The Wonder of the Cross: my 2022 Good Friday message

A few people asked me if I would post my message from yesterday’s Good Friday services at Eastbrook, so here it is. The message was based out of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For 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.”


“Oh the cross…what You’ve done…It was more than enough…Oh the cross…what You’ve done…the power of Your blood was more than enough.” Those are the striking words we’ve just sung together.

In a letter to early Christians in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes these striking words: 

“For 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 Cor 1:18)

How can it be that this message – this gospel – can simultaneously be foolishness to one group and simultaneously reflect God’s power to another group? How can it be that on the one hand some people discount the message of the Cross as utter stupidity (the Greek is the same root word from which we derive our word “moron”) while on the other hand other people would describe it as the wisdom of God? 

I believe it is both puzzling and somewhat understandable. Let me lead us today in a reflection on five aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus which could be seen as utter foolishness and yet reveal the power and wisdom of God.

First, in His incarnation, which leads to the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah took on human flesh so that God might restore broken humanity from the inside out, bringing us back to God.

The insurmountable gap between a holy God and a sinful humanity could not be crossed from the human side. It required God’s initiative. Not only did it require God’s initiative, but God took initiative by doing something that may seem utterly shocking and incomprehensible. God entered human experience and life to bring human life back from the inside. God took on human flesh and bone and, in a sense, lived in our skin. God entered the everyday aspects of flesh-bound human experience. As Eugene Peterson captures it in The Message, “The Word [that’s Jesus] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Jesus lived a perfect human life within the flesh. He was not an alien being in our midst, but became one of us, to bring our everyday flesh-bound human experience back to God. Our everyday lives are made sacred with God because Jesus lived an everyday life for God, too.

Second, in the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah died under sin’s power that we might be set free from sin’s power.

Since the time of Adam and Eve, humanity has been caught under the power and influence of sin. It is something we see and experience in the world around us: the violence of one person against another, injustice and prejudice that pit one group against another, the misuse of money that enriches some at the expense of others, the tendency of nations toward war, and so much more. We see and experience that also in ourselves: the way we desire things we shouldn’t have while ignoring the gifts right in front of us, the lies we tell, both big and small, the cycles of addiction we cannot seem to get free from, the hurts some inflict on us that warp our thinking and the hurts we inflict on others that do the same to them. We are, as it were, trapped in a prison of sin. To remove someone from prison, you can send a message that they are free, but eventually someone must come and open the door. Someone must come into the prison to liberate the captives. And this is exactly what Jesus did.

Although it may seem strange or foolish to say that Jesus must die for our sins, Jesus could not deal with sin partially. He had to take the full effects of our captivity upon Himself. And if we, as human beings, are trapped in an endless imprisonment of sin that is not only a life sentence, but also a death sentence… 
Well, Jesus must take that death sentence for us. And so, He enters the prison of sin, takes the death sentence due us, and through the crucifixion and resurrection sets us free from a prison we could never escape from. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Third, in the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah was beaten and torn that we might be healed and whole in God.

“How could it be,” some might say, “that God would not only enter our human experience and then be beaten and torn for us? If God was powerful, He would not allow such a thing to happen.” Yes, this seems far-fetched, perhaps even like a form of insanity, but God knows this is the only way. If broken human lives are going to be made whole, it requires more than a surgeon. If broken humanity is going to be made right, it requires more than someone watching from the outside and giving advice. In fact, it takes someone fully living life with God from the inside. Otherwise, human beings might always say, “No, it is not possible for meto be whole. No, it is not possible for me to be healed. No, it is not possible for me to be made right.” 

When a budding athlete wants to know how to excel at their sport, they look to those who have gone before them and have excelled. When a writer wants to know how to do their best at their craft, they look to those who have gone before and have mastered it. So, too, if we want to know how to live whole and healed in God, we need a picture of what that can look like, not in abstraction, but in flesh and bone. Jesus walks within human flesh and bone so that we see what it looks like and know, by God’s power, what is possible “Yes, we can be healed in Christ. Yes, we can be whole in God. Yes, things can be made right through Christ.” As Isaiah the prophet tells us:

“The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5b). 

Fourth, in the crucifixion, Jesus was mocked and vulnerably exposed that we might receive a new identity and restored dignity with God.

One of the most apparently foolish things to claim about Jesus is that He was God, but also that He was vulnerable on earth. In one sense, we know that God is vulnerable all the time. People say all sorts of things about God in the abstract and seem to get away with it. Some people bless God, but others curse Him. Some people say wonderful things about God, while others say terrible things about Him. Amazingly, God seems to handle all that and we don’t think much about it.

But on the Cross Jesus takes on another level of vulnerability. He is terribly mocked by several voices. He is derisively mocked as the Messiah. He is sarcastically mocked as the Son of God. He is mocked in relation to His teaching. He is mocked in relation to His claims to power. 

Beyond the vulnerability of mocking, on the Cross Jesus becomes vulnerable in an even more unimaginable way. I know you may have seen all sorts of artistic renditions of Jesus’ crucifixion, but I hope you don’t mind me telling you that Jesus was stripped absolutely naked to be crucified. Nakedness is the epitome of vulnerability and exposure. And here is Jesus, affixed to a cross in public view, absolutely vulnerable and mocked.

Why would God do this? It may seem foolish. Yet God enters human vulnerability so that no matter what sorts of mocking or exposure we have endured, no matter how vulnerable we have been in our lives, God has been there too. The God of the universe entered that experience to breathe the spiritual breath of His Holy Spirit upon us there. He gives us a new identity as sons and daughters of the most High God, and says that we—mocked, exposed, vulnerable—are worthy of dignity from God. He went to great lengths to show us this. 

Fifth, in the crucifixion and His death, Jesus the Messiah endured pain and separation from God that we might experience the love of belonging with God. 

You may remember that at one point in His crucifixion, Jesus cried aloud, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus experienced real physical pain, but that pain was surpassed by the rending Jesus experienced in relationship with His Father. This is the Father that Jesus had described at one point with this phrase: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). But on the Cross, Jesus experienced a chasm between Himself and the Father as He took our sin, our pains, our wounds, our mocking, our vulnerability, and more on Himself. 

“How can this even happen? What foolishness is this?”, some might way. We respond, “Only God could do such a thing.” We were lost, like the prodigal son, in a far country but Jesus the true Son came in search of us to bring us back to God. He experienced the agonizing pain of separation from God yet did so that we might find belonging and love in God. As we read in one of Paul’s letters, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

So, ponder with me the wonder of the crucified Jesus. Some may say such a message at the heart of our faith is foolishness, but we say it is the power of God. Or, as the Apostle Paul continues: 

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

Thank God for His grace amidst all our false and failed sacrifices that have led Jesus to this Cross. 

And as we savor the gift of salvation won for us at the Cross, may we thank God for Jesus, the real sacrifice, on this Good Friday.

Cruciform Priorities: Living Like Apostles Today

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)

Jesus wants these first apostles to have their priorities set ahead of time about Him. When Matthew writes this Gospel, the reality of persecution of early Christians was real. Like Daniel’s friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—the early followers of Jesus regularly had to decide if they were going to hold to their faith in God publicly or not. Would they burn incense to the Roman Emperor and confess Caesar as Lord or would they refrain from this and confess Jesus as Lord? They may not have been thrown into a fiery furnace, but many early Christians were thrown to the beasts in gladiatorial coliseums.

In a culture increasingly hostile toward Jesus and Christianity, what about us? Even as Christians may be mocked or ridiculed, are we willing still to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?

Jesus says those who acknowledge Him before others, He will acknowledge before God in the heavenly throne room. But whoever disowns Jesus publicly in our lives will be disowned by Jesus before the Father. These are such strong words here. What are we to do with them when we fail in our dedication?

Biblical scholar R. T. France offers Peter as a stark example of disowning Jesus under pressure. Peter felt the weight of his denial, but he also was rehabilitated by Jesus after his denial.

Peter’s denial was a failure along the line of his life which was lived under the lordship of Jesus. The overall direction of his life was about acknowledging Jesus as Lord. In fact, church tradition tells us that Peter was martyred for his faith. So, too, with us. The overall direction of our lives makes the difference here. We can ask ourselves: am I steadily walking with Jesus and acknowledging Him before others, or have I turned my back upon Him? 

It’s not only in relation to the anonymous public and crowd that Jesus calls for priority, but also closer to Him in our family and friend relationships. While we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, there are times when we must make a decision, even between following Jesus and following our families.

When a young man in another part of the world where persecution of Christians is normal became a follower of Jesus, he knew it would come at the cost of his family rejecting him. This is exactly what they did, and he was cast out upon the streets to survive. God has been faithful, but his path of following Jesus has been arduous.

This text is so relevant for us today, even in the wake of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Although this may sound strange, the church of Jesus Christ is not just about building happy families. Of course, we hope that does happen, but, even more importantly, we exist to develop strong disciples in Jesus Christ. When everything is put under the lordship of Christ, then our family relationships, our friendships, and all other things find their right place and priority in relation to Jesus.

We may have moments when our family members will look down on us or not invite us to things because of our commitment to Christ. We may have friends who will turn away from us, labeling us as one of the problems in our society or seeing us as close-minded because of our commitment to the teaching of Christ. While we don’t want to unnecessarily put stumbling blocks in peoples’ way by being stubborn, self-righteous, or foolish, we will have moments when we encounter a strong conflict of priorities. And the question will arise, “Do we love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?”

All of this sets up one of the most memorable and significant statements of Jesus about following him as disciples. Let me read it again.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)

Our priority as disciples must be to live a cruciform life; a life that is conformed to the Cross of Christ. The cross was a symbol of humiliation and execution, but through Christ we realize that this Cross is also the symbol of life and love. Here we have the most amazing picture of what it looks like to be a disciple. We yield all our life to God, we let go of our own power and self-rule, and we die to ourselves. Simultaneously, the Cross is liberation from sin and the darkness of an upside-down world. It is the doorway into real life with God through the loving embrace of Christ. What is it worth to us to pursue Jesus?

Resurrection and Fear

After Jesus rose from the grave, the Apostle John records four meetings Jesus has with people. The first of these that I want to look at today is Jesus’ appearance in the locked room to His disciples. We read about it in this way:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. (John 20:19-20)

There are three major things happening as Jesus enters this story bringing resurrection power in the midst of fear.

Jesus Comes Into and Stands Within Our Fears

It seemed like the locked room would not be penetrated by anything good or evil. The disciples were holding the door closed out of fear from others and fears circulating in their own minds and hearts. But Jesus came through the locked door and entered into their midst. No lock could hold Him out – neither could any fear hold Him out – because of His resurrection power.Read More »

Good Friday 2021: The Real Sacrifice of Christ

Join with us for worship this Good Friday at Eastbrook Church as we remember Christ’s crucifixion and sacrifice with in-person and streamed worship services. We will have two identical services at 12 pm and 7 pm. RSVP for in-person services, or join us online at Eastbrook at Home. You can also download a companion “Good Friday at Home Experience Guide” put together by the Eastbrook Church staff.

The basis for our engagement with Jesus’ passion this year is through Matthew’s Gospel, taking us to Matthew 26:31-27:66 for Good Friday.

The Humility of Christ in the Cross and the Manger

I came across this excerpt from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon that connected so well with what I was preaching on in a recent sermon, “Mighty God,” that it caught my attention. Spurgeon was a 19th century preacher in London whose deep and wide-ranging ministry earned him the name “the prince of preachers.” This excerpt is taken from a sermon entitled “No Room for Christ at the Inn” preached December 21, 1862.

The manger and the cross standing at the two extremities of the Saviour’s earthly life seem most fit and congruous the one to the other. He is to wear through life a peasant’s garb; he is to associate with fishermen; the lowly are to be his disciples; the cold mountains are often to be his only bed; he is to say, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head;” nothing, therefore, could be more fitting than that in his season of humiliation, when he laid aside all his glory, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and condescended even to the meanest estate, he should be laid in a manger…

The King of Men who was born in Bethlehem, was not exempted in his infancy from the common calamities of the poor, nay, his lot was even worse than theirs. I think I hear the shepherds comment on the manger-birth, “Ah!” said one to his fellow, “then he will not be like Herod the tyrant; he will remember the manger and feel for the poor; poor helpless infant, I feel a love for him even now, what miserable accommodation this cold world yields its Saviour; it is not a Caesar that is born to-day; he will never trample down our fields with his armies, or slaughter our flocks for his courtiers, he will be the poor man’s friend, the people’s monarch ; according to the words of our shepherd-king, he shall judge the poor of the people; he shall save the children of the needy.” Surely the shepherds, and such as they — the poor of the earth, perceived at once that here was the plebeian king; noble in descent, but still as the Lord hath called him, “one chosen out of the people.” Great Prince of Peace! the manger was thy royal cradle! Therein wast thou presented to all nations as Prince of our race, before whose presence there is neither barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but thou art Lord of all. Kings, your gold and silver would have been lavished on him if ye had known the Lord of Glory, but inasmuch as ye knew him not he was declared with demonstration to be a leader and a witness to the people. The things which are not, under him shall bring to nought the things that are, and the things that are despised which God hath chosen, shall under his leadership break in pieces the might, and pride, and majesty of human grandeur.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “No Room for Christ in the Inn,” December 21, 1862.