The Scandal of the Cross

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:1-13

Dear people with miraculous faith: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What is it about Christianity that turns people off? If you ask a million unbelievers, you may hear a million different reasons. The music is not exciting enough. The church building is too old. The people in church are too old. The pastor is too odd. Certainly, when scandals appear because a pastor or congregation has fallen into some sin which even the world finds distasteful, that is used as a reason why Christianity turns people off.

However, these are all excuses. They are not the real reason people are not interesting in being Christians. They real reason in Christ. They are offended by Christ, His Word, and what He has done.

Accusations can be made that a particular pastor was not winsome enough, friendly enough, or pleasant enough. He didn’t use the right words or say them in the right ways. That accusation cannot be made against Jesus, however. Yet, Jesus offended people. The people recognized His mighty works and His wisdom. They said, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?” They still took offense at Him because He just appeared as an ordinary man, and from their own hometown and even household. Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

Jesus is no god dreamed up by men. The gods dreamed up by men are superheroes with superpowers who cannot die. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades the ruler of the underworld, and Athena the goddess of wisdom and courage. Men dream up gods in their own image encumbered with their own desires. Indeed, one Greek philosopher wrote in the 6th century B.C. that such writers attributed to their gods “all that is shameful and disgraceful among men; they steal, commit adultery, and deceive one another.” (Xenophanes of Colophon)

The gods invented by men do not die. The true God, Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and did die.

There is no greater scandal to the world. First Corinthians calls Christ crucified a stumbling block and folly; it is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Cor. 1:18, 23). The world doesn’t want a God who suffers and dies, so they are scandalized by Jesus. The world wants a god who fosters and encourages them to follow and fulfil the shameful and disgraceful desires of their hearts, so they are scandalized by Jesus.

It’s not like churches haven’t tried to remove the reasons people give for being turned off Christianity. They’ve thrown away the ancient liturgy and hymns and moved to music that entertains. They’ve built multi-million-dollar buildings, attracted young people, hired charismatic pastors, and hidden their sinful scandals.

Do you know what they’ve thrown away in the process? The scandal of the cross. The scandal of Christ crucified. You could sit through their services and never hear of Christ crucified, which is the very centre of our faith. Nor will you hear the other Scriptural truths that accompany the message of Christ crucified. You won’t hear that Baptism saves – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ absolves sinners through Absolution spoken by pastors – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ gives forgiveness of sins with His true body and blood to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper – that too is a scandal to the world.

Christ’s message of truth will always be rejected by many. Jesus Himself taught in Nazareth and even performed miracles there, but they rejected Him, and Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

When Jesus sent out His ministers two by two to bring to other towns the same message He Himself was preaching, Jesus knew that not everyone would receive the message. Thus, Jesus told them, “if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Jesus prepared them to accept the fact that their preaching of repentance would be rejected; that their preaching of Christ would be rejected; that God’s Word would offend many.

Jesus doesn’t instruct His ministers to cater to what the people want to hear. He doesn’t tell them to be friendlier if their preaching is rejected. He doesn’t tell them to water down the preaching so that it will be palatable to the populace. He doesn’t tell them to be more exciting or entertaining if the people don’t hear. No, Jesus says that if they don’t listen, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. Matthew records that Jesus continues by saying, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (Matt. 10:15)

Watering down the message of the cross will not save anyone. Entertainment and catering to people’s desires will not save anyone. Preaching about Jesus as if He’s a god dreamed up by man will not save anyone. That is why Jesus sends His ministers with the task of preaching the cross.

Only the preaching of the cross of Christ saves. That God took on human flesh and became man is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true. That God the Son died on the cross for the sins of men whom He created is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true.

And yes, the forgiveness that was earned on the cross is given to us in the ordinary water used in Baptism, in the words of Absolution spoken by a sinful man, and in underwhelming bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

God intentionally chooses ways and means to save us that are scandalous to human reason so that we would realize that our salvation is a miracle. It is not something that we do, but something that God has done for us.

God has given us the gift of faith. We didn’t discover the faith by our own efforts or in-depth studies. All our efforts would only lead us to see the cross as a scandal. However, God has miraculously opened our eyes to the truth of the cross.

God initially gave us faith in Baptism. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God continues to strengthen and nourish our faith through Absolution and Holy Communion. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God became man and died for our sins. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us.

Christians don’t let the imperfections of their congregations keep them from hearing the Word of Christ. If there are imperfections with the music, the building, the people, or the pastor (which I assure you is always the case), Christians still come to hear the word of the cross. Foolishness to unbelievers, but for us who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God that saves us and brings us to life everlasting. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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