Summary: As much as our culture, or we, might try, to remove it as a barrier...as much as the world might like to make it into only a symbol, and rob it of its eternal meaning, the cross is irreducible. It’s irreducible in time. It’s irreducible in eternity.
The Irreducible Cross
TCF Good Friday sermon
March 25, 2005
I found this quote a few weeks ago in an article on a very popular TV preacher. This guy sells tickets to his national tour, and fills 15-20,000-seat arenas with his positive message. In this quote, he describes his own church, generally considered the largest church in the U.S. today.
He says, "It’s not a churchy feel. We don’t have crosses up there. We believe in all that, but I like to take the barriers down that have kept people from coming. A lot of people who come now are people that haven’t been to church in 20 to 30 years."
Singer and author Michael Card recognized this trend in America and even in the church:
Particularly in American Christianity, the cross has become somewhat objectionable. Well-known pastors avoid referring to it in their sermons and on their TV programs because it is “too negative.” Some contend that it is somehow “dysfunctional” to feel that we owe something to someone who sacrifices anything, much less himself, for us. Can’t that become manipulation? Wouldn’t it be better to respond to God for our own reasons rather than because we owe him something?
He writes---Other people are put off by the violence the cross portrays. Shouldn’t we focus instead on the gentler side of the gospel?
I have no problem with trying to remove barriers to faith. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
1 Cor. 9:22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
In Acts 15, talking to his fellow believers about Jewish rules and regulations, and debating about what should be required of the Gentiles, James said:
Acts 15:19 "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
There are legitimate strategies, plans, to participate with the Holy Spirit in bringing people to Christ, and in removing potential barriers that need not keep people away. In some churches, this might mean something about the church culture, such as men not having to wear suits and ties, women not having to wear dresses to church....that is, people feeling comfortable however they might be dressed.
In other churches, it might mean having contemporary music, rather than a steady diet of hymns. In still other churches, it might mean something altogether different than that.
And in many cases, done with the right intent and focus, there’s certainly not anything wrong with these strategies. But, there are some “barriers” that cannot be removed from churches, even for the sake of reaching people for Christ...maybe especially for reaching people with the whole gospel.
These real barriers, and I don’t want to imply that they aren’t in some way barriers, are there for a vital purpose. Without this particular barrier, we cannot fully understand the good news.
There’s an old adage which goes: “What you win them with, is what you win them to.” I think if you win them with a “gospel” and in this context I use that word loosely, but if you win them with a gospel, which requires you to remove the offense of the cross, because you think it’s a barrier to them coming, I wonder if you’re really winning them to the Jesus which the Bible reveals.
The Jesus we’re worshipping here tonight. The Jesus who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross. If Jesus endured the cross, knowing that joy and glory awaited Him, yet knowing that the cross, and only the cross, was the painful, terrible path He must walk to that glory, then why should we think the cross is an insurmountable barrier to bringing people to church?
Would we say to our children that, for example, we’ll take away this difficult barrier of finishing high school because we know it’s painful, hard, and offensive, but we’ll take it away, and you’ll still be able to get a good job when you grow up?
I’d submit to you tonight, as we mark the occasion of Jesus’ death on the cross, that we cannot take down the barrier of the cross.
The most disturbing thing about this preacher I mentioned, the one who doesn’t have crosses up anywhere in his church, is not so much that there are no crosses to be seen in his church, but moreso, that there’s no cross in his preaching.
The cross is offensive. But it’s also the way to salvation. The whole message of the cross is offensive to our natural minds. The whole idea that it takes the death of God incarnate to save our souls is a barrier to many, many people.
But if we water down, or remove this barrier to make it easier for people to step over, to make it easier for them to ignore, or not fully consider the cost, we’re watering-down the gospel message, which includes the fact that Jesus must and did die on the cross.