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The Cross Before Us

Last Sunday I preached from the opening chapter of I Corinthians.  In my preparation I could not help but be struck again for the … hum…. maybe 300th time …by Paul’s insistence in pointing us to the crucifixion of Christ.  Insistently he argues for the centrality of Christ. Four times in the first 3 verses, the Apostle Paul mentions Jesus Christ or the Lord Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. “Together with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place—he’s their Lord and ours!” (I Corinthians 1:2b) Just as quickly as this great sainted leader of the early Christian movement lifts up Christ, Paul links the confession of Jesus Christ with the cross of Christ.  He bores right into the heart of what constitutes a faithful church.  “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:23-24) Indeed, John Wesley’s instruction to the first Methodist preachers was a repeat of St. Paul’s plea.  “Preach Christ, and Him crucified.” It is fashionable in some Christian circles to de-emphasize the cross in favor of the incarnation (God with us in the person of Christ) and the resurrection (God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit conquering death).  Both incarnation and resurrection are vital core Christian doctrines.  Neither can be slighted.  But without the cross they do not hang together. For the incarnation to be real, a resurrection must take place.  For a resurrection to take place.   The crucifixion must happen.  Far too many try to skip over this uncomfortable truth by seeking to leap from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter morning.  But such a leap does precisely what the Apostle Paul warns against.  It empties the cross and resurrection of their power. In the first chapter of I Corinthians Paul pauses to be thankful that he has baptized just a few people lest Christians be misled.  I find that truly amazing!  For me, baptism is a high moment and a privilege, a crowning joy.  It is the activity I miss most as a bishop.  For Paul baptism must have likewise held great joy.  To say in verse fourteen, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius” (I Corinthians 1:14) dramatically highlights the importance of the cross before us on our Lenten journey.  Embrace with me again the power of the Apostle’s words:  “Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.” (I Corinthians 1:17)  Now step forward into the text of I Corinthians.  “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.” (I Corinthians 1:18) We tend to be squeamish about the reality of the cross; we fumble, slightly offended by concepts like substitutionary atonement (more on that in a later blog); yet the reality of the cross is ever before us.  I close with a piece of writing from John Ortberg’s Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus: “As a simple historical reality, it was sin – human darkness in every other person involved – that put Jesus on the cross. But he believed that through love the cross could somehow become not just a symbol of sin and death but also a symbol of even more powerful redemptive love. And whatever else one believes or does not believe about Jesus, that is exactly what happened. Out of his remarkable brilliance, breathtaking courage, and inexplicable love, Jesus sized up a situation that defeated every human attempt at correction. He identified exactly what would be needed to bring redemption. It would cost him his life. Two thousand years later, his death is the most important, most remembered death in the history of the world. Pilate, who wanted above all to be a friend of Caesar, ended up writing in Hebrew, the language of the people of God; in Greek, the language of the cultured world; and in Latin, the language of the Roman Empire, so that the whole world could read: Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews. Jesus outlasted, outmaneuvered, and out-thought every group, every power. But not just that. Mostly he just out-loved everybody. For Jesus in the garden had one agenda that superseded the agendas of all the others: love. ‘I’ll die on Friday.’”  (John Ortberg, Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus, p. 172-173) This Lent preach, teach, and talk about Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  The cross is before us.