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The Transforming Power of the Cross

1 Corinthians 1:18-19

Jim Davis

On September 11, 2001 we probably witnessed the most earthshaking event since World War II as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. Aida Sheets sent me a web page link to some photos of our embassies around the world. The photos reveal how thousands around the world have brought flowers to the U. S. embassies around the world. They have lit candles and laid the flowers at the gates our embassies. This horrible event is being felt around the world. It has shaken the foundation of the world order of things.

I suspect that the ramifications of this event are far from over. It has cast a gloomy outlook upon our future and the future of the world. It has diminished any ideas we may have had about our invincibility. The scary part about all of this is that a dissident group from the weakest, poorest and most backward countries of the world has made the most sophisticated and seemingly invincible weaponry ever known to man look very inadequate. They have made us feel very vulnerable. God only knows where this type of warfare could end. It could change the face of the globe, as we know it today.

I am a military veteran of the Vietnam War era. It is encouraging to behold the patriotism of our country as citizens rally around the flag in prayer vigils. It has been decades since this country has seen such patriotism. When soldiers came back after overseas tours during the Vietnam War the flags those marching were waving were on fire. It seems as though many of those soldiers had to hide their uniforms and practically throw away their Purple Hearts. It is refreshing to see our national, yea international spirit.

A few years ago the highest courts in this land said that it was all right to burn the Stars and Stripes, despite all the wars that have been fought and won to keep Old Glory waving as the symbol of our land. Now those same individuals are waving Old Glory in the streets, as if their life depends on it.

But I must say that it seems somewhat hypocritical for the vast majority of the country to rally around the flagpole when many of them have fought for the right to burn the symbol of our land. It seems somewhat hypocritical to have prayer vigils around the flagpole on national television and ask for moments of silent prayer in public places when the majority of Americans seem to think prayer should be outlawed in public places because it is offensive to others.

I know that the philosophers and professors of our universities can explain why we have kept God out of our textbooks! They can tell us why we have taken God out of our schools! Why we are seeking to take "In God we trust" off of our coins! Why we have told him to stay out of our politics! Why we have taken God out of our choices! Why we have taken God out of our bedrooms! Why we have sought to take God's name out of our pledge of allegiance to the flag. I am sure in times such as these they are smart enough to tell us how we can rally around a flagpole in candlelight prayer vigils singing "GOD BLESS AMERICA" without being hypocrites. I can only wonder what God thinks about it all!!!

What security does the American dream give you, as you see its potential to turn into worst nightmare ever? This tragedy teaches us something about building our lives on something as flimsy as the whims of humanity.

As a Christian I am thankful that my security does not come from the world's changing opinions and attitudes however prevailing they may seem to be. My security comes from the plan of God. Paul writes, "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. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'" (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 NIV)

The Cross’ Power to Bring Repentance

Historically the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most earthshaking event since the beginning of the world. It remains the most earthshaking event in all of human history. It was there that God's power was revealed as never before. When Christ's cross was dropped into that hole, on the hill called the Place of the Skull, it literally shook the earth and veiled the sun. The three hours of darkness, which began at noon ended in earth shaking proportions, as graves were ripped open, and the dead were brought back to life.

Matthew writes that the moment Christ died on that cross "the earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27:51-53 NIV)

Moments earlier those in that wild savage crew standing around the cross were mocking Christ saying, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself" (Luke 23:36-37). Now those savages standing around the cross are crying a different tune.

The power of the cross is discovered as it transforms the way we think. What happened as Christ died on that cross changed the most calloused hearts observing what was transpiring. Two thieves were cursing Jesus as they hung on their crosses on either side of Jesus. They were calloused men who deserved to die; they were not innocent victims of the world’s cruelty. They were cursing Jesus. They had joined in the mockery of the crowd as they cried, "If you are the Son of God save yourself and us!" Then as one thief observed Christ’s innocent suffering he had a change of heart, suddenly in the midst of the confusion he rebukes the other thief.

Luke 23:40-41
But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." (NIV)

There was a sudden change in thinking among those standing at the foot of the cross also. They were calloused men. Do doubt they had observed numerous crucifixions. There was something that happened on that center cross that changed those calloused hearts.

Luke 23:47-49
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man." When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

They began to praise God saying, "Surely this was a righteous man." In the darkness of a depravity so great that it shook the earth and veiled sun they listened to the cry for the forgiveness for those who crucified Christ Those crucified usually died cursing God and man, just as the thieves were cursing and railing Christ and each other. They had never seen a person praying for the forgiveness of the executioners. When they beheld Jesus' attitude upon the cross they left that place beating their breasts. Have you ever wanted to beat yourself up for something you had taken part in? That's how they felt. What a change of the most calloused minds and hearts. There was something about the cross that allowed them to see their soul's deepest need.

The power of repentance is discovered as the thief is dying on his cross. In the last moment of his life he changed his mind about how he had lived. The thief said to the criminal on the other side of Jesus, "’Don't you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’" (Luke 23:40-43 NIV) The thief had an attitude of repentance, but the other did not. Jesus took the thief to paradise but the Bible doesn’t say Jesus ever spoke to the other criminal crucified with him.

The cross is powerless to save us without our willingness to change our minds about how we are living. Jesus taught the importance of repentance in the following verses.

Luke 13:1-5
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (NIV)

Two tragic events are mentioned in these verses. Apparently, Pilate mixed the blood of some who sought to offer sacrifices with the sacrifices they sought to offer. That probably means he killed them at the altar as they were offering sacrifices. We don’t know any more about any of these events than what is found in these short verses. The second tragedy occurred when a tower fell on some Galileans. Then, as now, they were saying it is an act of God. Jesus says, "I tell you, no!" Then he used the tragedy to teach a lesson on repentance.

Tragedy has a way of stripping away the superficial so that we can see what truly matters. What is important in times such as this is to get our lives back on track as we rid our lives of the superficial. That takes repentance. If we fail to take the road to repentance when we see our need to do so, our difficulties will always increase.

I appreciate the stand our leaders have taken; I appreciate the patriotism I see. I hope that it will result in an attitude of repentance toward God. We are learning that the gods of political correctness cannot save us. The gospel of political correctness demands that we sever our ties with God, except when we are in trouble. We can pray to God in public now because it is politically correct to do so. The world is now throwing political correctness out of the window as we violate every principal of political correctness in our tragedy. It shows us how superficial the gospel of political correctness is.

It is really scary to think how the gospel of political correctness seeks to overrule the gospel of God's righteousness in our country. God made each of us a free moral agent. He gave us the right to make our own choices. However, having a right to make choices does not make our choices right. Having the right to exercise our political rights does not make it right for us to do so.

The wise man Solomon speaks to times such as these.

2 Chronicles 7:13-16
"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. (NIV)

It is obvious that God accepts the prayer of repentance. As Christians going through this tragedy we must remember our prayers must be prayers accompanied with an attitude of repentance. As Daniel lived out his life in Babylonian captivity he sought God through prayer. Jerusalem was lying in ruins as Daniel uttered his prayer to God.

Daniel 9:17-23
"Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name."

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill-while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, "Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision: (NIV)

As Daniel acknowledges and confesses his sin in an attitude of repentance, God answers his prayer. I know that these are Old Testament scriptures from Israel's ancient past, but they tell us some important facts about how God rules our world even today. They teach me that God requires an attitude of repentance as we approach him in prayer.

If we thumb our noses at God’s righteousness, don’t expect answers. It is one thing to come to God despising the sin in your life, and it is quite another to come to God unwilling to accept his rebuke.

Proverbs 1:24-33
But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you--when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

"Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (NIV)

I know that there will always be wars and rumors of wars. And as long as this is the case there will always be those who seek to use them to predict the end of the world, when the Bible clearly tells us that no one knows when that will transpire. However, I sincerely believe that these things are God's trumpet calls for each generation.

The trumpet sounds a distinctive call of repentance for God's people. It calls us back to the God who shook the earth and veiled the sun as his Son died on the cross. When the trumpet calls us back to God's righteousness then we will experience the power of the cross, but not until the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of the cross becomes the focal point of our lives.

Revelation 12:10-12
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! (NIV)

The power of the cross is discovered in the hope it instills. When I see that thief taken to paradise with Jesus, I realize that there is hope for the hopeless. Can you imagine the terror running through the thief’s heart as he hung on the cross? I saw a very touching picture of a Palestinian child holding up a sign. It said, "We now have a common enemy, terror." The power of repentance at the cross offers us hope in spite of our terror.

As Christ died on that cross, in the darkest moment of human history the brightest hope of humanity was revealed. It was there that the solution to the mystery of the ages was revealed. The mystery revealed God's final victory over the reigning terror of evil. It revealed the only real power we have over terror's reign. It is there in the darkest moment of human history that we find our brightest hope for our future. It is found in the hope of repentance.

Conclusion:

Repentance toward God puts God in charge of my life.

Ephesians 1:15-23
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)

Repentance toward God allows God to work his purposes in my life.

Romans 8:24-28
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

It was the sustaining power of the cross that enabled Christians to stand firm as the Roman Empire was collapsing around them. They overcame that hostile world through the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony as that hostile world brought its vengeance to their personal lives. That remains our greatest defense today.

 

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