The cross turned upside down

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I don’t know what your writing process is, if you have a process, but there are many times when what I end up with bears little resemblance to my original idea for a story. With Easter Sunday approaching, I’ve been thinking about the cross.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of the type of cross you would typically see in a Catholic church as opposed to what you might find at a Protestant church. I’ll probably still write about that some day, because I think both are important and telling symbols. But in the back of my mind, I kept going back to a sermon series Jeff preached called Not A Fan. Specifically, one sermon called “The Comfortable Cross”.

The Not a Fan series (based on a book by the same name) was first presented at Southeast Christian Church by Pastor Kyle Idleman. There is also a small group study that goes along with the sermon series. If your church is looking for a small group study, just click on the link for more information. I highly recommend it.

The following is a portion of the sermon notes. Some of the thoughts are from Jeff, others from Kyle. But to be on the safe side, Jeff said to go ahead and credit Kyle Idleman for the following content in its entirity:

In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about how the world sees the cross:

1 Corinthians1:18
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.

For those living in the first century the cross was the ultimate symbol of weakness. For many, then and now, the message of the Gospel – that God came to earth in the form of man and was crucified – is complete foolishness.

So, why would God use a symbol of torture, of death, of weakness to save the world? I suppose the idea of the cross seems more appealing to us because it’s no longer used to execute people and we’ve dressed it up. We are used to seeing the cross as an ornament, decoration or a piece of jewelry. But if a First Century Jew came in and saw an illuminated cross hanging from our walls – they would think we were sick. Imagine people walking around with a guillotine hanging around their neck or an electric chair dangling from their ears.

For the Jews, the cross was a symbol of weakness. Actually, that sentiment wasn’t limited to the Jews. I want to show you a picture of some graffiti that was found in a Roman building dating back to the 3rd century.

This crude depiction of Jesus on the cross with a donkey’s head was found in a building near the Roman palace. The caption scrawled at the bottom says in Greek—“Alexamenos worships his god.” This was done to mock Jesus and one of his followers—perhaps a Roman soldier or pageboy who was a believer. Apparently, making fun of Christianity is nothing new. The cross is foolishness and weakness to the world.

And I think that’s actually God’s point. That’s what makes the cross so beautiful. God takes what, from a human perspective, is foolish. He finds the least likely symbol for love and life and says, “I’ll use that.” God takes what the world says is foolish, demeaning, and shameful, and says, “Watch this” and turns it into the power of salvation.

And that’s exactly what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 1:18. But now take a look at what he goes on to say just a few verses later in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25…

1 Corinthians 1:22-25
22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Who else but God could take a cross that represented defeat –
and turn it into a symbol of victory?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented guilt –
and turn it into the symbol for grace?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented condemnation – and turn it into a symbol of freedom?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented pain and suffering – and turn it into symbol of healing and hope?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented death –
and turn it into a symbol of life?

No one else could. But He did. What may seem to some like the ultimate moment of God’s weakness was in reality the ultimate moment of God’s strength. And here’s why that matters. Here’s what I don’t want you to miss. This is our one point for this lesson, and it’s so important, it’s the only thing you need to get from this morning:

What God Did For the Cross, He Can Do for You.

So, when you are the weakest, you are exactly where you need to be for God to be the strongest. The upside down truth of the cross is that when you are weak – you are strong. Look at

1 Corinthians 1:27
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

It’s not that God used the cross in spite of its weakness – he chose the cross because of its weakness. God does that with people too! He seems to use the most unqualified individuals to accomplish his work. Think about the people whose stories are recorded in Scripture: Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was humiliated, Moses stuttered, Gideon was poor, Samson was proud, Rahab was immoral, David had an affair, Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Jonah was disobedient, John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least, Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered, Martha worried a lot, the Samaritan woman had several failed marriages, Zacchaeus was unpopular, Thomas had doubts, Paul had poor health, and Timothy was timid.

The Bible is a long list of imperfect misfits who discovered that weakness is strength. God uses the most unlikely of people to get his job done. Just like he used the cross—a symbol of weakness and death—to show us true strength and life, He can use us. So, God do for us what you did for the cross.

Though it seems backward to us, God teaches us that when we think we’re strong we’re really weak – but when we acknowledge our weakness and humble ourselves before the Lord we put ourselves in a position to receive His strength. Paul talks about how this truth applied to his life in…

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Now I don’t know anyone who naturally delights in their weakness. In fact most of us go to great lengths to disguise our weaknesses. Like when you’re on a job interview and they ask the dreaded question, “What’s your greatest weakness?” How do you answer that?

I’m guessing that you’re thinking, “Well, you don’t tell them your weakness! Because if you do, they aren’t going to hire you.” You don’t say: “I’m never on time – I constantly procrastinate – I have trouble getting along with coworkers – I am not sure how to turn on computer.” You don’t say that.

But you have to say something. So, what do you say? You try to come up with a weakness that sounds more like a strength, right? “I can be a little bit of a perfectionist.” Or, “I tend to be a bit of a workaholic.” Why do we do that? Because, in our world—in our economy—weakness isn’t strength. Strength is strength.

There are like 2000 self-help books published every year that communicate the message, “You can do it.” “You have what it takes.” “Look deep and find the strength within yourself.”

But God’s Word says strength comes when we realize our weakness.

Do you remember the story of Alexaminos from earlier? I’m sure to some he looked weak and foolish. But if you go into the next chamber in that same building, you will find another inscription—written in a different hand, and different language—Latin—not Greek. It simply says,

“Alexaminos Fidelis.” Aleximinos is faithful.

His belief was the subject of a joke that has endured on a wall for some 1800 years. But that many years later—here we are halfway around the world, talking about the faithfulness of this follower. What was put on display as weakness has been remembered as God’s strength.

Do you wonder what the life of Aleximenos looked like? Although we aren’t given that information, we can read about the life of Paul, and he spoke about what it means to live this way in…

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

And that brings us to today, and a question that will test our desire to be followers: Will you, like Alexaminos and Paul did before us, imitate Christ and trust God enough to let your weakness be His strength?

Practically speaking, if your answer to that question is “Yes!” then I challenge you to memorize Galatians 2:20 this week.

Fans are full of talk, but still rely on their own strength at the end of the day. Fans hedge their bets. They want a comfortable cross that allows them to maintain a level of control and glory and strength and accomplishment and pay scale and trophies and approval that meet a standard that has been set by them.

But it’s only when we surrender the standard that our weakness can be displayed as God’s strength.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I hope you all have a blessed and wonderful Easter weekend. Many thanks to my pastor and friend Jeff Hogan at Convergence Christian Church for allowing me to reprint a portion of his sermon.

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