This morning is the fifth week in our Lenten Journey toward the Cross of Calvary. During Lent, Pastor Drew will be preaching a 7-part sermon series which will focus on some of things Christ specifically accomplished through his suffering and crucifixion, collectively referred to as the passion of Christ. The series is entitled “Why Did Jesus Die?” and is inspired by John Piper’s book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. The main point of the whole series is that the suffering an death of Jesus Christ was a purposefully event; many of the reasons for the passion of Christ are for our benefit. The hope is that you will come to a much greater appreciation for what Christ Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death on the cross. Today’s theme is the cross. The main point is that Jesus died to make his cross the ground of all our “boasting.”
#1: March 6: “Faith Not Our Own But Ours to Live By“
#2: March 13: “The Cross: The Means of Freedom“
#3: March 20: “The Cross: The Means of God’s Blessings“
#4: March 27: “The Cross: The Means of Reconciliation with God“
#6: April 10 (Palm Sunday): “The Cross: The Crowning Glory of Jesus Christ“
#7: April 17 (Easter): “Victory!“
Scriptures: Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:4-14
For many people, little else in this world brings out that unwavering and huge sense of pride than a particular sports team. Among us are those who live and breathe certain teams. It’s almost as though those teams form the essence of their identity. You could disparage their mother with a crude joke, and they’d give you the stink eye and tell you to shut up. But mock or ridicule their beloved team—well, that could lead to real anger! Of course, I’m somewhat talking tongue-in-cheek. But the fact is, college and professional sports really do have a way of creating diehard superfans who glory in their team.
A few words we could use to describe how these superfans express their dedication to their favorite team might be boast, brag, and pride. Boasting has a couple of meanings. In one sense, boasting and bragging mean the same thing in that they imply vocal self-praise or claims to superiority over others.
But there’s another angle on what it means to boast which has the same idea of ‘vocalizing’ one’s pride in something but without the sense of self-importance or superiority. For example, let’s say the people in a small town come together and work very hard to replace an old, rickety school building with a new, modern, and safe one. They’re exciting about this new building and what it offers the students. They don’t see themselves as being better than the folks of another community, or their new school as better than other schools. But it could certainly be said that that town boasts a new school. They take a certain amount of pride in their new school building to the point that they want other to know about it. And to hear them talk about their new school reveals how meaningful it is to them. I think that’s a good kind of boasting.
And it’s the type of boasting I think Paul had in mind when he told the Christians in Galatia, “As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14). In the context of Paul’s letter, to “boast about” something is to rejoice exceedingly in it. And Paul’s point is that for all the good that has come and will come out of his ministry, the only thing he’ll rejoice in is the cross of Jesus Christ. Another Bible translation renders it, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, how do we reconcile the position limiting our boasting/rejoicing in the cross with the fact that elsewhere Paul mentions other legitimate objects of our boasting/rejoicing?
- Romans 5:2 tells us to boast in the hope of God’s glory.
- Romans 5:3 tells us to rejoice in our afflictions.
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us to boast in our weaknesses.
- 1 Corinthians 15:31 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19 say we should rejoice in the people of Christ.
So, what does “only” mean here?
Well, it means that all other objects of our rejoicing and glorying-in should still be a boasting in the cross. To put it succinctly, if we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory, that very boast should be a boast in the cross of Christ. If we boast in the people of Christ, that very boasting should be a rejoicing in the cross. In other words, boasting only in the cross of Christ means only the cross enables every other legitimate boast, and every legitimate object of our rejoicing should therefore honor the cross. In the same way that multiple lakes and rivers eventually feed into the same large body of water, so all points of appropriate pride and rejoicing point to and honor the cross of Jesus Christ.
If you want to know why this is so, we only have to go back to the main point from two weeks ago, which is that the cross is the source of all good things that God give us. And we could even say that those good things from God include every bad thing that God turns for good. All of it was obtained for us by the cross of Christ.
And if we return to the main point from three weeks ago, we’re reminded that apart from faith in Christ, sinners get only judgment. Of course, the title “sinners” applied to every one of us prior to our coming to saving faith in Christ. But that on account of our faith in Jesus and being reconciled to God through the work of cross, we will never know God’s final judgment against sin. That, dear friends, is the ultimate good thing the cross has obtained for us. And this is what we ulitmately rejoice in, right?
Here’s the bottom line: all our boasting in the wonderful blessings we receive from God is ultimately a boasting, or rejoicing, in the cross. The cross of Christ is the grounds of all our rejoicing.
Let me try to put this idea in perspective. In my personal devotions, yesterday I started reading the Old Tesatment book of Ecclesiastes. Tradition has it that King Solomon was the author of both Ecclesiastes and the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs, Solomon’s entire message is “get wisdom, get understanding.” Wisdom is presented as the unfailing means of experiencing an abundant, meaningful life which avoids the traps of folly and ignorance. Whether or not it’s true, Solomon himself has been given the title, “the wisest king there ever was.”
With that in mind, he opens the book of Ecclesiastes with this surprising proclamation: “Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless! What do people get for all their hard work under the sun?” (1:2-3) His answer? Nothing. At least nothing of lasting value. Starting in Ecclesiastes 1, he comes down very hard on wisdom and understanding, saying that in the end, having them is as helpful as chasing after the wind.
Wow! That’s quite a drastic change in perspective. You don’t need to be a licensed psychotherapist to see that Solomon must have been in a dark place spiritually. I have to think that in spite of his great knowledge and wisdom, he’d become overwhelmed with the reality of life’s tragedies, and his religious convictions didn’t provide what he needed to be able to make sense of it all. And so, in the end, he came to the conclusion that life is meaningless.
But what really caught my attention was what he said in verses 8 and 13. In verse 8 he observes that “no matter how much we see, we’re never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we’re not content.”
To be honest, I’d be hopeless too if that was the extent of my life experience—never having enough.
In verse 13 he states that after searching high and low for understanding and exploring all matters of life through the lens of his God-given wisdom, “I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race.” And from Solomon’s viewpoint, that tragic existence is a life of meaninglessness.
Well, I quietlyt sat with those two verses for a while because there was something about them that struck a chord of truth within me. But it’s the kind of truth that can leave a person feeling hopeless if it isn’t grounded in an even deeper and more important truth, one which Solomon obviously didn’t have.
I believe his observation in verse 8 is true, even today. No matter how much we see, we’re never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we’re not content. Solomon’s describing our human condition! We experience it all the time. It’s the condition of always wanting more; never being fully satisfied with what we have. To be honest, I’d be hopeless too if that was the extent of my life experience—never having enough.
Verse 13 also speaks a deep truth. God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. We know that life can be tragic, right? Many of you have first-hand experince with the tragegies of life. But let’s be honest, the tragic existence Solomon speaks of is the result of our original rebellion against God. God didn’t wake up one day and arbitrarily decide he was going to curse humanity simply because he had the power to do so and he wanted to see how we’d respond. No, we used our free will to decide to turn against him, and this rebellion brought into our world everything that can make life feel tragic, things like murder, lying, cheating, unfaithfulness, accidental deaths, war, violence, pain, hopelessness, and so on — everything that convinced Solomon that life is ultimately meaningless and will never get better. That’s all he could see at the end of his life.
But we have a different perspective of life, don’t we? You and I have see al of life through the lens of the cross. Yes, we know a lot of bad stuff is going in this world, but we also know that that in response to our original rebellion, God immediately set into motion a plan to eventually turn all that around. And that plan of redemption included sending of his Son into our world who would become the final sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, which he accomplished through his death on the cross.
Herein lies the hope we have which Solomon didn’t. When we the message about Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross, and then believe it, we’re given the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to see God’s light! In Jesus, we learn to be satisfied with all that God’s given us, whether a little or a lot. In Jesus, we learn to be content and joyful, even when life is harder than we think we can possibly bear. But, again, that’s an important truth; on our own and of our own strength and abilities, we can’t stand up under the pressures of life. We give into temptation and sin without hardly making a whimper when we attempt to do by our own strength. It’s easy to give up apart from the Holy Spirit’s power and presence within us. And so, it’s vital that we remember that that power came into us through the cross.
So, how do we become radically cross-focused? I’ll give you John Piper’s answer because he says it so well. He writes,
“We must awaken to the truth that when Christ died on the cross, we died. When this happened to the apostle Paul, he said, ‘the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Galatians 6:14). This is the key to Christ-centering boasting in the cross. When you put your trust in Christ, the overpowering attraction of the world is broken. You are a corpse to the world, and the world is a corpse to you. Or to put is positively, you are a ‘new creation’ (Galatians 6:15). The old you is dead. A new you is alive—the you of faith in Christ. And what marks this faith is that it treasures Christ above everything in the world. The power of the world to woo your love away has died.”
Friends, being a new creation (wherein you are dead to the world and the world is dead to you) means that every legitimate reason to rejoice in the good things of this world become a blood-bought evidence of God’s great love and an occasion of rejoicing, or boasting, in the cross. Let’s pray.