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 Discipleship and Living Under the Sign of the Cross:

A Lenten Journey - Part One

From Lent's Reading of Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, the first chapter we read, "The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God."

The Cross is the power of God.

We are saved under the power of the cross.

The wisdom of the wise is destroyed.


We are saved neither by our works nor our human wisdom. For the cross of Jesus Christ confronts all of our attempts to succeed by human design. It is foolishness to those who desire to build empires.


What was the cross? The cross was a barbaric systematic means of execution of the Roman Empire. It was left to any Roman authority in any place to put to death anyone suspected of subversion of inciting people to riot against the empire. It was done out in the public roadways that were well traveled as a vivid reminder to those who passed by as to what happens to anyone opposing Roman Rule. It was a gruesome and torturous means of putting one to death. Persons were affixed to a pole or two intersecting poles by means of ropes and/or nails. They were left to hang in this position even after they died. This was no fairy tale. Jesus was executed as a threat to Rome.


Jesus died on the cross as the Son of God. This became the confession of those who followed Jesus, that is, he was the son of God. This is a classic identifica- tion of one who is anointed by God to be his messiah. King David was enthroned by God as "Son of God" and therefore anointed to rule as God's messiah. Jesus was lifted up with this distinction at his baptism and when he was transfigured on the mountain.


Antipas, son of Herod the Great, ruler of the province of Galilee wanted to be associated as the true messiah by restoring Israel to it's glory days under King David. Scripture describes John the Baptizer as a prophet in the order of the Old Testament who railed against Antipas and any other false messiah's seeking to claim such a personal glorification while living a lifestyle in opposition to God. John's message was one of a call to true repentance and being spared the wrath of God. He would be beheaded in the courts of Antipas.


Jesus comes from a remote village in the province of Galilee under Antipas. As a carpenter, he may have been put to use in helping Antipas build his major city Sepphoris which was near Nazareth. What we do know is that Jesus appeared before John the Baptizer to be baptized in the river Jordan; a vivid reminder of God's bringing the people of God into the Promised Land. This land belonged to God and to no other. It was a promise given long ago. Rome were intruders. It was a reminder of their dependence upon God as the source of life and not Rome. Jesus continued the message of John's call for repentance but he spoke not about the wrath of God but of the mercy of God. His message was spoken for the powerless who lost their farms and means of livelihood under the reign of Rome. He proclaimed the "Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe." This was a message of returning to the Covenant of God as the true ruler of the land. So, Jesus went from village to village in Galilee healing and proclaiming this word.


Jesus' message took him to the seat of Roman power in Israel and to the Temple which became a puppet of Rome and a place for exchanging money for sacrifices. The courtyards had become a place for con-artists and those who skimmed off the top. Jesus challenged the priests and the turning of the house of God into a den of thieves. It was Passover and the city was filled with all kinds of potential insurrectionists that would threaten the peace of Israel. Jesus was watched. He became an obvious threat one that could be dealt with behind the scene. It was a quick arrest and trial (if there really was one) where the authorities could execute quickly anyone that they considered to be such a threat.


Jesus was executed on a cross. He was to be left there like all the rest except that we read that Joseph of Arimethea, a prominent citizen in the courts but a follower of Jesus, asked for his body. It was a Roman soldier that supposedly declared that "truly, this was the Son of God". Jesus was the true messiah; not a pretender like Herold or his son Antipas.


Rome wanted to transform the world into the culture of Rome by means of force and control. It was for this reason that Jesus died on the cross, the cruelest means of keeping peace in the empire. Caesar, emperor of Rome, was considered to be divine and could decide who was to live and who was to die. The cross signified this power.


Jesus death on the cross became the confirmation that he was the Son of God. Our confession is that God raised him on the third day and sat him at the right hand of God to rule the living and the dead. The Cross, itself, was transformed by those who followed Jesus as a sign of a cruel death into the throne of God. One must die to the dreams of personal success and empire building and be raised with Jesus to a new life. Paul would say that our personal "I" must die so that "Christ" might dwell within you. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was to transform the whole world by means of surrender and submission to the will of God.


The Power of the Roman Empires of today and yesterday rise and fall. God's Kingdom rules yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus shatters the image of the human success stories. Paul used this understanding to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God in a world still occupied by Rome. The Cross has no power over those who are destined to salvation. Jesus has died, even more, has been raised by the power of God. God makes empire building byh threatening with death on the cross look foolish. The weak and the powerless are given new lives.


Who is the Roman Empire today? Who seeks to destroy today by a means similar to a cross? How does God's Word overcome this today? (Stay tuned to next month!)


Blessings,

Pastor Tim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

  

 

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“If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”               Mark 8:34b-35

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