Summary: A Christmas Sermon that points to the cross. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it the main focus of God's message of salvation. But the cross is not a comforting symbol, so why would God use it as the symbol of our faith?
OPEN: I once read about an evening chapel service at Christian summer camp. The preacher was forcefully telling the 4th & 5th graders how Jesus had been betrayed, arrested, beaten and ultimately died on the cross. His message was so powerful, that a hushed silence fell across the young audience. And then – in the stillness of what followed – a boy’s shocked voice could be heard… “Someone killed God?” (Steve Higginbotham, MercEmail)
Someone killed God. He couldn’t understand that, and he didn’t like it!
ILLUS: Legend has it that when Marco Polo's traveled to the Orient – he was taken before the great Genghis Khan. Most people would have been intimidated. This was a dangerous man. But Marco Polo stood before this pagan conqueror and told him all about Jesus. He talked for a long time about Christianity… and told the Gospel story of Jesus life, death, burial and resurrection. But as he described Jesus' betrayal, his trial, his scourging and His crucifixion, it was obvious that Genghis Khan was becoming more and more engrossed and agitated by what he heard. Then - when Marco Polo pronounced the words “Jesus bowed his head and yielded up his spirit” - Genghis Khan literally came to feet in rage. “No! No! That cannot be! What did the Christian God do then? Did he send 1000s of angels from heaven to destroy those who killed his Son?" (John M. Braaten, The Greatest Wonder of All, C.S.S Publishing Co., 1991)
Of course, we know the answer to that question don’t we? God didn’t do that. It wasn’t part of his plan. And God WASN’T taken by surprise by the angry mob. He KNEW exactly what was going to happen, and He went to the cross voluntarily.
All the world’s religions speak of what we should do for God. But only the Bible speaks of what God did for us.
The story (of God dying for man) is so moving that it can touch the heart of a child. And it’s so powerful that it can shake the heart of even the most hardened pagan.
But nobody really seems to be comfortable with that Bible truth. It defies the imagination that God would do that VOLUNTARILY that God would step down from heaven and knowingly allow Himself to be nailed to the cross. But that’s what Isaiah prophesied over 500 years before Jesus was born. The passage we just read from Isaiah 53 was THAT prophecy… and it was a prophecy of HOW and WHY God died for us.
1st - HOW did Isaiah 53 say God was going to die for us? Isaiah says:
He would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (vs 3)
He would be “pierced… crushed… chastised and “wounded” (vs 5)
He would be “oppressed… afflicted… led to the slaughter” (vs. 7)
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away cut off out of the land of the living” (vs. 8)
“He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors” (vs. 12)
Now, the Jews have always understood that Isaiah was THE prophet when it came to foretelling the coming of the Messiah. And yet, when Jewish people get to Isaiah 53, they seem to be baffled.
ILLUS: A preacher told of the time he stopped in a book store, and - as was his habit - he “went right over to the Religion section. Looking through the books he found a Jewish Study Bible. He’d never seen one before, and as he leafed through the pages he wondered: "I wonder what they have to say about Isaiah 53." So he thumbed through the pages, and he found Isaiah 53. And the notes at the bottom said, "This is a very difficult passage." (Marc Axelrod sermoncentral.com)
Difficult? Why would it be so difficult? Because the Jews have never been comfortable with the idea of a suffering Messiah. It doesn’t fit their theology. And that’s always been the problem with this part of the story. There’s a lot of people are uncomfortable with the Cross. They like the baby in the manger thing - he's cute, he's cuddly - but this Cross thing is something else. As Paul wrote: “… 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.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
Foolish? Why would the cross be Foolish?
ILLUS: One person described it this way: “Other world religions are known for their brightly painted images & gilded statues. But at the center of Christianity rests a cross - simple, stark and solitary. What possessed Christians to seize upon this execution device as a symbol for faith? Why not do everything within our power to squelch the memory of this scandalous injustice? Why make it the centerpiece of our faith? Of all the symbols of hope and triumph, the cross is indeed the most ironic. It’s understandable how someone just considering Christ might be confused by the cross. The cross’ message confronts our most cherished notions of success and self-assurance. (Pause) It helps to be reminded of how fundamentally offensive the cross is and how it symbolizes everything in life we most want to avoid: weakness, defeat, betrayal, powerlessness. (“Talking Foolishness” by Paula Reinhart in Discipleship Journal March 99 quoting from Philip Yancey in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew”)