Date: 04/11/04
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Title: Cross ,

Several years ago I was in Norway for an Easter weekend retreat. I arrived on Thursday morning. Since I would be there for just a little longer than a weekend, I thought I should do some shopping that day. To my surprise, the stores in downtown Oslo closed from 4pm Thursday till Monday morning. No matter how secular the western society has become, Christmas and Easter are still the two most celebrated religious holidays. The Stock Markets around the world, with a few exceptions are closed on Friday. Though not called Easter or Good Friday holiday, schools and offices find enough reasons to let you stay home or go home earlier.
We like Christmas and Easter. One symbolizes love and the other new life, new beginning. Who can say no to that? However, somewhere in between is the Good Friday. We are not sure what to do with it. For Good Friday is about the cross, about suffering. We don't like suffering, and especially the cross. If its not for Mel Gibson, we may have forgotten the cross all together. And now everyone, almost, is talking about and selling the cross.
Last week's Time magazine's feature article was: Why Did Jesus Have To Die? But as we listen to and read all the hypes about the cross, isn't it also true that some times we treat the cross with a period? Yes, there was the cross. Period. Yes, most probably Jesus did really died on the cross. Period. Really? Is that a period after the cross, or is it a comma? You see, if it is a period after the cross, then why bother to be here? However, the fact we are here this morning, and to many of us, Sunday after Sunday, suggests that the cross is not the end, it is not just a period.
So on this Easter morning, we shall take another look at this cross. In our scripture reading, the apostle Paul was telling the Corinthian believers that something he had received and taught was of first importance. It was not just important, but very important. It was the basic core of the Christian faith. And it has to do with the cross.
I. Jesus' pre-existence.
Who was on the cross? Paul wrote, "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,.." Let's first focus on the word 'Christ'. After seeing the passion movie, you probably have many discussions with your friends about the cross. Who was on that cross? Yes, Jesus, but who was he? In chapter 15 of Corinthians, the word 'Christ' was used 15 times to address Jesus.
The word Christ in the Hebrew language is Messiah, the one anointed by God, the son of God, God himself. Christ, the Messiah, did not just appear on the scene out of nowhere. He was mentioned repeatedly in the OT. In genesis 3:15, soon after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, he said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” There is one particular offspring. 2Sam 7:16, "And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ These words were spoken to David, but his throne did not last forever. Instead, these words were pointing to someone who is to come; his throne will stay forever. Micah 5;2, "But you, O Bethlehem, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days." these and other verses are pointing to a Messiah, the son of God who is to come. And when Jesus was born, the angels told the shepherds, Luke 2:11, "….For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Jesus is the Christ, the messiah, the son of God.
What makes this cross, this crucifixion so different from others? The one on the cross, Jesus, had a pre-existence. He was the son of God, he was God and he became man. He was God incarnate. Who was on that cross? Not just a first century Jew, but the son of God, God himself. The issue is not who killed Jesus, but what on earth was the son of God doing on that cross? What on earth was the God who became man on Christmas day, doing on the cross on Good Friday?
II. Christ died on the cross for our sins.
What happened on that cross? Christ died and was buried. That means, this was a real death. The son of God, really died and was buried. If we were there 2000 years ago and touched his body; it would be cold and stiff. If we were to pierce him with a spear as the soldier did, the hemoglobin and the plasma would have separated; and only the plasma flowing out. If there was a forensic expert there, he could even tell from the blood how long Christ had been dead on the cross. His death was so real that 2000 years later, Mel Gibson was able to make a movie about how he died.
Then there is the 6 million dollar question that people are asking. Why did he die? Time magazine summarized several theories: the Good vs. Evil theory; the Paying A Debt Theory; and the Role-Model Theory. There are also numerous books trying to explain why Jesus died. Today is not the time to consider all these reasons. But rather, what did Paul, and for that matter, the scriptures say? "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.." Why did he die? For our sins. What does this mean?
To understand this, we have to put ourselves in the context of Jewish culture. At the very beginning of their history, God explained to them how a sinner can come before the holy God. A sinner, because of his sins, only deserved God's wrath and punishment. In order to be right with God, they had to bring a healthy and perfect lamb to the priest. He laid hands on the animal, symbolizing the transfer of sins from the sinner to the animal. Now, the lamb had become sin because of man. And is therefore under God's wrath and being punished for men's sins. It was subsequently killed. By shedding the animal's blood, the sinner's sins were forgiven, and he could come before this holy God.
We read in the OT: Isaiah 53: "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." And when Jesus began his earthly ministry, John the Baptist said, "Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."
Jesus is the lamb. On that cross, God placed our sins on him. He became the sinful one because of our sins. He bore the condemnation and the penalty of our sins, which is death. You see, the pain he suffered on the cross was not just the crown of thorns, or the nails in his hands and feet, or gasping for air during the 6 hours on the cross. These are terribly painful for humans. However, what was even more painful was that Christ, the son of God, the holy one, at that moment, was sinful because of our sins. The ultimate pain, was on that cross, the totally holy one was separated from his heavenly father because of our sins. This is the reason in agony he cried out, "My God, my God why do you forsake me?"
What was happening on the cross? There was a transaction. Our sins and its punishment were placed on Jesus. His righteousness was placed on us. So, we are no longer under God's punishment and condemnation; we are saved from God's wrath.
So why did Christ die? He died for our sins so we can come to God.
III. Christ was raised from the dead.
There is more to this. Yes, Christ died. But his death was not a period. If it was a period, then nothing happened afterwards. If it was a period, then his death would be no different from the other two thieves' death, plus all others who were later crucified on the cross. Yes, there were all those prophecies and talks about the purpose of his death, but if his death was a period, then these prophecies would die with him too. But, his death, this particular cross, was not a period, it was a comma. Something happened after the death and burial.
"…that he (Christ) was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,…". Again, Paul was saying if you are familiar with the OT scriptures, you shouldn't be surprised at all, because it had already mentioned about his resurrection, his life after death. In Psalm 16:10, David said, "For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption." David died. So here he was talking about another person, and the apostles in the NT explained that David was talking about the Messiah that was to come. Isaiah 53:10, "Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief, when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;…." This passage spoke of the coming Messiah would experience death, but it was temporary.
Not only the OT scriptures spoke of this, but the resurrection was so real that people actually saw him after he had risen from the dead. First, there was Peter. Why was he named first? He was the one who denied Christ 3 times after the arrest. How can you mistake someone whom you have denied just a few days ago? Then the 12 disciples. If He had appeared to the 12 one at a time, we can ask, how trustworthy could it be. But if 12 people saw him at the same time, it was a strong case, and besides they were with him for 3 years. Then, 500 saw him at the same time. The logic is clear, if there are 500 eye witnesses, the case is closed, right? Then James and lastly Paul. Paul is saying, you can discard my testimony, but hard to refute the rest. Yes, it was a comma after the cross, because three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, then Jesus is truly what he claimed to be. He is indeed the son of God, he is God. If so, this morning, and other Sunday mornings, we come here to worship him. To worship also means giving him our total obedience and allegiance.
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, then our sins are truly removed and forgiven. These are the sins confessed by several hundreds of us this past Friday evening. We have the assurance that when we confess our sins, he will forgive and cleanse us.
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, we know with certainty that not only these sins are forgiven, but he will also give us the strength and enable not to repeat them, and be freed from its bondage.
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, my relationship with God is not based on shame and punishment. I don't have to try to work harder to gain his pleasure or love. I don't need to gain brownie points from him. There is nothing I can do to make him love me more. I know I have been totally loved and fully accepted.
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, then Jesus is truly what he claimed to be. He is the door for the sheep to enter into rest. When we put our faith in him, in the midst of a troubled world, we can find rest and peace in him. He is also the light of the world. When I follow him, he will provide me with directions, showing me the right path.
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, it makes new beginnings possible. I no longer have to let my past define who I am. Yes, I may have failed in life. I failed God, coming short of his standards. I have failed my spouse and my children. I have failed those that are close to me. But because Jesus has risen from the dead, he not only has the power to forgive my sins, but also given me the strength I need to start over again. He is the God of second chance and third chance. Whenever I turn back to him, he is there to embrace me, forgive me and accept me. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come." (2 Corinth 5:17)
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, I also know for certain, when I face those difficult moments in life, they too will be just a comma. Yes, it could be very dark and painful, with no relief in sight, yet I know he will walk with me through such dark valleys of life. I will not stay there forever.
Since it is a comma after the cross, followed by the resurrection, not only Christ has risen from the dead, but one day we too will resurrect from the dead. Yes, all of us here today will be resurrected. For those who put their faith in God, we'll spend eternity with God. There will be no more tears, pain and suffering. This is the hope we have while living in a rather hopeless world. For others, we'll face the final judgment and will be eternally separated from God. Using a term none of us like to use, especially on Easter morning, it will be hell.
This is the core of the Christian faith. There is a comma after the Cross. Christ died for our sins, he was buried and he was raised on the third day.