We have been asking the question all during the Lenten season: What does Jesus reveal that is unique about God? For Jesus, it was his death that was the most revealing thing about God and the necessity of Jesus’ death for the salvation of people. What is so amazing is the symbol for Christianity that we have is not the resurrection. We are people of the empty tomb, but our symbol is the cross.
Think about what the cross meant in Jesus’ time. We are going to be in 1 Corinthians this morning, which was written somewhere 27-30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the cross was still a symbol of oppression and fear. The Romans used the cross all the way through the times of the New Testament. They used it to oppress people and to create fear in people, to maintain control. And yet, we see the Apostle Paul, 27 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, turn this negative, horrendous symbol into a symbol of power and wisdom of God.
So open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 1. We are just going to look at two verses in this passage, verses 23 and 24, starting with, “But we preach Christ crucified.” Wow, why don’t we preach Christ resurrected? We never get to resurrection, or transformation in our life unless you go through the cross. “A stumbling block to Jews and foolish to Gentiles but to those to whom God has called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.”
What does the cross reveal? The wisdom of God. God is a God of justice. Who God is God can’t change. God is not a co-dependent God and a moral universe, a moral creation demands justice. We will be held accountable; it’s the nature of who God is in a moral universe that we will be held accountable for our choices and our actions. You know there is a lot of discussion, I don’t know if you are paying attention lately to all the debate over whether hell exists. Rob Bell has written a book and it’s created a lot of stir in both the Christian and secular press. It is a book that we carry in our bookstore and I do recommend even though I may not agree with everything that is in the book. Bell asks some very important questions that Christians need to be asking. But the very nature of free will demands hell. You see, if God does not make us his puppets and God loves us so much, to say that you can choose my way, even though I created you, I’m not going to force you to follow in my way. I love you enough to let you choose to say, “Thanks but no thanks. Even though you gave me life, I choose to do my own thing.” The very nature of freedom of choice demands hell.
You know we see all throughout Scripture there is much too much written about judgment and the day of accountability that we can’t dismiss. And the Scripture says yes, there will be a day of resurrection. That day has not yet come, so those who are dead right now are in a place called paradise, they are present with Christ, but they are awaiting the final resurrection of the body. Yes, God can bring together ashes scattered around the Earth. There will be a resurrection of the body and we will all on that day stand before God for that final judgment, and we read that there will be those who are resurrected into eternal life and those who will be passed on to eternal death. So God is a God of justice and God can’t excuse unjust behavior.
Some people believe in predestination, that you can make no choices, that you are like a robot. No. In Deuteronomy 28, God says to the people, I have set before you two choices. You can choose life, you can choose my way and the results and blessings that follow by choosing life. Or you can choose death and the consequences of death. So you see a moral universe, a moral universe demands justice. You know we are going to be held accountable for what we have done to the unborn through abortion, we are going to be held accountable for what we have done through war and held accountable for our total indifference toward the poor and the orphaned and the widowed.
So we get what we deserve. God is a God of justice. When the Old Testament says “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” that is justice. However, God is a God of mercy. All of this together is who God is and mercy means we get what we don’t deserve. We don’t get what we deserve. It’s a paradox. How can we get what we deserve and then we don’t get what we deserve? We looked at it two weeks ago about the woman caught in adultery. We see that she was brought immediately to Jesus, caught in the act and we see that there is no sign at this point of repentance. Most of the time when a person is caught in the act, they are sorry for getting caught. They are not sorry for what they have done, but Jesus says, “I do not condemn you.” He understands mercy. But he also understands justice, saying, “therefore, go and leave your lifestyle of sinfulness.”
Look with me a Luke 15. It’s a great story. I love this chapter. Three parables that Jesus tells about God and the pursuit of lost things. He tells this incredible story in Luke 15 of a wealthy man who has two sons. So his youngest son decides that he wants to go off and experience life for himself, so he demands from his father, his share of the inheritance and he goes off for a time period and he blows his money on addictive kind of behavior, on prostitutes, irresponsible living. Now we read that at this point that Jesus uses a little humor too, now remember he is talking to a Jewish audience, so this young kid comes to a point where he is homeless and he goes to work for a pig farmer and he is eating with the pigs, he is feeding the pigs, he is sleeping with the pigs. Why would that be a joke to Jewish people? That is the last thing that a good Jew wants to do – dealing with pigs, dealing with pork.
So it says here that in the 17th verse that when he came to his senses, in a 12 step program we call it the restoration of sanity, when we really realize that when we try and do life apart from God, that’s called ego and that means edging God out. When we come to our senses and we realize that it is insane to try and live independently from the one who is life, the one who has created us. He woke up and said, “How many of my fathers hired servants have food to spare and here I am starving to death? I’m going to go back to my father, and say ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.’” There is that point when we realize that God is a God of justice and that we are going to get the consequence of our choices. The man planned to tell his father, “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion and ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Now that is an amazing God we see in this demonstration of affection. A lot of us had parents that withheld affection. Yet we see in our creator, one who gives affection. God is a God of justice, but God is a God of mercy and when we can’t find our way to God, but our hearts turn towards God, God runs and finds us where we are.
Now he gets back and he says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you and I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” Notice the father interrupts him and cuts him off in mid-sentence, because the next part of the sentence he wants to say is “make me like of your hired servants.” But the father didn’t let him get that far. The Father turns to his servants and says, “quick, bring a robe.” Now the robe was the apparel of a noble person. So this kid just wants to be a hired servant yet the father is elevating that son to his rightful place as prince. The son still smells like a pig, but the father clothes him in the clothing of royalty. Then he says, “Bring the ring.” Now what is so amazing about this? It wasn’t about just any ring. It was a signet ring. A person of position didn’t need money to make a transaction. Their word was enough and so on any business deal, or any purchase. They would dip the ring in some wax or ink and put it on the paper and they could receive anything they wanted based on the resources that stood behind that name. Now here is a kid who has just come back. He squandered all of his father’s money and it’s like getting into a top notch college and your parents invest about 50 K and you flunk out the second semester. And the Father is handing him a charge card. Now what is that? That is mercy sisters and brothers.
Now what is so amazing about the cross is that the cross is the intersection of justice and mercy. If you look at the vertical nature is that we stand accountable for our choices, a moral universe demands justice. Free will demands hell. We are staying accountable to God. The Bible says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We will reap what we sow. But Jesus says, “you have heard ‘an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say if someone smacks you up against this side, turn to him and let him do it again.” The cross is the only place where justice is fulfilled and mercy is given, sisters and brothers. It is the intersection, it’s why the death of Jesus is necessary for the salvation and transformation of the world.
That is the wisdom of God. We have this Roman world where the Jews thought, “oh my gosh, we thought this was the Messiah, the all powerful God, but he was subject to the same evil and oppression and died as a criminal. How could this have been the Messiah?” And God turns this whole thing around and the symbol of oppression and defeat becomes a symbol of power. How is the cross power? Jesus said this: “If any of you want to be my disciples, you must deny yourself and take up the cross daily.” Did you know that I’m a sinner? Did you know you’re a sinner? So to transform me from deception and deceit, for me to experience the power of the resurrection, I have to die to my self and my own will daily. I have to die to my wants, my passions, and I have to fully give myself over to his.
How many of you gave up something for Lent? How many of you have been successful? I gave up red meat for Lent. Man, no problem the first week. Second week I was running through an airport and I had like 35 minutes till my next flight, and I hadn’t eaten since lunch and it was like 10 at night and I’m running past a Wendy’s and I’m like darn it, it’s Lent. It has become a tradition on Monday nights to go with my son and daughter-in-law to Harrison’s in Tipp City. They have this great steak special for $6.95, so it was no big deal the first and second week, but by the third week I’m thinking, “When can I go back to Harrison’s?” I want to tell you, by this last Monday night, “Lord Jesus, when will Easter get here?” Now see what I have found though, that if I just deal with today, one day at a time, I can do it. We know this in the recovery community, it’s about one day at a time. And that is the reason Jesus put it this way: “If anyone wants to come after me and deny themselves, and take up the cross daily.”
It’s amazing that the symbol for us, we don’t wear around our neck an open tomb. We wear a cross. You are never going to experience the power of the resurrection in your life as a reality, day to day, unless you are willing to deny to self will one day at a time, and live under his will. Transformation is hard and it’s painful. That is why we want to forget about the cross and just put some big empty tomb up here. But change doesn’t happen without the commitment to die to self will on a daily basis, so Jesus in the garden was saying, “Lord, if this could happen some other way than me experiencing the pain of the cross, please let it happen, but not my will, your will be done.”
In the first 500 years of the church, brand new Christians were baptized on Easter. Baptism means buried. I have been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who lived but Christ who lives in me. Yeah, I would like to go off and do a lot of things that I would like to do, but I can’t, for I have been crucified with Christ, its no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. So Christians every Easter reaffirm their baptismal vows on Easter morning. They re-affirm for the coming year that it is no longer I who live in any dimension of my life, whether it’s finances, whether it is relationships, it’s no longer I who live, it’s not what I want, its thy will be done. So next Easter morning, next week at 7:30 we are going to have a big tent out here on the lawn and any of you, if you are a new believer and have not been baptized, we are going to do baptism and we have one class you need to go to, or as a believer who has been baptized, to reaffirm your commitment.
I also want to remind you, sisters and brothers, that we are called to be Christ’s witnesses. Remember, he said follow me and I will make you fishers of people. We have a responsibility to be witnesses and next week is one of two times a year when most of America will come to church 74% of America does not go to church on a regular basis. But next week almost 80% will. Who do you know? I want us to pray this morning for what God is going to do this week in our lives and in the lives of other people around us in this most important week in the Christian year. Bow your head with me please.
Lord Jesus, I pray for my sisters and brothers as well as myself and my family, that we can have the courage to walk the way of the cross, not just the 40 days of the Lenten season, but that it becomes a lifestyle. Lord, in those places of our lives where our passion for you has grown lukewarm or cold, we just pray that you heat us up, restore to us our first love, that not only may our life on Earth be fruitful for you, but that others around us can see you through us in the darkness that our world is enfolded in. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Transcribed from Mike Slaughter's April 17, 2011 message. Copyright 2011 Ginghamsburg Church. All rights reserved.