The Life-Giving Cross

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 3/28/2021

On the Christian calendar, this coming Friday is called “Good Friday.” This Friday, we pause to celebrate that moment in time in which Christ Jesus our Lord went to that cross and was brutally crucified—his body broken, his blood shed, for the sins of the world. Such a violent end for One who lived such a spectacularly beautiful and powerful life!

We shouldn’t suppose it was easy for Jesus to be crucified and die. I think of Luke’s account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night he was betrayed. How Jesus knelt down to pray, Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” For hours, Jesus anguished in prayer. Luke 22:43-44 says, “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Jesus was in such a state of agony the capillaries in his skin filled with blood and burst.

The final moments of Jesus’ life must have been a flash. The painful betrayal of Judas, and later even Peter. The sense of spiritual defeat and shadow of death. I never paid much attention before to Luke 22:53 where Jesus tells the Chief Priests, Temple Police, and Elders “. . . this is your hour—and the dominion of darkness.” It’s like he’s telling them—this is your moment of peak power, of satanic power even. The Kangaroo Court. The false accusations, the liars and their lies. The mockery. The chants of the crowd, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The physical beating, the humiliation of being stripped naked, the cruelty of the cross itself—that Roman instrument of terrorism. Nailed one wrist at a time, nailed one foot at a time, crown of thorns pressed into his skull, blood blinding his eyes, Jesus struggling to breath, suffocating as his lungs filled with fluid. His heart failing. The sound of his mother weeping at his feet.

What do you think Paul has in mind in Galatians 2:20 when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

We have a remote sense of what it was like for Jesus to come to crucifixion. But what does it look like for us followers of Jesus to come to crucifixion? Not just to take up our cross and die daily, but willingly pay the ultimate price for belief? For the Apostles, they faced the literal prospect of crucifixion for their faith. Church tradition describes Peter not only being crucified, but being executed upside down lest his own death detract from the glory of Christ's. But again, what does it mean to embrace Christ’s crucifixion as a pattern of life?

As we come to the end of Galatians 6, in Galatians 6:11-13, Paul writes, “Look at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting.” These verses mark the conclusion of Paul’s concern for the Galatians. He is saying, “Pay very close attention!” When we want to really make a point we use ALL CAPS, we use a BOLD FONT, we UNDERLINE, we ITALICIZE, we splash RED ink, we use EMOJIS. If ever the original manuscript of Galatians were to be found—It should end with large letters. And keep in mind he didn’t typically write these letters in his own hand… there would also be a change in handwriting style!

In these verses Paul references several fatal flaws in human nature. First, We have a Compulsion to Impress People. Let’s take this phrase by phrase. In Galatians 6:12a Paul refers to “Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh. . .”

Every single one of us has a desire to be liked, to be loved, to be admired, to make a good impression on folks, to have others to speak and think well of us. What is our infatuation with social media profiles but a desire to make a good impression? And each status update? This compulsion to signal our virtues, our relevance, our commonality or solidarity with this cause or that. . . to signal our awareness, our empathy, our connectivity to the concerns of others.

Socially, we are like chameleons. Chameleons have the ability to change their skin colors to match their background. Like chameleons, we have an uncanny ability to change our colors, words, actions, behavior to match the background of the world. How many times in life have you changed your colors out of a simple need to please others? But it goes deeper than just the surface. We have proven willing to change our attitudes, beliefs, even our worldview to please others!

This compulsion to impress people is a fatal flaw. Second, We are Compelled to Impress People. Look again at Galatians 6:12, “Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised. . .” We have a compulsion to impress people who are themselves trying to impress people. And so they in turn, try to compel us toward certain ends. We’re being compelled to impress a whole ladder of people. Who is at the top of that ladder? What wall is that ladder leaning against?

The “Gentile Galatians” wanted to impress certain “important people” in the church. Those “important people” wanted to impress certain “Jews.” Those “Jews” wanted to impress certain “Judaizers”, hell-bent on circumcising every Christian man and subjecting them to Jewish tradition. Those “Judaizers” thought they were serving God, but they weren’t.

What happens when “making a good impression in the flesh…pleasing men” collides with “being a good faithful servant of Jesus Christ?” This is the very issue Paul raised back in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please (impress) people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Crucifixion comes down to this: Who ultimately rules us? Am I ultimately serving man or serving God?

We have a natural compulsion to impress people (that social media exploits). But then our compulsion gets exploited. There are those who are compelling (pressuring, manipulating) us to do what they want. Third, We Are Pain-Avoidant People. Look at the rest of Galatians 6:12, “12 Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised—but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ."

We may think we're being courageous, parroting what earns the applause of the world. But in reality, we're being cowards. I wonder how true Paul’s analysis of some of these Galatians would be true of us? That so much of our decisionmaking is really just an effort to avoid being persecuted for Christ? Here is a warning. If you are “trying to please people” then you cannot “be a servant of Christ.” There is a wide gate and a narrow gate. There is a wide path and small path. There is walking in the flesh but then walking in the Spirit. There isn’t a crucifixion-less, pain-avoidant way to really follow Jesus. In the very least, being a Christ-follower is going to cost you social status, social pain. You're going to get some un-likes, some anger emojies.

Fourth, We Aren’t Very Discerning. Galatians 6:13, “For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves, and yet they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh.” Have you ever noticed those who most try to manipulate us don’t even maintain their own code of conduct? I’m afraid to use any political examples but there are so many. But it goes something like this “You need to abide by certain restrictions, but as for me and my family … “

Have you ever heard the expression what is good for the “goose is good for the gander?” We must always endeavor to live by whatever pattern we prescribe. The pattern of the Christian life is crucifixion. I think of Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:1-3, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” We have a duty to think and act for God, as Christ, and not just “conform.”

When I was a young man, there were certain things that would happen maybe at school, or in the church, that were wrong. Myself, being a worldly young man, knew the protocol. I’d shrug my shoulders and look the other way when necessary. I wanted to be liked, I didn’t want to make waves. My greatest fear was being ostracized by my peers, or maybe a teacher, or pastor, or someone else.

In stark contrast, my dad, being a principled man, would not shrug his shoulders nor look the other way. If Dad saw something wrong, he’d speak up. He wasn’t afraid to point something out, to challenge, to correct, to rebuke, call a spade a spade—whatever the occasion needed. He was conscientiously trying to serve Christ. But as a kid, dad was really uncool—and I would try to distance myself—and I would feel ashamed. Later in life, I reevaluated and repented of my cowardice.

Here is the bottom line: The servant of Christ must stand with Jesus. I am wondering who among us is willing to stand with Jesus?

· To stand with Jesus requires we repent of our cowardice. We’re no longer ashamed of Christ, or ashamed of the cross, but instead we boast in it.

· To stand with Jesus means the world becomes crucified to us, and we to the world. The world no longer governs, compels, controls us, or conforms us. We conform only to what is the good, pleasing, perfect will of God. We conform only to the image of Christ Jesus himself.

· To stand with Jesus is to become a new creation. Each and every day, I’m being renewed inwardly and outwardly to more fully reflect the glory of God.

· To stand with Jesus is to abide by God’s standards, not man's.

· To stand with Jesus is to bear in our bodies the marks, the suffering of Jesus. What did Jesus say? Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. ‘You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

· To stand with Jesus is rely on God’s grace, to strengthen us and make these things so, daily. By the end of Galatians what GIANT LETTERS Paul must have begun using, in his own hand!

· I submit for our closing reflection Galatians 6:14-18: “14 But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. 15 For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation. 16 May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy even to the Israel of God! 17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, because I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 Brothers and sisters, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”

Scripture Verses

Galatians 1:10; 2:20; 6:11-18; Luke 22:42-44, 53; Romans 12:1-3; Matthew 5:10-12

Worship Playlist

Holy Ground by Passion

Hosanna (Praise Is Rising) by Paul Baloche

Whole Heart (Good Intentions) by Passion

Study Questions

1. Of all the things he might boast of having done, why does Paul boast only in the cross?

2. Some religious leaders preaching a perverted gospel were stressing circumcision, an Old Testament rite, as something to boast in. What false things might we be tempted to boast in today?

3. How is it that an instrument of cruelty and death has become a thing of boasting and beauty to Paul?

4. Read Colossians 1:3-23. What themes from Galatians do you see repeated here? What do you read about the centrality of the cross?

5. From our study of Galatians, reflect on all the things that crush our souls as well as all the soul enlivening freedoms we have in Christ. Write out a prayer of thanksgiving as you dedicate yourself to living in the freedom of Christ. Share with your group.

Apply It!