Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Epistle Reading for Holy Cross Day
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Co 1:3)
A piece of graffiti from the early third century was discovered in Rome which depicts a man standing before a crucified figure with the body of a man but the head of a donkey. The inscription reads ‘Alexamenos worships his god’. This piece of graffiti is from a pagan Roman who felt he needed to mock a christian in the act of worship, and to mock Christ himself. And little has changed since A.D. 200. One commentator for the National Post wrote, “To be a serious Christian in modern Western culture is to be the favoured easy target of every progressive thinker and every half-witted comedian. It is to have your sensibilities and your deepest beliefs on perpetual call for taunts, mockery and desecration. At a time when all progressives preach full volume for inclusivity and sensitivity, for the utmost care in speech when speaking of others with differing views or hues, Christians, as Christians, are under a constant hail of abuse and disregard. There is nothing too low or too vulgar.” And he’s right. Its common for News outlets, Hollywood, and virtually all types of media to characterise Christians as superstitious buffoons to be mocked, or narrow-minded bigots to be denounced. And the Apostle Paul reminds us that this is the way it has always been.
To some it’s silly or scandalous
What is the reason for this mockery and disdain? Paul tells us clearly: it is the Word of the Cross. “We proclaim a crucified messiah,” Paul says. A crucified messiah?! Think about that for a second and you may get a hint of how absurd it may sound to some. The content of Christian preaching is what is at issue here. The point is that when Paul came into a pagan city that prided itself on its intellectual and cultural life, and he stood up to speak about Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified by the Romans but raised from the dead by God, and who was now the Lord of the world, calling people to repentance and faith, he knew what people would think.The Christian good news is all about God dying on a garbage-heap at the wrong end of the Empire. This was, and is, the craziest message anybody could imagine. This wasn’t a smart new philosophy; it was downright silly. It wasn’t an appeal to high culture. It was news of an executed criminal who died in disgrace.
And the Jewish people did not enjoy this message either. They found the whole idea scandalous! No Jew of the time was expecting a Messiah who would be executed by Rome; a Messiah ought to be defeating the pagans, not being killed by them! What’s more Christians we’re actually going to claim that the messiah was God’s own eternal Son became human to die a death cursed by the Law? No way! Paul knew first hand that the gospel, the Word of the Cross, the royal proclamation of King Jesus, the crucified messiah, would invite mockery where ever it was heard.
To this day those same reactions are experienced. The world can’t help but think that Christianity is a silly superstition. The simple message of the forgiveness of sins and promise of eternal life because of faith in a crucified messiah doesn’t make sense to many. They compare the Christian message with the wisdom and philosophies of the world. Christianity is just one option among many in the market of ideas and it doesn’t fare very well. University professors have taught them to prefer other, more sophisticated notions. And, to reinforce this, movies and television often depict Christians dogmatic blockheads or simpletons. Christian belief has been labelled as a delusion by those who peddle what they claim is a more intelligent option.
But, while some say that Christian belief is a delusion, many find belief in a crucified messiah to be downright offensive. Why? When christians say that the single and solitary way to be saved is through faith in a crucified messiah, this becomes an affront and an outrage to many. The exclusivity of the cross offends their sense of inclusivity and tolerance. The call for everyone to repent of sin is seen as arrogant and judgmental. Additionally, the idea that the bloody death of a crucified messiah was a vicarious atonement for the sins of the whole world is seen as barbaric.
And we are not immune. We can get caught up by intricate ideologies or fantastic philosophies. We are bombarded with alternatives to Christianity and the temptation is to swallow the blue pill and give in to the culture’s narrative. This need not happen all at once, but gradually, slowly, the message of the Cross can begin to look like a silly, irrelevant myth. Even Christians can begin to drift into finding the cross an embarrassment or even something scandalous. We can dress our self-constructed idolatry in Christian garb. We can attempt to relate to God in our own way, a way that matches our culture, instead of relating to God on his terms at the cross. But those who choose their own way, who reject the proclamation of the crucified messiah will ultimately face destruction.
In reality it’s the power of God
But God does the very opposite of what the world expects him to do. The world does not expect God to come down to man where he is. The world expects God to save with fanfare, pageantry, and power. Yet, God rescues you through a crucified messiah, who died without fanfare, in weakness, insignificance and shame. The World expects wisdom, it gets the folly of a crucified messiah.
You see, we do not proclaim, the worker of miracles messiah, to please the Jews. We do not proclaim the teacher of divine wisdom messiah, to please the Greeks. The messiah was both; but those do not deliver us from sin. We proclaim a crucified messiah. We declare to all the world the redeeming work by His death upon the Cross. Despite our sensibilities and preferences, the cross must occupy the chief place in all the Christian preaching. Not Jesus as an heroic character of supernatural birth, or as the example of a holy life, or as a divine lawgiver, or as the best and greatest of this world’s teachers,—nothing but the humiliated, suffering, bleeding, dying Jesus can serve as the basis for our assurance of God’s good favour towards us. The consequences for the world’s sin must be met by an all-sufficient Saviour, or the conscience can never find peace. Christ did for you what you could never have done for yourself.
And this proclamation about a crucified messiah is the very power of God. This message that the crucified messiah is now risen from the dead, is God’s power to save you, to give you life in the age to come. The word of the cross, the gospel, is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, Jews, Greeks, and even us Canadians. This announcement of the crucified messiah, this gospel preaching, is what you need to stay strong in the faith and not drift away. This is the word that will be your anchor when the brutality and harshness of life tempt you to question and doubt God’s love for you. The announcement of the crucified messiah will assure you that, in spite of everything else that appears to the contrary, God does indeed love you. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The word of the cross, the preaching of a messiah that was crucified and risen from the dead and is coming again to raise us up and restore creation–here is hope for you to hold on to, hope that will not disappoint.
We proclaim a crucified messiah. We proclaim the power of weakness, the wisdom of folly, the glory of disaster, the everlasting joy that has come into the world through suffering and death. Even though those on the road to destruction will always judge it a silly, scandalous message, the message of the crucified messiah is the only message we have and by it we know the love God has for us, for all. Lift up your eyes to the tree and see! In the horror of his death and abandonment, there is God! He is there for you. He thought you were worth that – worth the agony, worth the blood and sweat, worth the dying. He values you that much. Dear Christian family, let us lift high the cross and the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore His sacred name! Amen.
“The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:7).