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March 29, 2024

“What Happened on the Cross?”

Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24

If you were to ask any randomly selected person from the towns of Bowdle, Ipswich, Selby, Eureka, Leola, or the like, and asked them without giving any context clues, “what happened on the cross?” I would imagine you would get simple yet solid answers: “Jesus died on the cross,” “Jesus died for me,” “Jesus died for the world,” etc. Now take it to Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Rapid City; would you get the same answer? You might get a startled, “Jesus died there.” You might not get an answer. You might get a scoffing remark. Now take it to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, New York; you might get even more alarming answers. You would even find people who don’t know about the cross. Now take it overseas…depending on which part of the world you go, you might get a disrespectful response, you might provoke anger, you might get a puzzled look.

What happened on the cross is a crucial question that can be answered as simply as, “Jesus died there to take away my sin,” to “ the perfect Son of God, true God and true man, Jesus Christ, suffered the agony of hell on the cross in my place that God may declare me righteous.” It is an all-inclusive blessing indeed where it can on the one hand be so simply sung by children, “Jesus loves me, He who died Heaven’s gates to open wide…” while on the other hand have men devote their whole lives to studying the riches of this love, a love which is so complexly expressed, “see how his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” “What happened on the cross?” is a complicated yet simple question, a question that has one true answer, but yet so many different responses are given to it.

So then, no matter how deep your understanding of the question may be, we will spend this evening answering this question, “what happened at the cross,” first we will answer like the Jews and Greeks of our text, and then we will answer in the only way the called of God can answer.

(we pray…)

So, we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and the Greeks foolishness. And starting with this first category that Paul gives us, the category of “Jew,” how would this category answer the question, “what happened on the cross? Paul says that they view the cross as a stumbling block. It trips them up and gets them riled up. It offends them. They can’t accept it.

I’m sure this would be true of many of the Jewish faith today, but for now let’s simply look at those Jews around the day of Good Friday. We saw how easily they were ensnared by deceit after Palm Sunday. They who once called Jesus the Son of David no longer could stomach Jesus as their King. Why? Well, to them, He gets in the way of what they want: a system of traditions made up by man, and worldly success from overthrowing their captors—Rome. And so, this is how they might view Him, “Jesus doesn’t overthrow Rome. In fact, He supports them! “He is no king…He’s worse than Barabbas. He’s a blasphemer! His blood be on us!” So, the historic Jews’ answer is demonstrated by how they desperately begged Pilate to crucify Him. If you were to ask the Jews of Holy Week, “what happened on the cross?” They would say, “a criminal got what He deserved.”

Now, are there people today who act like the “Jews” category that St. Paul gives us? How many people are there in this world who would just get upset and give you some canned yet violent response if you ask them “what happened on the cross?” An answer such as, “don’t force your religion on me!” How many governments would threaten to punish or even kill you if you asked them this question? And why is it that these kinds of people get upset? Perhaps it’s because the person is fearful, cause they in part know God exists, but is also prideful and doesn’t want to give up sinning? Perhaps it’s because the person is lost in emotional bewilderment by the sadness of the sinful world and thinks that Christianity is the problem. Perhaps it’s a heathen government who, in their search for God, think they found him in Allah or Vishnu, and with bulldog trust in their hell-bound beliefs, won’t have it any other way. Whatever the reason may be, many people today still make Christ’s cross a stumbling block, even some Christians, who would rather, out of a spirit of being offended, make Christ’s cross a sidenote than the whole point of Scripture, redirecting fellow believers to focus on good works, their own  decisions, Israel, prosperity Gospel, emotion as the main point instead of the cross. And in the case of all these in the Jew category, wouldn’t they do the same with Jesus? Jesus didn’t let the Jews of Good Friday do what they wanted. He didn’t get rid of Rome for them. He didn’t fit their heathen truth. Jesus was just a Palm Sunday sidenote to them. So, wouldn’t the Jew category of people today also shout, crucify Him?

And then there is the Greek category. How do they answer the question, “what happened on the cross?” Paul says that they see it as foolishness, or as the Greeks express it in their own language, intellectually weak. Perhaps they would word their answer to the question this way, “oh, if you’re referring to the illogical myth, you’re mistaken. Some Jewish teacher died because He went too far. That’s all.” To demonstrate further this category, let’s go back to Good Friday once more to see examples of how this happened. Pontius Pilate said to the King, “what is truth?” Pilate didn’t care about such matters of morality and salvation. Like an apathetic pre-teen boy who, as if with a cooler than you attitude, made light of the situation the whole time, acted by essentially saying, “ugh…why are you Jewish people bothering me about this?” “Are you king? I a Jew, what did you do…” Ugh…this is Herod’s problem, not mine. I’ll just beat Him up a bit and dress Him up as a king to make the people feel bad and see the stupidity of what they ask for…okay fine, I’ll kill Him. My wife’s already bothered enough about this guy.” Or, although he wasn’t Greek or a gentile, Herod presents another example of this category, who perhaps thought, “Oh, good. The entertainment has arrived…what’s that? Nothing. Okay. Boys, rough Him up on His way out.” Or the roman soldiers who, passing the time of their lives as soldiers of the empire, gambled over this supposedly random Jewish criminal that they mocked and didn’t care much at all about.

Now how many people in this world are in the Greek category. This is the type that maybe doesn’t get mad when you ask “what happened on the cross?” This is the type that laughs at you. They think Christianity is a crutch or a waste of time; the opiate of the masses as the Marxists put it. They think it’s irrational, stupid, doesn’t make sense. God has to make it make sense to them or make it interesting to them. But if it doesn’t sparkle or make them feel good, or compel them, or intrigue them, then why bother listening.

Yes, many people treat the cross like it is foolishness. Even many Christians are tempted to treat the cross this way and bolster God’s already sufficient message by trying to make it intellectually stronger. “Well, Jesus’ body and blood can’t really be present in communion.” “Well, either God chooses people to go to hell or man makes a decision, cause otherwise it doesn’t make sense.” And perhaps the worst claim, “well, Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead. His life and death just give us an example.”

What happened on the cross? To the Jews a stumbling block. To the Greeks foolishness. And to you, what is it to you? Perhaps you’ve seen a reflection of yourself in one of the many examples given. Perhaps it happened with the Jew variety, getting angry over the cross cause you don’t want to give up sinning. Maybe you expect more from the cross because of the seeming lack of answer to all the pain in the world. Perhaps you get frustrated because the puzzle piece of the cross doesn’t quite line up with your way of life and traditions, and maybe you’re tempted to treat the cross as a side note due to its gore or whatever other reason. Or maybe you see yourself more in the Greek variety. Maybe you’ve been tempted to say, “ugh” to the cross and be indifferent. Perhaps it is not entertaining to you. Perhaps it doesn’t glimmer, and you’d rather gamble over Jesus’ tunic than look at the cross. Perhaps it seems foolish to you, the cross, and so you are tempted to redefine to it to something that makes sense to you.

Brothers and sisters of the cross, you who have been called, both Jew and Greek if you will, please listen. If you have fallen into any of these sins, then take heart, for they have been forgiven. And the answer to why that is given in the proper answer to, “what happened on the cross.”

We have been called through the Word of Christ to faith, which reveals to us the true meaning of what happened on the cross. By the grace of God given through faith, two things are revealed to us. These two things are as Paul puts them: Christ demonstrated the power of God, and Christ demonstrated the wisdom of God.

Let us begin with the first: the power of God. In the cross, Christ demonstrated the power of God. But how can that be? The human eye struggles to grasp this. At first glance, it doesn’t look very powerful. In fact, Jesus was so easily disposed of. The Jews pushed Jesus to his death, and the Romans were the instrument that killed Him. What power is there in a man who is whipped 39 times? What power is there in a man who is mocked? What power is there in a man who dies a criminal’s death?... What power is there in a man’s death which brings about darkness for three hours? What power is there from the death of this man that rends the rocks and opens graves? This was no ordinary man that was killed. This was no criminal. This was no mere teacher who went too far with the Jews. Surely, this man is the Son of God. The Son of God had his lungs crushed. The Son of God had His limbs ripped out of joint. The Son of God…I’m surprised He could even speak seven times during crucifixion let alone once…

Despite what our senses perceive in this crucifixion, let’s ask again, “what happened on the cross?” Christ demonstrated the power of God. Christ demonstrated the power, the ability to take away your sins. Christ demonstrated the power that gives you hope in such a dark and painful world. Christ demonstrated the power that is like no other religious power—the power that doesn’t demand works for your salvation but rather gives you everything you need to get you from this world to the next. Christ on the cross demonstrated the power, the very core of Scripture. He demonstrated the highest form of grace and mercy. He shed His blood for you to save you. He, the innocent man, the green wood, died for you, the dry, so that you won’t be burned by God’s wrath. He took the full agony of hell, the abandonment of His Father, a pain far worse than the muscle ripping agony of crucifixion, for you.

The power of God shown in Christ is no stumbling block. It’s no reason to be offended over. It is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. This is your foundation. This is your glory and salvation. The power of God in Christ happened on the cross. The power which is able to grab your soul off the road of damnation and put it on the straight and narrow, and not only put it there but also keep it there, is what happened.

What glory God demonstrates? What power and, the second matter, what wisdom happened here?! The second thing we see then is the wisdom of God. This was demonstrated through Christ. This too happened on the cross. Though it did not seem very wise, did it? What’s wise in a Father putting His Son on the cross? What’s the wisdom in having the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King die on the cross when He is the pinnacle of your religion? What’s the wisdom in giving people this supposed grace by substitutionary death for free? It all looks so reckless. This grace looks so reckless. And if this is God’s wisdom, to the world, it looks completely unwise. But isn’t that what we are to expect, namely that the world looks at this as foolishness? They don’t get it because they don’t believe it. The Scriptures need to reveal God’s wisdom to them so that they also may believe. Remember, if Vlad can commune, then anything is possible. If Peter was forgiven, anyone is forgiven. This wisdom is the answer to “what is truth?” It is the answer to “what happened on the cross?”

And here is the wisdom: God from the very fall into sin planned to send a redeemer from sin. He promised it to Abraham and beyond. He kept a people for hundreds of years to bring this about. He brought His Son into the world, and He had Him preach His wisdom to thousands. He then had this same Son offer His life to save you, as He had planned. He put this Son, our King, upon the throne of the cross to save you. That is wisdom, and this wisdom is revealed by faith given through His Word. This wisdom is not foolishness as the Greeks claim. This wisdom turns away the indifference of those like Pilate. This wisdom cultivates interest within scum-like sinners such as King Herod. This wisdom of God can make unbecoming Roman soldiers, who probably lacked a pious life, confess, “surely, this man was the Son of God.” This wisdom demonstrates to you that everything in God’s word, even the suffering of His Son in your place, is true and has been put into place by your God. This wisdom is your wisdom and will guide you throughout your life, telling you that Jesus Christ and Him crucified is your greatest pleasure, blessing, confidence, and joy that you can ever have.

So then, what happened on the cross? Not a stumbling block. Not foolishness. The power to save you happened. The wisdom to guide you, teach you, and comfort you happened. And all this happened in Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our trespasses. On the cross, our trespasses were put on Christ. On the cross our stripes were healed. And so, this is why we preach Christ crucified, because what happened on the cross happened for your eternal good.  Amen.