Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Power of the Cross

Today is Palm Sunday and the theme of Pastor Brad's sermon was the power of the cross. Brad opened the service by noting that Palm Sunday has a tension in it because it recalls for us the adoration of Jesus and celebration of his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. But as we celebrate it we know the rest of the story. His kingdom ended up being very different from the kingdom they expected.

Announcements included the following:
1.Prayer sheets from the last couple bulletin inserts will be collected for next few weeks.
2. There will be a special Good Friday service at 7:00 p.m. this week. There is no Easter without the cross.
3. Easter Sunday there will a breakfast here at the church from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. and an Easter egg hunt for the young 'uns right after.
4. We were invited/encouraged to bring Easter Lilies to decorate the sanctuary next week.
5. The VBS Website is up. You can register online. Brooke has also been very busy putting together a church calendar to help communicate and coordinate church activities. You can see it here at the blog below, as well as here on our church website.
6. A relatively new multi-church men's ministry called Northland Sharpening Iron is hosting a workshop on April 14 from 9:00 a.m. till noon at Clyde Iron Works. You can see details at their website. They are hoping men will register by April 4 in order to secure an estimate of how many to expect.

The worship officially commenced with Darlene playing "Jerusalem" on the piano.

Today's Scripture readings were from Psalms 31:9-16, Isa. 50:4-9 and Phil. 2:5-11. Te taking of tithes and offerings followed.

There many prayer requests again today, as there are many needs in our community and fellowship. There were also words of thanks and praise as well. Health issues, decision issues, … we worship a great God who is active and meeting those needs. After this time of prayer, Brad took the pulpit to deliver the message.

Power of the Cross
After reading to us Luke's account of the crucifiction of Jesus as found in Luke 19:28-40, Brad began his message by singing the Lenny LeBlanc worship song Above All with the congregation joining in on the chorus: “Crucified, laid behind a stone, you lived to die rejected and alone, like a rose trampled on the ground you took the fall, and thought of me, above all.”

He began his sermon by talking about how companies use logos as symbols to establish their brands. The symbol links an image of the brand with the minds of consumers. Brad cited three for us.

First, Nike's Swoosh. The swoosh is a symbol of victory, he said, and noted for us that the word Nike originated from a Greek word that means victory. The Swoosh symbol increases the value of the shirt it is emblazoned on.

Then he cited the giant golden arches that adorn McDonald's. That logo has become a symbol that designates its restaurants as home of the happy meal, meal of joy. It is a sign of abundance, and cheap, fatty, artery-clogging food that you can get fast.

The third symbol, Mercedes-Benz, which bears some similarity to a Peace sign, is a sign of status. "You can’t buy happiness, but now you can lease it." The business world is all about compelling symbols that make people respond, “I want to be associated with that.”

For 2,000 years, the most widely recognized symbol of Christian faith happens to be an instrument of death, made of two pieces of wood upon which criminals were hung. This begs the question, “Why a cross? Why would you choose a cross as your logo?”

Brad asked how people would respond if an electric company used an electric chair as a symbol, with the slogan, “The power is on.” No, that wouldn’t go over well.

Yet we see the cross as the symbol for believers now for two millennia.

The cross is a sign of a death, not a sign of status, abundance, or happiness. It’s one of the most profound mysteries of our Christian faith that the God of the universe would choose a cross as the ultimate expression of His character.

Brad wants us to have a clear understanding of the meaning of the cross, and what it means to be a people of the cross. Next week is Easter and we will celebrate that, but there would be no resurrection without the cross.

He then shared a little background about the cross. Ancient cultures knew how to kill people in a variety ways. Socrates was poisoned in a less public manner. There were less messy ways to kill people. Why crucifixion?

First, crucifixion was a way to maximize pain. Second, Romans utilized crucifixion to maximize public humiliation. The man to be condemned would be forced to carry the cross beam across his back, led by soldiers, one of whom carried a sign announcing what crime he committed. The aim is to make the condemned man a public spectacle. One reason for doing this was to help subdue foreigners over whom Rome ruled.

The average criminal would suffer severely. The condemned would be beaten and whipped with whip that had pieces of bone or metal affixed. This was a cruel form of punishment designed to do maximum flesh-tearing. The team of soldiers managing this pre-execution brutality had to take care not to cause so much bleeding as to kill the victim before he'd reached the crucifixion itself.

But the most terrible part was what followed after the spikes were nailed into the hands and feet. Hanging by the arms caused the rib cage to push the air out of the lungs. In order to breathe, the condemned would lift himself up in order to breathe by means of pushing up from the spike through feet. This caused excruciating pain. And "Jesus did this for you and me," Brad noted.

The four Gospels say little about the details. Mark simply says, “And they crucified Him.” It was His spiritual suffering that was the greatest and most painful aspect of this profound event. “He who knew no sin became sin for our sake.”

Think about the darkest thing you’ve ever done that would bring shame if projected on a screen in front of everyone here. Place the weight of this and every sin ever committed by every human ever committed, every sin of abuse, every betrayal, ever genocide, every murder, every mean spiteful word, every sacrifice of integrity, every lie… Imagine the weight of all that sin weighed down in one human heart. This is what Jesus bore on our behalf.

Throughout His whole life He had never been lonely, never knew a moment of feeling unloved by the Father. Yet here, on the cross, He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

On the cross Jesus experienced something impossible for us to imagine, utter abandonment by God. Even people who walk in sin experience God’s goodness as God wakes them each morning.

Scripture says that on the cross Jesus freed us from the curse by becoming cursed for us.

A second aspect of the cross is this. We easily see the pain of the cross, but the power of the cross was also present in this story. Darkness came over the land, the ground shook, the curtain separating the holy of holies was torn from top to bottom.

On this one man was the collective guilt of the human race was laid. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from every sin. Not because we deserve it.

When the veil was split in two, it was a symbol of our being given full access to God as if God were now saying, “You can approach My throne with boldness.” We are invited, sin-stained as we are, to come to God any time we like.

Where do we get this power? That’s the power of the cross.

It is also about reconciliation, not just reconciliation to God but to one another. In Ephesians 2 Paul writes about the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, between races, between men and women, parents and children. This dividing wall was torn down at the cross. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. When people recognize this, they get reconciled.

Third, there is victory over evil through the cross. When Jesus died, Satan was disarmed. The Romans thought they were making a spectacle of Jesus, but Jesus was defeating sin and death and making a spectacle of the evil one. We do not have to be trapped by sin. We don’t have to be stuck. It’s the power of the cross.

That’s why the symbol of faith is not a candle or a star, it’s a cross.

Paul wrote, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it’s the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18)

I believe Jesus’ main desire is that we become a people of the cross. This does not mean wearing symbols on our bodies, but by the manner of our lives.

“If any one would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up up his cross daily and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24)

Have you chosen to become a person of the cross? Whatever it is that is keeping you from this, pick it up and nail it to the cross. Do you have the courage to say, “I’m going to be a man or woman of the cross”? I hope that you will choose this. Because if you do, then you will really understand what Easter is about next week.

Brad then stepped down to lead us in the sharing of Communion. “Friends, it’s now our sacred privilege to celebrate this supper…”

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