Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Reflections on The Forgotten Cross for Good Friday

A first draft for our Good Friday services:

 I’ve based today’s service on a new little book by Lee Gatiss called, The Forgotten Cross, which I also wrote about in a recent parish magazine.
The idea is to think about aspects or implications of the cross which perhaps we might be tempted to neglect.
All of these reflections come in the context of Jesus dying on the cross to face the punishment for our sins in our place so that God’s wrath is turned away from us and our sins are forgiven.
That, I think, is the heart of the cross, but it’s not all there is to say.
Above all the cross wins us forgiveness and reconciliation but there are many other ways it affects the way we think and live.

Reading 1: 1 Cor 1:4-31 – The Cross & Success

The cross is apparently so weak and foolish.
It’s a deliberately awful and humiliating death.
There could be little more helpless and pitiable than a crucified man.
But, despite all appearances, the cross is the wisdom and power of God.
Once we’ve come to see the cross as our glorious salvation, we can never look at the world in the same way again.
Real power and greatness might be found in the most pathetic places.
The so called wisdom and strength of human beings are shamed because people chose to crucify their God:
That’s where human intelligence and power gone wrong can lead.
The ground at the foot of the cross is level.
Salvation is sheer grace and all boasting is excluded.
Whether or not we are wise by human standards, influential or of noble birth counts for nothing with the crucified God.
It turns out that in the cross and resurrection, the apparent foolishness of God is wiser than man’s supposed wisdom and the seeming weakness of God is greater than all man’s apparent strength.   

Reading 2: Mark 10:32-45 – The Cross & Service

The mismatch between Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death, and James and John’s request for the most glorious positions in Christ’s kingdom is staggering.
But perhaps we’re capable of being equally obtuse.
It’s true that there is glory to come in Christ’s kingdom.
There is a kind of greatness.
But in the topsy-turvy kingdom of God, the way up is down.
Whoever wants to be great must become a servant and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all because Jesus himself, the Master, became our servant.
Though he was in very nature God, Jesus did not think equality with God was something to be held on to but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has exalted him to the highest place and given him the name above every name.
For Jesus and for his followers, the way to life is death.
The pattern of the Christian life is cross and resurrection – suffering then glory.
Just two chapters earlier, Jesus has already told his disciples:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
God loves to scatter the proud in the imaginations of their hearts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent empty away.
If we come to Jesus looking for a cushy sinecure so that we might take our ease and lord it over others, we can expect pretty short shrift.
But if we come with empty hands, we can expect him to fill them with good things.

Reading 3: 1 Peter 2:12-25 – The Cross & Suffering

We are sometimes very quick to stand on our rights and to demand justice.
But Jesus didn’t do that.
Although he could have commanded legions of angels, he didn’t get even.
Though his suffering was utterly undeserved, he did not retaliate nor threaten but entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
God is on the throne of his universe and in the end justice will be done.
No crime will go unpunished.
So we need not be shaking our firsts or taking vengeance.
We don’t need to worry about keeping score.
Trust him who judges justly.
It is written, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay”, says the Lord.
Jesus suffered, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps.
Whatever we face, we can know that Jesus has walked the road of unjust suffering before us.
He knows what it’s like to be alone, ill-treated, misunderstood, and dreadfully wronged.  
Like him we are to be patient in affliction.
We are to bless those who persecute us; to bless and not to curse – as Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”.
Jesus said: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Reading 4: Ephesians 2:11-22 – The Cross & Separation

The cross is not just about saving individuals from hell for heaven.
It’s also about God saving a people for himself.
Jesus not only made peace between God and people but also amongst people.
Jesus’ death creates the church.
He makes a new humanity, a new nation, a new family.
So church membership and Christian fellowship aren’t optional extras.
They’re part of the purpose of the cross.
Paul will go on to say that this multi-national church is meant to display the manifold, variegated, multi-coloured wisdom of God.
The church is meant to display a unity in diversity which shows God’s power to break down barriers and bring people together.
In the church there is a unity which transcends background and culture.
Two people might have next to nothing in common, but if they share in Christ, that makes them one.
If we take the cross to heart, our relationships with one another will be transformed.
Paul will go on to urge us to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, bearing with one another in love.
We are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  

Reading 5: Titus 2:1-15 - The Cross & Sanctification

The purpose of the cross was to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify us for Jesus Christ as his very own people, eager to do what is good.
Our old way of life is dead and gone with the cross, and we’d be mad to want to go back to it.
We’ve been redeemed, bought back, set free from sin and death and hell.
There’s no future in that way of life.
The Christian hope is for something so much better than ungodliness and worldly passions.
The acts of the sinful nature are futile and fruitless.
The cross has set us free – but for purity, not for self-indulgence.
We belong to Jesus Christ.
We are not our own.
We were bought at a price.
Therefore, set free from the tyranny of sin, we are to eager to please our new master, Jesus Christ.   
For Paul the truth doesn’t merely inform, it does more even than save us: it leads to godliness.
We are to live lives that accord with sound or healthy doctrine.
Whether we’re older men or older women, or younger women or young men, or slaves, whatever our age or condition of life, this grace of God teaches us to live differently so that by our lives we will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

Reading 6: Colossians 2:6-23 – The Cross & Supremacy

We’ve been saying that the cross is not merely theoretical but practical.
We’ve seen that the scope of the cross is not only individual but corporate.
In this reading the vision of the cross is cosmic.
By the cross, Jesus has disarmed all the evil supernatural powers and authorities, and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them.
The cross looked like total defeat for Jesus, but in fact he was destroying all his enemies.
Despite appearances, it really is Good Friday.
And as we look back on what the cross achieved, we’re invited to imagine the devil and all his demons as defeated captives led behind the victorious Jesus in a parade to celebrate his triumph.
By Jesus’ death all the powers of darkness have been vanquished.
Their weapons of sin and death have lost their power.  
In fulfilment of the ancient promise, Satan has bruised Jesus’ heel, but Jesus has crushed his head.
When he rises from the dead, Jesus says to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
He has been given the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

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