In the Shadow of the Cross

Time and eternity intersect at the Cross

My granddaughter loves crosses. She knows the cross has something to do with God and Jesus, and at almost three, that’s a good foundation. But in the first century, the cross was a symbol of shame. So why would the church adopt it as our standard? We get a clue from Peter who said, “[Jesus] bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added). Pete packed a lot into that short sentence.

First, the cross is for sinners. It is for people who make mistakes, for the ones who are weak, for those of us who do foolish things, who fall into a pit of sin and walk in the wilderness of the consequences. The cross is the place where Jesus took on all our sin and shame, our profane mouths and promiscuous acts, our greed, and selfishness, our lies, our addictions, our lustful thoughts, our rebellion, and disobedience.  Jesus didn’t die for those who have it all together. He died for those of us who are falling apart in our own human sinfulness. The cross is for me.

Second, the cross helps us in our weaknesses. By holding fast to the cross of Jesus, we draw strength to enable us to overcome our un-Christ-like habits and attractions. When I look to the cross, I am reminded again of what Jesus did for me, and I find the strength to fight against the enemy and flee from temptation.   I’m not implying that the cross is some magic talisman; but it is a symbol of the transforming power of Christ – a power we are encouraged to call on every day and every moment. You and I can’t control the sinful desires of our flesh, but Christ can help us stand strong in godliness. Through the cross, Christ empowers us to live for righteousness.

Many criminals before and after Him died on a cross, but the cross of Jesus is the hope for all mankind. It is the place from which love dripped down Christ’s body and bought us our freedom. Paul said, “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” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Beloved, have you come to the cross of Jesus?

Hebrews: Judgement’s Coming

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Its earliest origins were in the 1720s in a small Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey, but the First Great Awakening caught fire in 1741 when Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards’ message revisited the biblical truth of God’s wrath on unbelievers. He reminded his listeners that all men are sinful creatures and under the condemnation of God. ButGod is withholding His righteous wrath so that all may have an opportunity to repent and turn in faith to Christ. Faced with the fearsome wrath of God, people fell trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” I wonder why people are not asking that question anymore.

The final subject in Hebrew’s “elementary teachings” is “eternal judgment” and I daresay that is even rarer today than it was in Edward’s day. We talked about God’s wrath when we dug into Hebrews 2:2-3 so I won’t belabor the point (I will post a link to that devotional in the comments) because there’s something else I want you to see. 

The writer had previously listed “the resurrection of the dead” as another foundational truth of the faith. The two are intrinsically linked. The church has claimed “resurrection from the dead” as something saved people have to look forward to, and rightly so. But Jesus didn’t teach resurrection as a “saved-only” deal. “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). The wicked will be raised also, but for the purpose of judgment and eternal punishment. Paul said, Those who do not know God (through Jesus) “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord . . . on the day He comes to be glorified” (2 Thess. 1:9-10). Yes, God is infinite love, grace, and mercy, but He is also infinite holiness that cannot tolerate wickedness. The world needs to hear the whole gospel.

I ask the same question I’ve asked again and again throughout this section. What does the church know of this today? Very little. I say that because if we did every lost person in the church (yes, there are many) would be trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” And every saved person would be begging sinners to come to Christ. No one will be left in the grave – everyone has an eternal destiny. Beloved, your family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers need to know.  Will you tell them?

Jesus – the Friend of Sinners

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“Those who oppose [the Lord’s servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

“Your “god” is a bunch of bunk! He’s just your imaginary friend in the sky!”

“Well, we’ll see who’s right when you are burning in hell buddy – God hates wicked, evil people like you!”

I sat at the table in shock as I listened to this ugly exchange.  It began when I contacted a man who was an atheist because I needed to do several interviews for my apologetics course in seminary.  We were sitting at a sidewalk table of a coffee shop.  I had a series of questions to ask him about life and God and as he answered them, a couple from a nearby table listened.  As they got up to leave, the woman stepped over and asked about our discussion.  I explained about my class and that Rob was kind enough to help me with this assignment.  Then her husband stepped in and began to berate Rob for his lack of belief.  It quickly escalated to the exchange you just read. 

As they walked away – well the man stormed off – I apologized to Rob and told him we could discontinue our interview if he preferred.  He laughed and said he enjoyed the argument, he loved to get Christians flustered and angry.  Then he asked me, “Why haven’t you given me a piece of your mind about my disbelief or try to convince me to believe in your God?”  I told him, “I’m not going to attack you, but I have been sharing my faith all along.”  He looked at me with a puzzled expression that began to soften as he said, “You really have, haven’t you?  You’ve been kind and respectful as we’ve talked, you’ve shared pieces of your testimony and your faith without shouting or pointing a finger at me.  You actually unnerve me more than that other guy did.”

In the verse just prior to our key verse, Paul says that “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,” (2 Timothy 2:24).  In these verses Paul is saying that as believers, our character should be the same as Jesus: kind, gentle, helpful and sympathetic.  Why?  Because they have been taken captive by the devil.  They have been deceived, let astray, fooled, and fed lies to the point that they can’t recognize the truth of God’s existence and His love.  They are under the influence of satan, and they deserve our pity rather than our hate.

If you look in the gospel accounts, Jesus saved His harshest words for the religious crowd who rejected the lost, the poor, the lonely and the wounded – and Him. They were the self-righteous scholars who diligently studied the Scriptures, but missed the whole point of God’s plan.  They shut out the very ones God loved, but Jesus welcomed them and loved them.  It’s no wonder He was called “a friend of sinners,” and I believe He bore that title with delight rather than shame.  I know I would never have been accepted by the religious elite, but Jesus accepts me just as I am.

If you are a Christian, you have a call to be “salt and light” in the world.  Salt to preserve the image of God in your fellow man and light to lead the way to the cross and redemption. Finger-pointing, harsh words and belittling attitudes will never win anyone to Christ.  But a kind and gentle spirit will.

If you are not a Christian, let me assure you that Jesus does not look at you with hatred or disgust; He does not see you as His enemy – He died so that you could be His friend for eternity.  He loves you with an everlasting love that will never turn you away.  Please come and see for yourself that He is a gentle King and a kind Savior.