What does the cross still say to us today? Do you ever wonder if the message of the cross is still relevant in a world preoccupied with iPhones, Ebola and ISIS? Many people, if they think about him at all, wonder how an obscure carpenter from Nazareth has anything to say to us today in the 21st century.
And so on this Good Friday morning, as we focus our attention on the cross, I'd like us to think for a few moments about whether it still says anything important to us today. What is the message of the cross, that people not only here in Canada, but in every country of the world, so desperately need to hear once again?
Perhaps one of the clearest places where that message is spelled out for us is found, not in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, but in Paul's letter to the Colossian church. Let me read a few verses from that letter. Col 1:15-23:
“He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. "
To me that is one of the clearest summaries of the gospel message that we can find in the scriptures. Here Paul distills a number of key elements down to a very few words. He begins by affirming the full deity of Christ: "He is the very image of the invisible God... God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" Jesus was far more than just a great prophet or teacher. As the son of God, Christ embodies for us everything there is to know about God. As he says later in 2:9 "In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form"
So Paul begins there, with the deity of Christ
But as we continue thru these verses, there are 2 very important words that Paul uses, that to me almost jump out at us as we read them, because they are 2 words that resonate so strongly to us in our modern 21st century world: Those words are Alienation, & Reconciliation.
1. The cross speaks to us of our own Alienation- v21: "Once you were alienated from God- you were enemies of God"
Now any high school English student can tell you that the common theme running thru almost modern literature in the past century has been the theme of Alienation. Fitzgerald, Camus, Hemingway, Orwell: they all wrote about alienation. Men alienated from women, man alienated from society, but most of all man alienated from himself.
That sense of isolation, disconnectedness, lostness comes thru all of our modern culture: books, movies, music. And Paul speaks to that very contemporary problem here by telling us that the reason for this feeling of alienation is that we as a people are disconnected, we are alienated from God. That is the real cause for the terrible desolation that so many people feel today.
Frederick Buechner, a contemporary writer & theologian, tells the true story of a young boy of 12 or 13, who in a fit of crazed anger & depression got hold of a gun & fired it at his father, who died not right away but soon after. When the police asked the boy why he had done it, he said that it was because he could not stand his father, his father demanded too much of him. He hated his father
But then later on, after he had been placed in a house of detention somewhere, a guard was walking down the corridor late one night when he heard sounds from the boys room & stopped to listen. The words that he heard the boy sobbing out in the dark were "I want my father, I want my father"
And Buechner sees this story as a kind of parable of our whole world today. Modern man is like that boy. We have killed off our father: With the exception of a few fanatics, most people no longer think seriously about God. And yet as we lie there in the dark, we find ourselves calling out for our father, & for that part of our lives that we have somehow lost along the way, that we have become alienated from
The first thing that we must understand about the cross is that it took place because of our alienation from God. Our sin separated us from our heavenly Father, it made him our enemy. And when Jesus hung on the cross, he took upon himself that very same sense of alienation. When the gospel writers tell us the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, they tell how at the 6th hour, about noon, a terrible darkness suddenly filled the sky. And you can imagine as the darkness descended, that those who had been mocking & jeering at Jesus suddenly became very quiet. The only sound to be heard was the desolate moaning of the wind blowing across the darkened hillside. And then as they gaze up at the cross, their fear mounting, the people hear Jesus cry out with a loud voice: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!": "My god, my god, Why have you forsaken me"?
Without question these are the most devastating words we ever hear Jesus speak. He, who had never known a minute when he had not been in complete communion with his heavenly Father, now felt utterly alone & forsaken by him. Far more than the physical pain he endured, this must have been the most terrible thing about the cross for Jesus, the sense of abandonment from his Father. Isaiah tells us that there on the cross “The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” On Good Friday, God placed the full weight of the sin of mankind there on Jesus’ shoulders. And then Jesus became the sacrificed lamb, slain to atone for the sins of the world, including yours and mine
2. And so because of his unbelievable love for us, God refused to allow us to remain in a condition of alienation, but through the cross Jesus has effected a reconciliation, a restoring of the broken rel’ship between God and man
One of the greatest needs in peoples’ lives today is Reconciliation. Our society is littered with the heartbreak of broken rel’ships: husbands & wives, fathers & sons, mothers & daughters. Why is it so hard for people to experience healing & reconciliation in their rel’ships with one another?
When Elizabeth Barrett married Robert Browning, her parents disapproved so strongly of the marriage that they disowned her. And for years after, almost weekly, Elizabeth wrote a letter to her father and mother, begging for reconciliation. They never once replied. Finally, after 10 years, she received a huge box in the mail. When she opened it she was heartbroken to find that the box contained everyone of her letters to her parents. Not one of them had been opened in all those years. Today those letters are regarded as some of the most beautiful ever written in the English language. How tragic that her own parents never read them. But even more tragic that they never became reconciled to their own daughter.
Thru the cross, God has written a letter to us offering reconciliation. Paul writes “That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them”
The amazing thing to me is that God didn’t have to do that. We were the ones who had broken off the rel’ship to begin with because of our disobedience. God would have been perfectly within his rights just to allow things to continue as they had been. But instead he took the initiative. He sent his son into the world to die for us, so that we could be restored back to him, so that we could be made whole again.
The tragedy is that for many people, the cross is like one of those unopened letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. They have never really heard what God is trying to say to them thru the cross. Maybe they don’t understand what he is saying, Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re content to just leave things the way they are. I don’t know. I do know that for many years I was estranged from God,. I really didn’t want to have anything to do with him. But then one day I came to realize that what Jesus had done on the cross, he did for me.
I came to realize that noone had ever loved me the way that Jesus had loved me. Noone else had ever given their life the way He had. And from that moment on I wanted Christ to be in my life. As we sing in Isaac Watts great hymn: “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died... Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” That is what the cross still says to us today.