March 6, 2024

The Message of the Cross

Prayer for Illumination:

Holy God, reveal Your presence to us this day as we listen to Your word. Send Your Spirit upon us that we might listen, discern, and take heart. Speak, O Lord, Your servants are listening. Amen.

Last week, I visited Hilde and Willi. Willi gave me this Cross. Willi is very talented and artistic, and has made many Crosses to give special people, right, Willi? I have another cross he made, hanging in the front mirror of my car.

Do you have a cross necklace, ring, or tie pin? Why do you have it? To show that you’re a Christian? Or just because it’s pretty? People wear cross-shaped jewelry even though they are not Christians. Nowadays, it’s not necessarily a symbol of Christianity.

What about the inverted cross? Many heavy metal bands, such as Black Sabbath, had inverted cross-tattoos or paints on them. People labeled them as satanic and a symbol of satan worshippers.

Symbols can give meaning to anything - to some, the inverted cross is satanic while to others, it’s not. It can be the cross of St. Peter because Peter was crucified upside down. And the same thing with the Cross, which is found in many cultures and religions of the world. It can be a symbol of Christianity to Christians while to non-believers, it means nothing but a cross or a plus sign. What does the Cross mean to you?

In the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, the cross meant a gruesome one-way journey to humiliation, suffering, excruciating pain, and death. The word “excruciating” was invented by the Romans to describe the shame and pain of crucifixion.

The famed Roman orator Cicero said it was unbecoming of a Roman citizen to even utter the word “cross.” Any man seen carrying a cross was immediately understood to be a sinner under condemnation — he was put to shame — everyone knew that his life was forfeit.

To those who were living in an ‘honor and shame’ culture, whose life revolved around ensuring you and your family received public honor and avoided public shame, the cross was scandalous.

Especially, the idea that a person might willingly shame himself by voluntarily sacrificing himself on a Cross is unthinkable and so radically offensive that no rational person could believe it.

Death on the Cross was such an offensive and shameful death that it would have been shocking when Paul called it the “power of God for salvation.”

Today’s Scripture lesson is from 1 Corinthians. As we studied before, Corinth was one of the largest and most important cities of Greece, and a center for art, philosophy, and religion.

Paul says to the Corinthian believers, “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.

The apostle uses some form of the word “foolish” not once but four times in our text’s 8 verses. The Greek word used for “foolish” or “folly” is moros. It’s also the root of the English word “moron” - a very stupid person.

So it’s as though Paul is saying the message of salvation through Christ’s death on the cross is naturally “moronic” - very stupid and crazy.

But Paul says in v 21, “God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”

We don’t understand why God chose such a way to save us. We will never understand why God decided to have His one and only Son crucified in such a horrific and barbaric way.

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,” Paul said.

At one time, some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Another time, the Pharisees tested him asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”

Have you ever asked for a sign or a miracle as well? Like “If you are a living God, please heal my son. If you are the Almighty God, please save us from hardship.”

People want to see a miracle and test the power and the love of God. “God, if you truly love me, if you truly care about me, please give me the closest parking spot.” “Please let me win the lotto, then I will give 10% to the church.” “If You let me get this job, I will start going to church.”

But most of the time, He doesn’t do what people ask Him to do. Because He is not the magic lamp. What He wants for us is to be saved from the bondage of sin and have a relationship with Him, not become rich, successful, or famous.

Greeks look for wisdom, the wisdom to satisfy wise men, philosophers, and scholars. For those who need scientific proof or reasons and logic, many stories in the Bible may seem like fiction.

The stories of God’s creation, Noah’s ark, the crossing of the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, the Messiah’s birth in a manger, and mostly, His death on the cross and His resurrection sound like nonsense.

Jesus being crucified was a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. Yes, they just could not get it. It was radical, strange, or even foolish. What kind of god would die by crucifixion? What kind of god would give His Son to be crucified, to be executed as a criminal of the worst kind to save people?

In Galatians 3:13, Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”

Deuteronomy 21:22–23 teaches that there was a divine curse placed on a hanged person: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”

Yes, Jesus willingly became a curse. But do you know why? Because we are the cursed ones under the Law, we are sinners, and Jesus took our place to save us.

The gospel of the cross isn’t foolish to us. The Holy Spirit has graciously convinced God’s people that the gospel is, in fact, true. God has graciously persuaded us that the message of the Cross is “the power of God” - that’s greater than all of humanity’s power, intelligence, and wisdom.

We have no other stories than Christ crucified. No Cross, no salvation. No Cross, no Gospel.

God’s indescribable love for lost sinners and His perfect justice meet at the cross. That God sent Christ to bear our sins means that God does not just shrug off our sins - even our every little hidden sin.

The Cross symbolizes God’s amazing grace. The cross is also the place where all the wounds of sin are healed. The Cross symbolizes sacrifice as Jesus willfully took humility and shame for our sake.

What has the message of the cross meant in your life? As the ones who have been saved by the Cross of Jesus, how can we share the message of the Cross with our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and in our community?

How can we show the message of love, justice, forgiveness, grace, humility, and sacrifice as a church? I know it’s not easy. All the people around us may pursue personal gain, success, fame, security, and comfort, but as for us, we have to take the opposite way.

And we will be seen as foolish. And sometimes, we need to be foolish, sacrificing and giving without gain. But it’s okay, right? They don’t know that we carry the power of God in us. They don’t know the treasure in us. It is our pleasure, our honor, and our joy to have the power of God in us even though we are being seen as foolish.

Thank You for the cross, Lord

Thank You for the price You paid

Bearing all my sin and shame

In love, You came and gave amazing grace.

Let us pray.

Abba Father, we thank You because You gave Your Son to die so that we can live. Help us understand and appreciate the message of the cross. Reawaken us to live according to Your purpose and reignite our commitment to pursue them for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.