“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God,” 1 Corinthians 1:17-18.
Every religion and ideology has its symbol. Think about it. Buddhism has its lotus flower. Judaism has the Star of David. Islam has the crescent. Communists had the hammer and sickle. Nazis had their swastika. America has “Uncle Sam,” the “Stars and Stripes” and the “eagle.” And, Christians? We have “the cross.” It may be the strangest symbol honored by a faith for all times.
In the corporate world its all about “brands.” When you think about McDonald, how are they identified? According to Business Week, February 2008, the golden arches are one of the top-ten most-recognized brands in the world. Joe Kincheloe claims, in his book, The Sign of the Burger: McDonald’s and the Culture of Power, that “the Golden Arches even out-compete the Christian cross,” (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002, p. 146.).
That shouldn’t surprise us. To our shame, people in America in our day do not know much about biblical Christianity, and, for sure, most don’t have a clue about what “the cross” is all about.
Listen to this true story of a Chicago pastor. “My wife and I were sitting together on a plane en route to Cleveland when I noticed that a ‘thirty-something’ woman was wearing a necklace with a cross. Hoping to stimulate a discussion, I said to her, ‘Thanks for wearing that cross. We really do have a wonderful Savior, don’t we?’ The lady rolled her eyes upward and responded, ‘Well, I don’t think that I understand the cross like you do—look at this.’ Taking the cross from around her neck she showed the pastor that beneath the cross was a Jewish Star of David and a trinket that symbolized the Hindu god Om. The woman then said, ‘I’m in social work. The people I work with find God in different ways. Christianity is just one of the paths to the divine,’ ” (Erwin Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pp. 14-15).
In this message I want to speak on, “What the Cross Means to the World.” The testimony of the Bible is that God had the world in mind when His Son came and died on the cross. Do you believe it? When Jesus was crucified He was reaching out to the world.
· John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
· John 3:16 “For God so love….” Who? “...the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
· John 4:42 “Know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
· John 6:33 “For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world.”
· 1 Timothy 2:3-4 “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
· Hebrews 2:9 says Jesus tasted “death for every man.”
· 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is...not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
· 1 John 2:2 “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not fo ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
God has made a sincere, genuine offer of salvation to all the peoples of the world. So how does the majority respond to God’s gracious offer?
1. The World is OFFENDED by the Cross.
“And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision (works for salvation) , why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased,” Galatians 5:11
That a person can be forgiven and go to heaven only by faith in a crucified Savior is an offense to people. It strikes a deadly blow to our pride. “The cross offends the modern drive to base self-esteem, self-love, and human dignity on human performance and innate goodness,” William P. Farley, Outrageous Mercy, p. 99.
Yet, this is the Christian message, “we preach Christ crucified…” 1 Corinthians 1:23. Being crucified on a cross carried a totally negative reaction. After two thousand years we have cleaned it up. It is jewelry people wear. The cross sometimes hangs in churches and is put on public display. Such positive feelings about the cross would have been unthinkable to those of the first century. Crucifixion was so terrible that people did not want to talk about it. If you need a modern counterpart, image hanging a “gas chamber” in the front of a church, or a hangman’s noose or an electric chair. The very thought sickens us.
Unlike modern methods of capital punishment that are designed to produce a quick death, crucifixion was designed to make sure the person crucified would die a slow, painful death, sometimes leaving their bodies bloat and decay on the cross until they fell to the ground.
The cross ”to the Jews a stumbling block…” Politically, a crucified Savior didn’t fit their idea of Messiah. The message of a crucified Savior was like a stone that laid uneven in a path, over which a person would trip. The Jews wanted a leader to deliver them from the heel of the Roman Empire. In John 6:15 the Jewish crowd wanted Jesus to be their King, which He quickly refused. And they wanted no part of a “crucified” Messiah. If Jesus was God’s Son, why would God all Him to die that way. The whole idea turned off the Jews.
The cross is “to the Greeks foolishness.” Philosophically, a crucified Savior didn’t make any sense; it was ridiculous.
The Jews were bound by ritualism and the Greeks were hung up with rationalism.
Even after 2,000 years, the world still hasn’t warmed up to the message of the cross. “Power in the Blood?” “Are you washed in the blood?” “There is a fountain filled with blood?” “What do you mean?” the world reluctantly asks.
German philosopher Nietzche called Christianity a “religion for weaklings.” Christianity has been called “a slaughterhouse religion.” That shouldn’t surprise us. Don’t we regularly sing,
“Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction to me.”
But the world is not just offended by the cross...
2. The World is OPPOSED to the Cross.
Listen to Philippians 3:18-19. “(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things).”
In our “why can’t we just get along” religious world people don’t practice what they preach.
The “Jesus is only a man” crowd opposes the cross. People are will to say Jesus was a man, a good man, great man, even a unique man, but nothing more than a man. Muslims declare that Jesus was one of the five major prophets, but are adamant that he was only a prophet.
The “Works-for-salvation” crowd opposes the cross. No doctrine is hard to accept than the doctrine of human inability. That doctrine teaches us that there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation.
· We do not know how sinful, how sorry we are in our hearts.
· We would be eternally lost if God did not take the initiative in our behalf.
The “No Thanks, I’m-too-good” and the “No Thanks, I’m too bad” crowds oppose the cross. I want to remind you that when Christ died, He didn’t die alone. Two thieves died with Him.
· One thief initially opposed Christ, but before it was too late, repented.
· The other thief was hardened in his unbelief and never repented.
The first cross teaches us not to despair and the other cross teaches us not to presume.
Follow the natural digression. What begins as an offense, moves to opposition, and then, finally….
3. The World is OUTRAGED by the Cross.
Have you been paying attention? Have you noticed in these few verses the word “foolishness” is used?
· “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness…” v. 18.
· “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” v. 21
· “Unto the Greeks foolishness…” v. 23.
· “The foolishness of God is wiser than men…” v. 25
A few years back billionaire Ted Turner blasted our faith and its followers by saying, “Christianity is a religion for losers.”
In 1970 British Dead Sea scroll scholar, John Allegro, wrote an outrageous book entitled, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. Listen to the premise of his book. For Allegro’s study of mushroom fungi, he insists that the phenomena associated with Jesus in the Gospels correspond to the main feature of an Easter drug-sex cult which venerated the mushroom. According to Allegro, Jesus was the hero in the sacred mushroom mythology, and the cross was a symbol for the sexual activity prominent in the cult’s worship.
Is not that the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard? It is my belief Allegro’s goofy ideas is proof he may have been smoking some mushrooms. Sadly, Mr. Allegro slipped out into eternity in 1988 and now knows the real truth about Jesus Christ.
Christ and His cross are lightning rods, not just presently in our culture, but for twenty-plus centuries. It is Christ and the cross that divides between life and death, good and evil, God and Satan, light and darkness, righteousness and sin, heaven and hell.
Jesus Himself told us to be prepared for it.
· “In the world ye shall have tribulation…” John 16:33.
· “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you,” John 15:19.
· “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household,” Matthew 10:36.
But, why is there such offense, opposition and outrage? Let me reduce my answer to two things.
First, the world is outrages because true Christianity teaches that Jesus is the only way to God. The World Christian Encyclopedia by David Barrett states there are 9,900 distinct and separate religions in the world and it increases ever year! The rub is we believe 9,899 are wrong! We do not believe all people are worshipping the same God, just in different ways. We believe there is only one, true and living God and the only way to Him is through Jesus Christ, John 14:6. Try that out at Starbucks tomorrow and see how you are received.
Now, before moving on allow me to be very clear. People ask, “Are you saying your way is the only way to heaven?” My answer is a resounding, “No!” My way or your way doesn’t matter. Listen, “God’s way is the only way...period!” Your argument is not with me, I’m just the delivery boy. Your argument is with the Bible and with the God who wrote the Bible and with the God you will meet at the end of your life.
Second, the world is outraged because people refuse to believe they are that big sinner with a big problem. Let’s be honest, human goodness or human badness is relative. Your not as bad as the guys that just got arrested for murder, but your not as good as the man who gives a lot his money away. Its relative to us.
What about your goodness relative to God? Isaiah 64:6 says that in the eyes of God our “righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Think about it this way. Do you have a favorite suit or dress? Imagine taking it and dragging it through a dirty mud puddle. Then imagine it is laid down in front of our door for people to wipe their feet on. Imagine your dog gets sick and you used it to clean up the dog’s vomit. Then, on your next big evening you put on your suit or dress and head to an exclusive restaurant in town. What will the conversation like at the door as you are turned away and told to leave? You might protest, “But I have a reservation.” The waiter will point you to the door and tell you to leave and says, “Or I will call the police.”
How do you think God feels when you show up before him dressed in the filthy rags of your good deeds? What looks good to you looks like a vomit-stained suit or dress in God’s sight!
D. A. Carson says “the hardest truth to get across to this generation is what the Bible says about sin,” Scandalous-The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, p. 41.
That is our biggest challenge in in the 21st century—to convince people that they are sinners and that their sin is principally against a holy God and they will be in eternal trouble if they do not accept God’s provision in Jesus Christ alone.
The message that saves is the message for which we are hated. Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you,” John 15:18. If we change the message to be liked, we alter the only message that saves! “We cannot be used by God to reach others unless we are willing to be hated by them, because fallen humankind does not like what the cross says about people,” William Farley, Outrageous Mercy, p. 70.
· 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?”
There is no middle ground. The gospel divides right and left.
I love what Tim LaHaye said, “Admittedly, the Christian gospel is intolerant, narrow-minded, and exclusive. The one thing it has going for it is that it is true!” (The Power of the Cross, p. 58). Well, amen!
In this message I have talked about the world in general, but I don’t want to end this message on an abstract note. “What does the cross mean to you?” Do you privately doubt the message of Christ’s saving death? Have you openly sheered at worshipping a man who died on a cross. I want to remind you….
...the cross is a symbol of shame.
...but the cross is, also, a symbol of salvation.
1 Corinthians 1:24 says, “But unto them which are called...Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” God sends out a call from the cross and says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11:28. “Whosoever will, let him come,” Revelation 22:17. Those who hear and respond to God’s voice are “the called” of Romans 8:28. Is God calling you today to salvation? Maybe God is calling you to service.
“There’s room at the cross for you….though millions have come….there’s still room for one….Yes, there’s room at the cross for you.”