Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18
The message about Christ's death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God's power.

The foolishness of the cross

Everywhere you look these days there are symbols and logos.  Every make of car has its own logo, breakfast cereal makers have logos and slogans, churches have logos, schools have badges with logos on them.  The symbol that Australians often use is the boxing kangaroo.  The ruler on my desk has the Lutheran Laypeople’s League logo on it.  There is a pen with a logo of little hands from St Paul’s Kindergarten, in fact, all the books, pens, the computer and the computer programmes I used to write this sermon, all have symbols and logos on them.

Above my computer desk I have a crucifix – the symbol of every Christian and of the Christian church.  But it is not only a symbol, it stands at the heart of what our faith is all about.  The cross is simple in its design, even the smallest child can nail two pieces of wood together, or glue two pieces of paper together to form a cross, yet the message that lies behind that simple cross is one that causes both young and old alike to thank and praise God. Children at a very young age know in their own child-like way what the cross stands for.  Its message is simple – Jesus died on a cross.

When you think about it, to hold in such reverence an instrument of death is a bit strange. 
We love life, but the cross represents death. 
We like success, but the cross speaks of defeat. 
We like to have peace and harmony, but the cross reflects conflict, mockery, anger, and confusion. 

Why then do we give the cross such a place of honour in our churches? 
Why is the cross the central symbol of our faith? 

When a club, or an organisation or business looks for a symbol – they look for one that will inspire people, point to some meaning and purpose.  The symbol is intended to draw people to their product.  The green triangular shaped Buy Australian symbol does just that with the kangaroo.  Every time we see that symbol we know that the product is Australian made, and we are encouraged to buy it.

It would seem that the church should choose a much more appealing symbol than the cross.  In some churches where I have been the pastor, there has been a crucifix and some people have expressed how offensive it is to have Christ on the cross in the front of the church.  In some churches there is no cross – is that because the image of the cross is too offensive?

Paul calls the cross “foolishness”.  The message of Jesus’ death on the cross is foolishness to the Jews who were expecting a Messiah to be someone totally different.  The Greeks, the great thinkers of the world of that time, thought it all stupidity that God could die the inglorious death of a criminal at the hands of humanity.  The whole idea was pure foolishness. 

If you have ever tried to explain the cross and what Jesus has achieved for us through his death and resurrection to someone who has never encountered the meaning of the cross before, you will know what Paul is talking about.  The death of Jesus seems such a strange thing for God to do in order to give us forgiveness and open the way to eternal life. Reason rejects such an idea.  It is accepted only by faith.

Paul says, “The message about Christ's death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God's power”.

“For us who are being saved it is God’s power”.  Let’s reflect on the cross for a few moments.

When I see the cross it brings to mind a sense of responsibility. 
Jesus died on the cross because of me. 
He was abandoned on the cross because of my sin. 
I, and the rest of humanity, are the reason why there had to be a cross in the first place. 
Each of us contributed to the suffering of Christ. The cross stands as a glowing symbol of our involvement in the world's greatest tragedy. 

When we go to the supermarket, each item we place in our shopping cart must be paid for. Each one is added up at the checkout and the total price paid.  No item is overlooked.

In the same way, each sin we commit, no matter how unimportant or small it may seem, is a great offence to God.  Those sins were all added up, and when Jesus hung upon the cross and his blood was shed, they were all paid for. 

The cross is the symbol of the depth of my sin and my wretchedness, a symbol of my rebellion against God.  The cross is a symbol of how much I have hurt the people around me.  The fact that Jesus had to die for me, reflects what kind of person I am.  It brings me to the horrifying conclusion that it was my sin that caused Jesus’ death on the cross.   

As the old song goes: Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  We sure were! 

When I meditate on what the cross means, thank God it does more than make me squirm. 
The cross is the place of rescue. 
It’s the place where I see God's saving work the clearest. 
The cross is the place where I see just how far God was prepared to go to save me from judgement and make sure that I can enjoy eternal life. 

It doesn't matter how highly we may think of ourselves, or how good we have lived our lives.  It doesn't matter how highly other people think of us, in God's eyes we are all marked with the same sentence – guilty!  As Paul says, "No one can boast in God's presence" (1 Cor 1:29). … "God has brought you into union with Christ Jesus … By him we are put right with God; we become God's holy people and are set free" (1 Cor 30).   Through the cross we are made right with God and given new lives. 

The cross was God's loving way of getting rid of all the barriers that stand between us and himself.  The cross is a sign of God's love – a love that would do anything to save us from death and hell – even let his own Son die on that rough wooden cross listening to mockery and jeers of the people for whom he was dying.

The death of Jesus on the cross is all we need to be saved.  He has done away with all of our sin – there is nothing more we need to do.  If we want to get to heaven, Jesus has opened the way for us through his death on the cross.  There is nothing we can add to it.  Through the cross he has given us complete pardon for all our sin. 

The cross is a symbol of identity.  Whenever you see a sticker of a cross or a Christian symbol in the rear window of a car, most likely the owner is a Christian.  You can bet the person wearing a badge with the LCA logo is a Lutheran.  It is a symbol of his/her identity.

Even if we don't visibly wear a cross, it is still a mark of our identity. 
At our baptism, we were marked with the sign of the cross to show that Christ the crucified has redeemed us. 
At Holy Communion, not only are the bread and wine marked with the sign of the cross, but also the communicants as they receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of their sin and the strengthening their faith. 
At the end of the service we are sent out into the world with the sign of the cross and God's blessing to do the work God has set aside for us to do.

The cross is a symbol of our identity as people who have been saved by the blood of Jesus.  We see ourselves as those who have been set free and rescued from sin.  We have received a new identity – we are God's sons and daughters, children of the cross, followers of Christ.  We are marked with the cross all the time and so it influences our lives at work, at home and at church. The cross and the newness it gives changes us, our attitudes and our relationships with others.

The cross is also a symbol of hope and faith.  No amount of messing around with the cross and beautifying it in some way will eliminate the grim reality that the cross is a symbol of pain and suffering.  It highlights in a powerful way that pain and suffering are very much part of our world. 

The cross is a symbol of hope. We have a Saviour and Friend who knows what it means to suffer, and when we pray, we can pray to someone who has endured extreme suffering.  But even more importantly, Jesus was raised to life after 3 days.  In spite of the cross, he was the victor.  The same hope is ours!  As we are confronted with suffering or the death of a close family member, the cross reminds us that we have a Saviour who walks the road of pain and grief with us.  His love will not leave us and in the end he conquered the grave.  The cross reminds us that Jesus has brought to a joyful end what appears to be meaningless and pointless.

St. Paul recognised that the Messiah on a cross was a scandal, a stumbling block to his fellow Jews.  He knew that talk of a crucified God was tasteless, unsophisticated folly to the wisdom-loving Greeks.  The philosophers of Athens openly mocked him.

Without that ‘foolishness’, we would be lost.  In actual fact, this foolishness is the best and wisest thing I know.  And today as we worship, we rejoice in this good news about a God who loves us and through his Son, Jesus, has saved us from our sin and given us eternal life. We remember the cost of our salvation. We rejoice in our forgiveness. And we experience new life once again.

It may seem foolish to use an instrument of death to celebrate life, but that's the irony - "the foolishness of the cross is the power of God."


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th March 2015

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