THE VICTORY OF THE CROSS

On a journey to Damascus, in Syria; Saul (later to be named Paul) got stopped in his tracks by a vision of Christ; converted to the Christian faith; and given a very important ministry to undertake.
 
Because Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians; and even have them killed, because of their faith; we can see that Christ calls people to follow, and serve, him, not only when their hearts and minds are open to him; but also when they appear to be firmly closed against him.
 
In calling Paul to his service, the Lord gave him both a great duty, and a great problem. The duty was to preach that, at the cross, Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world; and that, through him; God offered new life and new beginnings.
 
The problem was how to preach such a message; with some hope of getting through, to minds that were so firm-set in their thinking, as to be almost unreachable.
 
There were two particular groups that Paul had to reach out to: the Jews, and the Greeks. Each, for its own stubborn reasons, was unwilling to listen, yet; in the power of God's Spirit; Paul did manage to get through to many people.
 
The Jews’ attitude of mind was: ‘Show me a sign; a confirming proof; then I will consider whether or not to believe what you say’.
 
The other, much larger group, was made up of people deeply influenced by ancient Greek thinking; with its powerful emphasis on seeking after wisdom. Their attitude of mind was: ‘Help me to understand something; and you have a fair chance of persuading me to believe it'.
 
In the midst of such thinking, Paul had to take the message; of God's redeeming love, in Christ; to people unwilling to change their ways. He had to preach the uncompromising 'Word' of God, which said ...
 
…’Neither the way of the Jews, who demand proof, first; nor the way of the Greeks, who demand understanding, before believing; but the Way of Faith, in what Christ has done for the world, at the cross; a faith that makes no demands, but that thankfully accepts what is given’.
 
At the time when Paul was writing; the Jews were scattered all over the Middle East; and some had gone to live in the town of Corinth, in Greece.
 
Quite naturally, they had taken their: ‘Give me proof and I might believe’, thinking with them. For them, Jesus was not the Messiah that they had been looking for. They probably saw him, as being no more than the now-dead leader of a lost cause.
 
For them, the cross represented a failure which could not be made good; a helplessness that could never take new strength; and a death from which there could be no return.
 
Therefore, they asked: ‘How can such an unlovely thing as an executioners' cross, be a sign from God?' For most of them, any teaching about a 'victory' coming out of such a death; was heresy - something not to be listened to.
 
At the time when Paul was writing; much of the Middle East was influenced by Greek thought and culture; which taught that knowledge and wisdom was the only way forward for the thinking man or woman.
 
The attitude was that, first, you acquired knowledge; and then wisdom would teach you how to apply that knowledge. What you could understand, you could accept; and what you could accept; you might come to believe in…
 
…but how could you believe, in something which you could not accept, because it appeared to be beyond understanding; and to have no logical application? And there was Paul offering them, not the way of knowledge, but the way of the cross. No wonder most Greeks rejected his teaching.
 
Nevertheless, soldiers, merchants, diplomats and messengers; travelling throughout the ancient Middle East, and Southern Europe; told of miraculous events taking place at Jerusalem.
 
The Greeks, who prided themselves on their clear-headed, logical thinking, must have felt that such stories of the miraculous cut against what was acceptable; for most of them rejected what they heard.
 
So, the message of 'The Victory of the Cross' was offensive to the Jews; and held to be nonsense, by the Greeks; with both groups separating themselves from what God had planned for them ...
 
... and Paul had to try to find a way through, to their hearts and minds. He never did succeed on any great scale.
 
The problem was not solved then; nor did it fade away with the passage of time; for it remains today, as countless men and women close their minds, and close their lives, to the reality of God.
 
As heirs and servants of the Church, which Christ founded; we are also heirs of the same duty, and problem, that Paul had. How did he tackle things? What is today's Church, learning from his example?
 
Paul wasn't against 'signs' as such. After all, there was much that was miraculous, recorded in the Hebrew scriptures; and experienced in the recent ministry of Christ; and in the ongoing ministry of the apostles.
 
What Paul was against, was reliance upon such 'signs'; that attitude of: ‘What I see, I might approve of; and what I approve of, I might accept; and what I accept, I may choose to believe in’.
 
Although reliance upon 'signs', may appear to do with belief; it has a basic unbelief at its heart. It refuses to accept without enquiry into; the enquiry itself, usually demanding bigger and better 'signs', and proofs, with no eventual acceptance in view.
 
An example of this is found at John, chapter six. In the story of 'The Feeding of the 5,000'; the people who had been fed in that miracle, came back, the very next day, demanding more, and bigger, signs.
 
They said to Jesus: ‘Give us a miraculous sign; that we may believe. What will you do now, to prove yourself to us?’. Where lies faith in such an attitude? No wonder Paul was against reliance on signs.
 
Paul wasn't against the 'wisdom' that the Greeks loved, as such. After all, there was much wisdom in the Jewish scriptures, which Paul knew so well.
 
What he did object to, was the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge for its own sake; with no greater end in view. Greek philosophy did not tend to promote religious thought, life and spirituality.
 
Instead, their philosophy, even when wrapped up in religious language, was largely sceptical and cynical. Because salvation-linked faith was not central to Greek religion; they tended to look elsewhere for fulfilment; principally to increasing knowledge, as being the way forward.
 
They reckoned that if men and women studied things closely enough, they could build a system of knowledge, bit by bit; and so speculate their way to ultimate fulfilment. Because reliance upon wisdom, left almost no place at all for faith, Paul was against it.
 
However, much more important than the things that Paul was against, are the many great and powerful things that he was for.
 
Paul was for the loving way in which God had made new life, hope and blessing possible, for all people - through Jesus Christ.
 
The stubbornness of the ancient Jews and Greeks, did nothing to detract from the perfection and effectiveness of what God offered; but simply left them where they had put themselves; beyond the place where particular blessings in Christ, were being offered, and received.
 
Paul was for the cross. As an instrument of execution, it stood for extreme suffering and defeat. However, we believe that Christ overcame the power of death, and, by so doing; he transformed the cross from a symbol of death and defeat, into one of new life and hope.
 
As an instrument of execution, the cross remains as ugly as ever; but, as a symbol of God's redeeming love, the cross represents such great, life-giving truths as: Christ has paid the forfeit; and, through him, complete forgiveness is given, to those who truly repent and that new spiritual life is freely offered, and fully given, to those who open their lives to God, through Jesus. No wonder Paul was for the cross.
 
Paul's language is not always easily understood. Nevertheless, when he wrote of Christ, he always wrote with infectious enthusiasm. It may be said that today's Christians need a renewed enthusiasm for Christ…out of which may grow a deeper spirituality; a greater effectiveness in Christian witness.
 
Paul was for the people whom Christ loved, and had died for. He wrote that he took pride and joy in many of them, and that he was confident that God would continue to bless them. (2.Cor.7: 2 ff).
 
Paul was for all of the best things that they needed and desired; such as forgiveness; acceptance, and place and purpose in God's great scheme of things; and tried to make certain that they clearly understood, that all good things were theirs, only when they accepted God’s way, through Christ.
 
Although the ancient Jews insisted upon seeing is believing; and the Greeks insisted on understanding leads to acceptance and belief; Paul knew that neither way truly satisfied the deepest needs of human life.
 
So, he consistently offered them God's way of doing things; the Way of Faith in Jesus Christ; through the victory that he won at the cross.
 
Today, there are great numbers of 'sign-seekers' and 'wisdom-seekers' who, despite apparent stubbornness, are capable of being reached, and touched in the deep places of their lives.
 
This 'reaching' and 'touching' is best effected, not by arguing that 'signs' and 'wisdom' are not the way forward; but, instead, through an observable and attractive enthusiasm for Christ', that encourages them onward in the spiritual adventure.
 
Paul once wrote: 'We are God's fellow workers’ (I.Cor.3:9) and so we are: but never more so, than when we offer Christ and his gospel of peace to other; for the true Victory of the Cross’, is to be found in lives made new, and brought to fulfilment, in the love of Jesus. Amen.
 
his way to Damascus to arrest Christians; and even have them killed, because of their faith; we can see that Christ calls people to follow, and serve, him, not only when their hearts and minds are open to him; but also when they appear to be firmly closed against him.
 
In calling Paul to his service, the Lord gave him both a great duty, and a great problem. The duty was to preach that, at the cross, Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world; and that, through him; God offered new life and new beginnings.
 
The problem was how to preach such a message; with some hope of getting through, to minds that were so firm-set in their thinking, as to be almost unreachable.
 
There were two particular groups that Paul had to reach out to: the Jews, and the Greeks. Each, for its own stubborn reasons, was unwilling to listen, yet; in the power of God's Spirit; Paul did manage to get through to many people.
 
The Jews’ attitude of mind was: ‘Show me a sign; a confirming proof; then I will consider whether or not to believe what you say’.
 
The other, much larger group, was made up of people deeply influenced by ancient Greek thinking; with its powerful emphasis on seeking after wisdom. Their attitude of mind was: ‘Help me to understand something; and you have a fair chance of persuading me to believe it'.
 
In the midst of such thinking, Paul had to take the message; of God's redeeming love, in Christ; to people unwilling to change their ways. He had to preach the uncompromising 'Word' of God, which said ...
 
…’Neither the way of the Jews, who demand proof, first; nor the way of the Greeks, who demand understanding, before believing; but the Way of Faith, in what Christ has done for the world, at the cross; a faith that makes no demands, but that thankfully accepts what is given’.
 
At the time when Paul was writing; the Jews were scattered all over the Middle East; and some had gone to live in the town of Corinth, in Greece.
 
Quite naturally, they had taken their: ‘Give me proof and I might believe’, thinking with them. For them, Jesus was not the Messiah that they had been looking for. They probably saw him, as being no more than the now-dead leader of a lost cause.
 
For them, the cross represented a failure which could not be made good; a helplessness that could never take new strength; and a death from which there could be no return.
 
Therefore, they asked: ‘How can such an unlovely thing as an executioners' cross, be a sign from God?' For most of them, any teaching about a 'victory' coming out of such a death; was heresy - something not to be listened to.
 
At the time when Paul was writing; much of the Middle East was influenced by Greek thought and culture; which taught that knowledge and wisdom was the only way forward for the thinking man or woman.
 
The attitude was that, first, you acquired knowledge; and then wisdom would teach you how to apply that knowledge. What you could understand, you could accept; and what you could accept; you might come to believe in…
 
…but how could you believe, in something which you could not accept, because it appeared to be beyond understanding; and to have no logical application? And there was Paul offering them, not the way of knowledge, but the way of the cross. No wonder most Greeks rejected his teaching.
 
Nevertheless, soldiers, merchants, diplomats and messengers; travelling throughout the ancient Middle East, and Southern Europe; told of miraculous events taking place at Jerusalem.
 
The Greeks, who prided themselves on their clear-headed, logical thinking, must have felt that such stories of the miraculous cut against what was acceptable; for most of them rejected what they heard.
 
So, the message of 'The Victory of the Cross' was offensive to the Jews; and held to be nonsense, by the Greeks; with both groups separating themselves from what God had planned for them ...
 
... and Paul had to try to find a way through, to their hearts and minds. He never did succeed on any great scale.
 
The problem was not solved then; nor did it fade away with the passage of time; for it remains today, as countless men and women close their minds, and close their lives, to the reality of God.
 
As heirs and servants of the Church, which Christ founded; we are also heirs of the same duty, and problem, that Paul had. How did he tackle things? What is today's Church, learning from his example?
 
Paul wasn't against 'signs' as such. After all, there was much that was miraculous, recorded in the Hebrew scriptures; and experienced in the recent ministry of Christ; and in the ongoing ministry of the apostles.
 
What Paul was against, was reliance upon such 'signs'; that attitude of: ‘What I see, I might approve of; and what I approve of, I might accept; and what I accept, I may choose to believe in’.
 
Although reliance upon 'signs', may appear to do with belief; it has a basic unbelief at its heart. It refuses to accept without enquiry into; the enquiry itself, usually demanding bigger and better 'signs', and proofs, with no eventual acceptance in view.
 
An example of this is found at John, chapter six. In the story of 'The Feeding of the 5,000'; the people who had been fed in that miracle, came back, the very next day, demanding more, and bigger, signs.
 
They said to Jesus: ‘Give us a miraculous sign; that we may believe. What will you do now, to prove yourself to us?’. Where lies faith in such an attitude? No wonder Paul was against reliance on signs.
 
Paul wasn't against the 'wisdom' that the Greeks loved, as such. After all, there was much wisdom in the Jewish scriptures, which Paul knew so well.
 
What he did object to, was the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge for its own sake; with no greater end in view. Greek philosophy did not tend to promote religious thought, life and spirituality.
 
Instead, their philosophy, even when wrapped up in religious language, was largely sceptical and cynical. Because salvation-linked faith was not central to Greek religion; they tended to look elsewhere for fulfilment; principally to increasing knowledge, as being the way forward.
 
They reckoned that if men and women studied things closely enough, they could build a system of knowledge, bit by bit; and so speculate their way to ultimate fulfilment. Because reliance upon wisdom, left almost no place at all for faith, Paul was against it.
 
However, much more important than the things that Paul was against, are the many great and powerful things that he was for.
 
Paul was for the loving way in which God had made new life, hope and blessing possible, for all people - through Jesus Christ.
 
The stubbornness of the ancient Jews and Greeks, did nothing to detract from the perfection and effectiveness of what God offered; but simply left them where they had put themselves; beyond the place where particular blessings in Christ, were being offered, and received.
 
Paul was for the cross. As an instrument of execution, it stood for extreme suffering and defeat. However, we believe that Christ overcame the power of death, and, by so doing; he transformed the cross from a symbol of death and defeat, into one of new life and hope.
 
As an instrument of execution, the cross remains as ugly as ever; but, as a symbol of God's redeeming love, the cross represents such great, life-giving truths as: Christ has paid the forfeit; and, through him, complete forgiveness is given, to those who truly repent and that new spiritual life is freely offered, and fully given, to those who open their lives to God, through Jesus. No wonder Paul was for the cross.
 
Paul's language is not always easily understood. Nevertheless, when he wrote of Christ, he always wrote with infectious enthusiasm. It may be said that today's Christians need a renewed enthusiasm for Christ…out of which may grow a deeper spirituality; a greater effectiveness in Christian witness.
 
Paul was for the people whom Christ loved, and had died for. He wrote that he took pride and joy in many of them, and that he was confident that God would continue to bless them. (2.Cor.7: 2 ff).
 
Paul was for all of the best things that they needed and desired; such as forgiveness; acceptance, and place and purpose in God's great scheme of things; and tried to make certain that they clearly understood, that all good things were theirs, only when they accepted God’s way, through Christ.
 
Although the ancient Jews insisted upon seeing is believing; and the Greeks insisted on understanding leads to acceptance and belief; Paul knew that neither way truly satisfied the deepest needs of human life.
 
So, he consistently offered them God's way of doing things; the Way of Faith in Jesus Christ; through the victory that he won at the cross.
 
Today, there are great numbers of 'sign-seekers' and 'wisdom-seekers' who, despite apparent stubbornness, are capable of being reached, and touched in the deep places of their lives.
 
This 'reaching' and 'touching' is best effected, not by arguing that 'signs' and 'wisdom' are not the way forward; but, instead, through an observable and attractive enthusiasm for Christ', that encourages them onward in the spiritual adventure.
 
Paul once wrote: 'We are God's fellow workers’ (I.Cor.3:9) and so we are: but never more so, than when we offer Christ and his gospel of peace to other; for the true Victory of the Cross’, is to be found in lives made new, and brought to fulfilment, in the love of Jesus. Amen.