MAY I NEVER BOAST EXCEPT IN THE CROSS OF JESUS
Today the cross has become acceptable; many do not take offence to it, though they may belong to another faith. Many wear it around their neck in spite of not knowing the real significance of it. It was not so during those days. The cross was one of the most degraded and debased symbols imaginable, particularly in the Roman context. Perceived as an instrument of torture and death, it was considered to be utterly shameful, vile and vulgar, and the cruellest and the most dishonourable form of death.
Shame To The World
In 1st Corinthians 1:23, the apostle Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and the foolishness to Gentiles." The message of the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews for two reasons. It was totally unacceptable to them that the one who ended life upon the cross could possibly be God-incarnate. The Jews expected the Messiah to come to liberate them politically, and to lead them into a situation of happiness and prosperity. But in Jesus, they saw suffering and enduring upon the cross. The message of the cross was foolishness to the Greeks also for two reasons. God cannot feel. He is incapable of feeling and is utterly detached and remote. The Greeks sought wisdom, clever mind and cunning tongues with fascinating and persuasive rhetoric. To them the simple and blunt message of the Cross of Christ was nothing but foolishness.
What made the apostle to emphatically say be convinced that he will never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? He was not an ordinary person. He was a blue blooded Hebrew, belonging to an elite community among the Jews. He was a great scholar both in Hebrew and Greek, studied under a highly learned man, knew every detail of the precepts of his religion and followed them in detail, and a highly respected person among his people. To such a man, what was shame to the world had become the glory of God. Why?
Power Of God
The message of the Cross of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:18). The God-incarnate was given the name Jesus because He would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Jesus said that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world (Jn. 3:17). Our Saviour came into the world to save us from the bondage of sin and give us life eternal. Look Ephesians 2:1-10. Without Christ, you and I are actually spiritually dead. The ungenerate man, because of his sin and wickedness, is spiritually dead. He follows the ways of the evil one, and gratifies the cravings of his sinful nature and by nature is an object of the wrath of God. What he needs is not ethics, philosophy, psychology, science, art, etc, but life. Only God can give him life. That life is conveyed only in the cross of Christ. V.5 “He made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." He does it because He loves us and showers us with His immeasurable riches of His grace in Christ. V 8 “For by His grace you have been saved through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast." And the purpose is, V. 10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us in advance for us to do."
I was born in a traditional Anglican home. From the age of seven I was in my church choir. Later I became a member of the sanctuary guild, helping the Pastor in the Holy Communion service and whenever needed, being a cross-bearer. But I never had the assurance of salvation. As I teenager I became restless, caught up with identity crisis. Who am I? What is the purpose of my existence? At the age of seventeen, by the influence of some friends who claimed themselves to be “born again,” I attended a Youth For Christ rally at the Memorial Hall, Chennai. The speaker was Rev. Cyril Thomson, an Anglican Pastor committed to YFC. As he shared the Word, the Lord convicted me of my alienation from God and revealed to me the very purpose of existence. The only way out was to confess my sins and repent and submit myself to the Lordship of Christ. At the end of the meeting, I stayed back for counselling by Dr. Norton Sterrett, one of the pioneers of the Union of Evangelical Students of India. He clearly explained to me the significance of my commitment to Christ. How do I have the assurance of Salvation and that I am His child? Dr. Sterrett referred to Romans 8:15 to 17. “You do not receive the spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, we are heirs of God and co-heirs in Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”
Reconciliation With God
The message of the Cross of Christ is the access to Reconciliation in Him. “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile 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 enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight” (Col. 1:19 - 22).
James L Packer, an outstanding evangelical scholar and Bible teacher explains Reconciliation as, “the ending of enmity and the making of peace and friendship between persons previously opposed. God and man were at enmity with each other by reason of men’s sins; but God has acted in Christ to reconcile sinners to Himself through the cross. The achieving of reconciliation was a task which Christ completed at Calvary. In virtue of Christ’s finished work of atonement. God now invites sinners everywhere to receive the reconciliation and thus be reconciled to Himself. Believers enjoy through Christ an actual reconciliation with God which is perfect and final.”
Today there are many people living in alienation from God, living in hostility to Him and rebellious against Him, due to various reasons. Their lives are in contradiction to His will and purpose. One such person was Velma, sexually abused when she was a child. Her bitterness and anger led to be a drug addict and rebellious against God. She was convicted of murdering her mother and her boyfriend, and thrown in prison. As she was waiting for her execution, the Spirit of God touched her and she got reconciled with God through Christ. She totally submitted herself to her heavenly Father. As a result, her life was fully transformed and became a great influence in bringing many prisoners to the feet of Christ.
Reconciliation With Each Other
God has reconciled us to be reconcilers. The Word of God makes it clear that, “Christ Himself is our peace, who has made the two (Jews and Gentiles) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility” (Eph. 2: 14 -16).
Today, as we look around, reconciliation is needed in many situations at various levels. There is a need for it in families, in the churches, and between communities and nations. God has given us the message and ministry of reconciliation, and has made us His ambassadors to live by it and proclaim it. Whatever our calling and ministry may be, we are primarily reconcilers.
The message of the Cross of Christ causes us to be His authentic witnesses. Look at Romans 6: 1 - 14. Never take the grace of God for granted. His grace is not an excuse for sinning. Dietrich Bonhoffer, a German Pastor killed by Hitler, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, says, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow upon ourselves…It is .the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession…. Grace is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives man the only true life.”
According to God’s Word in Romans 6, baptism symbolises your experience in Christ. You go into the water and come out of it signifying that you died to the old life of sin and rose to the new life of grace. If you have been united with Him like this in His death, you will be certainly also united with Him in His resurrection. Since your old self is crucified with Him, you are no longer a slave to sin. The life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who lived and gave Himself for you (Gal. 2:20). A real union and identification with Christ to be an authentic witness. This enables us to set our hearts and minds on things above, not for otherworldliness, but to be a fruitful witness in this world; to put to death all wickedness and to put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of God; and do all things, whether by word or deed, with the purpose of redemptive goal and restoration of all God’s creation, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through Him.
In his book How now shall we live?, Charles Colson rightly points out that we “ are saved not only from something, but also to something. The life in Christ begins with spiritual restoration which is indispensable. But we are meant to proceed to the restoration of all God’s creation which includes private and public virtues, individual and family life, education and community; work, politics and law; science and medicine; literature, art and music. This redemptive goal permeates everything we do, for there is no invisible dividing line between sacred and secular.” The message of the Cross of Jesus Christ empowers each one of us with His salvation; enables us to be in reconciliation with Him, and through Him with our fellow human beings, and equips us to live a life of authenticity, with the ultimate goal of spreading His Kingdom everywhere. Therefore, let our boasting-our glory-be in the Cross of Christ!