There’s an elephant in the room when we talk about the cross. The cross is indeed solidarity with the crucified, the victory of God’s truth over Caesar’s power, the introduction of nonviolence into the world, a means of reconciling enemies, and a pouring out of sacred life blood that removes the curse of sin from the Earth. Jesus’ crucifixion also pays a price that needs to be paid for my sin. For many Christians, this sixth blessing of the cross is the only blessing it offers; ugly misrepresentations of this blessing have polluted our discourse, causing many other Christians to reject this dimension of the cross altogether. Regardless of that, we need to be justified by the punishment Jesus suffers on our behalf because only people who know that they are unjustifiable and entirely dependent on the mercy of God can enter the kingdom. Otherwise, we are a danger to the communion of all who live in the vulnerable safety of God’s mercy.
Many Christians today misunderstand the ancient Israelite practice of sacrifice. The ancient Israelites did not think they were “punishing” the sacrificial animals for their community’s sins, nor did they think that they were placating a capricious God as the pagan religions around them understood sacrifice. The purpose of sacrifice was to purify the community of sin with the life in the blood of the animal (Leviticus 17:11). The reason Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice is because He is the source of all life as the Word of God. Thus His blood is the purest life there is, having the power to remove the curse of sin from our world.
This weekend’s sermon talks about how Jesus’ cross turns ugliness into beauty by reconciling enemies (Ephesians 2:13-16, Romans 5:8-10). We become enemies because we fear, we blame, and we project things that happened to us onto other people. Jesus takes on our fears and blame and projections on His cross. When we realize that we have acted as Jesus’ enemies whom He has forgiven for not knowing what we were doing, then we can forgive those who have mistreated us without knowing what they were doing. Whether or not our enemies are reconciled to us, we can be reconciled to them through the cross.
The third blessing of the cross is its witness of nonviolence which has provided the basis for an entirely different way of living and pursuing political causes. Nonviolence is not acquiescence, politeness, or passive aggression. It confronts violence; it tests the authenticity of love; it depends upon the truth; and it seeks communion. Here are my sermon slides and audio. If you would like to receive the audio in a form that you can listen to when you go to the gym or commute to work, subscribe to my podcast.
For the second sermon in our LifeSign series “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross,” we talked about how Jesus’ cross represents a battle between truth and power. Jesus not only pays the price for the guilty; He also vindicates the truth of those who have been treated unjustly. Jesus’ story has not been passed down to us as the story of a renegade messianic troublemaker who was executed before things could get out of hand. Even though Jesus availed Himself of no earthly power, the fact that we heard the real story of His innocent martyrdom means that truth won over power on His cross, which should give us hope that the truth will ultimately win in our lives as well.
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I’ve decided to keep my podcast going over Lent (learn how to subscribe here). This is the first sermon “Solidarity with the Crucified” in my series “Ugliness into Beauty.” Sermon texts include Luke 9:22-27, 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, Luke 13:11-20. My sermon has three points: 1) Jesus was killed because he showed solidarity to outcasts, 2) Jesus’ death on the cross is itself solidarity with those who have been crucified throughout history, 3) Jesus invites us to share in his solidarity by taking up our crosses to join the company of the crucified.
The LifeSign alternative worship service at Burke United Methodist Church is doing a sermon series called “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross.” Here is a promotional video which I first tried to make of me drawing on a whiteboard and then had to improvise using Microsoft Paint.