“Boasting In The Cross”
SCRIPTURE INTRO: Called sermon last week “Galatians Finale.”
We looked at Paul’s great argument in letter for justification through faith alone.
Could have ended last week, but want to look at one more verse—verse 14.
1. This is one of the greatest verses in the Bible. One of those verses that contains the heart of Christian faith in just a few words. We ought to end Galatians with this ringing in our ears.
2. This verse is an excellent introduction to study of Gospel of Mark that we are going to begin next Sunday. That will take us through fall and winter. Read earlier in service a passage in Mark that is key to understanding the book of Mark. Galatians summarizes those themes.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
INTRO: It would be interesting to count the number of times in a typical week—
that you see the cross.
You see the cross on people in the form of jewelry.
Rings, earrings, necklaces—
sometimes simple silver, sometimes crusted with jewels.
Some people also wear the cross on their bodies as a tattoo.
You see the cross in many flags.
You might not think of the Alabama State Flag as a cross, looks like a red X—
but it’s called the Cross of St. Patrick.
Called St. Andrew’s Cross.
Early tradition says apostle was crucified on an X shaped cross.
You see this in the flags of many nations.
Of course there are crosses on or inside many churches.
Sometimes on the steeple, inside on walls, or stained glass windows—
or sometimes the shape of the building itself—as this sanctuary.
It’s also embossed on the covers of Bibles and hymnbooks.
There are crosses in cemeteries.
Still some crosses in public places—like government buildings, federal parks.
If you are with a Catholic or Orthodox friend or neighbor,
or with certain brands of Episcopalians or Lutherans and ask blessing at meal—
you will see them make the sign of the cross.
And of course, in some horror movies the cross is used to ward off evil creatures—
particularly effective against either the vampire or werewolf—not sure which.
So the cross is everywhere. And it means different things to different people.
For many people it is basically a meaningless, empty symbol.
Conversation among teenage
For some people it is a good luck charm, treat it with superstition.
Others it is an object of religious devotion, treat it as a holy object.
But for other people—and I hope all of you—
the crosses you see point to something greater, to Someone greater.
Even when you hear the phrase, “the cross” it does not just bring to mind
two pieces of wood nailed together.
The cross means Jesus Christ as he was crucified for us.
The cross is simply a shorthand way for Christians to speak of
the great work of substitution and suffering
that the Son of God accomplished for our salvation.
J.C. Ryle, 19th century Bishop of Liverpool wrote a booklet called “The Cross.”
This is how it begins:
What do you think and feel about the cross of Christ? You live in a Christian land. You probably attend the worship of a Christian church. You have perhaps been baptized in the name of Christ. You profess and call yourself a Christian. All this is well: it is more than can be said of millions in the world. But all this is no answer to my question, What do you think and feel about the cross of Christ? . . . This is no mere question of controversy; this is not one of those points on which men may agree to differ, and feel that differences will not shut them out of heaven. A man must be right on this subject, or he is lost forever. Heaven or hell, happiness or misery, life or death, blessing or cursing in the last day—all hinges on the answer to this question: What do you think and feel about the cross of Christ?
Well Paul made it clear what he thought and felt about the cross.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
For Him the cross was everything.
Nothing else in life worth boasting about.
Nothing else to glory in.
Only Jesus Christ and what he has done.
You should be able to say that as well.
As we look at this passage three great truths about the cross emerge.
In order to boast in the cross of Christ, you must both think and feel
these things—not just know them, but experience them too.
Here they are for you note-takers:
1. The cross is supremely important.
2. The cross is inherently offensive.
3. The cross is supernaturally powerful.
As we look at these, let old bishop Ryle’s question to ring in your ear:
“What do you think and feel about the cross of Christ?”
MP#1 The cross is supremely important.
Paul’s words show us first that the cross is supremely important.
Paul says, “May I never boast.”
Other translations: “God forbid that I should boast.”
These are attempts to translate a phrase in Greek that is a very strong negative.
This is Paul’s way of saying, “There is nothing as important as the cross.”
Now right away you realize that Paul is saying something that goes against
the grain of what many churched, professing Christians believe.
Many people believe that the most important thing is living like Jesus.
Loving your neighbor. Turning the other cheek. Doing unto others.
Jesus came to show us a way of life.
Jesus came to teach us how to treat other people.
Jesus came to tell us what we need to do to deal with our troubles.
The most important thing is living like Jesus. Following his teachings.
But Paul didn’t say:
God forbid that I should ever boast expect in the Sermon on the Mount.
May it never be that I should boast except the teachings of Jesus.
We read part of Mark 8 earlier in the service.
As I said, this is a tremendously important passage—right in middle of book.
Everything before this builds up to this point, everything after flows from it.
What happened in this passage?
Jesus asked a question: “Who do you say I am?”
Peter responded: “You are the Christ.” The Anointed One. The Messiah.
Immediately Jesus began to tell the disciples what the Christ must do.
Must suffer, be killed—and Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.
That was not what Peter wanted to hear.
Peter wanted the Christ to be the great teacher who would tell them what to do.
He wanted the Christ to lead them to do something, throw off Roman rule,
How did Jesus respond to Peter?
Did he say, “Those things are important, but not whole picture”?
No. Said, “Get behind me Satan!”
Peter, you are in the grip of Satan if you don’t see that the reason I have come
is to suffer and die. That is what the Christ must do. Everything hinges on that.
It is Satanic to think that the reason I have come is to tell you to do something.
As we study Mark in coming months you will realize that Mark did a very
poor job of writing a biography of Jesus’ life. Lots of missing details.
First half of book about last three years of Jesus’ life, second half about last week.
True of all of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Gospels are about Jesus’ path to the cross.
That’s the story. What Jesus came to do.
I was in Books-A-Million several months ago and picked up best-seller
by a well-known minister. Book promised to reveal secrets of success, happiness.
I read the first two chapters, then started to skim the book—
and although God mentioned often, Jesus some—not once did I see in the book
the cross of Christ glorified. Couldn’t even find the word “cross” or “crucifixion”
There was nothing about what Jesus had done.
The message was: Do this and God will respond with incredible blessings.
I said to myself—if this is best-selling popular Christianity, God help us.
But then I wondered, am I any different from this man?
In my pastoral work with people at Christ Covenant—
do I show them the cross, or do I just give them good advice?
Do I say, “Look at what Jesus has done for you, take hope in that. Live in that.”
Or do I say, “This is what you need to do.”
What about my parenting? Am I showing my kids what Jesus has done,
or am I giving them keepable standards for success.
What about me. Does the cross really cast a shadow over my life?
Do I live in gratitude and amazement at what Jesus has done—
or am I more like Peter, wanting Jesus to give me good advice to be successful?
What about you? Is the cross supremely important to you?
Is the great reality of your life that Jesus has done something for you—
or is the great reality that there are things you have to do?
Do or Done? How do you view your life before God?
You must think and feel that the cross is supremely important.
MP#2 The cross is inherently offensive.
The next truth that emerges from Paul’s statement
is that the cross is inherently offensive.
It is hard for us to grasp how startling it was for people in Paul’s day
to hear a man say that his only boast is in the cross.
There were so many cultural and religious and historical factors that made
crucifixion itself repulsive to people. It’s hard to think of a modern analogy.
But it might be like a person saying:
My only boast is in death by AIDS.
My only boast is in death by the electric chair.
For Gentiles, crucifixion was regarded as the ultimate in a cruel, shameful death.
It was the supreme penalty imposed by Roman law.
It was used for the execution of slaves, criminals, and revolutionaries.
Roman citizens sentenced to death could not be crucified because it was
such a horrible death. Sophisticated Romans considered it barbaric.
For Jews, there were two reasons crucifixion viewed with revulsion and shame.
crucifixion was used by the Romans in their conquest of
thousands of captured Jews. So it was a symbol of oppression.
Like the ovens of
Second, the Jews connected crucifixion to Deuteronomy 21:23—
cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree. Saw as sign of God’s curse.
So for both Jew and Gentile, the message of a crucified Savior was foolish,
shameful, repulsive, and theologically impossible.
As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians—foolishness to Greeks, stumbling block to Jews.
But the offense of the cross goes much deeper than these historical facts
that were true in the first century.
The real offense of the cross is that it points to our sin.
Not just your sin but your sinfulness—absolute moral depravity and impotence.
And with that the cross points to the wonderful fact
that God has reached down in grace to provide a way for your sins to be forgiven
and for you to have life.
That offends people in numerous ways.
Tim Keller makes a fascinating observation in his sermon on this passage.
Just as both Jews and Gentiles were offended by the cross in the first century—
liberals and conservatives are offended by the cross today.
People with a liberal mindset are offended by the cross
because they think it is intolerant and exclusive.
What do you mean that the cross of Christ is the only way?
Any person who is true to self can find his way to God no matter what religion.
People with a conservative mindset are offended by the cross
because they think it is too open and inclusive.
What do you mean there is no difference between people at the cross?
How can we who have upheld morality be in same boat as those who have not?
Dr. Keller says that the cross does indeed draw a line—
but it’s not the line between those who are true to themselves, those who aren’t,
and the line is not between the moral and the immoral.
The line the cross draws is between the proud and the humble.
It’s between those who are self-righteous and those who know their sinfulness.
That’s gracious, because it means that salvation is open to anyone
who humbles himself before God.
The cross is offensive because it is set against all schemes of self-salvation—
no matter if those schemes take a liberal or conservative flavor.
It says to all people: You are more sinful and wicked than ever dared to admit.
And you are more loved and accepted in Christ than ever dared to hope.
As wonderful as that message is, it offends people. They resist it.
Could probably come up with many examples—
like the couple told about last week who came to get child baptized.
But it’s not other people you ought to focus on. What about you?
Have you ever felt the offense of the cross?
Have you ever felt your sin exposed so much that you wanted to pull back?
I hope so. Because it is only by feeling the offense of the cross—
that you can come out on the other side and taste the sweetness.
Don’t resist the offense of the cross—wounds so it can heal.
If you have experienced it, you know what I am talking about.
MP#3 The cross is supernaturally powerful.
That brings us to the final truth that arises from Paul’s statement—
the cross is supernaturally powerful.
The cross of Christ, only the cross has the power to kill you—
but in killing you make you more alive than you have ever been.
Paul put it like this:
Through the cross the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
The world is dead to me and I’m dead to the world.
That doesn’t mean that Christians no longer enjoy things—eating, drinking—
and all the other pleasures of life. Or that Christians must wear gray clothes.
Remember Jesus himself was criticized for his eating and drinking.
This is not a death to sensation or pleasure.
Paul means that a person who boasts in the cross has a new center of his person.
He has something new and powerful that he is relying on.
That new center, that new reliance, that new boast—
is Jesus Christ, and what he has done.
Because of that the world, and the things of this world are no longer
your center, your reliance, your boasting.
So even though you use them, participate in them, enjoy them—
they no longer control you.
Family, marriage, business, money, success, reputation—
all of these are still part of your life, but they are no longer your life.
Because there is something bigger that you are boasting in.
JC Ryle put it this way: For the Christian . . .
the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt a paid debt, the great disease a healed disease, and the great work a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small.
Because of the cross, if you have business troubles, business challenges—
you are able to say, the big business of my life is settled to my advantage.
If you are having money problems, debt problems—
able to say, the big debt of my life has been paid.
If you have a disease, able to say—
the big disease of my life has been healed.
Then why am I so worried when things don’t go well?
Why am I angry, or bitter, or afraid, or despondent?
If the cross is this powerful, why can’t I, as a Christian rise above
my present circumstances—
problem in my marriage, waywardness of children,
struggles in my business, turmoil in my inner life?
Paul says that through the cross the world was crucified to him.
Crucifixion as a form of execution had three qualities:
First, it was slow—crucified people lingered for days.
Second, it was painful—it was death by torture, mental and physical, thirst.
Third, it was decisive—once nailed to a cross, you were as good as dead.
That will be your experience as a Christian.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It is slow. Takes time. Takes years.
It takes experience. It takes time pondering the cross.
It’s painful. It takes going through bitter trials that force you to ask—
Why is this getting me down? Why am I in turmoil?
Is it because I have been boasting in this and not in the cross?
Painful questions to ask. Painful answers for a Christian. But necessary.
It’s decisive. Christ’s work in you will come to completion.
One day you will be able to say in areas of life never thought possible—
my boast is in Christ. Not in what I have or do or accomplish.
Not in my reputation. But in Jesus and all he has done for me.
When that happens, that’s powerful. That’s supernatural.
Business facing some bumps, asked for prayer—but had a remarkable calm.
Said: I wasn’t always like this. As a young man, business success his boast.
All that went along with it, right house and things. Worried, insomnia, solitaire.
Then became a Christian, all dreaded came true. Out of house, in apartment.
Still insomniac, but read Bible.
During that slow, painful time—former boasting crucified, replaced by cross.
Like Job, God restored his fortunes—but never looked at them the same way.
Enjoyed them yes. But not his boast. Not his center.
That’s the power of the cross, crucify you, but make more alive and powerful.
CONC: What do you think and feel about the cross of Christ?
As we come to the Table, going to sing one of the great hymns:
When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God.
All the vain things that charm me most—I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from his head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown.
We’ve surveyed the cross this morning—
barely scratched the surface.
But just a glimpse is enough to know that it is what Jesus has done—
is all you need as the center of your life, your boast, your glory.
And that all you do, try to do, want to do—your richest gain—
must be laid at the foot of the cross, so that you can glory in what lasts forever.