Monday, April 20, 2015

Why the Cross? Part 1

(Sunday morning as I was preparing for worship and preaching the following sermon, I was struck with another set of thoughts which needed to augment this piece.  Those thoughts will appear in my next sermon to be posted next week.)

    Jesus said to the disciples, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.

    The question that I want to deal with this morning in my sermon is this: why did the Messiah have to suffer and die?  Why did Jesus have to go to the cross?  Why is it that everything in Scriptures led up to that pivotal moment where Jesus had to die and then be raised from the dead?

    This is more than just an academic question.  It’s important because it cuts to the very heart of Christianity and our reason for existing as a Church.  It’s important in our current day and age because there are a lot, and I mean a lot of people who still wonder why Jesus had to die.  There are a lot of people who wonder why the cross was necessary. 

    The bewilderment is nothing new.  The early Church had to deal with folks’ questions about the cross.  St. Paul even says this in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 23, “23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  The cross was a stumbling block to Jews because in the Law it was written that anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed by God.  If Jesus were the Messiah, then He was supposed to be blessed by God, certainly not cursed by God.  The fact that Jesus was hung on a tree caused them to stumble.  As for the Gentiles, it was utter foolishness that God would die.  God was omnipotent, and omniscient, all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal and immortal.  God certainly could not die.  The idea that He would was utter foolishness.  Even then people had a hard time coming to grips with the cross.

    Today, there is much discussion about the cross as well.  Some cannot fathom the idea that God would use such a brutal and bloody method to save the world.  God could have chosen something different.  Some believe the cross is some sort of divine child abuse and cannot grasp that the Father would send the Son to experience such a thing.  Some only give the cross worldly implications and separate the cross from any sort of significance for salvation.  Indeed the cross still spurs conversation in this manner. 

    Yet, in order to truly understand the Gospel, we have to come to grips with the cross.  We have to come to grips with its significance and the reasons, as Jesus said, “it was necessary,” for these things to happen.  Why was it necessary?

    Well, first we have to understand the nature of God.  Now, I know there are many who will say simply and truly, “God is love.”  You are absolutely right.  For the writer John says this very thing in 1 John 4.  “God is love,” John proclaims.  And some folks jump on this and emphasize love.  They then see God in our understanding of love: compassion, kindness, pouring out Himself for us, making us feel good about ourselves–kind of like a Hallmark deity.  Interestingly enough, I’ve been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, and in this book, Bonhoeffer says something profound.   He says, we read this all wrong.  We tend to emphasize the word love when we should be emphasizing the word God.  God is love–meaning, if you want to know what love is, you look to God and not vice versa.  It makes perfect sense as the writer John continues in 1 John when he says, “for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. “

    ”Love is that God loves us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  This is the reason the cross is necessary.  You may still be wondering why?

    Here’s why.  If we need to understand love through God, then we need to understand the nature of God–and God we must understand that God is the One in whom ultimate justice and ultimate mercy come together.  God must be a God of justice, and God must be a God of mercy.  The two cannot be separated.  Here’s why.

    First, we must understand that God is a God of justice.  He has to be. If God were not a God of justice, He would not be worth worshiping.  I mean, let’s think about this for a moment.  Many of you have heard about the atrocities that ISIS is committing in Iraq and Syria.  You have heard the stories about how they have beheaded prisoners, burned prisoners alive, and raped and tortured women.  Imagine if God in heaven looked down upon this and said, “Oh, this is wrong.  You shouldn’t do such things, but hey, I’ll forgive you anyway.  I will take you to be with me and perfect you so that you will never do this again.  You will join me in paradise.”  If you were a perpetrator of such crimes, you might be very comforted by this kind of God; however, if you have even a little sympathy for those who have been victimized by ISIS, you would recoil at such thoughts.  You would recoil at such a God.  A God who forgives without justice is a God who has no compassion on victims–who is not interested in fully righting the wrongs.  Such a God might be forgiving, but such a God does not have love.  There must be justice.

    And in Scripture, it is revealed that God indeed is a God of justice.  There is a promise of recompense and punishment for those who do wrong.  God promises to look with kindness upon the widow and orphan; those who have been pushed to the edges of society.  God promises to right the wrongs that have been committed against the poor and oppressed.  God promises to let His wrath burn hot against such evil and destroy it–no matter how big or how small.

    Now, that last statement should give us pause.  God’s wrath and judgement will burn against injustice and evil no matter how big or how small.  That might cause you to scratch your head for a moment for you might think, “God will also punish small sins?  God will punish say, stealing a piece of candy or disobeying my parents when they tell me no and I do the opposite?  God will punish me if I don’t give offerings to the church?  God will punish me if I tell a little white lie to prevent pain on the behalf of another?”  Why would God do such a thing.  I mean, I’m not like ISIS and killing people or anything.  Why would God’s wrath burn hot against a little sin?

    Just this: on Easter I used the example of the Butterfly Effect or that one tiny change across the globe–a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan–could cause massive changes in Alabama by brining tornadoes.  That illustration still stands, but perhaps it’s a bit abstract.  Let me use another one which may hit closer to home, especially with all you hunters out there.

    When you are sighting in a gun at 25 yards, and you are ½ an inch off, do you say, “Well, I’m close enough.  No need to get things dead center.”?  Of course you don’t.  You can’t accept being off that much.  Why?  Well, because at 50 yards, you are going to be off even more.  At 100 yards you will be off an even greater distance.  At 200 yards you will be far away from the bull’s eye.  At 300 yards, you may miss the target altogether.  The further away you get, the further off you will be.  You’ve got to hit perfection so that as time passes and distance passes, you will still hit the target.  If you aren’t perfect, there will be consequences. 

    God knows this, and He demands perfection.  This is why He treats anger towards another person like murder.  This is why He treats lust like He treats adultery.  You could say that this seems overly harsh, but in reality it’s not.  Why?  Because anger is a condition of the heart–it’s the same condition that leads to murder.  Lust is a condition of the heart–which leads to adultery.  It all starts in the heart as far as God is concerned.  And if your heart isn’t tuned into God and His will, He will judge and let His wrath burn hot.

    You might think two things at this point. #1. You might say, “Well, my heart is tuned to God, and He should give me a break on messing up.”  I respond: If your heart is tuned to God, then why do you tell that white lie?  Why do you not give an offering to the church?  Why do you get angry at another person when you feel slighted?  Here’s why: for those moments; for that time; something else was more important to you than the love of God.  You were afraid of the consequences of telling the truth so your well being took precedence.  You didn’t give because you wanted to hold onto your money, and it replaced God.  You were more concerned with your own feelings of being wronged than offering forgiveness.  In all of these things, God took a back seat, and He did not rule in your heart.  The other thing you might say is this: #2. There is no way anyone can avoid the wrath of God.  It is hopeless.  Might as well give in and enjoy what we can before God burns us to a crisp.  That would be an appropriate response if God were not a God of mercy.

    For if God had no mercy, then we would all be in a pickle.  We would all stand condemned and under His wrath for our failure to live the lives we should live.  And we have no excuse.  I mean, every culture in the world knows and has in its code of conduct that you should treat others as you would like to be treated.  Every culture knows we should care for one another and be fair.  However, just as true of every culture in the world is the fact that it is not done.  We know what we should do, but we do not do it.

    So, God, it seems might be in a bit of a pickle Himself.  His wrath must burn hot against sin.  It must burn hot against us missing the mark.  In order for justice to be served, there must be recompense.  There must be punishment to right the wrongs.  However, if every wrong were righted; if every sin were punished, then all would be condemned and mercy could not be shown.  How can this conundrum be resolved?

    I would like you to now think about how you act when you are wronged by someone else.  I am quite sure that everyone here this morning has experienced such a thing.  You have had someone tell you that they would do something only to renege on their word.  You have had someone say an unkind thing about you.  You have had someone say something that cut you to the heart.  You have entered into an agreement with someone for services or goods and had that person take advantage of you.  How do you respond?

    Most of us cut the other person off physically or emotionally.  Most of us refuse to associate with that other person or institution any longer.  Most of us say, “That’s it.  You have hurt me, and I refuse to have anything to do with you.”  And we don’t, unless an apology is issued–unless restitution is made.  Unless someone acknowledges the pain they caused and feels bad themselves, we will not engage the relationship again.  Unless there is repayment for abuse, we will stay away from the one who harmed us.  Payment, either emotionally or physically is demanded.  It’s the way we operate.  It’s the only way we get justice.  Someone has to pay. 

    Now, if you forgive a person who has harmed you; if you continue in a relationship with another who has treated you badly; who bears the cost.  If forgiveness is extended, then you bear the cost yourself.  You bear the emotional and physical burden.  The other is forgiven, but cost is still borne.  You just take it upon yourself and do not make the other person pay.

    If you have this in your head, I would like you to think now about all the times you have missed the mark.  Think about all the times you were off, even just a little bit.  Think about all the times when you were a ½ inch off at 25 yards but then as time and distance happened you missed the target all together.  Think about such things over the entire span of your life.  Think about the vast population of the world and how they have all missed the mark.  Think about how you have grieved your heavenly Father with such actions.  Think about how much damage has been done because of how we have missed the mark in such a manner.  Think about all that pain and frustration and anger.  Add all of that up.  If you multiply such things by the billions of people who have lived, can you possibly imagine how much wrath is built up?  Can you imagine the amount of anger God must have for our failure to love one another?  What could possibly pay for it?  What could God possibly demand in order to make things right?  What kind of restitution could satisfy the damage we have done?  The price must be extremely high.

    And if God forgives?  If God bears the cost Himself?  If God takes that wrath and absorbs it what kind of payment will make satisfaction?  If God bears His own wrath on our behalf, what could it cost Him?  If God took on human flesh and bore our sin and the cost for that sin Himself, what would that look like?

    The answer can be found at Calvary on a cross.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.

    God incarnate, Jesus bore the wrath of God destined for us.  He offered Himself as payment so that we didn’t have to face what we deserved.  This is why Jesus had to die.  This is why He had to hang on that cross.  This is why the cross saves us. 

    Jesus said to the disciples, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.

    Thank you, Jesus for what you have done.  Amen.


Unknown said...

Thanks Yes I have been pondering this very question for a while now. And yet As I started reading your sermon, WHY would God, who created the Universe set it up in such a Way as to allow fro and eventually REQUIRE such a dramatic action as to NEED to send his Son.
Hey I know I am NOT GOD, but it occurs to me that If I were God I would consider setting up a universe where such Drama would NOT BE NECESSARY.
Kevin, what I am getting at here is trying to understand the underlying assertions of your premise...

Quite frankly your assertion sounds like one of those "Just So" stories, about how the chipmunk got it's stripes or how an elephant got it's trunk.....

Help me here Kevin...

Kevin Haug said...

First off: God DID create the universe where there would be no need of the cross. However there was one problem:

Answer the following question:

Can you have a true relationship with another being without free will?

Unknown said...

I trust you and your congregation appropriately commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the Federal Governments raid on WACO raid.

But why would a God find it necessary to sacrifice HIS ONLY SON? and oh yeah TO WHOM?

OK so God gave his only SON to die for our Sins, Well WHO WAS APPEASED By that sacrifice?
DID GOD appease himself by Sacrificing JESUS?

How Does that Work?

Seriously here KEVIN,
Are you picking up on my point???

Kevin Haug said...

Quit being dense, Carl. Jesus IS God. God sacrificed HIMSELF on the cross. God bore our payment HIMSELF. You forget basic Christian doctrine--the Trinity.

Unknown said...

Huh? Who was the "PAYMENT" to?
Who Set up the rules here? So the CREATOR sacrificed the REDEEMER? And Whose rules decided that such a sacrifice was necessary? I am afraid that I am missing something here and I don't think the trinity has anything to do with it... So WHY would GOD set up such a drama?

I really Do need to know!
I really don't get it....


Kevin Haug said...

The Trinity has everything to do with it--along with free will and relationships.

Take some time to contemplate justice, the cost of forgiveness, the nature of God, and the understanding of the Trinity (not in terms of what each "person" does but in terms of relationship).

Unknown said...

Oh dear,
another go round and my questions remain. I think we are talking different languages.

Oh well,
I remain unconvinced by your eloquence but hey,

Thanks for trying..


Kevin Haug said...

One can imagine him conversing thus with his pastor: "I have lost the faith I once had."

"You must listen to the Word as it is spoken to you in the sermon."

"I do, but I cannot get anything out of it, it just falls on deaf ears as far as I am concerned."

"The trouble is, you don't really want to listen."

"On the contrary, I do."

And here they generally break off, because the pastor is at a loss what to say next. He only remembers the first half of the proposition: "Only those who believe obey." But this does not help, for faith is just what this particular man finds impossible. The pastor feels himself confronted with the ultimate riddle of predestination. God grants faith to some and withholds it from others. So the pastor throws up the sponge and leave the poor man to his fate. And yet, this ought to be the turning point of the whole interview. It is the complete turning point. THE PASTOR SHOULD GIVE UP ARGUING WITH HIM, AND STOP TAKING HIS DIFFICULTIES SERIOUSLY. That will really be in the man's own interest, for he is only trying to hide himself behind them. It is now time to take the bull by the horns, and say: "Only those who obey believe."

Thus the flow of the conversation is interrupted, and the pastor can continue:


--Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Kevin Haug said...

^^Emphasis mine.^^

Kathy Suarez said...

Just submit to the authority of the Church and obey! That's a real Lutheran concept.

Kevin Haug said...

^^Spoken by a true Roman Catholic.

The Christian does not submit to the Church's authority. The Christian submits to Christ.

Kathy Suarez said...

Define "Christ." Interpretation, my dear Kevin, interpretation and hermeneutics -- your personal interpretations and your personal hermeneutics: the ultimate Authority for Truth.

Kevin Haug said...

There you go being all postmodern and stuff, Kathy. You only like the Truth when it suits you. If it doesn't, then it's, "It's your interpretation."


In this case, we must change HIM to HER.

Unknown said...




Unknown said...

Does the expression "Get A Room"
mean anything to either of you?
The passion between you two is palpable..