Tag Archives: resurrection

The Foolishness of the Cross

Almost 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul could well have written those words today.

After the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004, movie critics pounced on the film, condemning it for its violence, telling parents they should never take their children to see it. One critic said, “No level-headed parent should ever allow children to see it.”

Another critic, an avowed atheist, labeled the film a “mainstream snuff film.” Still another critic said that the film “arises less from love than from wrath, and succeeds more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it.” Yet another critic said the film should have been named the “Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.” And still another critic castigated Gibson for focusing upon the brutality of Jesus’ death rather than upon his teachings.

Clearly, these people have no understanding of the cross, its power to save or the plan of God before time began. Indeed, they have contempt for the cross. They are those of whom Paul writes, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Corinthians 1:19). In this, Paul echoes the word of God through the prophet Isaiah (29:14) hundreds of years earlier.

As a young boy, one of our students at India Bible College & Seminary was allowed (and probably encouraged) by his parents to see The Passion of the Christ. Instead of being traumatized, his life was permanently and positively transformed by the cross of Jesus Christ. To him, even as Paul wrote, the cross is not gratuitous violence, but it is “the power of God.”

Even as a 12-year-old, this young man wanted to tell others of the saving power of the cross. Even as a child, he saw the horror and violence to Jesus as the result of God’s love for him and his unsaved Hindu friends. To the sophisticates of our day, his decision to follow Christ is just a poor boy’s traumatic response to seeing a horror movie. We should not be surprised.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson contrasts the offense and beauty of the cross:

“Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on?” (2 Corinthians 2:15:16)

The cross of Jesus Christ will always be an offense and a thing of infinite beauty. Jonathan Edwards wrote of the smug men and women who find the cross an absurdity:

“The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.”

As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us thank God for His wonderful gift, and help to spread its fragrance to those He is preparing to receive it.

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Your Life, His Grace

In the Greek New Testament, the word for “witness” is also the root word for “martyr.” When Jesus tells His disciples, “You shall be my witnesses…,” He is also saying, “You will lay down your lives for My sake.”

This does not mean that we must seek martyrdom to become a “witness” for Christ. But it requires that we count the cost of discipleship. We must see ourselves as soldiers for Christ. When a new recruit takes his oath of loyalty, he gives his superiors the right to send him anywhere, even into battles that require great risk to his life, from which he may not return.

A-bigger-lifeTo become a “witness” for Christ means that we serve a life bigger than this earthly life. The circumstances of our lives are short and uncertain. There are other things better and eternal, centered on Christ. A true “witness,” like Jesus, has compassion upon people and a world that wander like sheep without a shepherd. Whether in life or death, true witnesses trust Jesus to provide everything they need, to go wherever He says to go.

Jesus warns His “witnesses” that He may assign them to take the gospel as “sheep to wolves.” Many will gladly accept the Good News, but others will hate the “witness,” claim that he is destroying society and seek to defame him or her.

Like Jesus, witnesses may also have to stand before the authorities in trial for their faith. But their suffering will further the gospel, and the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say at the right time.

We are to become Christ’s witnesses with the perspective of Christ’s own suffering and of His Second Coming. We are to know that whatever suffering we face will bring glory to God, a great reward in heaven and ultimate judgment for those who persecute us. We are to know that even if we lose our lives, human power over us ends at death, but God’s power is eternal.

Grace is costly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us. The gift is free, but it costs our lives. Beware of “cheap grace,” he warns, “the grace that we [not God] bestow on ourselves…forgiveness without repentance…baptism without discipline, communion without confession.”

“Costly grace,” he goes on, “costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. God called him as a witness to serve Him in Nazi Germany—a place unfriendly to the gospel. He became a leader of the Confessing Church when other German churches were giving in to Hitler. His friends wanted to save him by bringing him to America, but after a few months, Bonhoeffer knew he must return to the place God called him.

Bonhoeffer indeed paid with his life, but he became the ultimate winner. Days after his death, Hitler went down to defeat—and suicide. Bonhoeffer’s witness continues throughout the world in his writings and his example of commitment to Jesus Christ.

This month, as we celebrate Christ’s costly sacrifice and His triumphant resurrection, may each of us also count the cost of discipleship and commit ourselves to effective witness however and wherever Christ calls us.

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