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The Confidence of the Cross

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ATTENTION

Why is it so hard to get the “witnessing” thing right? You may have tried a few of those techniques before only to get the same result: embarrassment, rejection, failure.

NEED

We struggle so much, I believe, largely because of our misunderstanding. We hold the gospel as a cultural story, kind of like George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. It’s a story of history that we take to be true, and we have connected with it at some level, but we’ve never really grasped its importance and its real underlying meaning. So we talk about the cross without much passion, just relaying dead truth that we say we believe but which we aren’t very passionate about. No wonder we fail.

And, because we fail, we subtly begin to wonder if we’ve got it right after all. Like some government program which promises a lot and delivers a little, our approach to the cross often seems disappointing and we can, despite what the preacher may tells us, begin to doubt it’s effectiveness. We lipservice our commitment, but the truth is if someone asked us about our salvation and we were very honest, we’d have to reply: “I think I believe it, but I’m not very excited about it.”

BACKGROUND:

Contrast that sentiment with what the Apostle Paul tells us in our text. He says in Romans 1:16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Paul didn’t have the “blahs” about the gospel. He was excited about the good news! He was enthralled with the cross. He says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ . . .” Hey! He knew the opinion of the Greeks. He’s the one who wrote 1 Cor 1:22. He knew they thought the gospel was foolish. He knew the opinion of the Jew. He knew they thought the gospel was embarrassing! Why, then, was he so shameless? Why was he not ashamed of the gospel? How could he be so confident?

You see, we need to answer that question because it applies to you and me. We understand that, ultimately, all of what we need is found in the cross of Christ. We understand that if we ever get to heaven, it will be through the finished work of Christ, but so often we are so ambivalent about it. How can we capture his excitement? How can we be confident in the cross?

Well, in the first place, we can be confident in the cross when we understand:

DIV 1: WHAT IT PROVIDES

EXPLANATION

Paul tells us that he is not ashamed of the gospel in v 16, then in v 17, he gives us the reason. He says, “For in it” (that is in the gospel) “the righteousness of God is reavealed.” The term “righteousness” involves two concepts in this verse. In the first place, the righteousness that is revealed is an imputed righteous.

The scene is one of a courtroom. You were, or you currently are, a sinner. You stand guilty before God Who is your all-powerful, all-knowing Judge. All the sins you’ve ever committed are read before Him. There was the time you cheated on that test; there was the time you cheated on your wife and she never found out about it; there was the time you lied to your parents about what you were doing the night before. One by one, those sins are read and God, your righteous judge, with a look of Holy Wrath on His face is about to thunder out your judgement, when Jesus, with scar-stripped back and nail-pierced hands steps to the bench and says to God, the Judge. “He belongs to me! I paid His debt and I give Him my righteousness!” And God the righteous judge brings down the gavel and says with joy, I declare you “Not guilty!”

You and I, when we come to the cross, receive a new position: Our debt is paid by Jesus, and we receive His righteousness.

APPLICATION:

In chapter 5 of this same book Paul tells us that “when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. The death of Crhsit came in the timing and the providence of God. We did not deserve it. We could not have hastened or retarded it. We can’t even control it. All we can do is receive it. And, if you are here today apart from Christ, that is exactly what you need: You need to receive His righteousness. You need to be declared righteous.

Have you been? Have you ever been declared righteous by God. You can try to work up goodness within you, and you might succeed in being better than me. You might succeed in being better than most, or, as the world views it, you might even be the best person who ever lived. But, apart from Christ, you will never be good enough. Why not? Because the Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

ILLUSTRATION

I read of one person’s visit to Rwanda. Rwanda is the country in which so many people have recently been killed over religion. When this person went, they said they went looking for monsters. Not the kind that devours New York City in some “b” movie. They said that they had begun to imagine, after hearing of the torture, rape, and murder going on in this country, that somehow it would be easy to spot the people who had perpetuated the killing. They naively assumed that they would be able to look in the faces of the people and tell if they had been involved.

What they found puzzled, confused, and ultimately, even frightened them. Instead of finding, leering, menacing people, they met men and women who looked and behaved a lot like them. They took care of their families, went to work, chatted with their neighbors, laughed, cried, prayed, and worshiped. Where were the monsters? Where were the evil doers? Where were the ones who had committed the most despicable acts? Slowly, with a deepening sense of dread, they understood the truth: There were no monsters in Rwanda, just people like you and me.

Before that trip, they said, “I can't tell you the number of times I reacted to evil I read about or witnessed by saying, ‘I would never do that!’ But thousands of years of bloody human history prove differently. Fifty-four years of my own history prove differently. We are all proficient in our ability to conceive, plan, and execute evil. Of course, we don't call it evil when we're the ones involved. But it is. As French writer La Rochefoucauld observed, "There is hardly a man clever enough to recognize the full extent of the evil he does." You might as well face the shameful truth: You and I, put in the right situation, will do absolutely anything. Given the right circumstances, I am capable of any sin. I've grown more afraid of the monster lurking in the dark corners of my soul than of any monster lurking in the dark corners of my house.

Listen, man at his best is potentially a genocidal murderer. The only possible way for him to become righteous is for God, because Jesus paid His debt on the cross, to give to Him the righteousness of Christ. And, if you’ve never received Christ this morning, it is this gift of righteousness that you need!

EXPLANATION

The cross of Christ provides a declaration, but that isn’t the only wonderful thing about this truth. You see, not only does the cross provide for us an imputed righteousness, it also provides for us power. The righteousness of God transforms the heart it enters and brings with it both the desire to obey and the power to obey. And it is this power that so many of us need today. It’s almost like, when we came to the cross, we only got half of the righteousness of Christ. We fully believe that we received the imputed righteousness of Christ, that is, since Jesus paid our sin debt, we are now clothed with His righteousness, but we see very little evidence of the righteousness showing up in our lives. So many believers seem to be satisfied with the imputed righteousness of Christ and unconcerned about His power to live in practical righteousness. But I must tell you, this is an all or nothing deal. Believers are not “half-transformed”. Every believer receives, not just the imputed righteousness of Christ, but, at the very least, a desire to live in the practical righteousness of Christ.

APPLICATION

And it is this power that you need, Christian. You’ve been living a life that mirrors the world around you. You may take the same drugs, leer at the same pornography, commit the same kind of adultery as the world. You’ve been losing your temper just like the unsaved man, stealing on the job just like the unsaved man, holding a grudge and taking revenge just like the unsaved man, abusing your wife or your child just like the unsaved man, and you are absolutely defeated. You have a desire to live right because you really did get saved when you prayed that time, but you are struggling with sin in your life. I want to tell you, you need the power of God’s practical righteousness that comes from a close encounter with the cross. It is the power of the cross that overcomes addictions in our lives; It is the power of the cross that frees us from enslavement to adultery; it is the power fo the cross that allows us to let go of that grudge that plagues us and the anger that overwhelms us. It is the power of the cross that cuts the cords of depression and releases us from the prison of unforgiveness. It is the power of the cross, and, quite frankly only the power of the cross can bring true freedom.

ILLUSTRATION

There are some secular organizations that are just giving up. They are charged to help people out of bondage, but, apart from the gospel, they are finding it impossible, so they are just giving up. That’s what Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Services Center is doing. It's spending $11 million on permanent housing for homeless alcoholics.

Seattle taxpayers were fed up with spending $50,000 per alcoholic, every year, on recovery programs, prison, and emergency room visits. The solution is 1811 Eastlake, a housing complex that accommodates 75 alcoholics. The residents are allowed to drink all they want, and they don't have to be in a recovery program—as long as they're off the streets.

Bill Hobson, the program's executive director, believes most alcoholics can't change. "Once you're an alcoholic, you're always an alcoholic," he says, citing the example of an alcoholic who got drunk 10 minutes after leaving a detox facility he had been in for two months. Hobson and his group believe some people are beyond hope and help.

Contrast Bill Hobson with George and Sarah Clarke. In 1880 Colonel Clarke who had been housing his alcoholic outreach in a Chicago storefront, found larger quarters, at what is now 67 East Van Buren Street, in a building vacated by the notorious Pacific Beer Garden. Later, Dwight L. Moody, fresh from evangelistic meetings in England, suggested that the Clarkes drop out the word Beer and add the word Mission, and call it the Pacific Garden Mission. And ever since 1880, Pacific Garden Mission has seen thousands of alcoholics changed. How? Well, this is how their mission statement for their radio program, Unshackled, states it:

Without Jesus Christ, we are all shackled by sin — by our wrong choices, disobedience and selfish motives. But God is at work, and the power of Christ sets us free of our bondage. We are... "UNSHACKLED!"

That’s what the cross does in our lives. That’s why we can be confident in the cross. It provides a new position and a new power. But we can also be confident in the cross when we understand:

DIV 2: WHO IT INCLUDES

EXPLANATION

Notice who v 16 says this powerful righteousness of the cross is for. That verse says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

The gospel of Christ, though it is exclusive in its explanation, is inclusive in its invitation. To a culture that loved to make distinctions between well-born and peasant; between man and woman; between Roman and non-Roman; between Jew and Gentile; between slave and free, the gospel sounds a note of complete acceptance, no matter what your background. It’s message is for every single person who believes.

APPLICATION - NC

It is that truth which gives you confidence in the gospel. When Jesus speaks of love, He doesn’t limit it to the beautiful, the wealthy or the well-placed. If He had limited His love, all of us would have lived in the fear that one day we might not measure up. Even though we’d been well-born, we might shame our family; even though we had wealth, we might lose it; even though we were born free, our own foolishness or someone elses greed might enslave us. If God had limited His love to a certain group of people, we’d live in fear. But God releases the power of the cross to every single person who simply believes. When Jesus permitted man to lift Him up on the cross, He was lifting every single person, no matter how “down and out” they might be. He was making it possible for the drug addict to come; He was making it possible for the homosexual to come; He was making it possible for the pediphile to find forgiveness; He was calling the harlot to repentance, and He, my friend, was calling you, no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. His blood was for you!

ILLUSTRATION

In 1863, during the Civil War, General "Stonewall" Jackson was accidentally shot by his own troops in 1863. His body was laid in the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, for two days before his funeral at his home Presbyterian Church in Lexington. Tens of thousands of mourning Confederate people crowded into the Capitol building to look on their beloved leader for the last time.

As the sun was setting on the last day of viewing, the marshal gave orders for the great doors of the Senate chamber to be closed. Just before the gates were finally shut, a rough looking Confederate veteran in tattered gray uniform pushed his way forward, tears running down his bearded cheeks.

The marshal in charge was about to turn this insistent old man away, when suddenly the old man lifted up the stump of his right arm, and cried out, "By this right arm, which I gave for my country, I demand the right of seeing my general one more time!" The governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia happened to be standing nearby and ordered the marshal to let the veteran in. He said, "He has won entrance by his wounds."

That’s what Christ did. His wounds won your entrance. He died for everyone who believes.

APPLICATION

Now we say we believe that, but sometimes it seems that God’s a lot more inclusive than we are. We hear God’s call to include everyone. We say, “but I’m not comfortable around people from other races or cultures;” God says, “It’s for everyone who believes”. We say, “I’m not comfortable around the wealth,” God says, “It’s for everyone who believes”; We say “But I don’t trust the homeless,” God says, “It’s for everyone who believes”. We say, “But I don’t feel safe around the criminal,” God says, “It’s for everyone who believes.” Church member, have you gotten your heart around the inclusiveness of the cross? It’s for everyone who believes.

ILLUSTRATION

On that tragic morning of September 11, 2001, The Brooklyn Tabernacle lost four of its members. One victim was a police officer. The officer's funeral was held at the church building, and Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, had been asked to share a few thoughts. In his book You Were Made for More, Jim Cymbala, pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, records what the mayor shared with the audience that morning:

"You know people, I've learned something through all this. Let me see if I can express it to you. When everybody was fleeing that building, and the cops and the firefighters and the EMS people were heading up into it, do you think any of them said, 'I wonder how many blacks are up there for us to save? I wonder what percentage are whites up here? How many Jews are there? Let's see—are these people making $400,000 a year, or $24,000, or—?'

"No, when you're saving lives, they're all precious. And that's how we're supposed to live all the time. How would you want the cops to treat you if you were on the seventy-fifth floor that day? Would you want them to say, 'Excuse me, but I've got to get the bosses out first'? Not exactly.

I confess I haven't always lived this way. But I'm convinced that God wants us to do it. He wants us to value every human life the way he does."

The words of the mayor moved everyone who had gathered that day for the funeral. Cymbala concludes:

"I sat there thinking, My goodness, the mayor is preaching a truth that has eluded so many of our churches throughout New York and the country! He may have stood for other policies that I could not agree with, but on that day, he was right on the mark. The truth of what he said penetrated my heart.

The world you and I live in is falling apart before our eyes. We are God's only representatives on the planet and simply cannot take time to pick and choose who needs help. They all need help. They all need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. They all need to be rescued from the horror of an eternity apart from God

DIV 3 WHAT IT MOTIVATES

EXPLANATION

The cross motivates two responses that are mentioned in these verses. The first is faith which is clear in verse 16. It is for everyone who believes. That faith is further revealed in v 17 although there is some disagreement about what the verse means when it says, For in it a righteousness from God is revealed from faith to faith . . . Actually, the word translated “faith” here is the same word that can also be translated, “faithfulness.” From what I have studied I think what Paul is saying here could best be stated in English, For in it a righteousness from God is revealed from faithfulness to faith. In other words, it is God’s faithfulness to his promises and to His covenant which inspires within me the response of faith. I am motivated to have faith by His faithfulness.

And that response of faith is not some dead lipservice or mental assent. The faith that God’s faithfulness inspires is active. It calls us, just like Abraham, to get up out of the place we’re living in spiritually speaking, and follow Christ. And it is a continuing faith. To all who believe is in the present tense. It speaks not of those who just believe at some point in time in the past, but of those who blieve and go on believing. Those who believe are those whose life is characterized by a trustful acceptance of and commitment to the gospel which is God’s power of salvation. This gospel motivates an active continuing faith.

But it also motivates something else. Verse 16 begins with Paul saying, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Now as he said that, I think he fully realized how countercultural that gospel was. From what we studied the last couple of weeks, we understand that the culture Paul lived in considered the idea of cross to be absolutely weak foolishness. Yet Paul here says that he is not ashamed! How was he able to say that?

Simple: He fully understood the power of this cross He preached and he was willing to tell others about it. He did it without apology. He didn’t mumble when he said he was a Christian. He didn’t back down when the world told him he was irrelevant. He didn’t nervously clear his throat when the Greeks laughed at him or the Jews turned up their noses. He was not ashamed!

ILLUSTRATION

He was kind of like Paul Vischer. Paul is the co-creator of these characters you see on the screen. If you don’t know who they are, I guarantee you, your kids do. It’s the Veggie Tales. Paul, the creator of these characters, was deeply disappointed some time ago. While nutritionists tell you that you should never microwave your vegetables, because doing so removes all the nutritional value, apparently, nobody explained that to the television executives at NBC. The network added Veggie Tales—a popular and thoroughly Christian cartoon—to its Saturday morning lineup in 2006. But Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber got nuked, as many of the pertinent references to God and Scripture were deleted from each episode.

Initially, NBC stated that the cuts were simply a way to fit each episode into a tight, 23-minute slot. But as Christians began to investigate, it soon became clear that there was more to the story. After being pressured from several organizations to explain its leeching of biblical content, NBC released the following statement: "NBC is committed to the positive messages and universal values of VeggieTales. Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view."

Phil Vischer, the co-creator of Veggie Tales, expressed deep disappointment in the edits. "It's a mistake to pitch VeggieTales as just values," he said, "because fundamentally it's about God." Bob Bozell, the president of Parents Television Council and the Media Research Center, was also disappointed. He said, "Today, no one in network TV fears what the children are watching—unless it makes them think about God."

APPLICATION

That’s our culture, ladies and gentlemen, and if we are not careful, we will be tempted to soft-pedal the cross. We’ll turn it into a message of platitudes and leech away its power. But the power of Christianity cannot be found in its morality, however good it may be; the power of Christianity is not found in its history, no matter your opinion of it; the power of Christianity is not found in its social justice, although it was Christianity that led to the equalization of women, the destruction of slavery, and production of the middle class. The power of Christianity is found in one place and one place only: The cross.

So, our job is to just keep it simple. We’ve got one job: It’s not to build a large church; it’s not to impress the community with our community involvement; it’s not to be known as the most culturally chic place in town; it’s not to be on the cutting edge of societal change. It is to preach a simple message with clarity and confidence. It is to be unashamed of the gospel.

VISUALIZATION

A little boy named Austin wasn’t ashamed. In the fall of 2005, 9-year-old Austin had his tonsils removed. Before the surgery, an anesthesiologist came in to start an IV. He was wearing a cool surgical cap covered in colorful frogs. Austin loved that "frog hat." When the doctor started to leave, Austin called out, "Hey, wait."

The doctor turned. "Yeah, buddy, what do you need?"

"Do you go to church?"

"No," the doctor admitted. "I know I probably should, but I don't."

Austin then asked, "Well, are you saved?"

Chuckling nervously, the doctor said: "Nope. But after talking to you, maybe it's something I should consider."

Pleased with his response, Austin answered, "Well you should, 'cause Jesus is great!"

"I'm sure he is, little guy," the doctor said, and quickly made his exit.

When Austin's surgery was finished, the anesthesiologist came into the waiting room to talk Austin’s mother. He said the surgery went well, then said, "Mrs. Blessit, I don't usually come down and talk to the parents after a surgery, but I just had to tell you what your son did."

Austin’s mother thought, Oh boy! What did that little rascal do now? The doctor explained that he'd just put the mask on Austin when my son signaled that he needed to say something. When the doctor removed the mask, Austin blurted, "Wait a minute, we have to pray!" The doctor told him to go ahead, and Austin prayed: "Dear Lord, please let all the doctors and nurses have a good day. And Jesus, please let the doctor with the frog hat get saved and start going to church. Amen."

The doctor admitted that this had touched him. "I was so sure he would pray that his surgery went well," he explained. "He didn't even mention his surgery. He prayed for me! Mrs. Blessit, I had to come down and let you know what a great little guy you have."

A few minutes later, a nurse came to take Austin’s mother to post-op. She had a big smile on her face as we walked to the elevator. "There's something you should know," she said. "Some of the other nurses and I have been witnessing to and praying for that doctor for a long time. After your son's surgery, he tracked a few of us down to tell us about Austin's prayer. He said, 'Well girls, you got me. If that little boy could pray for me when he was about to have surgery, then I think maybe I need his Jesus, too.'

One little boy, unashamed of the cross, broke through to a sophisticated, intellectual surgeon. That’s the power of the cross! I want you to know, today, you can trust the cross. You can trust it because of what it provides; you can trust it because of who it includes; and you can trust it because of what it motivates.

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