A sermon preached by Revd. David Mann at St. Thomas’ Heamoor and Madron Parish Church on Sunday, 15 March 2009.
‘WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED’
I Cor. 1.23.
For the last 40 years I have been preaching the most ridiculous idea that has ever been put in the mind of mankind – ‘Christ crucified’.. Or so it would seem to be in the opinions of many people for the past 2,000 years. It didn’t make any sense at all to them. When Paul wrote his first letter to the Church at Corinth it was only about 20 years after the death of a man called Jesus, and already the essential message of the church about who Jesus was, and what it was all about was ridiculed by the Jews and the Greeks.
It didn’t make any sense to the Jews for two reasons. First it was incredible that anyone who had ended his life on a cross could possibly be God’s Chosen One. They pointed to their own law which unmistakably said, ‘He that is hanged is accursed by God’ (Deut.21.23). To the Jews the fact of the crucifixion, far from proving that Jesus was the Son of God, disproved it conclusively. Even though they must of known the words of Isaiah 53 about a suffering Messiah, the Cross was, and still is, an insurmountable barrier for Jews to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.
Secondly, the Jews were a people who looked for signs. When God’s new age came, they looked for, and expected, startling happenings, indeed Jesus was not the only person at the time who claimed to be the Messiah, and they all promised wonderful things. One man, Theudas, persuaded thousands to leave their homes and go to the River Jordan where the water would divide and they would be able to cross it dry-shod. Another persuaded 30,000 people to follow him to the Mount of Olives promising that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down. That’s what the Jews were looking for, and they saw in Jesus someone who was meek and lowly, who avoided the spectacular and ended his life on a cross.
The Greeks ridiculed the idea for different reasons. They believed God was far above human feelings. Feelings were attributes that people had and God must be incapable of them. The idea of a God that suffered was, to the Greeks, a contradiction in terms. Even more so, the believed it was impossible for God to become incarnate. God incarnate; God on a cross – impossible.
The other reason why the Greeks of the time rejected Christianity was because they were in love with words. They loved words not only what was said but how it was said. They would spend hours discussing and arguing over trivial things just for the fun of it, and to them the Christian message did not make intellectual sense, especially when delivered by someone like Paul who seemed like a crude and uncultured figured.
So Paul’s preaching did not convince the Jews because it did not fit in with their idea of God, and it wasn’t spectacular enough. He didn’t convince the Greeks because it didn’t fit in with their idea of God and because it wasn’t clever enough – it didn’t appeal to their search for knowledge. And so the Cross has been a stumbling-block for others ever since. It simply doesn’t make sense. The gospel does not fit in with some people’s idea of God. Even if they believe there is a God they want to see something spectacular to show he is powerful enough to do anything and everything. Then there are others who say there is no need to believe in God anyway because Man has come of age, and we have no need for such beliefs.
Every day produces more than enough evidence about the state of the wisdom of Man. Do not confuse the difference between knowledge and wisdom. We may have the knowledge but we certainly don’t always have the wisdom to apply it.
For 71 years I have known, in one way and another, the presence of God in my life. For about 50 years I have acknowledged Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour. For 40 years I have preached ‘Christ crucified’. Why? Because I believe without any qualification that he is the Son of God, and that through the Cross I am shown the love of God through the grace of Jesus Christ, who lives within me through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is where I stand. ‘This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour all the day long’.
When I was a little boy I had great difficulty in singing the hymn, ‘There is a green hill far away’. How could they do that to so someone as lovely as Jesus? Later I came to realise there simply was no other way for God restore people to him in a right relationship, as hard, and as cruel, and yes as nonsensical to the wisdom of Man as it may seem. There was no other way.
‘There was none other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in’.
Only when the I-centred nature of man, that had alienated him from God, was confronted by the perfect life of God as shown in Jesus, could that relationship be restored. God had tried other ways but none had succeeded.
And then in the last verse it becomes personal:
‘O dearly, dearly has he loved,
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do’.
Personally, the amazing thing for me is that someone who struggled to achieve 1 GCE should be entrusted to preach the riches of the Word of God, yet 40 years ago this month I received this bible with the commission – ‘do the work of an evangelist’. And this I will do as long as there is breath in my body, and preaching the one thing that really matters – ‘Christ crucified’.
Yes ‘Christ is risen’, but without the Cross we would be as far from God as ever.
‘In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime’.