Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Power and Wisdom of the Cross

You can tell much about the state of the Church by the messages that are preached to it. I want to share with you two lists of sermon titles. See if you can figure out what these preachers and their people value by simply noting their sermon titles. I am not criticizing one or the other. I just want you to see the difference. One list is contemporary; one is from the past.

How To Tell God You Love Him
The Five Essentials of Life
It Takes Courage To Make A Difference
Where To Find The Hope You Need
How God Heals Your Hidden Wounds

VALUES: simplicity, structure, help for personal problems, lightheartedness

A Family Well-Ordered (Cotton Mather)
Charity and Its Fruits (Jonathan Edwards)
Gospel Worship (Jeremiah Burroughs)
Duty of Self-Denial (Thomas Watson)
The Art of Divine Contentment
The Mischief of Sin
The Desperateness of Sinners
An Alarm to Sinners
Hell’s Furnace Heated Hotter

VALUES: Christian virtue and character, seriousness, biblical terminology

Comparing one list with another, it seems there are some truths which have lost their centrality in preaching. What once was at the core of biblical proclamation is now hard to find at all. Our text today speaks about one of these truths which we hear less and less of. It is the message of the cross.

I hope that the Church has not outgrown the cross, has not moved on to bigger and better things. I hope that we have not forgotten the most pivotal act in history and relegated it to the sidelines. The Latin word for cross (crux) is where we get our word crucial. The cross is crucial to our faith.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, it was to address their many problems: divisions, worldliness, tolerating immorality, issues of marriage and food, and the display of Christian love at their church meetings. But both at the beginning and end of his letter, he reminds the church of the centrality of the message of the cross.

In chapter 1, verses 17-25, Paul gives us two reason why we need the cross.

1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5

You need the message of the cross because you are too weak to save yourself.

A. [PROBLEM] You cannot save yourself.

1. Your nature is dead in its orientation toward God. (Eph 2:1-3)

Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

2. You are enslaved by the power of sin. (Rom 7:14-15)

Romans 7:14-15 (NIV)
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

3. Those who are dead toward God and slaves to sin have no resources in themselves to cancel a sin debt. (Rom 5:8)

Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

B. [SOLUTION] The cross demonstrated God’s power to save.

1. The cross satisfied God’s wrath toward sin. (Rom 3:25)

Romans 3:25 (NIV)
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
2. It secures a new heart orientation for those who have faith in Christ.
3. Christ broke the strength of sin when he rose from the grave because sin’s strength is demonstrated in death. (James 1:15; 1 Cor 15:17, 54-57)

James 1:15 (NIV)
15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

1 Corinthians 15:17 (NIV)
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A boy and his father were traveling in a car when a bee flew through the open window. The boy was so highly allergic to bee stings that both he and his father knew that his life was in danger. As the boy frantically jumped around and tried to avoid the agitated bee, the father calmly reached out and grabbed the bee. When he opened his hand, the bee began to fly again, terrorizing the boy once more. The father then said, “Look, son,” holding up a hand with an implanted stinger, “his stinger is gone; he can’t hurt you any longer.” As a bee loses its stinger when it stings, so death lost its sting when it stung Jesus.

4. There is even more to the power of the cross!

THERE IS WONDERFUL POWER in the Cross of Christ. It has power to wake the dullest conscience and melt the hardest heart, to cleanse the unclean, to reconcile him who is afar off and restore him to fellowship with God, to redeem the prisoner from his bondage and lift the pauper from the dunghill, to break down the barriers which divide [people] from one another, to transform our wayward characters into the image of Christ and finally make us fit to stand in white robes before the throne of God. John Stott, The Preacher's Portrait

You need the message of the cross because you are not wise enough to save yourself.

A. You are not wise enough to save yourself.
B. The wisdom of the world is foolish in God’s sight.
1. Philosophy (Acts 17:16-21)
2. Psychology and Theology
C. The cross demonstrated God’s wisdom to save.
1. The one who went to the cross was both God and man.
2. The one who went to the cross fulfilled all of the law’s requirements.
3. The cross secures salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life for all who believe.

III. The message of the cross is “Christ crucified for sinners and raised again.”

The cross is a stumbling block.

Commenting on the atoning death of Jesus, a Muslic cleric said, “That means God is thirsty for the blood, and he wouldn’t give forgiveness to anyone except if he sees the blood–and the blood of who? His son! It is ridiculous!”

But the message is “Christ crucified.”

The story is told of a small English village that had a tiny chapel whose stone walls were covered by traditional ivy. Over an arch was originally inscribed the words: WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED. There had been a generation of godly men who did precisely that: they preached Christ crucified.

But times changed. The ivy grew and pretty soon covered the last word. The inscription now read: WE PREACH CHRIST. Other men came and they did preach Christ: Christ the example, Christ the humanitarian, Christ the ideal teacher.

As the years passed, the ivy continued to grow until finally the inscription read: WE PREACH. The generation that came along then did just that: they preached economics, social gospel, book reviews, just about anything. This story illustrates how man’s philosophical detours affect how the gospel is transmitted.

Let the power and wisdom of the cross be applied to you. Put your trust in the Savior of the cross.

A. He died for you, in your place.

B. He calls you to believe in his name, trust in his provision, and treasure Him above all else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good blog post. If you don't have it, I'd recommend John R.W. Stott's "The Cross of Christ" -- perhaps the best I've read.