Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Offensive Cross - A Bloody Service

18 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. 19 For it is written,
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
20 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? 21 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

The Offensive Crucifixion

Have you ever seen some of the remarkable cross designs people have made over the ages? There are beautiful crosses all over the place. Through the efforts of Christian artisans, it has become a popular design element in even secular design circles.

However, the crucifixion is offensive. It is bloody. It is gory. Say what you will about Mel Gibson’s The Passion, but his violent portrayal of the torture and crucifixion of Christ is rather more accurate than we’ve seen before.

Would we consider an iron maiden an aesthetically pleasing design element? Perhaps we would if we were the Addams family. It would be weird to hang a tiny guillotine around our neck or wear electric chairs as earrings.

Are we Jews or gentiles? Is the crucifixion a stumbling block or foolishness? Where it is offensive to anyone, it should especially be offensive to Christians. Why? Because that’s where our sin is. Are we not offended by our sin? We should be, and more than anyone else. The wages of sin is death. That’s the horrible death we deserve. It’s offensive.


Messy Servanthood

But we must find God’s wisdom in such offensiveness. If Christ is the revelation of the Father, then the crucifixion as His crowning achievement among us is definitive of the nature of God. Few understand this: if God is eternal and absolute, then there are no bounds to His existence. (Properly, He is substantial or essential, but this is meaningless if you haven’t studied philosophy.) His eternal nature is creative. We would expect that He would only create eternal things, since He is eternal, and that which he creates would be harmonious and integral to His own existence. What is incomprehensible is that God created that which was not Himself. He created a temporal world, ours. In no way is He diminished by this, but now exists something that is not God, although its foundation is in His substance.

Inasmuch as Christ is the author of life, there can be no death in Him – yet He died. (Is it any wonder that he was resurrected?) This is the revelation of God’s sacrifice in creation. Inasmuch as all things were created through Christ, they are recreated through Him. Consider if you will a cloud of particles, if it were possible, that all absolutely sought their own purpose to the exclusion of every other particle. The cloud would disperse and have no unity. Consider the same cloud of particles that all absolutely served one another before themselves. They would be unified and bound together in common purpose. Is God not absolutely unified? Then would the unified cloud not more accurately reflect His nature? Sacrificial service is foundational to God’s eternal nature.

How much then, if we are to imitate our Lord, should we imitate His sacrifice in service to each other? I’m not saying we should seek death on a cross. What I’m asking is how much do we bear one another’s burdens?

My wife came home from a Mothers Of Preschoolers class once where some messy projects were taught. If I recall correctly, the phrase offered where children are concerned was, “embrace the mess.” I have 3 active kids, four animals, and a small house. It matters not how much you clean, there will always be a mess somewhere in the house. Raising kids are that way.

We’re all kids of a sort. Adults have the same silly attitudes as children. We have simply learned how to be more sophisticated in how we manifest these in our behavior:

“Mine!” “No, mine!” (Possessiveness)

“Huh uh!” “Uh huh!” (Personal preference determines belief resulting in false presuppositions later in life.)

“I know you are but what am I?” (Self-righteousness)

“I wanna do it myself!” (Promptly spills milk all over the counter. False self-reliance in adults stifles cooperation and limits productivity.)

No, but rather if we seek to bear one another’s burdens, we must be prepared to get involved with each other’s messes:

“Oh – spilled the milk all over the counter again, did you?”

What do we say afterward? Do we ignore it or say, “Have fun cleaning that up?” Or do we say, “Let me help you with that?”

When the mess is serious sin, are we so inclined to offer the same help with the understanding that such help may involve discipline? Perhaps we are dealing with a murderer or adulterer. Perhaps a person has been exposed to horrible things and has serious emotional problems. Are we willing to embrace the mess for the sake of the ministry of the gospel?

If you work with bees to obtain the sweetness of the honey, expect to be stung on occasion. We often don’t like to get involved with difficult people and situations because we rightly perceive that we could be harmed or even condemned by association. Christ was condemned because He kept company with sinners. That is a cross we are called to bear. It’s offensive to us and to all who observe.

Embrace the mess, even if we get bloody. That’s our service.

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