The Wondrous Cross

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not 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 the strength of the minister.  I, for one, would not be without it for the world.  I should feel like a soldier without weapons, like an artist without his pencil, like a pilot without his compass, like a laborer without his tools.  Let others, if they will, preach the law and morality.  Let others hold forth the terrors of hell and the joys of heaven.  Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church.  Give me the cross of Christ.  This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down hitherto and made men forsake their sins.  And if this will not do it, nothing will.  A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross.  Never was there a minister who did much for the conversion of souls who did not dwell much on Christ crucified.  Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, M’Cheyne were all most eminent preachers of the cross.  This is the preaching that the Holy Ghost delights to bless.  He loves to honor those who honor the cross.”  -J.C. Ryle

 

After preaching at the homeless shelter regularly for about three or four months I began to become frustrated.  I was constantly facing the same kind of issues and failures in the lives of the men.  I felt as if we had dealt with this or that issue in a previous sermon and now we should be able to move on.  To be fair, there is a lot of turnover at the shelter, so we dealt with many new people all of the time, but the real problem was not in the men, the real problem was with me.  My pride was telling me many things, but ultimately my pride was telling me that my preaching was about what I was interested in and not about what these men needed.  When pride finds its way into preaching, the cross is the first thing that gets left out.

If the cross is not at the center of my life and my message, it means that I have forgotten how truly wonderful a gift and message the cross is.  As Paul, we ought to revel in the cross.  We are not to minimize it, spiritualize it, turn it into a decoration, or to apologize for it.  The cross is our hope!  As ugly and wretched as that cross was, it is the center for the most magnificent and wondrous gift that could ever be given, and was given for me.  Without the cross, it is only judgment and condemnation that lies in my path.

As I struggled with this idea and with my pride, I ran into a quote from Charles Spurgeon.  Spurgeon described the Bible as a roadmap of the area around London.  He challenged someone to show him a road that did not lead, even if the path were circuitous, into the heart of London.  The man could find none.  “The Bible, too,” Spurgeon said, “is like that map.  Every verse in scripture either points to or is a direct result of the work of Jesus Christ.  And if in your preaching you do not point clearly toward Christ, directing your congregation to follow the map, then you have wasted everyone’s time.”  Christ is not only to be at the heart of our preaching, he is what motivates preaching, drives our preaching home in the hearts of our congregation, and he is the very reason that our congregation is drawn to worship in the first place.

And for the cross of Christ to be the center of a preacher’s message, the cross must be the center of his life.  And while this message is essential for the preacher to learn, it is also a message that is essential for the life of every Christian.  The cross is our only source of hope; it is the bridge through which sinful man can be brought into relationship with a holy God; it is the roadmap through which eternal life may be found; and it is the standard for the church today—a church in the wilderness, looking to it to be spared death.  The cross of Christ means salvation and if it is not the center of the life of the Christian, then whatever is will likely lead him astray.

We sing of the “Wondrous Cross” of Christ in worship, but do we take the time to ponder the wonder of the cross and what happened on that day, nearly 2000 years ago.  Do we simply see the cross at a point in history or do we glory in it as the apostle did?  My fear is that we don’t.  As we ponder the cross of Christ, let us remember that God did not have to do what he did for us, yet he chose to send his son to die on the cross that those who would call on the name of Jesus would be saved from eternal damnation.  We do not deserve what he did on that frightful day, but let us proclaim God’s glory that he did.

 

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.

                                    -Isaac Watts

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