This morning I was preaching at Trinity United Reformed Church in Upminster. I chose the readings from the Revised Standard Lectionary for the feast of the Holy Cross which was on Friday 14th September.
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
18 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 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. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Any one who reads the Bible will know about the huge gap that there is between mankind and God. Genesis tells us the story of the fall, how sin entered the world ruining the relationship between man and God as well as the relationships between mankind itself.
To be honest even if you don’t read the Bible you know that there is something wrong. All is not right though often people can’t put a name to it. A young man I know has been trying to fill that void, to find what is missing in his life. For various reasons he has turned his back on Christianity and gone in the direction of eastern religions and meditation.
Ever since the fall men have used their wisdom and their ingenuity to try to bridge that gap.
In all honesty our manmade attempts are about as successful as that hapless Wile E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. We have complicated schemes and rituals and convince ourselves that this or that will get us into heaven. But the reality is that we fail just as that poor coyote always fails to catch the Road Runner despite all the wonderful equipment and devices he buys from the ACME company.
In Genesis 11 we read about one such attempt, the building of the Tower of Babel.
Of course there are those who argue that all our efforts will take us to God. They say that there are many paths up the mountain. So whatever you do leads to God. Well, I have heard it argued, they are such nice, sincere people so they must be destined for heaven.
One of my friends from my Church of England days got really angry with God about this. She knew many sincere people of other faiths and just couldn’t understand that they could be wrong and not destined for heaven when their lives on this earth were over. It was so unfair of God. She was an educated lady and perhaps relied more on the wisdom of this world than on God.
Other folk will tell you that if you say the right prayers in the right order then that puts you right with God. That reduces things to magic, rather than a relationship with God. If we say the spell then the genie appears! But God is far above all this and you cannot order him around.
An example of this approach is the Cargo Cult out in the Pacific. Islanders observed the vast amounts of food and equipment that the American forces flew in to the islands in the 2nd World war and thought they were in contact with the gods. So once the Americans left the area the islanders constructed replica airfields and air planes out of tree trunks in an effort to persuade the gods to bring them the goodies.
Other people assure me that whilst their recently deceased loved one wasn’t a Christian they lived a Christian lifestyle. One man who told me that ran a bike shop. So I said that I could lead a cyclist’s lifestyle, wear spandex shorts, T shirt and cycle helmet and make pronouncements about different types of gears and strutting around waving a plastic drink bottle. But until I get on the bike and pedal away I am not a cyclist. So until you put your trust in Jesus Christ you are not a Christian. You may be a regular church goer but you are not a Christian and you are not saved until you take that step of faith.
The Bible tells it how it really is.
A few weeks ago I took my eldest son Tom and his wife Layla to Gatwick airport. They were flying to Orlando for a holiday. The departure board listed all the flights and their destinations. It was no good boarding a flight to Rome or Ibiza or any of the many other destinations, even if you declare to every one on the plane that we are going to Orlando. Only the flight to Orlando would do.
Similarly the Bible informs us that there is only one way to God, through faith in Jesus. All other religions and philosophies may be fine sounding and involve you in lots of religious activities and good works but the bottom line is as Jesus said in John 14:6 “ “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”.
But I am often told he/she was such a good person, surely they are in heaven? The prophet Isaiah stops us in on our tracks assuring us in Isaiah 64:6 “…our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. People think they are dressed up in their Sunday best, with their good deeds, but in God’s eyes we are dressed in filthy rags and as such not fit for his presence. We are only accepted by God through our faith in Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that we are all sinners in God’s eyes. Romans 3:23 reminds us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Its not like the recent GCSE English exams where the grade boundaries can be fiddled to suit political circumstances. You either sin or you don’t sin. No sliding scale, no shades of grey. Its as simple as that.
That being the case, how are we put right with God and how do we bridge the gap between us and God?
Our reading from John 3 gives us the answer so simply. We read: “14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
If you recall your old testament history the Jews in the desert rebelled against God who sent a plague of deadly snakes upon them. The snakes bit the people who began to die. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole so that anyone bitten by a snake could look to the bronze serpent and be saved from death and the effects of the snake bite.
All mankind has been bitten by the deadly serpent of sin and Jesus offers mankind the cure. Look to him, put your faith in him and his death on the cross to cure you.
Many people see God as hateful and vindictive and yet these verses show him in a true light. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, he wants to save everyone but not everyone wants to be saved.
The Jews can’t understand the cross , it’s a stumbling block and they can’t get round it or over it. The death of the Messiah on a cross doesn’t fit their criteria for a saviour King. After all in Deuteronomy 21:23 we are told “ anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”
Perhaps the Jews of that time were so looking for a military solution to their problems. They were looking for a King like David to put everything right and restore the Kingdom of Israel. And yet there were the prophecies of men like Isaiah who under the influence of the Holy Spirit wrote about the Messiah as a suffering servant being brutally treated.
But as a whole the Jews seemed to ignore those prophecies. They had them to read as we know from Luke 4 when Jesus read from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth.
It seems that they just couldn’t bring themselves to accept it. So the Jewish leaders did what they thought was right for their religion and in doing so they fulfilled the scriptures and allowed the Saviour of the world to be put to death.
And what about the Greeks?
They were well know for their wisdom and their philosophy. They had over the years made great contributions to mathematics and the understanding of the natural world. They were very clever thoughtful people.
We read in Acts that Paul took the good news of Jesus to Greece. In Acts 17 Paul addresses the Areopagus, the council of the leading men in Athens. They listen to him until he tells them about Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. Many of them sneer at him as it just doesn’t fit in with their thinking and their understanding.
Maybe we know people who are just too clever for their own good. They can’t accept something if they can’t understand it.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14 says “ The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
If we reject things because we don’t understand them, how many of us would use a mobile phone without understanding how electronics, wireless technology and the android operating system work? Or would we ever switch on a light at home if we didn’t have a working knowledge of electrical generation and power distribution via the National Grid?
We take many things on trust, that we don’t really understand and yet people cannot accept that Jesus has died on the cross for them. They don’t have to do anything apart from accept the offer of forgiveness and new life made possible by his death on the cross.
But they can’t understand it – its foolishness to them.
The message of the cross is so simple. Its freely available to everyone who wants to be saved. There are no conditions. You can come to Jesus just as you are. You don’t have to be clever, or good or religious, you just have to follow what it says in John 3: 14 – 16 ““Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. “
I thought it would be good to read the words of a modern worship song by Matt Redman that talks about the cross: (You can view it on YouTube here).
JESUS CHRIST, I think upon Your sacrifice,
You became nothing, poured out to death.
Many times I’ve wondered at Your gift of life,
And I’m in that place once again.
And I’m in that place once again.
And once again I look upon
The cross where You died,
I’m humbled by Your mercy
And I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank You,
Once again I pour out my life.
Now You are exalted to the highest place,
King of the heavens, where one day I’ll bow.
But for now, I marvel at this saving grace,
And I’m full of praise once again.
I’m full of praise once again.
Thank You for the cross,
Thank You for the cross,
Thank You for the cross, my Friend.