The Cross


Speaker: Ken Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 5 February 2023


Sermon synopsis: - The Horror of the Cross.
- The foolishness and offence of the Cross.
- The Power of the Cross.

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The Cross

The Horror of the Cross.

The foolishness and offence of the Cross.

The Power of the Cross.

Show video from Whatsapp on the Trauma of the Cross

We do not abhor crucifixion as the ancients did. For us, the cross is little more than a religious symbol, like a crescent moon or a menorah.

The image is sanitized and mundane, it is no more affronting than a McDonalds sign or the Apple logo. Yet crucifixion was indeed a “scandal,” a word that conjured up terror, and deliberately so.

Crucifixion was the Roman way of saying, “If you mess with us, there is no limit on the violence we will inflict upon you.” If you had ever seen a crucifixion, and they were common in places like Judea, the experience would have been truly terrifying.

It would leave you with irrepressible memories of naked half-dead men dying a protracted death for days on end, covered in blood and flies, their flesh gnawed at by rats, their members ripped at by wild dogs, their faces pecked at by crows, the victims continually mocked and jeered by the torturers who enjoyed their craft, perhaps even with relatives nearby weeping uncontrollably yet entirely helpless to do anything for them. This is why Cicero called crucifixion “the most cruel and terrifying penalty” (Cicero, Verr. 2.5.165).

The Jewish historian Josephus, who had the horrible misfortune of seeing several of his friends crucified, labeled crucifixion “the most pitiable of deaths” (Jewish War 7.202–3).

Maurice Goguel said that crucifixion: represented the acme of the torturer’s art: atrocious physical sufferings, length of torment, ignominy, the effect of the crowd gathering to witness the long agony of the crucified.

Nothing could be more horrible than the sight of this living body, breathing, seeing, hearing, still able to feel, and yet reduced to the state of a corpse by forced immobility and absolute helplessness. We cannot ever say the crucified person writhed in agony, for it was impossible for him to move.

Stripped of his clothing, unable even to brush way the flies that fell upon his wounded flesh already lacerated by the preliminary scouring, exposed to the insults and curses of the people who can always find some sickening pleasure in the sight of the tortures of others, a feeling which is increased and not diminished by the sight of pain.

The cross represented miserable humanity reduced to the last degree of impotence, suffering, and degradation. The penalty of crucifixion combined all that the most ardent tormentor could desire, torture, the pillory, degradation, and certain death, distilled slowly drop by drop.

Excerpt from Fleming Rutledge’s book Understanding the Crucifixion

. . . Crucifixion as a means of execution in the Roman Empire had as its express purpose the elimination of victims from consideration as members of the human race.

It cannot be said too strongly: that was its function. It was meant to indicate to all who might be toying with subversive ideas, that crucified persons were not of the same species as either the executioners or the spectators and were therefore not only expendable but also deserving of ritualized extermination.

Therefore, the mocking and jeering that accompanied crucifixion were not only allowed, they were part of the spectacle and were programmed into it.

In a sense, crucifixion was a form of entertainment.

Everyone understood that the specific role of the passersby was to exacerbate the dehumanization and degradation of the person who had been thus designated to be a spectacle.

Crucifixion was cleverly designed, we might say diabolically designed, to be an almost theatrical enactment of the sadistic and inhumane impulses that lie within human beings.

According to the Christian gospel, the Son of God voluntarily and purposefully absorbed all of that, drawing it into himself. . . .

The priests, teachers and elders understood the irony of it all, for they dared God to rescue him; to them his ignominious end was proof positive that he was a condemned sinner, and that God was rejoicing in the judgment which they had meted out to him.

Like Satan before them, the passers-by challenged him: "If you are the Son of God, save yourself, come down from the cross!"

In these words, we see contradiction piled on contradiction: he was the Son of God and they believed it not; he could indeed have come down from the cross, and they knew it not; in not saving himself, he was saving others, and they perceived it not.

It is like a nightmare, for the innocent is being placed where only the guilty should ever be, and he is held there not by nails and ropes and spears and guards but simply by a love that will not let us go.

Sin has crucified goodness. Horror everywhere, and yet glory at the heart of it - the glory of the astonishing love of God which suffers in the place of sinners.

Can we understand the cross? In this we can never be anything but novices and children. But Matthew has chosen one way of helping us gain some insight of the meaning of our sin and the cost of our redemption: in the contradictions of horror and glory that surrounded Jesus we glimpse the sinfulness of humanity, the holy love of God, and the lordship of Christ.

In the cross, we see the helplessness of man and the power of God; in the cross we see the face of the Lord who has purchased us for himself. And even to glimpse these things is to be held captive to them, to recognize in them the greatest events in the whole story of our race, and the very meaning of our life itself.

Objectively speaking, you can never condemn yourself too harshly or honour and love him too extravagantly. And when we do, the horror of who we are will be swallowed up in the glory of what he has done!

"I am a great sinner," said John Newton, "but he is a great Saviour!"

Matthew 20:1-16.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

About nine in the morning, he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right. So, they went.

He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.

Matthew 20:1-16.

About five in the afternoon, he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing? Because no one has hired us, they answered. He said to them, You also go and work in my vineyard.

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.

The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So, when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.

Matthew 20:1-16.

When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. These who were hired last worked only one hour, they said, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

But he answered one of them, I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.

Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So, the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Matthew 20 has the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Some men worked all day long in the heat of the day. Some worked only half a day, and some worked only one hour. Those who worked the whole day and those who worked for only an hour received the same reward for their labour, a day's wage.

This reminds us that Salvation is not determined by works but by grace. The one who works longer doesn't get more salvation because it only comes in one quantity.

If you are given more time to serve the Lord here on earth, then you are privileged to be able to do something for your Lord and Master that will last for eternity

The Unfairness of the Cross was that the innocent died and the guilty were set free. Christ died for the ungodly, their sins paid in full, to be remembered no more.

Romans 5:6-8.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8. (Enduring Word commentary)

a. When we were still without strength: Paul describes the greatness of God’s love. It is love given to the undeserving, to those without strength, to the ungodly, to sinners. This emphasizes the fact that the reasons for God’s love are found in Him, not in us.

i. Who are these people? Who are the ungodly and wicked people Jesus died for? Paul spent the first two-and-a-half chapters of the Book of Romans telling us that we all are those people.

b. In due time Christ died for the ungodly: God sent the Son at the right time, at the due time. It may have seemed late to some, but Jesus’ work was done at the perfect time in God’s plan: when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4).

i. The world was prepared spiritually, economically, linguistically, politically, philosophically and geographically for the coming of Jesus and the spread of the Gospel.

ii. In due time also has the meaning that Jesus died at the due time for us. He died when we were sinners who needed a Savior. His timing was just right for us.

c. Christ died for the ungodly: Paul mentioned the idea of a substitutionary sacrifice with the word propitiation in Romans 3:25. Here, he makes the point again by saying that Christ died for the ungodly. The ancient Greek word for, is the word huper, which means “for the sake of, on behalf of, instead of.”

i. Other places where huper is used in the New Testament help us to understand this. In John 11:50, we read: nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for [huper] the people. Galatians 3:13 says, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for [huper] us.

ii. Therefore to genuinely say, “Jesus died for me” you must also say, “I have no strength to save myself. I am ungodly. I am a sinner.” Jesus died to save and transform these.

iii. You will say, ‘Oh, I am one of the worst in the world.’ Christ died for the worst in the world. ‘Oh, but I have no power to be better.’ Christ died for those that were without strength. ‘Oh, but my case condemns itself.’ Christ died for those that legally are condemned. ‘Ay, but my case is hopeless.’ Christ died for the hopeless. He is the hope of the hopeless. He is the Savior not of those partly lost, but of the wholly lost. (Spurgeon)

iv. If Christ died for the ungodly, this fact leaves the ungodly no excuse if they do not come to him and believe in him unto salvation. Had it been otherwise they might have pleaded, ‘We are not fit to come.’ But you are ungodly, and Christ died for the ungodly, why not for you? (Spurgeon)

“It would be easy to see the cross as demonstrating the indifference of God, a God who let the innocent Jesus be taken by wicked men, tortured, and crucified while he did nothing… Unless there is a sense in which the Father and Christ are one, it is not the love of God that the cross shows.” (Morris)

The work of Jesus on the cross for us is God’s ultimate proof of His love for you. He may give additional proof, but He can give no greater proof. If the cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love, it is also the ultimate demonstration of man’s hatred. It also proves that the height of man’s hatred can’t defeat the height of God’s love.

The demonstration of God’s love isn’t displayed so much in that Jesus died, but it is seen in whom Jesus died for – undeserving sinners and rebels against Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Not only were the guilty spared from the punishment that they deserved, but they were chosen to be prepared to spend eternity as “The Bride of Christ”.

Ephesians 5:25-27.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful that God gave me mercy instead of what I deserved, and in His Grace, He has set me apart for His purposes and His Glory.

1 Corinthians 1:18-21.

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. For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. 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?

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.

In a PBS television series, the narrator said, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central focus the suffering and degradation of its God.” And Paul acknowledges that this message of Christ crucified will be a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23).

It is not an inherently attractive message, until spiritual eyes of sight are granted. The world looks at the cross and sees weakness, irrationality, hate, and disgust.

In the early decades of the Christian movement the scandal of the cross was most self-evident thing about it. It was not only the death of the Messiah, but the manner of his death that is an offense.

The cross is offensive to some people, like that talk show host, because it defies all notions of earning our own way to heaven.

The story of Barabbas’s pardon is a remarkable comparison to the life granted to a believer in Christ. For Barabbas, pardon meant Jesus would take his place on the cross to endure the wrath of Rome (Matthew 27:16–22).

For the believer, pardon means Jesus took our place on the cross to endure the wrath of God (Romans 3:24–26). With Rome appeased, Barabbas was released to walk free. With God appeased, we are released to walk in newness of life (1 Corinthians 5:17).

In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul says,

“But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.”

Galatians 5:11.

Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.

Paul says, then the “offense of the cross has ceased’. For if Paul should preach the necessity of circumcision, as it has been alleged, the offense of the cross of Christ should be removed.

The necessity of depending on the merits of the sacrifice made on the cross would be taken away, since then the people could be saved by keeping the laws of Moses.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

And so, it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and 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 human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Sin, Death were conquered at the cross.

1 Peter 2:24.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Hebrews 2:14. 15.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

On the cross, Christ did not only conquer sin and death, but he conquered the spiritual forces of darkness.

He disarmed the power and authorities, putting them to open shame, and triumphing over them on the cross (Col. 2:14).

When Christ rose from the dead he was seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power (Eph. 2:20–21).

Colossians 2:13-15.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

The Cross inaugurates a New Covenant.

At the Last Supper Jesus interprets his death as bringing in the new covenant. It is by his body and blood that his new community is formed.

Just as the people of Israel were sprinkled with blood as they entered a covenant with God, so the disciples are members of the new community by the pouring out of Jesus’s blood.

The new covenant people now have God’s Law written on their hearts (Jer. 31:33–34).