Allen Jackson - The Cross
It just feels like to me every week there's some new expression of turmoil or violence or confusion or frustration, or we get a little bit of tragedy fatigue, but the fact that you're tired doesn't stop it, so saying, "I'm tired," is not the best solution. And it's an election year, which adds a compounding component 'cause they start the messaging and the positioning and the posturing, and I'm already tired of it. And listening to the Christians, I have a bit of a concern, and I've said it many, many times, but I wanna say it once again, elections will not save us. Elections are not going to save us, and if your imagination is that the next election or the election after that is going to fix our problems, I would redirect you.
I understand elections have consequences, and I have hoped for godly people to be put in positions of authority, and I understand that, but our root problem is not political. I've participated in enough elections and had enough birthdays. I can tell you, I've watched people from both sides of the aisle populate the offices all over the spectrum, and we've continued our descent into paganism. So the root of our problem has to be something other than political, and the church has to be aware of that. I would submit to you that a heart change is the key. "We want better leadership". I hear this frequently on all sides of the spectrum. We want better leadership so we can continue our pursuit of the good life, and we'd like better leaders so we can get back to cheaper gas or whatever it is you're interested in so you can get on with the things that you wanna get on with, and they're your definition of "the good life".
Well, I would like to submit a little different agenda. Let's determine to pursue a godly life. Let's make that our first priority. I think, if we would do that, we will get better leadership and a good life, but if we chase the good life without the intent of having a godly life, I think we'll continue to watch the confusion and the chaos grow, which really brings me to the theme of this particular session. I wanna focus on the cross. Isn't that an exciting topic? And I thank you for your enthusiastic response to that announcement.
1 Corinthians chapter 2 in verse 1, this is Paul writing to the church at Corinth. They'd been a very immoral church, and it was a church with many expressions of spiritual life, but many expressions of ungodliness as well. So, "When I came to you, brothers, I didn't come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified". He said that "My theme, when I was with you, was one," it was singular. We were gonna talk about Jesus Christ and his crucifixion and his Resurrection. "I came to you in weakness and in fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power".
Folks, I would submit to you that if I had to choose one topic that could mark a pathway from where we are to a better place for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren, it would be centered in the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. That redemptive work of Jesus of Nazareth, his death, burial, and his Resurrection, that's the hope I have for a different future, and if you'd allow me, for the minutes we have together in this particular session, I'm gonna minister to you. That's my target. It's not so much a fact-finding mission or an explanation of some unique passage of scripture, but with the help of the Spirit of God, I would like to minister to you, that I wanna begin with the idea of that passage from 1 Corinthians with the greatest problem we have and the most remarkable solution that God has given us.
We all have problems. Our lives are filled with them. Our journey through time comes with them. Well, if you're young, you have problems because you're young. As you get older, you have a whole different kind of set of problems 'cause you're not young anymore. That story just populates our journey through time, but if we go back to the beginning of the book and, really, the unfolding of the narrative, it starts with this idea that we were created in God's image. Human beings were created in the image of Almighty God. It's an amazing statement. We're different from all other parts of creation. We're not just the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder. We're not the most highly evolved of the mammals. We're not the winners in the cells that washed out of the primordial ooze.
Now, I appreciate science, and I'm not opposed to those things. The Bible doesn't tell us the whole story of Creation. When the Bible opens, the earth is here. It's just chaotic, and out of the chaos, God begins to bring order through his spoken word, but the pinnacle of his creation were human beings, and human beings are the image bearers of Almighty God. The church has a little confusion on this point. We're not the same as a puppy. My father was a veterinarian. I love animals. I appreciate them. They put food on my table for a significant season of my life. When business was slow, we would pray that your pets would get sick. No, we didn't. We were tempted, but we didn't. But it's a very important point to establish in your heart that human beings are different from the rest of creation.
There's a dignity in human beings that comes to us because of our unique relationship with God. We are his image bearers. It establishes a dignity in every human being, the strongest, the weakest, and everything in between, young and old, brilliant and not so much. We are image bearers of Almighty God not because of our talents or our height or our skin color or our gender but because we have that connection with our Creator. He breathed his Spirit into us. It says he knows us when we were knit together in our mother's womb. There's no statement like that made of any other aspect of creation, and you need to recognize the dignity of a human being. It'll help you react and respond to one another. It'll help you sort through some of the nonsense in our world today.
I love creation. God made it for our benefit. He gave us a stewardship assignment over it. I would agree we have a responsibility towards the creation around us, but we are separate from it. In Genesis chapter 1, that's very near the beginning of the book, in verse 26, "God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them".
And we've been talking some of late about a worldview, the filter, the perspective with which you look at the world and interpret the information that comes to you, and there are many different worldviews you can hold, but a Judeo-Christian worldview, a biblical worldview, emerges from this fundamental principles that human beings are created in the image of God. It's why we will treat one another with dignity. It's why we can make statements like "We hold that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," and we say that our nation was founded with this biblical worldview. We will not treat one another with dignity and kindness just because the government says so.
We will only do that to the degree that our hearts are transformed by the power of God, but if you understand, the next time you look in the mirror, and you say, "You were created in the image of God," I promise you, there'll be tapes triggered or a message triggered or a digital message triggered that says, "Huh". Go find your notes. Read that verse out loud. No, no, it's really true. It's there in the book. God said I'm fearfully and wonderfully made, and you too. God placed Adam and Eve, you know the story, in a garden. All their needs were provided for in the most amazing way, all of creation at their disposal, and then they forfeited paradise.
It's hard to imagine. Adam rebelled. The hook, the line, the deceptive line that caught his attention is "You'll be like God. You'll be like God". And Adam rebelled against the Creator. The one that enticed him to do that, Satan, had rebelled against God himself and lost his place in heaven. Satan, one of the archangels, and a third of the created angels lost their place in heaven because of their rebellion, and now they stepped into God's creation in the midst for that, because of their hatred for God and his purposes, and they enticed the image bearer of God in the midst of that perfect place to join them in that rebellion.
Romans chapter 5 in verse 12 explains it. It says, "Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned". You see, you and I, as descendants of Adam, are born into a rebellious race, not a race defined by the color of our skin or the shape of our eyes, a race defined by the color of our heart. You see, the most determined, the most critical condition of our person isn't our external appearance. It's the condition of our heart. We were born a race of rebels. We don't have to be taught to rebel.
When I look back across my life, and there have been times and places and seasons when I was reluctant to be an advocate for Jesus, I wanted the approval of people or an invitation to something, or I didn't wanna be lumped in with whatever, and from my vantage point today, I can tell you, it's one of the things I talk to the Lord about. I want new courage and new boldness. I don't wanna be angry, I don't wanna be belligerent, but I wanna be on record as being for Jesus, and I don't mean just the friendly Jesus that expands your invitations. I wanna be as faithful to Jesus as I know how to be, and that means being faithful to his truth, not just acknowledging that he existed.
You see, if I was in some setting and I heard someone speaking of you in a disrespectful way that I knew to be untrue, I'd like to believe I'd stand up for you. In the same way, I'd like to believe, if you were someplace and you heard someone being disrespectful of me, that you wouldn't just be silent. And I have to say, part of what I reflect over my journey wasn't that I denied my faith or I burned my Bible or I joined some other expression of religion. It was those times when either through people's ungodly actions, I just found it hard, I had a hard time finding my voice for Jesus. With his help, I wanna do better. He took the punishment that my life could be changed for time and eternity and for yours too. That's the reason we're called "Christ-followers".
Look at Ephesians 2 in verse 4, "Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ". "God in mercy". Mercy means it has nothing to do with us. It was God's character and God's choice. "He made us alive again with Christ". "Christ" is not Jesus's family name. "Christ" is the English equivalent of the Greek word "Christos," which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "mashiach," "Messiah". So Jesus Christ is Jesus the Messiah. So he's saying, "God made us alive with the Messiah even when we were dead in our transgressions. It's by grace". No merit involved. "It's by grace you've been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. He put us right there with his Son in the midst of his glory and his majesty and his opportunity in order that in the coming ages he might show his incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness in Christ Jesus".
So the Bible talks about this present age, but it tells us that ahead of us there are ages comprised of ages. Long time. And in the ages to come, we will be blessed and benefit because of our alignment with Jesus of Nazareth. Do I wanna be identified as Jesus's friend? You better believe it. You see, there's a message in scripture. Isaiah 64, says, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. We all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you, for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins".
That's Isaiah the prophet writing to the covenant people of God. So just being born into the right family or keeping the right rules wasn't sufficient. Having the right family heritage wasn't adequate. Saying, "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our forefathers," was insufficient. Isaiah is using the plural pronouns. He said, "All of us have become like one who is unclean. All of our righteous acts are like filthy rags". See, we can't earn our way to heaven. We can't be good enough or moral enough or kind enough. You can't be generous enough. There's confusion in the church. There's a social component of our faith. There's certainly an expression of kindness and mercy to the world around us, but that's not the primary story of our faith.
Our story is about transformation from the inside out. Otherwise, we're just a civic club. Otherwise, we might as well be assimilated into another government program. That's why the government makes such a lousy God. It doesn't transform people. But the invitation here is that we can be restored to a place of relationship with our Creator, the one whose image we reflect, and it's not by our good works. It's not by our generosity or our acts of service. Those things come from us as a reflection of gratitude for what God has done for us, but it's not a merit-based system. The more we understand what God has done for us, the more fully we would like to serve him, the more generous we live with our time and our talent. Being a Christ-follower is not about joining a church or a religious movement or a particular denomination or a specific congregation. It's not about a time of the week where you sit in a building and behave in a certain way.
How easily we devolve into those debates. I can't tell you how many times I've had those discussions about when we meet and how we wheat, how we meet or how we wheat? Whichever works better for you, which translation to read, which musical style we prefer, or the costuming of the presenter, you know, and there's some place for that discussion, but they're not essential places. They're not first priority places. We've been confused, and the more we're confused and the more we're distracted, the more it's the work of our adversary because the center of our story, Paul said, "I decided not to know anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified". The difference in your eternity has to do with your relationship with Jesus, but your faith isn't just about a ticket for eternity. It's about a journey through time.
Paul said, "If we only have hope for this life, we're to be pitied above all people". It's a transformation of every part of your person, to set us free from the rejection, the shame, the hurt, the disappointment, give us the strength to overcome because life requires us to be overcomers, to help us encourage one another, to recognize the points where we are frail, and find strengths in the community that helps us in those places where our weakness is significant. It's such an amazing gift we've been give. And then we've been tagged to be messengers of this.
In 2 Corinthians 5, "This is all from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ". We didn't reconcile ourselves to God. I didn't find God. He came and grabbed me by the back of the neck. I was as rebellious as that kid you're trying to put in the car seat. "I don't wanna go to church. I don't wanna be a minister. I don't wanna be a pastor". Woof, "Shut up. Who's in charge here"? "Well, I thought I was. It's my life". How many times have you told God what a bad job he's doin' to managin' your life, huh? I mean, I have worn him out. "This is how you treat your friends? I'm gonna pray for your enemies".
I don't know where I was along the way that I realized that once I became a Christ-follower, it's his life. Well, that's a game changer in those discussions. "Gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself through Jesus, not counting men's sins against them. And he's committed to us the message of reconciliation". If we think the world needs more of Jesus, folks, that's us. He didn't say he's committed to the pastors or the evangelists or the prophets or whomever you think should go, somebody other than you. You work in an office where there's no Christians. Guess what the plan was? The boss sent you. And we've been busy, saying, "God, get me out of this awful, godless office". Or you buy a house on a block, and there's no Christians.
"God, get me out of here". "No, that's what I sent you there for". He's committed to us. "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us". That's awkward, isn't it? Through our brokenness and our inconsistency, the hardest place in the world to be a Christ-follower is with people you know. I could put you on a plane and send you to Central Africa. You can be Billy Bad for Jesus. I mean, you can roll off that plane, you're there for four days, you get back on that plane. It's the people who've watched you kick the dog across the back fence that's hard to tell about Jesus. They've watched you trying to get that little rascal in that car seat while you're tellin' them about grace and mercy.
Folks, our story begins and ends with the recognition that we need a Savior, but it isn't just about our eternity. It's the power of God to help us to be different. And I wanna walk you through that little prayer if you'd be willing to say it with me. You've probably said it before. You may have meant it. You may not. I put it in your notes. I wanted you to have a copy. Put it in your phone. Be prepared to help somebody else with that. "So, I think, maybe I'd like to be a Christian". "Well, I wonder if you'd pray with me? Just repeat a little prayer with me".
You don't have to explain everything to them. I don't understand everything God is doing or has done in my life. I just wanna keep saying, "Yes," to him. This notion that you can't experience God until you can explain it fully is so goofy. You can't reconstruct your cellular phone. Whether you're an Apple user or an Android user, I bet you couldn't reproduce that, MacGyver. Humble yourself enough to say, "God, I believe you exist, and I need help". Let's just say this prayer together. "I'm a sinner, and I need a Savior". I'll give it to you one line at a time. My habit. I forgot I gave you a copy. My ad-lib copy's better. Just repeat after me:
I'm a sinner, and I need a Savior. I believe Jesus is your Son, that he died on a cross for my sins, and I believe he was raised to life again that I might be justified. Forgive me of my sins, and I forgive all those who've sinned against me. Jesus, be Lord of my life, all that I am, all that I have, all that I'll ever be. I wanna live for your glory, in Jesus's name, amen.