The Cross in Shadows

This is my message from our “Journey to the Cross” worship service on February 14, 2018. This begins a journey with the life of Joseph at Eastbrook Church throughout Lent both in our weekend sermon series and through a daily devotional.

 

Coventry Cathedral cross.jpg

In the book of Genesis, we read about the creation of the world, of the overwhelming flood in the time of Noah, and the life stories of the first fathers and mothers of our faith. When you read their stories, you quickly realize that there are many things we can hold up as strengths and more than a few things we see as weaknesses. Still, again and again, God uses their flawed human lives to display His strength, infusing His grace into their frailty, and shedding His light into the midst of the dark places in their lives and the world.

One of the most notable stories is that of Joseph. Joseph is the son of Jacob and Rachel, and the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah. In Joseph’s life, as told in Genesis, chapter 37-50, we not only see someone go through the ups and downs of life, but also develop a deeper life with God in the midst of it.

At times Joseph seems to bring suffering down upon himself, while at other times he endures unjust suffering. Throughout his story, he interacts with characters who are for him – like his father and the king of Egypt – and others who are against him – like his brothers and a woman who falsely accuses him. Throughout Joseph’s life, God is at work, sometimes readily visible and at other times apparently hidden.

Over these next six weeks, we are going to journey with Joseph in our weekend sermon series and through a daily devotional. As we walk with Joseph we will see again and again that God uses flawed Joseph to display God’s strength, that God infuses His grace into Joseph’s frailty, all the while shedding divine light into the midst of dark places.

Near the end of his life, Joseph responds to some of those who brought suffering upon him with words of great depth:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

It is good to consider this question: how do we become people who can speak like Joseph does there?

We must go on a journey to become people like that. It does not happen overnight. And so, tonight, we begin a journey with God. It is a journey where we invite God to take us – ordinary people, like Joseph – and shape His life into us more deeply. We recognize our frailty, our weaknesses, our dark places, and we ask God to do something fresh and new in us…and through us into the world.

This journey is a journey to the Cross of Jesus Christ. There, we are reminded that God is the kind of being who is always capable of bringing life, strength, and light out of what is broken, weak, and dark. At the cross we see both the greatest depths of human evil in brutality and the greatest capacity of human good in selfless love. Throughout it all, we see a deeper reality that God is bringing salvation for lost humanity, that He is weaving light into dark places, and that the shadows of the Cross are drenched with vibrant grace.

Jesus was the Messiah, but He was a Messiah who would suffer. The cross is the center point of the life and ministry of Jesus. He would experience abandonment. He would face brutal pain. Eventually, Jesus would die. He would enter into the darkest frailty of human suffering – death itself – so that light could irreparably invade the darkness with life. At the Cross, Jesus opened wide the pathway to life in the face of human sin, evil, and death.

E. Stanley Jones writes:

The Christian Church is founded on the cross. The cross is defeat and you cannot defeat defeat; you cannot break brokenness. It turns the defeat of Calvary into the Victory of Easter morning. Jesus didn’t bear the cross, he used it. And in this way opposition becomes opportunity. [1]

The cross is the center point of the life and ministry of Jesus, and it is the center point of our own lives. At the Cross, Jesus takes our frail, weak, sin-stained selves into His hands and transforms us. He sets us free from the power of evil, bringing us out of the realm of darkness and into the realm of God’s glorious light. At the Cross, Jesus liberates us from the power of death, triumphing over it in the resurrection so that He is now alive and we have hope of eternal life in Him.

At the Cross, Jesus opens the channel of forgiveness and grace, restoring our broken relationship through reconciliation with the Father.

As the Apostle Paul writes: “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

And so, we begin a journey to the Cross that prepares us for the joys of Easter by having a deeper experience of Jesus. This year, we do that by following the life of Joseph, intermingled with Jesus’ own journey to the Cross. Joseph gives us a glimpse of the reality that Jesus talked about as He prepared for the Cross and Resurrection: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Traditionally, this journey is called Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday, which is tonight, and carrying forward to Resurrection, or Easter, Sunday. Lent is shaped as a forty-day journey, echoing the forty-year journey of Israel to the Promised Land and Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness.

Lent aims to lead us into deeper engagement with God through prayerful reflection and reading of Scripture. So, we invite you to join in the journey of Lent through the daily devotional and Scripture reading which you can access through multiple channels:

  • the printed book,
  • a daily email,
  • the Eastbrook mobile app,
  • a digital download or
  • the blog

Join with us so that we might journey together with Joseph, learning how to grow with God in the midst of the ups and downs of life; learning how to develop a healthy theology of suffering that shapes our daily discipleship.

And as we do that, we will also live into what the writer of Hebrews says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

On November 14, 1940, the Cathedral in Coventry, England, was bombed during the course of the Second World War during an enemy air attack. Almost the entire building was destroyed, leaving only the tower, spire, the outer wall and a tomb standing. Following the bombing of the cathedral, a stonemason, Jock Forbes, saw two wooden beams lying amongst the ruins in the shape of a cross. He tied them together, and set them in place in what is today known as “the Charred Cross.” The words “Father Forgive” were inscribed on the wall behind the altar of the ruined buildings. Rather than sweeping away the ruins or rebuilding a replica of the former church, the leaders of the community took the courageous step to preserve the remains of the old Cathedral as a moving reminder of Christ’s message of reconciliation; that good can arise in the midst of evil, and that light can break into the darkness.

Today we mark that reality and join a journey with God through the shadows of the Cross into the Light of the Resurrection.. And mark it with us tonight in a special way by responding to the with two actions intended to express both our dependence upon and desire for Jesus Christ.

Panels – The first of these is that we will walk to one of the panels at the two stations at the front of the room and write our name or draw a cross, or both, on them. This is a simple way for us to express our need for God, and to reach out to Him by name. It is a basic expression by which we tell God and others that we want to journey toward the Cross, and that we choose to take up your cross. Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). there are also hand-washing stations for those who dirty their hands too much while handling the charcoal.

Communion – After doing that we will participate in communion. [read 1 Cor 11] Communion is our remembrance and encounter with Jesus’ journey to the crossroads. We reflect with sobriety and celebrate with gratitude the gift given in Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

May this be the beginning of a powerful experience of God in our lives. May we grasp again that God uses flawed people – like Joseph and like us – to display His strength, that God infuses His grace into our frailty, and that God sheds divine light into the midst of dark places.

 


[1] E. Stanley Jones, The Reconstruction of the Church, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), 123.

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