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

We Preach Christ Crucified

Third Sunday in Lent

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. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? 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 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. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 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. God 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 the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul wrote: “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.” And he further wrote: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” But we preach Christ crucified!

Jesus of Nazareth is without a doubt the most celebrated person who has ever lived. And the most famous event in His whole life was the way it ended. He was executed in agony on a cross in about A.D. 30. Ever since, that death has cast its spell on mankind. No death has been so talked about, so depicted in art and music, as the death of Jesus, and none has had so many books written about it. The cross of Jesus is the very core of the Gospel! But, the human heart shrinks from the cross. It’s too painful, too bloody, too humiliating for proud, modern man.

A few years ago I was saddened by a woman near and dear to me, because she said she hated the cross. It was ugly to her. Why anyone would wear a cross on a chain around their neck, or on a ring, or on their lapel, was beyond her. All she could see in the cross was hatred and suffering and death. “Oh”, I said, “you don’t understand!” The cross remains, as it did in the first century, both “foolishness” and a “stumbling block.”

And yet, it’s the power of God and the wisdom of God. The cross is the central symbol in Christian churches. The cross lies at the heart of Holy Communion, the only service Jesus left behind Him. The cross is the key to the ultimate problem of how a holy God can accept sinners into His company. The cross of Jesus is fundamental to Christianity!

Three weeks ago we celebrated the Transfiguration of our Lord. And we read of Moses and Elijah appearing in glory to speak with Jesus about His death which He would accomplish at Jerusalem. Jesus’ death wasn’t going to be a surprise, nor an accident, nor even untimely. His crucifixion on Calvary was planned and purposeful. His departure from this life was to be an accomplishment. But what was He going to accomplish?

That’s what I’d like to look at now, because I believe that the better we understand what was accomplished on the cross, the easier it will be for us to trust the One who died there – the less it will be a stumbling block. For the word of the cross is not foolishness – it is the power of God! And two of Jesus’ accomplishments on the cross could be summed up in the words, “salvation” and “revelation”. What God did in Christ on the cross was to rescue us, and reveal Himself.

Now, salvation might seem simple enough, but it is a thing so great, and its blessings are so many and so varied, that the Scriptures use several pictures to illustrate Christ’s salvation.

The first picture of salvation is one of Jesus appeasing or pacifying God’s anger. Does God get angry? Yes! Sin arouses the wrath of God. But God’s anger is poles apart from ours! The wrath of God is His steady, unrelenting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations. What provokes our anger (usually injured vanity) never provokes His; and what provokes His anger (evil) seldom provokes ours!

Now the Bible tells us that we’re all sinners and there’s nothing we can say or do to pay for our sins, or turn away God’s anger. So God Himself put forth Jesus Christ as the appeasing sacrifice, not because we loved God, but because God loved us. God took His own loving initiative, to appease His own righteous anger, by bearing it His own self in His own Son, when He took our place and died for us.

Another picture of salvation is that of God redeeming us. To redeem means to buy, or buy back, either as a purchase or as a ransom. So the emphasis here is on our captivity in sin – our slavery to sin – which made a divine act of rescue necessary. Maybe ransom is the best word. Jesus used it when He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

He implied that we are held in a captivity from which only the payment of a ransom can set us free – and that the ransom is nothing less than Jesus’ own life. The death of Jesus means that what happened to Him would have had to happen to the “many.” In other words, in redeeming or ransoming us on the cross, He took our place!

That’s just two of many pictures of salvation we find in the Bible. All emphasize that the saving initiative was taken by God in His love. And all plainly teach that God’s saving work was accomplished on the cross.

But what Jesus accomplished on the cross needs to be seen in terms of revelation as well as salvation. For through what God did there for the world, He was also speaking to the world. The cross was a word as well as a work.

Just as we disclose our character in our actions, so God has shown Himself to us in the death of His Son. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was revealed in creation, and nature, and history. Heaven and earth were filled with His glory! And He showed His glory in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. But the Apostle John tells us that although Jesus’ glory was shown in His miracles and signs, it was above all to be seen in the self-humiliation of the Son of God, which began with his birth and reached its climax in His death. In His death He was “lifted up,” not just physically raised onto the cross, but spiritually exalted before the eyes of the world.

And in the upper room, after the Last Supper, we read that Jesus “looked toward Heaven and prayed, ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’” And indeed, He was glorified. The cross, which appeared to be shame, was in fact glory! And the glorification was of the Father and the Son together!

But I believe that the most wonderful aspect of God’s character that was revealed at the cross is His love. People often question His love, too. They point to personal tragedies, floods and earthquakes (which we call “Acts of God”), plane crashes killing hundreds of people, war, hunger, starvation, poverty, disease and death – why does God allow them? How can these things be reconciled with a God of love?

Christianity doesn’t offer glib answers to these agonizing questions. But it does offer evidence of God’s love, which is just as historical and objective as the evidence that seems to deny it. This evidence is the cross of Christ.

The Apostle John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” (1 John 3:16) Most people would think they know what love is – even understand different kinds of love. But John says that, apart from Christ and His cross, the world would never have known what true love is! If you’re looking for a definition of love, don’t look in a dictionary, look at Calvary!

And John gets even more precise when he writes, “This is love: Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Because we are sinners, we deserve to die under the righteous anger of God. But God sent His only-begotten Son, and in sending Him, came Himself, to die that death and bear that wrath instead of us. It was an act of sheer, pure, unmerited love!

The Gospel of the cross will never be a popular message, because it humbles us. Yet Christ crucified is what we must proclaim, for the cross was God’s way to satisfy His love and His justice in the salvation of sinners. The Gospel of the cross is the power of God for salvation. And when we look at the cross we see the glory and the love of God in action.

Jesus had much to accomplish on the cross. We’ve looked at two of His accomplishments today: salvation for us, and revelation of God. May our understanding of what was accomplished at the cross help us to have a greater trust in our loving Savior who died there, for us.


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