For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18–25)
Have you ever stopped to consider what the cross signifies? Do you see it as a symbol of our faith, a sort of logo? Does the idea of a man being crucified fill you with revulsion? Do you find that the cross fills you with holy awe and wonder, or with confusion?
For many years it has been fashionable in Christianity to ignore cross. Oh, people say, this whole business of Jesus dying in our place, as our substitute, to take the punishment for our sins, is so out of date. We want a God who is all love. A sort of over indulgent father who spoils his children and turns a blind eye to any injustice. And so we come across theologians, clergy and churches who say “no” to the cross. Listen, they say, we need to sell the benefits of Christianity. That’s how you get people in. Sell them power in the Holy Spirit. Sell them the idea of fellowship. Sell them the idea of prosperity.
But don’t talk about the cross.
Now, if this is the case in the church, it’s even more serious outside the church. Those that still bother think about God, tend to make a god in their own image. “Oh, God will let everyone into heaven. So long as what I do doesn’t affect anyone else I’ll be OK. I’ll leave that religion stuff until I’m older, and enjoy myself first.” The philosophers who have debated God throughout the ages have fared little better as they present us with a God who is “the One”, the “Ground of being”, the “great other”. But a God who came to earth, who took on human flesh and was crucified? You cannot make that up.
So why do I bother to preach Christ crucified? Why have you ended up with a Rector who is so old fashioned that he still believes all this stuff? If the cross is, as our text has it, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” then why bother with it at all? Why do I insist - along with the Apostle Paul - that it is central to understanding the whole Christian faith?
It comes down to the logic of what we call salvation. When you see those posters which say “Jesus saves”, the question arises: from what? Well, simply put, Jesus saves you from the consequences of your sin. But what do I mean by sin? Simply this: living without reference to God, living with your back turned to him. Sin is living on a Tuesday morning and going about you business as if God doesn’t exist. It is living your life according to your rules, and not according to His rules. And thinking that it doesn’t matter. It is thinking that you know better than God, and not living in gratitude for all that he has created you to be.
There is more. Sin offends God, and God is a God of justice. He basically says: fine – you want to live life your way, then do. I hand you over to your desires, but you will be held to account. Justice demands nothing less, and that is why we need the cross. On that glorious cross, Jesus endured all the justice that was coming your way. The one sinless person that ever lived, the only person who never sinned against God, was punished for sin.
How can that be? Why punish an innocent man? Because he was bearing the sins of others on his shoulders. He was punished for your sins, that is the amazing grace of which we sing. The problem is that a Christianity without the cross at the centre cannot deal with sin. It is a powerless travesty. It is hollow. It just doesn’t work.
But my friends, there is more than this. We can gain yet more benefit from the cross since it gives us strength and assurance. Consider this: the cross stands as an historical fact. Even non-Christian Roman historians record the fact that the Jesus was crucified. The cross is an historical fact, and when the Christian looks at the cross it is more than a first century gallows. Each time you look at the cross, you see the forgiveness extended to you by God.
The cross stands and reminds you that Christ died for your sins, and if you have believed in this, if you have accepted this gift, then you are secure in God’s hands. Oh! do you worry about your salvation? Do you worry that you are slipping from God? Look to the cross! It is all there. There is all the confidence that you need.
You see, the crucifixion has already occurred. When you repent of sin and trust in Christ then your sins have already been dealt with and you can be assured of your place in heaven. Every time look at cross, there is the evidence of your forgiveness. There is your passport to heaven. It has happened. Fact.
That is why the cross is essential. Without the cross, there is no marker in the ground. There is no rock to which we can look, no certainty in life. You find yourself living in some pale shadow of Christianity, full of uncertainty, full of anxiety. But with the cross, you know! There is no need for any concept of purgatory, no concept of having to make sure that build up enough good works to balance out your sins. With the cross, you know. It has already been dealt with. Two thousand years ago.
May I beg you to put the cross back into its rightful place. Will you place the cross at the centre of all that you do and believe? Because the cross is where you were put right with God. The cross is where you find comfort and strength.