“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, and that whomsoever believes in him shall not die, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
Those words from John’s gospel are often quoted at Christmas, but they are even more poignant as we gather with Christians throughout the world for the annual remembrance of the death of our Lord and Saviour.
While we remember with sorrow the events of that first Good Friday, and while we acknowledge our own guilt, we remember that Good Friday is so called because of the blessings conferred on all people through the sacrifice of Christ.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Lord God our heavenly Father,
we praise and adore you;
we celebrate your mighty power and your love.
You have guided and preserved us in all our ways;
you are worthy of all praise and honour and love.
Your glory is beyond all thought;
you are alpha and omega, the first and the last;
you are beyond all letters and all words,
beyond all that we can say or think.
Accept our praise and adoration, we pray,
through your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
As we look back to the death of Christ on the cross, we are aware of our own sinful natures. On the road to calvary, the priests and the teachers of the law conspired against him to preserve their power, the crowds turn on him, the disciples deserted him, Pilate washed his hands of him, the soldiers mocked him and beat him, his closest follower denied him.
The prophet Isaiah asks… (Isaiah 53:1-6)
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Let’s have time of silence to open our hearts to God, to confess our sins, to lay them at the foot of the cross of Christ our saviour
Merciful God, grant us the grace to be aware of our own sins, and help us to refrain from judging the sins of others, forgive us, cleanse us by the blood of your Son shed once and for all on the cross.
In his name.
Assurance of Forgiveness
We remember the words of the penitent thief: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
He was nailed to a cross. He was guilty. He could make no act of restitution. He could do no good deeds to make up for all the wrong that he had done. He was not far from death. His situation was hopeless.
But he turned to Jesus.
And Jesus answered him: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.
And so it is with us, as the words of the old hymn remind us: Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Friends…in Christ, we are forgiven!
Thanks be to God
A long way from Palm Sunday
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NIV)
Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
The Message of the Cross
What do you think most people today think about the message of the cross? Foolishness or power?
Think about it: God who created all things, who is all powerful, chooses to become incarnate – to send his only begotten Son into his own fallen creation. God’s son lives as a human being. He teaches about the kingdom of God with wisdom and authority. He heals the sick. He makes the blind see and the lame walk. He turns water into wine, feeds multitudes miraculously and walks on water. He raises people from the dead. And yet the people reject him, and he allows himself to be betrayed. To be mocked, beaten and humiliated. And he allows people to nail him to a cross and kill him.
If you don’t understand, if you do not have that spark of belief, if you don’t “get it”, it is a crazy message. But if you do “get it”, if you do have your faith in Jesus, then the message of the cross is truly the power of the God.
When he writes "For 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.” Paul presents a very black and white distinction to the Corinthians.
There are only two possible effects of the message of the cross – the death of the saviour of the world for the sake of the world – on one hand it is something that can be dismissed, disregarded, or even openly mocked; and on the other hand, it is the very power of God.
We might even know the message of the cross as the power of God. But sometimes we might question, or doubt. Sometimes we might even be embarrassed by the message of the cross.
Because the message of the cross doesn’t sit well with the ideas and the philosophies and the world views of most people today. For most people in the world, for people who haven’t heard, or who have been taught something else, or who have rejected Jesus, the message of the cross is just nonsense.
Though we might know the message of the cross as the power of God, we need to remember that most people, if they are even thinking about such things, are wanting something quite different than the message of Christ’s death on the cross.
And such attitudes aren’t new.
In verses 22-25 Paul writes, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles; but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, [this message is] Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.”
The Jews stumbled over the message of the cross because Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah they wanted.
And remember that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people: Delivered from slavery in Egypt, led to the promised land. God had been their God, and they had been God’s people. God had given them judges and prophets and kings. And God had promised them a messiah.
But when the messiah came, they rejected him and they crucified Him. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus "…came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him." (John 1:11)
Why didn’t they receive Him? Because, as Paul tells us, the "Jews demand signs…" They were expecting a Messiah who would perform signs – miracles - on their behalf.
And while Jesus did perform signs and miracles - giving sight to the blind, straightening the legs of the lame, cleansing the lepers, feeding the multitudes with bread and fish, those weren’t the kinds of miracles that the nation of Israel wanted. They wanted signs of power and success. They wanted a Messiah who would re-establish the Kingdom as it was at the time of King David.
But instead, Jesus allowed himself to be handed over to his enemies, to be stripped and beaten, to be humiliated, and to be raised up on the cross and crucified.
To the nation of Israel, dying on a cross wasn’t success. It wasn’t a victory. It wasn’t what they thought their long-awaited Messiah would do.
Not only did they have the wrong concept of the Messiah, they also had the wrong idea about salvation: They thought that the way to salvation was through their own birthright (being God’s chosen people) and through their own righteousness. So they were busy keeping the Law.
They thought – as many people do today – that by being good people, in their case by earnestly keeping God’s commandments and all the supplementary laws that had developed over time, that they could earn God’s favour.
And at one level they were just going through the motions, going to the synagogue at the appointed times, saying their prayers loudly so that all could hear, and giving their offerings in such a way that everybody was impressed with their generosity. They were outwardly pious and prayerful and generous – but all that came from misguided hope that those things would earn them a reward from God.
But if that’s the way to God’s favour, then it follows that they didn’t need a Saviour. They didn’t need anybody to die on the cross for them, to remove their sin. They thought the way to salvation was through their own righteousness. So as a result, they kept stumbling over the message of the cross.
And while the Jews demanded signs, Paul tells us that the Greeks desired wisdom (1:22). The Greeks had produced philosophers - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and so on.
Contemplation, thinking and understanding was central. The world, they held, would get better through education, through logic, through thinking.
Now that might sound familiar. We’ve been working on that for generations. And education and understanding help. The world is becoming more and more educated. There is more and more knowledge, and it is easier and easier to access. Sometimes, things do get better, but often they don’t. We can look at the world around us, and see so much wrong.
Do people really think that they can solve all the problems of the world themselves? Through making themselves – and presumably each other – “better”?
The 17th chapter of Acts describes the scene when Paul came to Athens. The Athenian philosophers met at the Aeropagus, and they sat there all day, talking about and listening to the latest ideas
Then one day the apostle Paul started telling them about a God who was unknown to them. This God came to earth, walked among people, died on the cross and rose again. But we read that many of them sneered at the idea – the message of the cross was all nonsense to most of the philosophers. It didn’t make sense to them.
And there are plenty of people who think like that today, too:
A knowledge of biology tells you that babies aren’t born to virgins. Logic tells you that God doesn’t become flesh. Common sense tells you that almighty God will not allow puny men to nail his son to a cross. Reason tells you that when a man dies he cannot come back to life again. None of that makes any sense. So the Greeks, the philosophers, looked at the cross as nonsense. They didn’t need a Saviour, because, in their thinking, everybody could just make themselves better.
Two thousand years later, people haven’t changed much. People are still doing the same things, still committing the same sins, still thinking the same thoughts, still stumbling over the same message of the cross. People are still laughing at the wisdom of God, treating it as nonsense.
People today are like the Jews and Greeks of Paul’s time.
Just like the Jews who demanded signs, people demand miracles of God. They are disillusioned when prayers aren’t answered in the way they want them answered.
They want God to be what that they want, not what God has revealed himself to be. Have you ever heard someone say “I don’t believe in a God who would [do this thing]” or “The God I believe in would not [do this other thing]?
And just like the Greeks who looked for earthly wisdom, there are those who seek enlightenment – if not salvation – through contemplation, through philosophising, through self-improvement.
And so the message of the cross becomes nonsense to those people.
Paul quotes Isaiah (29:14) when he says “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars.” (1:19).
In the face of what God has done for us in the death of Jesus, human wisdom is swept aside and human intelligence can’t make sense of it.
So all the traditional sources of authority – wisdom, the law and logic don’t explain the message of the cross “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?”(1:20) Paul asks.
And so Paul points to Jesus – “but we” he says “proclaim Christ crucified” – the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Christ crucified is what brings us together as Christians. We use the cross as a symbol. But the message of the cross, Jesus death on that cross at Calvary, his death for each one of us and for all of us, is what is most important:
Mark’s gospel tells us that: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)
The message of the cross is clear. Jesus’ death on the cross sets us free from the burden of sin. The price has been paid. All we need do is turn to him in faith.
We need though, to think about where we stand when we contemplate the message of the cross – do we demand signs? Do we look for wisdom? Do we try to find our own way to salvation?
For each one of us today, is the message of the cross nonsense? Or is it the power of God?
Hymns for Good Friday: