Something to brag about

Friday, July 7, 2017

This past week we celebrated Independence Day 2017 and the birth of our democracy. I believe that we should give God thanks for the many blessings we enjoy as citizens of this free land. Through all of the thick and thin, all the ups and downs, we have something to brag about.

I suppose though, bragging or boasting is endemic to human nature. We boast about our children and our grandchildren. We boast about our work. We boast about our athletic accomplishments. We boast about places we’ve been and the things we’ve done. Yes, we even boast about the land of our birth.

However, the Apostle Paul said on one occasion that there’s only one thing worth really boasting about — and that is the cross on which Jesus Christ died.

Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and to the world.” It is a remarkable statement for many reasons.

First, Paul had many things about which he could have boasted. He could have boasted about his Roman citizenship, with all the rights and privileges of a first century Roman citizen. He could have boasted about his religious upbringing. No one had a better richer background in the Jewish faith than Paul being from the House of Benjamin, the people of Israel, a Hebrew born of Hebrews, knowing the law of the Pharisees, a persecutor of the early church. Through Paul’s writings, he shows not only a thorough understanding of the wisdom of his own people, but also the thinking of the philosophical Greeks.

No wonder his writings soared. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing...”

It is remarkable for another reason — the cross was an incredibly offensive symbol. It was indeed an odd symbol for Christians to choose for the center of their worship. It is the symbol of shame in those days. Criminals died on crosses — not decent folk. Even the Romans considered it a far too cruel form of punishment imposed by Roman law for its citizens, and even an extreme execution for slaves, criminals and revolutionaries. That Jesus was crucified like a common criminal would not endear him to the proper people of the Roman world.

For the Jews, the cross was an object of shame for two reasons. First of all, the very fact that the Romans used crucifixion to execute thousands of Jews and it was a symbol of repression — like the ovens of Auschwitz are today.

It’s remarkable that Paul would pray that he might boast about only one thing — the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a sign of how seriously Paul took the cross. We may be blasé about its meaning, but not Paul. He was passionate on this one subject — more passionate, perhaps, than anyone who has ever lived.

For Paul, the cross meant salvation; look at the cross and you’ll see. How desperate is our situation without Christ? Paul saw the cross and saw God’s love poured out. His sins forgiven. He had been set free from both sin and death.

The cross meant changed life. Paul saw his own old nature crucified. A man who had been legalistic, judgmental and even cruel.

More than anything else in the world, Paul wanted to know God and be known by God. That’s what salvation really is. The important thing is to know God and to be known of God. In Paul’s rich understanding of our faith, this was made possible only by the cross.

Paul looked at the cross and he saw Christ dying for the sins of the world, but also he saw there the man Paul had used to be crucified as well. He had become a new person in Christ Jesus. His flawed, scarred life had been transformed. We never want to forget that element in our faith, the element of a changed life.

The cross is all about recovery. Paul knew that, because he was one whose life had been recovered and radically changed. And so, there was only one thing about which Paul boasted, though he could have boasted about many things, it was the cross upon which Christ died.