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The Crucible of the Cross

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The Crucible of the Cross

1Corinthians 3              February 16, 2003


Scripture Reading: 2Peter 3:10-14


When you read the title of this morning's message, you probably wondered the same thing my wife did when I told her what I was preaching on.

What in the world is a crucible?

If you have never taken a course in chemistry lab, you might not be aware of what a crucible is.

It is actually the best word I could think of to describe the central idea that Paul uses in 1Cor. 3 - the text for this message.

Remember the passage we just read in 2Peter?

A crucible is what the entire earth will become in the Last Day – the container upon which we all live that will undergo trial by fire to purge all that does not conform to the message of the cross of Christ.

Only what is holy, godly, and righteous will survive the divine fire of God.

We can say that about the world we live in and even about the church we serve and worship in.

Only what is united in Christ, by submitting to Christ, will survive.

But God has given us something very special to prepare us for that time.

And that is the crucible of the cross.

I speak of the cross in this way because the cross is the entrance exam we must pass in order to obtain entrance into the Kingdom of God.

Remember what I said in an earlier message, as we began this series in 1Cor., that a major theme here is the doctrine of the cross in its social application?

The cross not only provides for us the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins unto eternal life, but it also becomes for us a continual test of our submission to his Lordship.

Our visit to the cross is not a one-time event.

Indeed, the cross of Christ is for salvation, but the sinful nature we continue to struggle with requires that we continue to draw unity and wisdom from Christ's holy witness and sacrifice upon it.

This is what the previous two messages were about as Paul confronts the Corinthian church about their divisiveness.

They were saved, but they were not living like it. They had received the message of the cross, but they weren't applying it to the way they did church. The future and witness of the church was in jeopardy because they were not moving on to maturity.

You may recall that their lack of unity stemmed from two problems: they were following human leaders more than Christ's leadership, and they were lusting after human wisdom more than Christ's wisdom.

Just like our own national discourse with the United Nations and NATO over the situation with Iraq, each house church was setting up its own sovereign entity with all the competition of opinion that goes with it to the extent that they couldn't agree on the common mission against the common enemy. Their survival was at stake.

The same thing happens within a church when individuals run their own agendas, pursue their own following, and attempt to set themselves up as better than others.

This sort of thing is divisive because it focuses on men rather than on Christ.

Paul's solution for them was to remind them of the community of the cross that brought them all out of their common hopeless and lost condition, and to remind them of the instruction of the cross that gave them all Holy Spirit insight into the mind of Christ.

So now Paul will remind them that the cross will continually test them in this.

The cross stands as an eternal witness either for or against our conformity to it.

It tests our conformity to Christ in which we find our unity.

So we must understand the crucible, or the testing, of the cross.

It comes from the Latin word crucibulum that means a pot or lamp that burns before the cross. In metallurgy or chemistry it is a container that can withstand great heat and is used for melting ore or performing experiments that make high temperature tests. In common usage it refers to a severe test or hard trial.

You get the connection. There is such a thing as the test of the cross. It stands as a continuing trial of how well we will conform to Christ who took the heat for us.

A passing grade is the "C" that we get when we took Christ by faith in the first place, but when we can submit our all, we get an "A".

Paul wants us all to get on the honor roll – to strive for excellence in the church of the Living God, to put to death the old self that continues to compete with the Spirit for our allegiance and causes divisiveness.

Big Question:

How does the cross test those of us who claim the name of Christ?

The cross tests our level of maturity by assessing our allegiance.

The cross tests our level of humility by assessing our place of purpose.

The cross tests our level of service by assessing our foundation.

The cross tests our level of worship by assessing our unity in the Holy Spirit.

The cross tests our level of wisdom by assessing our devotion to Christ.

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (vv. 1-4)

          B.      Implication

The cross tests our level of maturity by assessing our allegiance.

          C.      Illustration

Chgo. Trib., 1/31/03, U.S. believes: It has faiths to prove it.

          D.      Application

II.      Cycle Two

          A.      Narrative (vv. 5-9)

          B.      Implication

The cross tests our level of humility by assessing our place of purpose.

          C.      Illustration

From Farming:

A couple of years ago, the Associated Press released a study done by an agricultural school in Iowa. It reported that production of 100 bushels of corn from one acre of land, in addition to the many hours of the farmer's labor, required 4,000,000 pounds of water, 6,800 pounds of oxygen, 5,200 pounds of carbon, 160 pounds of nitrogen, 125 pounds of potassium, 75 pounds of yellow sulphur, and other elements too numerous to list. In addition to these things, which no man can produce, rain and sunshine at the right time are critical. It was estimated that only 5% of the produce of a farm can be attributed to the efforts of man. If we were honest, we'd have to admit that the same is true in producing spiritual fruit.

From Mining:

We ought to know better than to despair over the visible result of spiritual endeavor.  During a recent visit to Johannesburg I spent a day at one of the gold-mines.  There was immense activity, gangs of workers, clouds of dust, hissing steam, deafening stamps, heaps of quartz, torrents of water and cauldrons of slime; but I came away without having seen a single speck of gold.  The engineer touched the bottom of a turbid stream, and exclaimed, "There is a particle."  It was, however, as invisible to me as the same metal usually is on the collection-plate.  Yet, when on the return journey our ship anchored at Southampton, we discharged boxes of gold dust to the tune of a million dollars.  Thus today our evangelical work proceeds with noise of machinery, smoke and stir, sweat and blood, and a thousand things that are trivial and trying to the carnal eye, but the practical spiritual gain is often unseen.

   -- Dr. W.L. Watkinson, as quoted by H. Jeffs in, The Art of Sermon Illustration, (Fleming H. Revell Co., 1926), p. 22 .

From Cooking:

During our church's worship service, the pastor invites all the young children to join him near the altar for the "Children's Moments Sermon."  One day, with seven small children in attendance, he spoke about the ingredients required to make up a church, using a chocolate chip cookie as an example. He explained to the children that, as with a cookie requiring ingredients such as sugar and eggs, the church needed ingredients to make up the congregation. Holding a cookie aloft, he asked, "If I took the chocolate chips out of this cookie, what would I have?" A shy six-year-odd raised his hand.  "Six less grams of fat," he replied.

   -- Kristine Payne, Reader's Digest, June 1995, p. 98-99.

Fulfilled Place of Purpose:

Title:  Saved by an Unknown Layman

   Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in the minds of some of us, was the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. When he was 22 years of age, he preached sermons that some of us hope we may preach before we die. We won't, but we can dream. Until his death, he preached to five thousand people--morning and evening--in London in the days before you had great big crowds, before transportation was like what we know today.

   When Spurgeon was 15 years of age, he had not come to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. On a blustery, snowy Sunday morning, he decided to go to church. He couldn't get to his planned destination because the weather was so bad. So he turned into a side street, and went into a Methodist church. The preacher didn't even get there. Only fifteen people had come to the church. A layman decided worship ought to take place, so he got up to preach. He used Isaiah 45:22, "Look unto me and be saved, all you ends of the earth." In ten minutes he had exhausted all that he could think to say.

   Then he noticed a boy in the back, under the balcony. He said, "Young man, you look like you're in trouble. Look unto Jesus and be saved." That's exactly what happened that morning. Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave his life to Christ. That troubled young man became the mightiest preacher of the last century. He was led to faith in Christ by a man nobody knows--an obscure layman.

   -- Gordon Johnson, "Finding Significance in Obscurity," Preaching Today, Tape No. 82.

Realizing Reward:

Title:  Sacrificing Quietly

   Jim Montgomery is a missionary. He once taught high school in San Jose, California. I remember when the Lord called him. After he was in the Philippines, he got this tremendous vision for a plan called DAWN, Discipling a Whole Nation. The basic idea was to establish a Bible-preaching church within walking distance of every person in the Philippines.

   His grand plan sounded idealistic, but it was burning in his soul. He couldn't get anybody to support him because it sounded too big. I thought, Jim's going crazy. He'd write prayer letters but his account never went up.

   Finally he came back to California, sold his home, and funded the beginning of the DAWN program. The house was sort of his security back in the U.S.A. When I heard what he had done, I thought, The Lord's going to honor Jim one way or another. Boy, has the Lord honored Jim. DAWN has gone to other nations: in Africa, Guatemala, and Eastern European countries. Jim started out sacrificing quietly for the cause of the Lord, and the Lord used him. There is power in Jim's life.

   -- Luis Palau, "Go to the Ends of the Earth," Preaching Today, Tape No. 124.

          D.      Application

III.    Cycle Three

          A.      Narrative (vv. 10-15)

          B.      Implication

The cross tests our level of service by assessing our foundation.

          C.      Illustration


          D.      Application

IV.    Cycle Four


          A.      Narrative (vv, 16-17)

          B.      Implication

The cross tests our level of worship by assessing our unity in the Holy Spirit.

          C.      Illustration

Worship Restores "True North"

My sister bought a new car that was loaded with high-tech options. The first time she drove the car in the rain, she turned a knob she thought would start the windshield wipers. Instead a message flashed across the dash: "Drive car in 360 degrees." She had no idea what that meant, and so when she got home she read the car manual.

She learned that while trying to turn on the windshield wipers she had inadvertently turned off the internal compass, and the car had lost its sense of direction. To correct the problem, the car had to be driven in a full circle, pointed north, and then the compass had to be reset.

Each time we gather to worship, we are resetting our internal compass. We establish "true north" in our soul, remembering who God is and what his truth proclaims.

Citation: Nancy Cheatham, Olathe, Kansas

          D.      Application

1Peter 2:4-8

V.      Cycle Five


          A.      Narrative (vv. 18-23)

          B.      Implication

The cross tests our level of wisdom by assessing our devotion to Christ.

          C.      Illustration

February 13, 2003

Reality or Something Like It

(Reality TV and Boredom)

Charles Colson


Let’s be honest. Why would anyone want to watch a race between a human and a giraffe, or eavesdrop on a blind date between annoying strangers, or listen to terrible singers wail like banshees?

That indeed we do want to watch is unquestionable. So-called "reality" TV is changing the television business. The public has a seemingly insatiable appetite for these shows, and, as one network executive told the New York Times, "We’ve got a responsibility to satisfy that appetite."

And as if what the networks are turning out weren’t bad enough, Gloria Goodale reports in the Christian Science Monitor that the public bombards producers with new ideas. Favorites include people falling off buildings or out of airplanes, televised brawls in prisons, and street fights between homeless drunks—already an Internet favorite.

The producers have said no to these and other dangerous and degrading ideas, but how long will that last among people who think they have "a responsibility to satisfy that appetite?" Goodale notes that when Natalka Znak first had the idea for Temptation Island—sexy singles romping in the tropics—she was told that it was over the top. Today, it’s old hat.

The title of a new book by Richard Winter, a psychiatrist and associate professor of practical theology at Covenant Seminary, gives away his diagnosis for the sorry state of TV and why we watch it. The book is titled Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment.

"When stimulation comes at us from every side," he writes, "we reach a point where we cannot respond with much depth to anything. Bombarded with so much that is exciting and demands our attention, we tend to become unable to discriminate and choose from among the many options.

The result is that we shut down our attention to everything." That is, we get bored.

Over-stimulated and bored, we start looking for anything that will give our jaded spirits a lift. Winter says that boredom explains the rise in extreme sports, risk taking, and sexual addiction. "The enticements to more exciting things have to get louder to catch our dulled attention,"he writes. And so reality TV gets more risqué and more degrading by the day—a trend that shows no signs of abating.

Natalka Znak says that death is a line that no one will cross. I think she’s wrong. Boredom will lead us right down the Roman road to the bloody lust of the Coliseum.

Richard Winter not only diagnoses the problem, but he also offers a solution: We must recover a sense of passion and wonder. He notes that boredom is part of life in a fallen world. There are times when we will be bored. But engaging the world rather than passively watching can mitigate much of our boredom.

He writes, "Finding interest and joy in life involves active engagement with the world. . . . The person who wants to be involved with life knows that it is necessary to move toward someone or something, to want to understand and know."

And engagement with the world—that is, wanting to understand and know—is also central to developing a Christian worldview.


          D.      Application


The crucible of the cross is the greatest test of man.

Will you be a survivor?

The only way to survive the cross is to submit to it.

Only then can you receive all it has to offer you.

Big Answer:

How does the cross test those of us who claim the name of Christ?

The cross tests our level of maturity by assessing our allegiance.

The cross tests our level of humility by assessing our place of purpose.

The cross tests our level of service by assessing our foundation.

The cross tests our level of worship by assessing our unity in the Holy Spirit.

The cross tests our level of wisdom by assessing our devotion to Christ.

Timeless Truth:

The ground may be level at the foot of the cross, but Christ is found at its head.

If we stay only at the foot, focusing on the world and each other, we will never get beyond the basics of babyhood.

Only as we all gaze upon Christ will we overcome disunity and advance toward maturity.

Wake up! Look up! Strive to be increasingly found in him.

Remember the soil from which you came, but remember that if you want to pass the test with honors, you must advance toward the head of the cross in Christ and with Christ.

This happens for our own good and the good of the church when:

          Our allegiance is first of all to Christ rather than men.

          Our place of purpose is to humbly serve Christ in concert with others.

          Our foundation of service is for Christ's glory rather than our own.

          Our worship is unhindered in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

          Our wisdom is found only in devotion to Christ through whom all things come.

Only as each of us finds his unity with Christ will we find increasing unity with each other.

The crucible of the cross is the continuing test of our unity.

It is the eternal flame that attracts us, melts us together, and tests the purity of our devotion to our Champion.

May the blood of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit purge us of all impurity – of every form of divisivenss -

“18  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIVUS)

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