Friday, November 27, 2009

The Offense of the Cross

The Apostle Paul and the early Christians were known, and sometimes hated, for their belief in and preaching of the cross. They were not the kind to push themselves in people’s faces, however they were bold in their proclamation of the cross of Jesus Christ. They did not concern themselves with how the Roman government conducted their business, or the current moral issues of the day. Theirs was the gospel and the cross was the core. And it was this cross, the death implement that was known throughout the Roman Empire, that was the reason they were hated and persecuted.

Where is the offense of that cross today? Why have we western believers manipulated a form of persecution that centers on morals, or politics, or freedom, or marriage, or even abortion, and yet we are not known for our embrace of the cross of Jesus Christ? Drive around your Anytown, USA and read the latest sermon series on the church signs. How many are preaching a series on the cross? Read your newspaper and search for a message series on the cross. Peruse the blog nation and look for the cross. The tragic reality is that the western church has relegated the cross as ancillary and subordinate to a host of other “issues”.

We have elevated everything from finances to relationships to sexual fitness ahead of the cross. We argue and debate about election, regeneration chronology, cultural principles, and we generally only trot out the cross as either a proof that we still believe in it, or similar to some holy day that comes around once in a while. And amidst the relevant teachings that are aids to our everyday lives, the cross seems out of date and a doctrinal antique. It appears as unsophisticated and without a definitive purpose in a well rounded western lifestyle.

And as we battle against everything from the emerging church to taxes, we have indeed lost our distinctiveness as it pertains to the cross. Sinners do not equate us with the cross anymore, and in fact we have successfully become known more for what we are against than what we are for. We are far more famous for our anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and anti-Islam stands than we are known for our pro-Jesus position, to say nothing of the absence of a “pro-cross” position. And much of the church relishes in its new found persecution of morals and issues and is completely blind to the fact that we have left our first love. It is a sad day in Christendom.

Most evangelicals, from emergent to orthodox, would never openly deny the cross as a tenant of our faith. Most would find a prominent place for that cross in their statement of faith, and many teach about it a few appropriate times during the calendar year. Many believers have a cross as jewelry although many would never publicly speak about its redemption. So we as believers in America, estimated in the millions, are now just one religion among many; known for a host of issues and social/political voices but hardly ever associated directly with the preaching of the cross. The cross lays dormant among us and seemingly dead to the darkness around us.

But let us return to God’s Word and see what the Spirit reveals through human pens about the cross and its offense. Listen to what God says is His priority and what actually brings authentic and glorifying persecution.

I Cor.1:17-18 - For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

The great apostle was not concerned with counting baptisms, and in fact he did not baptize. Listen today as denominations either rejoice or lament in the number of their baptisms. But not Paul; Paul sets his face like a flint to preach the gospel, and he elevates the cross as the centerpiece of that gospel. He is not concerned with numerical accolades associated with his ministry, God forbid, he is only concerned with his faithfulness to proclaim Christ and His gospel and lifting high that wondrous cross!

Gal.5:11 - And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

Paul isn’t going to preach the law. He will not reach back and cull out the teachings of Moses that illustrate moral dos and don’ts, those types of directives are for the church and those that are alive in Christ. But to the kingdom of darkness Paul will preach Jesus Christ and His cross, and for that Paul will suffer persecution. In fact, Paul states that if he would preach Moses and the law he would be accepted in some circles. Back then it would have been the unbelieving Jews that would have lauded Paul, and today it will still be conservative unbelievers, Jew and Gentile, who accept us and even join with the church because we preach morality and the tenants of our moral law. But if we preach Christ and His cross we would see how many conservatives, even some conservative evangelicals, would run for cover and abandon our cause when it became the cross.

Gal.6:12 - As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

As long as people acquiesced to the dictates of religious ceremony they would be accepted. And so it is today, only in today’s religious theatre we have made many idols and treated them as religious tenants. A lost person can be a hedonist enemy of Jesus Christ but if he or she is pro-life they have a place at our political table. The church is ready and willing to join hands with unbelievers and lukewarm professing believers, and even cults, as long as they become “circumcised” by the ismail of conservative political and moral perspectives.

Gal.6:14 - But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Where is our glory? What has happened to the glory that once rested upon the church as they roamed the world? Why has the church been drawn into the useless harangue of the issues of the world and left the cross in the sanctuary? We claim that the wall between the church and the state only prevents the government from ecclesiastical interference, and that the church still should have a voice in the government. But what voice do we speak? Do we speak the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or do we speak a stream of moral and political perspectives to dead men and women who need Christ and not moral adjustments? We have traded the glorious shame of Christ’s cross for the hollow victory of political leverage.

Eph.2:15-16 - Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

There can be only one message since there is only one way to obey the commandments. That message is the cross through which our Master has offered reconciliation to all sinners. Worthless is the great commission of moral issues, and empty is the gospel of commandments. The cross is God’s message and the cross is God’s power. Go ahead and scurry about with the beggarly elements of political causes and moral issues and see if God’s power rests in those modern instruments of the law. Go ahead and find solace and contentment in your political battles and strategies and see if sinners are converted through the gospel of democracy. The cross cannot just be included, it must be the exclusive zenith of our clarion call at the expense of all other noble, important, and even urgent concerns.

Phil.2:7-9 - But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

Can we not be brought to tears when we see how little we have made of our Blessed Savior and His Blessed Sacrifice? The horrors He endured are treated as doctrinal relics that are of little value in the modern discourse and the post modern marketplace of spiritual ideas. We boast in our numbers; we boast in our moral perspectives; we boast in our buildings; we boast in our political clout; we boast in our national conferences; we boast in our theologies; we boast in our orthodoxy; we boast in particular preacher heroes; but where is the uncomfortable and remarkable boasting in the cross of Jesus Christ? Not using the cross as some religious talisman that is employed as a Constantinian reference to ensure our standing in the orthodox community, but as the constant theme of our faith and life. It would seem we are embarrassed by Christ’s cross in mixed company and we will engage the darkness on its own terms.

Phil.3:18-19 - (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Why does Paul refer to some as “enemies of the cross of Christ”? God must consider the cross of His Son to be sacred if he singles out men as enemies of that cross. Perhaps we are not enemies of that cross, but are we cowards of that cross? If the cross was our banner and our constant theme, how often would we be invited to appear on television talk shows? Christians are welcomed as conservative voices on political and moral matters, but if they insisted on preaching the cross of Christ how often would they be welcomed? The cross is an offense, our conservative issues are welcomed. And in the end, many have joined hands with enemies of the cross in order to eat at the pottage bowl of political leverage. That just may be the greatest compromise of all.

I Cor.1:12-13 - Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Look what Paul says here. He did not say, “Was Paul resurrected for you?” He did not say, “Did Paul do miracles for you?” He did not say, “Was Paul born of a virgin for you?” In an effort to restore unity among the brethren and eradicate human idolatry Paul references the crucifixion of Christ. Does that speak to your heart, dear friends? What is the tie that binds us all? The cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the fountain from which we must all continually drink. The cross is not just the altar upon which we found redemption but now we move on to bigger and more relevant spiritual issues – NO – the cross is the life blood of the church and to the degree the church moves away from the preaching and teaching of the cross is the degree to which the church dies.

I Cor.1:22-24 - For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

The kingdom of darkness desires to know what you believe on an array of issues. The political world inquires as to which president you support. The religious world wants you to declare your doctrinal slant. And when presented with such inquiries, when will we as believers immediately profess our faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice of the cross as the only way to eternal life? Paul did not change his message to accommodate the prevailing political issues of the time. Paul did not shrink from preaching the cross because some would be offended. Paul knew, as should we, that the preaching of the cross draws sinners by the power of the Spirit.

I Cor.1:1-3 - And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

How far have moved away from that “church growth” concept? I challenge you to google Christian conferences for the last year and see if how many conferences you find on the cross. You will find conferences on marriage, shepherds, finances, worship, growth, poets, modern Christinaity, and a long list of topics. But you will find the cross is scarce among popular conference topics. And look how Paul approached the preaching of the crucified Christ; in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. What makes us tremble today? The economy? Terrorism? Job loss? When was the last time you witnessed someone exhibit demonstrable discomfort simply because they were aware of the sacred power of the cross of Christ? When the average evangelical pulpit gets around to mentioning or even preaching on the cross of Jesus Christ, they usually do it with such composure that it comes with little supernatural power and is received no differently than last week’s message on raising teenagers.

Gal.2:20 - I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

The resurrection has its undeniable power in the life of a believer, but look how Paul places the crucifixion of Christ in his life. Paul says “I am crucified with Christ” and He “gave Himself for me”. How many rights does a dead man have? How much political power can a corpse have? What citizenship can those who live in Christ and are dead to this world have? The cross of Jesus Christ is not only to be preached and proclaimed, it is the instrument by which we find life through our own death. If indeed we are to be living crucified lives that render ourselves dead and remove the self stone and allow the life of Jesus Christ to come forth and live in our place, where are the fruits of that colossal truth?? Are we not embarrassed by such teachings as we juxtapose that truth against the reality of what passes as the Christian life today? God forbid the world could ever truly understand what we say we believe for we would rightly be exposed as frauds and hypocrites. And it isn’t just that we have not attained the reality of such truths, it is much more that we no longer pursue or even believe such things today.

Gal.3:1-3 - O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

Look into a mirror here. Paul speaks to the believers at Galatia who have set about to become better Christians through the law and outward means. And tell me, beloved of God, what would these things be in today’s ecclesiastical atmosphere? Inventory the list of things by which church goers are assessed as growing and mature. Church attendance, tithing, teaching Sunday School, pastoral support, ordination, church leadership, political activism, and many other outward elements that are used to proclaim a believer is mature in the faith. And yet Paul, in verse one, makes reference to the crucifixion of Christ as the centerpiece of spiritual growth. What a profound statement Paul makes, and how contradictory it is to today’s theology. To think that the cross of Jesus Christ is central and in fact indispensible to a believers spiritual growth.

Rev.11:7-9 - And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.

The Spirit through the Beloved Apostle identifies Jerusalem as the place “where also our Lord was crucified”. Perhaps that is also telling if we have ears to hear.

*****

There it is for all of us to see. The Word of God openly displays our continuing defiance as we plow spiritual paths with human oxen and without the blade of Christ’s cross. Everything is discussed and everything is an issue for the western evangelical church. We have eternal freedom in Jesus Christ through His cross and yet we complain and bemoan the loss of so called “freedoms” given to us by some earthly government, as if they could ever add to the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. And why are we blind to such things? It is because we have left the cross for greener and more current spiritual issues and we no longer preach the cross as if it is our very lives. We have become earthy; bound to the things and concerns of this world.

The church takes its place at the gates and discusses what the world desires to discuss. Begin to discuss the cross of Jesus Christ in the general discourse of the world and see how many participate in that. Even most of the church will become quickly bored and uninterested in such a discussion, to say nothing of suggesting a return to its primacy. What would happen if the church by the millions dropped what they were doing and took up the cross in a fresh and dramatic way? What would occur if a large host of believers left the political and nationalistic landscape and set a new course that was led by the preaching and living of the cross of Christ?

There are approximately 150,000 Amish people living in the United States, and yet even with such a numerical few they are widely known for their lifestyle. Just because they have eschewed the western lifestyle they have become famous. How is it that evangelicals number in the millions and yet we are unremarkable as to our lifestyle and nondescript as to our message? Where is our power? Where is a peculiarity? Where is the marked distinctiveness of our lives and message? Where did the axe head fall? I suggest we left it at the cross, and we went searching for a better life and a better message. And I also suggest that until we return to the cross in repentance and unconditional surrender, we will continue to drift aimlessly in a world of darkness, with our only difference being some muffled lights that shine insignificantly under an array of temporal baskets.

The cross may be offensive, but it the only way to serve Christ.

3 comments:

mrs k said...

Yes, Rick, thank you. That cross does get heavy.

Anonymous said...

HI Rick, and though I already have an idea based on your recent blog posts, I was wondering what your thoughts on the "Manhattan Declaration" were...

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