by William Powell Tuck
Recently I was talking with a minister friend of mine as we were both preparing for the Lenten/Easter season. He observed how difficult it was for him to think about preaching on the cross. I understand something of his reluctance and timidity in speaking about such a theme. But I have been daring enough in my ministry to try and focus attention upon the cross of Jesus. It may not be easy. But, as a minister, I must. There is no way a preacher can possibly preach about all that is involved in the great message of the cross in a few words. Thousands of books have been written about the cross; thousands of sermons have been preached on it. Yet all of them have only touched the edge of the truth contained in its message. But preach it we must, I believe.
The gospel writers struggled to understand why Jesus was crucified, but, nevertheless, the Apostle Paul, without hesitation, put the cross at the center of his preaching. If the church is to be the authentic Church–authentic Church–the cross will always be at the center of our preaching and way of life. The church cannot really exists as “the Church” without the memory and the impact of the cross being a vital part of our message and ministry.
On another level we need to observe that many nominal Christians today have removed the cross from the church. As E. Stanley Jones once said, “Many have been inoculated with a mild form of Christianity and they are immune to the real thing.” Unfortunately, that is often true. For many nominal Christians, their basic approach to religion is to ask: “What can I get out of religion?” The church is perceived as a great community club where one can pick and choose whatever one wants from its selection. It is there to be used at my convenience. “The church exists for me. I make no commitment to it.” ‘I don’t give any time, effort, energy, or money to it. It is there for my consumption, to meet my needs. “Some proclaim a “prosperity” gospel and substitute what a person can get out of religion instead of the cross Jesus has called us to take up and follow him.
I received a folder in the mail several years ago from a new church which was being started in the east end of Louisville, Kentucky. Among other things in the brochure about the new church there were these words: ”A simple promise. Promises are easy to make but hard to keep. That is why the new church family of (name of the new church) makes only one simple promise–‘A positive and enjoyable Experience.’ That’s it! No strings attached. Come and go without any obligations just enjoy yourselves.”
That’s the Church Jesus founded? Can we really believe that? That view represents in my thinking the heresy of our day! Too many want a church with no strings attached! And many today have bought into this philosophy about church. It is a sad commentary on the church today. Jesus was never interested merely in trying to draw crowds of people around him. One of the heresies of our day is to assume that if you have large crowds, you have a great church. Jesus warned the crowds around him to be aware of “the sandpapered edge” in following him in discipleship. To the crowds he exclaimed: “You must be willing to forsake father and mother, brother and sister to follow me” (Luke I 4:26). To Nicodemus, the great religious leader, Jesus might have said: “I am flattered that you want to talk to me.” But, no, he declared to Nicodemus: ”You must be born again.” To the rich young ruler, who came to him seeking advice on finding eternal life, Jesus didn’t say: “Welcome to my band. It is so good to have you. We can use your money. We need you.” Instead he said, “Go and sell all you have and give to the poor and come, follow me.”
Jesus was interested in making disciples and not attracting crowds of people. He was interested in disciples who were willing to take up a cross and live his way of life. The medicine of the church always has a warning on its label which reads, “Repent and be converted.” If you and I would follow Jesus Christ, we must be transformed. Our lives are to be made over in his image and we are to become different persons as we follow in his way. I know that the cross was a difficult word when it was originally preached, an offense to some and a stumbling block to others, and it continues to be so today. But I do not believe we can preach the message of Easter without first proclaiming the message of the cross. Can we ignore Christ’s call to discipleship and remove the cross and offer only peace, pleasure, wealth and ease and be proclaiming the real message of the Gospel? I personally think not. This is what I have struggled with in my Lenten book, The Church under the Cross. To disregard the cross is to ignore the central message of the death of Jesus and the reality of the atonement.
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