The “Word of the Cross”
God’s message to humanity
1st Cor 1:17.18 “The Word of the Cross is foolishness…”
Introduction: Years ago, a University student asked me the question,” what does the death of a 1st Century Jewish carpenter have to do with me living in the 21st Century?
That’s a worthy question. Even the disciples of Jesus had difficulty understanding what happened the day Jesus was crucified. To them the crucifixion was a tragedy, a massive defeat of all their hopes.
On the surface, it looked as though Christ’s death was the result of his being caught up in the religious politics of his day. Thus, one could say as Peter did in his sermon at Pentecost, that the Jews killed Jesus. He certainly held them responsible.
- Early on the Apostles blamed the Jews and the Sanhedrin. See Peter’s message in Acts 2:23 & Acts 3:13-14, Acts 4:10
- Early on the Apostles focused on the meanness of crucifixion, not the meaning of the Cross.
The book of acts shows us a slow, developing understanding of the meaning of Christ’s death.
The idea of “the cross” as theological truth comes later from Paul in 1st Co 1:17-18
Apply: It took 20 years for the early Church to hear the “word of the Cross.” Paul will teach them that God put Christ on that tree! God’s grace put him on the cross. Romans 3:24 says that in Christ’s death we were, “justified freely by His grace…”
Man, or human governments were not in control of the death of Christ. He (Jesus) was a “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” Jesus said in John 10: “No man takes my life from me, I freely give it.” The “I freely give it” is God’s grace, a gift Therefore, since it was God the Father that put His Son on that tree- then that death has much to do with you and me, living in the 21st Century.
How Paul answers the Question about this 1st Century Jew’s death:
Paul uses five “Picture Words” from Roman & Jewish culture to explain the death of Christ. It took him years to really process what God was doing in allowing his Son to die on a cross, but when it was revealed to him, it became a message God was sending us from the cross.
1 – The 1st word picture from the Cross is “Redemption” –Freedom is the key idea.
The background of this word and its cognates-redeemed, redemption, ransom, is the ancient slave market. Even as Jesus was dying on that cross, somewhere there in Jerusalem, slaves were being bought and sold. The definition of “redeemed” might be to be freed from slavery by the payment of a ransom price. Jesus used this imagery of his own death when he said, “For the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a “ransom’ for many.” (Mark 10:45) Slaves are redeemed from slavery by the purchase (ransom) price being paid. The imagery is that Satan “owned” the human race; The day Christ died there was a war going on to free the slaves! The ransom price to set sinners free is the sinless life of God’s Son for the sinful lives of the sons of Adam. Christ by his death paid the ransom to set us free. Sins are paid for -in full. Satan has no claim on the redeemed. They are slaves no more- but rather are freed sons of God.
The day Jesus died slaves of sin were being set free! The two key ideas in Redemption is forgiveness and freedom. (See Ephesians 1:7; Romans 3:24; Col.1:13, 14; 1st Peter 1:18, 19)
2 – The 2nd word picture from the cross is “Atonement” – Peace with God is the key idea
The background of “atonement” is the Jewish sacrificial system. Just a short distance from the crucifixion scene was the Temple where the blood of animals was being sacrificed as an appeasement to the wrath of God against sinners. The most often used words of Christ’s death are that he “atoned” for sin or that he made “propitiation” for sins by his blood being shed in our behalf. The NIV translates this word as “atoning sacrifice.” (see 1st John 2:2); while the KJV, NASV, and others translate it as “propitiation.” (see Romans 3:25) Atonement means “at one- meant.” The idea behind this atonement is peace with God. The entire Book of Leviticus is about atoning sacrifices being made as an offering for sins. Because God is Holy, he cannot be approached without blood sacrifice for sins. This explains why John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb which God has provided, to take away the world’s sin.” Col 1:20 says, “through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Rom 5:1 tells us that Christ’s death is our atonement that makes peace with God possible, by the “taking away “of sins. The background of this idea is the Day of Atonement in Jewish Culture. On this atonement day a scape goat is released by the High priest to symbolically carry away the nation’s sins for a year. (see Isaiah 53:6 and Hebrews 9 & 10)
This “peace with God” is made possible because the shred blood “cleanses, blots out, and removes the guilt caused sins. These are the words used by Scripture to describe what was happening the day Jesus died on the cross. Jesus is our scape goat and our God provided lamb that was slain for us, that we might have all guilt and shame blotted out and forever cleansed. Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of Blood there is no redemption.”
You might ask, “Why does God require blood to remove guilt?” Scripture says that life is in the blood, and the pure (sinless) blood of Jesus is sacrificed for our sins. It was his life for our life, his blood for our life. Jesus blood is the atonement for Guilt and the removal of Guilt. Jesus death both propitiates and expiates our sins; meaning it provides a substitute sacrifice in our place and in so doing removes all our guilt and shame before the face of Holy God. This is the second reason the death of that 1st Century Jew has everything to do with you living in the 21st Century!
3 – The 3rd word picture from the Cross is “Justification” – the key idea is to be declared innocent
This word picture is from a Roman court room. Scripture often uses court room legal words like, “justified” or “justification” to describe what was really going on the day Christ died. God is the judge, we are the accused, and we have been found guilty.
Illust: The Cross event has these participants in the drama of a court room:
The Judge-= God
The judged= the sinner
The justifier= Jesus
the justified = those who believe!
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the issue of guilt is settled “out of court” The Cross is God’s court room! The righteous Judge of the universe now can look upon us “just as if I’d never sinned.” (justified). This is true because in Christ all sins are blotted out, forgiven and all guilt removed. Paul will say “there is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (see Romans 8:1-4) Later in Romans he says there is no charge against us in the court room of eternity:
‘Who will bring a charge against God’s elect, it is God who justifies…” (see Romans 8:31-34) The Judge has become our savior, our justifier and even our Father. These are the words often used to describe Christ’s death, words like “justification, and “justified.” God has declared us guiltless and innocent before the Law of God. What a glorious idea. We are not innocent, unless God says we are, and He says all who believe in this word of the Cross are declared not guilty!
4 – The 4th word picture from the Cross is “Reconciliation” – the Key idea is family and fellowship (see Romans 3:25, Romans 5:11, 2 Cor. 5:19)
This word picture comes from family life. It is best illustrated in the parable of the runaway son we call the prodigal. Recorded in Luke 15 is a beautiful “reconciliation story,” of a father who welcomes home his wayward son. In this story, God is the father whose son was lost and was returning from the far away country. The forgiving heart of the prodigal’s father is a picture of God reconciling the world unto himself through the death of his only begotten Son. God the Father sent His son to the cross, so we could be accepted back into His family. We are “adopted” in Christ, the sons of Adam can become sons of God by simply believing this word of the cross. (see Romans 8:14-16).
How amazing is this- the Judge has become our Father in Heaven when we believe this message from the cross.
Take Aways: “What does the death of a 1st Century Jew have to do with me?”
- Everything because you were there with Jesus on the Cross! Gal 2:20
- When Jesus died, our sins died and were buried with Him.
- We are declared innocent, though we are not, we are made guiltless, though we are guilty; We are set free from our bondage to sin; we have peace with God and are even adopted into God’s family.
- Yet we must not count all this as “foolishness (1st Cor 1:18) as unbelievers do. Our task is to believe this message from the cross. Our faith brings these marvelous truths into our reality of daily living. This word is the power of God to those who believe (1st Cor. 1:18) So-believe this Word of the Cross and live in freedom, peace, innocence and fellowship.