“Ye sins, ye cruel sins, depart,
Your tyrant sway I cannot bear;
My rightful sovereign claims my heart,
Jesus alone shall govern here.”
(Anne Steele’s hymn ‘Sin the cause of Christ’s death’ verse 5).
Each of our lives is centred on something. Think about it for a moment: What really is the most important thing in your life? Think about what you are most passionate about, can’t stop talking about. For the Apostle Paul, it was simple: ‘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.’ (Galatians 6:14).
The cross is commonly understood as the international symbol of Christianity. If a church displays a symbol on or in its building, it is likely to be a cross, perhaps even as its logo! Paul makes it clear why it is this symbol above any other that defines the Christian faith: ‘May I never boast except in the cross…’ is an impressive statement to make. Especially from someone who had a lot to boast about. Paul, before becoming a Christian, was a very well respected religious person who ticked all the right boxes by nearly obeying every command that the Old Testament had to offer. He was passionate about being holy, practising what you preach and knew the scriptures inside out. There would be very few who could criticise his moral conduct. So why did he boast in a wooden cross? Like a proud parent holding up their child’s artwork to be put on the fridge, why did Paul hold up someone dying on a cross as the best piece of work ever produced?
During the time of Paul, a cross would have been a sign of horror, the penalty for a serious criminal offence. But what mattered to Paul was not a symbol of death in and of itself but a statement about his life and anyone else’s who was a Christian. For it was the cross of ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ’. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, takes on flesh in the incarnation and makes his dwelling among us. God becomes one of us, lives a life that is perfect (far better than Paul) and yet for doing so is crucified. In doing this he fulfils the Prophecies of the Old Testament as the one who is ‘Pierced for our transgressions…’ (Isaiah 53v5). In other words, Paul boasts because the cross is now his cross. Christ’s death was his death. All the good things that Paul had done simply were not good enough; in fact they were a total embarrassment compared to what Jesus had done selflessly for him.
The cross of Christ is the bridge between God and man and as Jesus walked across the bridge to reconcile us to God, we see there is hope for how we now live. ‘Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’
A Pastor who used to be in the military in the 1950s recollects how he had to put on a uniform every day and every time the commanding office walked in the room, he would have to salute the commander. Eventually the day came when the man’s service was over, he turned his uniform in and put on his own clothes, and was walking out of the barrack when he saw his former commanding officer. Upon impulse he begun raising his hand to salute the commander. Just as he was beginning to do so he thought to himself “Hang on, I’m no longer in the military. I don’t have to salute you anyone” and so he looked the commander straight in the eye and said “have a nice day” and walked right past him. For those who have been crucified with Christ we are not only dead to sin but it has no power over us. John Gregory Mantle wrote: “There is a great difference between realizing, ‘On that cross he was crucified with me’ and ‘On that Cross I am crucified with him.’ The one aspect brings us deliverance from sin’s condemnation, the other from sin’s power.”
No longer do we have to appease the world’s demands (salute them) whether it is materialism, trying to live up to others’ expectations, having to achieve certain things by a certain age. The world has no power over us. It has been crucified.
One of the boys in a Sunday school teacher’s class proudly announced to his teacher that he was being baptized the next Sunday. She told him that was really great, and he told her he was going to take his swimming goggles. She was curious about why the youngster would want to wear his goggles during the Baptism service. When she asked, the boy replied, “So I can see my sins washed away!” This Easter Sunday we will be having a baptism service, because Easter weekend is all about celebrating the fact that because Jesus died, our sins can be washed away and not only have we been crucified with him (sharing in his death) we are now raise with him (sharing in his life).
Now let me be clear, does this mean we never sin? Obviously not, but what it does mean is that sin no longer brings happiness as it no longer a part of our identity. The clothes we wore as a child would look silly on us now; now sin just can’t fit us properly.
When we put the cross of Christ at the centre of our lives it will change everything. When we’ve understood how much God has forgiven us, we become able to forgive others. When we think about how patient God has been with us, we can become patient parents with our children, and so the list go on.
Whatever has been your life’s experience, whatever comes your way in the future, will you live with the cross at the centre of your life?
Tim Allen (Community Pastor)