Friday, March 16, 2018

The Message of the Cross (Romans 5:1-11) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

How do we measure the size of a fire? By the number of firefighters and fire engines sent to fight against it. How do we measure the seriousness of a medical condition? By the recommendation’s the doctor’s make in prescribing antibiotics or surgery or radiation. How do we measure the gravity of human sin and the vastness of God's love for us? By looking at the magnitude of what God has done for us in Jesus, the Son of God who became like a common criminal for our sake and in our place. The cross is the most familiar, the most recognizable symbol of the Christian faith.

People have long asked - who killed Jesus? History has blamed the Jews.   Jews have been called Christ-killers since the first century. I wonder if this charge is behind the anti-Semitism which has followed Jews throughout their history.  The New Testament Gospels tell us that the Jewish political and religious leaders and crowds brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor of the province of Judea, under Roman Emperor Tiberius, and shouted - “Crucify him, Crucify him.” The Jews accused Jesus of committing blasphemy, because he claimed to be God, an egregious offense against the one God and a charge which deserved capital punishment.

History has also pointed to the Romans.  Roman soldiers, under orders, beat and whipped Jesus and then hung him on a cross to die a slow and agonizing death.  The Roman's charged Jesus with treason; that he claimed to be King, king of the Roman Empire.  Such a claim was sedition, which meant that Jesus was a traitor.  Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar was the only King. The derisive inscription on the cross mocked Jesus – “King of the Jews.”   The place where criminals were crucified was at a site just outside of the walls of Jerusalem called Golgotha, an Aramaic name for “place of the skull.

Theologically, to contend that the Jews and Romans killed Jesus, means that human sin took the life of the Son of God.  Due to sin, humanity dishonored God, disobeyed God, rebelled against God and followed other gods.  Humanity rejected Jesus the Christ, rather than believing in him and following him as the Messiah.  Scripture asserts that humanity, represented by the Jews and Romans, executed Jesus.

In the N.T. the letter of Romans says: “What then?  Are we Greeks any better off than the Jews?  Not at all, for we have already charged that all, Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The Bible declares: “For the wages of sin is death.” Because of humanity's sin against God, humanity deserves the penalty of death.  Human sin was responsible for Jesus’ death.

But scripture further announces a third word.   It declares this astounding truth; that out of love for the world. It was God’s will that Jesus died on the cross.   I Timothy says: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  The letter of Romans says: “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  Jesus death was a vicarious sacrifice.  Jesus took our sin, guilt, our shame, our punishment, our death upon himself.  Jesus the judge, was judged in our place.  The cross, an instrument of torture, became in God’s hands a means of redemption, of freedom, of forgiveness to all who come to the cross in faith.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, chapter 53 written centuries before Jesus appeared on the human scene proclaiming: "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he bore our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

When someone deeply hurts you, what are your options?  You can choose to ignore the offense, or reject the person, or seek revenge and punishment, or decide to forgive and to strive to reconcile with that person.  The last option is the most difficult option of all.

Rather than punishing humanity, God decided to do something about this broken relationship and mend the relationship, reconcile it, restore it, through the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ.  Scripture uses different metaphors to portray this.  Jesus' death was a means of redemption or deliverance from sin.  It was a sacrifice, a ransom, a debt paid, a satisfaction, a substitution, an act of forgiveness, an ultimate price paid to bring us back to be at one with God.

The letter of Romans says:  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Now that’s grace.   Scripture and our Christian faith, are saying that Jesus’ death is a paradox; it was the result both of the sin of humanity and the will of God.

John 4:9 declares:  This is how God showed his amazing love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Jesus’ death is an atoning sacrifice, it made us at one with God, it was the price Christ paid because of human sin, to bring us back to be at one with God. The crucifixion, made us right with God and through faith in the crucified and risen Savior, we can experience new life, a new beginning, a fresh start now and forever.

For centuries, the message of the gospel has radically changed people's lives.  People who have heard and believed this message experienced a transformation and were never the same again.  At the same time, this same message has been rejected by people over history.  People have distained it and called the message sheer folly.    People have mocked and ridiculed the gospel.

The Bible calls this message a mystery.  We read in I Corinthians where the apostle Paul writes:  I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words of wisdom.  I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Scripture says human wisdom alone, apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, cannot believe or receive this message. Scripture says: “We speak of God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

I close with this story from the Rev. Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. He tells about a Vietnam veteran‘s parade in Chicago to commemorate a mobile version of the Vietnam Wall, which like the original wall in Washington D.C. bears the names of all the American service men and women who died in Vietnam.

A reporter asked a veteran why he had come all the way to Chicago to visit this memorial and to participate in the parade. The veteran looked straight into the face of the reporter and with tears flowing down his face said, "Because of this man right here." As the veteran talked, he was pointing to the name of a friend that was etched in the wall.  He traced the letters of his friend's name in the wall with his finger saying: "This man right here gave his life for me.  He gave his life for me." And the sobbing veteran let the tears flow, as he stood there with his finger on the name of his friend.

As we approach holy week, beginning with Palm Sunday, let us both remember and testify to this central truth:  The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to but to all who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Jesus calls you and me to come to the cross this Lenten season.  Amen!

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