Intro: I want to begin this morning with a simple fact, we are living in a post-Christian era.It is not that we have lost people to other religions, it's that we have lost people to no religion.
Go back 75 years to the beginning of WWII. During the bombing of London, do you know what one of the most popular radio shows was? The people of Britain needed hope and they tuned their radios and they heard a radio personality named CS. Lewis. Lewis talked about Jesus. He talked about how the Son of God died on the cross for us. He gave a series of radio-talks that later became this book, Mere Christianity.
Imagine that bombs are falling on your home. You are huddled in a subway tunnel, taking shelter with your neighbors, and this booming man’s voice comes on the radio saying this:
“I have to accept the view that Jesus was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form. And now, what was the purpose of it all? What did He come to do? Well, to teach, of course; but as soon as you look into the New Testament or any other Christian writing you will find they are constantly talking about something different—about His death and His coming to life again. It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies here. They think the main thing He came to earth to do was to suffer and be killed.”
If you are suffering, if above your heads someone is bombing your home. If you know that at any moment a buzz bomb can crush you and your family… How is it a comfort to know that God came into our world as Jesus Christ? That God came, not only to teach us things, but to suffer alongside of us. That God came for one purpose, to transform the world by his death on the cross.
If we are living today in a post-Christian world, I say it is because we, in the church, have forgotten our need for the cross.
This is not the first time that we humans have forgotten what God did for us on the cross. Just thirty years after Jesus died for us, the Apostle Paul was writing to the church at Corinth. His letter begins by addressing a petty squabble, and throughout the two letters you get the sense that people have forgotten what really matters. They are only pretending to love God and to be serious about the church.
So, Paul writes:
[1 Corinthians 1:18, 2:1-2]
Paul is passionate about the cross. I am too. I don’t know what makes him feel that way, but I can tell you three reasons why the cross matters to me.
1) Jesus was God: I believe that Jesus really was God. The eternal one who made the heavens. Came to earth. Lived this life and died. The fact that God is both the creator of the universe and the one who dies on the cross is mind blowing.
Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.”
What he is talking about is that there are basically two forms of religion today. There is the kind of religion that makes God so far away that he is unknowable. Talk to a Buddhist - God is very abstract. He is the sound of one hand clapping. I don’t know if you find that story compelling.
The other form of religion is the one the Greeks and the Romans had. They had all kinds of gods (with a small g) and these gods were powerful and always meddling in human affairs… the problem was that none of them were very smart. The Romans and the Greeks told great stories — but none of their stories made you love their gods.
Apostle John says that when he met Jesus, he saw the glory of God. John says “God lived with us” and “Jesus showed us the Glory of God.”
This is Paul’s point. If Jesus isn’t God, it would be insane to say that he was. I mean if he’s a good teacher, then instead of talking about the cross, Paul would show how Jesus’ Philosophy was better than Socrates or Aristotle. If Jesus was a great athlete or a financial whizz or a great Politician — if he were smart you’d talk about him getting out of dying on the cross.
Reason # 2 Jesus really died
On the Thursday before 911, I was in Istanbul, Turkey. I spent the day wondering the old part of the city and I came to a beautiful mosque, so being a tourist with a camera, I went in. I visited the Fatil Camil, one of the great mosques of the city – and as I was standing in the mosque, camera around my neck -- obviously being a tourist -- an elderly man in a turban came over to me and offered tell me about the mosque. He said that if I would make a contribution to their earthquake restoration fund, he would answer all my questions. I accepted. So, we sat down. He began to tell me not only about the history and architecture of this great building, but something of his religion. At the end of his talk, he said, "I assume you are a Christian." I said, yes, and he said, "We are not so different. For we Moslems believe that Jesus Christ was a great prophet." In fact, this is true, for if you look in the holy book of the Islamic people - the Koran - it says that Jesus was a messenger of Allah and that he was born of virgin. He said, "We have a deep respect of the teachings of Jesus. But we believe that Christ did not die. The Koran teaches that a switch was made. That Allah took Jesus to heaven just before the crucifixion. Because God could not have allowed a piece of himself to be crucified.
The nice man with the turban said this as if it was just a minor difference in the way we understood, what was basically the same story.
Is it? Remember what CS Lewis said? It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies here. That unless Jesus dies for us, we don’t have a story at all.
The following Tuesday, 911 & I didn’t find myself angry at Moslems. I found myself focused on the fact that when we suffer, when we lose loved ones, when we are betrayed, when our bodies fail us, when we are stretched out to the breaking point, we find ourselves returning to the fact that God has been exactly the same place as we have.
Here is the story. God emptied himself and was born into our world. One Friday, God made himself weak and vulnerable. He was betrayed, put on trial, mocked, beaten, made to carry his cross throughout all the streets of Jerusalem, he stumbles three times under its weight (imagine that, God being weak), and then arriving at the place of the skull, he is nailed to this cross. It is dropped into a hole. He is made to hang between heaven and earth. In agony for three hours. Then he dies. God’s envoy to this planet dies. This is the story.
Reason #3) People like you and I were there:
A number of years ago, I was serving a church in Bradford, PA — famous as the coldest spot in Pennsylvania. Well, what do you do during the winter in Bradford? I came up with a plan; I began to write Passion Plays and get the people of the church to put them on. A Passion play is where you tell the story of the events leading up to Jesus’ death & resurrection. What I found to be fun was to focus on the emotions of the people who were close to Jesus.
We had a friend who had a hard time believing in the Passion story, but he wanted to act in the play. So, I said Greg, "I want you to play doubting Thomas." We put on the play and Greg really got into his part. After it was over, he said to me, "Bill there's something I didn't tell you. My middle name is Thomas."
It reminds me of a particular line in the Passover ritual -- when Jewish people celebrate the Exodus in the meal. Someone is at the meal is supposed to ask, "Why do we say “I” crossed the Red Sea and went out into the desert. Exodus happened to people long ago."
Leader says, "No. If you do not include yourself with the people who left slavery in Egypt and traveled with Moses, then you are not one of our people."
I think the same is true of us. If I didn’t stand there at the cross. Then I am not a Christian.
This is our story. We were at the cross. You know people can go to therapy for years and not make any progress. But the point that they turn around and move forward, is when they tell their story. When they finally put their trauma into words. Why is the Me-too movement so powerful? Because the story, that has been held back is being told.
We dare not hold back our story. Reason we call it the “passion” — To suffer. When we suffer. When the bombs are falling on our lives. We tell the story of Jesus… if the trauma is great enough, we tell one story. We take his body. We walk to a borrowed grave — you know that’s an interesting detail. Jesus didn’t have to borrow anything. He borrowed my grave. He borrowed your grave.
There are many reasons why I am Passionate about the passion story.
- First, because it is true.
- Second, because it models that one line from the 12 step program that those caught in an addiction have to say, “Came to realize that I was powerless to help myself.” If God had to die for us, then we human beings are truly powerless.
- Third, because I really do think that I was there.