In the Shadow of the Cross
Christians had to decide what the symbol for our faith would be. They considered fishes and loaves, some suggested the rainbow (the sign of the covenant to Noah), even a dove which symbolizes the Holy Spirit. But what was always excepted and mostly used as the best symbol of the Christian faith was the cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.
For many the cross is a piece of wood or metal they hang around their neck. Or that which is place on the wall of a home, church, or on the top of the church. But you did not do that in the first century. It would be like wearing an electric chair around your neck, it is weird, if not creepy. It is like going to someone’s home and seeing a picture of a lethal injection table on the wall. To be sure, you would not be staying for dinner!
Today, I want to speak to the Christian, about the cross in our lives. When I use the word “cross” it comes as an aberration or the symbol of the endured suffering and sacrifice of Christ and the benefits it gave to us.
I want to encourage you to not Shrink Under Shadows.
Don’t Shrink Under Shadows!
Shadows are dark times in our lives that seem to overshadow our joy. To live beyond the shadows of darkness we must dwell in the shadow of the cross. I want to do everything in my communication power to persuade us that:
“Our only hope, strength, joy, and peace in this life is the cross of Christ.”
Your only hope in life, is the brutal, bloody, humiliating execution of Christ on a wooden beam. By the end of your time reading this post, I want you to desperately cling onto the cross as if it is our only hope, because it most certainly is. We might say we already do, and I am sure we do, but what happens when bad things happen?...
Will you regard the cross as being relevant to your situation?
Will you see the message of the cross as applying to your blackout in life?
Or will you see the cross, it’s message to you, as being irrelevant, as being insignificant, or foolish in the shadow of your oppression and hurt?
Will you see that the message of the cross is significant when your granddaughter is diagnosed with brain cancer?
Will you see how the message of the cross is meaningful in the shadow of your loved one’s death?
By the end of our time I want us to be so desperately clinging onto the cross as our only hope that we leave this meeting house prepared to cling to the cross through thick and thin, in bad times and good times. That when people say “What do bad things happen to good people? And why are you so fun of joy and hope in this bad time” that we are prepared to give an account for the hope we have, the message of the cross.
Today, I want to speak to the Christian as Paul spoke to in his letter to the Corinth church:
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2 [NIV])
Here is the deal, Paul is writing to a group of Christians that have lost sight of the power and the centrality of the cross. They said that they were saved by the cross and at the cross, but they kept thinking about the cross differently throughout life when life’s shadows closed in. They moved away from the cross, but Paul says, “No, Christians don’t move away from the cross, they live at the cross!”
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (NIV)... "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.”
There is a lot to unpack in and about this scripture. Right off the bat, we can say that the message of the cross is decisive, meaning it causes debate and it divides people. It means that the message of the cross either draws people close to God or repels people away from God. The message of the cross either makes you have hope in life or the message of the cross makes you hateful in life. You either boast in the cross, or boast in something else.
“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.”
1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV)
"Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:t a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles," 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 (NIV)
Do you see the two types of people here? Each with a different reaction to the cross? Yep. On one hand you have those who are perishing, and to them the cross seems absurd. The idea of it, that God became a man, seems absurd. Right there, you lose millions in the world. Muslims would say this is absurd, God would not dare defile himself by becoming a man. For others, it is absurd for a man to claim to be God. Even further that God as a man would allow himself to be crucified. But the idea of the cross is more terrible.
Josephus said that the cross was the “most wretched of deaths” and the Greek philosopher Cicero said “Decent Roman citizens shouldn’t speak of the cross because it was unfit to even ponder that kind of murderous death." A murderous death that was indicative of one that was cursed by God. So much so that a word was invented to describe crucifixion: “excruciating.” "Excruciating" actually means “from the cross.” The idea of the cross was to make someone suffer as long as the body could endure. The cross today would not be an allowed form of capital punishment nor does it fit to use as war torture. The cross would be labeled as a war crime as it violates the entire world’s accepted rules of war. That’s right. The most barbaric nations of the world have even agreed that the cross is too barbaric, unfit for the most barbaric of persons. This is why the message of the cross was a stubbing block to the Jew.
To the Jewish person, the message of “Christ crucified” is shocking blasphemy. In context, blasphemy is calling evil news as good news. People have said of the cross of Christ that it was “Divine, child-abuse" as in the book of Deuteronomy to be hung on a tree is an expression of the cruse of God. The Christ would not ever be pictured as hanging on a cross.
The cross it also folly to gentiles. The word “folly” really means here “madness.” Gentiles hear about a man who dies on a piece of wood, and his death is suppose to determine every person’s eternal standing? It’s crazy! Step out of the story here. Imagine that you are reading a news paper or reading the news on your tablet and you find breaking news of how there was a man who was executed by political authorities in a small Middle-Eastern country because he was claiming to be the savior of the world, God in human form. We wouldn’t give that story a second thought. We would keep on scrolling. The message of the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentile. Let’s admit it. This is absurd to Americans too. Take the successful American business man with a nice job, nice house and car. Take the free-thinking American woman who thrives on being independent. Take them both to a city dump, where a naked man is hanging on nails on a tree, covered in blood. You then take that man and woman and tell them that their only hope in life is believing that this man is God, and their eternity is depended on submitting to him as their judge, their master and their Lord. That man and that woman would laugh and roll their eyes. At most they would feel bad for this man, and then walk away saying "That's crazy!" The message of the cross is an absurd story to both the Jew and the Gentile. But Paul is writing to a group of Jews and the Gentiles who believe in Christ. To them the cross looked different. So, on the one hand you a group of people where THE CROSS IS ABSURD to a people who are perishing. On the other hand you have those who are being saved, the cross is not absurd, the cross is power and joy. In the group where Paul finds himself is:
A people who sees the cross not as preposterous but as powerful.
Here is a group that see the cross differently. Friends, see the cross differently! Let’s say that together.
1. See the cross differently.
So, there is the question: “Why does one group of people see the cross as absurd and the other group of people see the cross as amazing? What is the difference between the two groups? What causes one group of people to say that’s preposterous and other group of people to say, that’s powerful?” Listen to Paul’s answer. Paul says the difference between these two groups has nothing to do with any specific quality in those who are saved:
“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. 1 Corinthians 1:26–29 (NIV)
Paul says you are things that “are not.” That’s not a compliment, in case if you were wondering! What sets you apart is has nothing to do with how smart you are, where you where born, or what you have done and achieved. You are in the church not because of any merit of you, only because of the mercy of God.
So the question remains: Why, do so many look at the cross and see folly,
when you and me look at the cross and see forgiveness?
Are you and I smarter? Are we better? Absolutely…. NOT! No, you see mercy in the cross because you choose to see God’s glory demonstrated at the cross. There was glory shown at the cross. Read Galatians 3:13:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’”
What is the curse? We know from the Scriptures that the curse is God’s wrath, His punishment that we deserve. Christ became our curse (the object of wrath) so He could be the removal of our punishment. Get this...
If God is not sovereign (meaning if He is not supreme ruler), all powerful... If God is not powerful over Islam... If God is not powerful the murder of his children... If He is not powerful over the sins in your life and the sins again you, we are trapped! If there is no cross, there is no obliteration of sins, no obliteration of obstacles in life, no obliteration of suffering, no hope! The good news is that there was and is the cross. The cross obliterated our sense of inadequacy. How do we know this?
Romans 3:25 (Berean Study Bible) “God presented Him as an atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand.”
If Christ had not been born... if Christ had not born our sins and our crushing curse... if a ransom had not been paid, we are still trapped! There is no way out. No hope. And if there is no hope in our spiritual life, there is no hope in our physical life. The crushing curse of sin is still present in our lives and so the crushing weight of the curse of sin, the consequence of sin, like death, disease, and fractured relationships. So then, death, disease, and fractured relationships still stings us. That’s right, life troubles still sting and renders the Christian’s faith useless IF not for the cross of Christ. How do I know this, let me relay to you what Apostle Paul wrote:
“'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)
Why, do so many look at the cross and see folly, when you and me look at the cross and see forgiveness? What causes one group of people to say that’s preposterous and other group of people to say, that’s powerful?” The why: You see mercy in the cross because you choose to see God’s glory, His power demonstrated at the cross. That's right. All people have the choice:
"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles."
Romans 1:21-23 (NIV)
That’s right. Those who are foolish choose to exchange God’s glory, His Image, for images that look like themselves. Its a ritual or a worship of self. They see God’s glory as no big deal, as not significant in their life. They choose to be foolish, and therefore they choose to see the cross, a crucifixion of self, as foolish. Now, those who glorify the cross, choose to take the glory of God. In choosing God’s glory, they recognize the glory of this world and the glory of self as mere foolishness, and therefore self loses out. We crucify our flesh. So says Galatians 6:14 (NLT)...
“As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world's interest in me has also died.”
When we choose God’s glory, we proclaim God’s glory over self. We exchange the world’s glory for God’s glory. We exchange my interests in world for my interests in God. We name Him as powerful over ourselves, and the odd thing is, when self loses, we become wise. This is in contrast to those who choose their glory at the expense of God’s glory. Unlike those who choose their glory and proclaim the glory of themselves, naming themselves as king over self, self wins and they become foolish!
Now, when we choose God’s glory, we proclaim God’s glory over self. This proclamation is a declaration and an internalization of Christ’s suffering. So much so, we share in Christ’s suffering and his crucifixion. When we identify with Christ suffering, we identify with Christ.
Prophet Isaiah of the Old Testament (Isa. 52:14) says this about Christ in his suffering associated with the cross…
“His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness”
Which means, if you had known what Jesus looked like and saw him after his scourging, you would not recognize Jesus as being Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church we are told that Jesus traded His glory as God for human likeness that we might be Sons of God. We can learn from this Isaiah passage and Philippians chapter two that if we are going to choose God’s glory, we have to identify with Christ, becoming so disfigured, so unrecognizable as your self. Christ call to you, “Become unrecognizable, rid yourself of yourself.” In the group where Paul finds himself, is a people who sees the cross not as preposterous but as powerful. In this group is a people who sees themselves as futile and the cross as fulfillment. Here is a group that see the themselves differently. Friends, see the yourself differently. Let’s say that together:
2. See yourself differently.
How in the world can Christians call the crucifixion of Christ good news? How can a Christian celebrate a terrible event in history as great news? How can we be celebrating this today? Many people say “You can’t teach the cross because God is love, and how will the people see the love of God at the cross of Jesus?” To which I answer: "Yes, we can. We can teach the cross, because it the cross is the love of God!"
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2b-3)
For the joy set before Him, He endured suffering. What was the joy? I have to know, because I want to endure bad times too. What was it that He was to delight in? From the hours of study I put in, I found one thing that we may identify as the joy. His joy was the glory of God! His joy was the glory of God!
Now, what was it that glorified God in and at the cross? First of all, God showed himself all-powerful and righteous in that He was just in justifying us (e.i., God showed his glorious character to us, that being a righteous judge). Secondly, God reclaimed for Himself His people that they may forever glorify Him in His presence (e.i., God showed his glorious nature to us, that being love). Christ’s cross glorified God, so His joy was God’s glory. The writer of the letter of Hebrews tells us to consider Christ who endured the sin of sinners. Friends, consider Christ’s joy. Make His joy your joy. Let's say it together:
Our joy is the glory of God.
How do we make our joy the glory of God? That's hard to do? Paul gives us the answer in his letter to the Roman Christians:
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:2b-5 [NIV])
We boast in the hope of God’s glory. Not only do boast, but we live it, meaning that we take joy in our sufferings. This only happens when we see our sufferings or situations as opportunities. We must see our situations differently. Let’s say that together:
3. See your situation differently.
This means we take joy in our sufferings because we know that suffering is an opportunity to produce within us, perseverance, character, and to character, hope. HOPE! Remember we opened with this understanding:
“Our only hope in this life is the cross of Christ.”
When a granddaughter gets news that she has brain cancer. When you get the news of your loved one’s accident. When the death of a loved one occurs, and the grief it just too much. When you are in the hospital and the doctor brings out bad news. Where is your hope? In the Cross of Christ! How do you hope in your situation? How do you see your situation differently? You ask this question seriously and not sarcastically: "How is God going to get the glory out of this?" We need to see situations as opportunities for God to be glorified. In your earnest seeking to glorify God, you will need to proclaim: “God is going to get the glory out of my cross!” We have come here as people of varying degrees of status, but I doubt we could say we hold power in our world. We are no kings, queens, presidents, government officials, justices or star athletes. But as we look at our world, the power, especially the power of evil, seems to us to be so big, and so strong and so awesome that we question what could we do to oppose it? But we are asked, that no matter what it may look like out there, no matter how powerful Hollywood looks, wall street, abortion, divorce, pornography, no matter how unbeatable hunger, racism, and aids look, JESUS CHRIST IS KING. It’s not the satan. It’s not suffering. It’s not evil. It’s CHRIST!
There was not many people that could come to Jesus on the cross as say “Hey, that’s God.” But the question I give to you and the one I have to answer for myself is, do you dare to live as if God is stronger than the evil and suffering that we face in our own lives and in our own culture? Will you dare to live, that as if the power that lives within us, is greater than any power, more than anything you face in your life that is against you. I maintain that we haven’t lived that way. That we live as if evil is stronger, or the evil of this world, is stronger, so we hide in churches, monasteries, and convents, and said evil is too strong, and God is not big enough or strong enough to last and overpower. The message of the cross tells us that no matter how big or overwhelming or glorious things may seem in this world, the man of the cross is King.
While standing the the shade of the Cross all shadows shall pass. Every time doubt threatens to cast a shadow over our hearts, let us run back toward in the shadow of the cross, because In the shadow of the cross, everything changes.