Sermon: Boasting in the Cross

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Galatians, chapter 6. Galatians 6, beginning in verse 11. Galatians is in the New Testament – Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians. Galatians 6:11-18. This morning we are ending our study of the book of Galatians. We have been taken on an expansive and thrilling journey to the heart of the Gospel – Jesus Christ crucified and raised for us and for our salvation. We have heard how the whole story of the Bible is one grand story of God’s redemption, accomplished in Jesus Christ. All the way back with Abraham, God was working to redeem a people by grace through faith. The same is true for us, Jew or Gentile. We are all saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by our outward obedience. Through faith in Christ, God has given us freedom – freedom to love and serve God and neighbor. Freedom to live with each other, to encourage one another in our walk with Christ. The Christian life is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us.

Today, we hear Paul’s closing words, written with his own hand. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. But before we do, please pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

See what large letter I use as I write to you with my own hand.

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they want to do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision mean anything, what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.

From now on, let no one cause me trouble for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

See what large letter I use as I write to you with my own hand.

Paul ends his letter by writing in big letters a final note to these churches. It is likely that Paul had been dictating the letter up to this point, but now he puts pen to papyrus himself. Maybe it is to prove the authenticity of the letter or to show how much he cares for them. It could also be that this final message is so important that he wants to write it out himself. Paul paints one final contrast between two parties, two different views of Christianity – one true and one false. He centers this contrast on how they view the cross of Jesus Christ.

So as we listen to these last words, written in large print by Paul’s own hand, let this question be on your heart and mind: How do I view the cross of Christ?

How do I view the cross of Christ?

Paul begins by describing his opponents in verse 12:

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they want to do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.

We have heard throughout Galatians that there has been a group working to convince Gentile converts to Christianity that they need to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses in order to be saved. We have heard the counter-arguments to all the reasons they have given for requiring circumcision. But now, however, the Spirit gives Paul insight into their hearts.

They are obsessed with image and looking successful. It says, those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised and that they do this because they want to boast about your circumcision in the flesh. The circumcision of the Gentiles was not primarily a theological problem for them, but an image problem. They wanted people to see the work they were doing, the growth they have brought about. They wanted to be able to boast about how many converts they had won. They wanted growth they could measure and that others could find impressive.

But they also wanted to do it in a way that would keep them safe. They only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. They wanted to avoid persecution, so they encouraged people to put their trust in their own work over God’s work on their behalf. They wanted to avoid ruffling too many feathers, so they encouraged people to place their trust in circumcision over the cross.

How do I view the cross of Christ?

For the circumcision group, the cross might have been necessary, but it certainly wasn’t good. We don’t want to focus on it too much, because it is controversial, it’s ugly, it’s a little embarrassing. It might have been needed to get us back on the right track, but now that we have got it, we can get on to the good stuff – get on to being circumcised, doing good, and having the best life now.

In the world of theology, this view has come to be known as the “theology of glory.”

The theology of glory is embarrassed by the cross. It wants to skip over it, or at least slide by it quickly to get to the all the Easter resurrection goodness without the Good Friday suffering and rejection. For some, the cross is necessary but ugly and for others it is simply dispensable.

For the opponents of Paul, not only was the cross a sign of rejection, a sign of suffering, but to hold fast to the cross might bring the same upon them. To hold fast to the cross would mean picking up our cross and following Jesus, to court the possibility that others might reject us, that we might suffering emotionally, relationally, and physically.

Ultimately, for the theology of glory holding fast to the cross is unappealing and impractical.

Instead, the theology of glory gives us an upwardly mobile brand of Christianity. A Christianity where life always moves up and to the right, where life is always safe and comfortable, where the cross is moved to the side instead of sitting and the center of our Christian life and worship.

The theology of glory wants to get past the cross to the “good stuff.” Like the circumcision group, this brand of Christianity wants to impress people, it wants to measure and count growth instead of counting the cost of discipleship. And it wants to do it all without offending the least person by preaching Christ crucified for our sins.

We see this in individuals. When we somehow expect that since we follow Jesus life should somehow go better for us, be easier or more comfortable, we are living out a theology of glory. When we balk at suffering and run away from the uncomfortable obedience Christ calls us to, we are living out a theology of glory. When we are more concerned about getting another person to sit in the pew than we are about helping another person become a disciple of Jesus, then we are living out a theology of glory.

We see the theology of glory in churches that are more passionate about growth than about Jesus, care more about conversion rates than they care about the cross, and work so hard to not be offensive that there is no room for preaching Jesus, let alone discipleship. We see the theology of glory in congregations that are willing to put money, time, and resources into expansion projects but are unwilling to pick up their cross and follow Jesus into suffering and rejection.

How do I view the cross of Christ?

The theology of glory wants to push the cross to the side because it is ugly and embarrassing, but Paul wants to bring it to the center because the cross of Jesus Christ is the glory and power of God. Verse 14:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.

Is the cross shame, embarrassment?

Or is it so important, so beautiful, so powerful that you would hold fast to the cross of Jesus even if it makes you suffer, even if you die?

Is the cross at the center? Is it something indispensable for salvation, for new creation, for eternal life, forgiveness, and shalom, or is it something we can get rid of when it no longer serves the purpose we want it to?

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.

Paul boasts, he rejoices, he praises God for the cross of Jesus Christ. It is not ugly and embarrassing but the very power of God. It is not at the edges, but at the very center of Christian faith.

What a contrast to the theology of glory we just saw. Paul place the suffering, rejection and death of the Son of God at the very center of the faith. Indispensible.

How do I view the cross of Christ?

The cross is at the center.

At the cross, we find the center of history.  At the cross, we find the only hope for the future. At the cross, we answer the questions: What can wash away my sin? (Nothing but the blood of Jesus) What can make me whole again? (Nothing but blood of Jesus)

In Jesus Christ, we find the only way, the only truth, and the only life and that is find in Christ crucified and risen again. It is found in the cross at Calvary, in the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The theology of glory is a lie because you don’t get past the cross to the “good stuff,” because the cross is the “good stuff.” It is the good news. It is only in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you and me that we have hope and peace, that we have life and a future, that we can take up our cross and walk after Jesus even if it means death and suffering.

The theology of glory is turned off by the suffering and death of Jesus and fearful of what it might cost them to walk in the way of the crucified Savior.

But the wonder and power of the gospel is that the cross is, in fact, the place where God’s glory is most clearly on display. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is a place of boasting, not of embarrassment and shame.

We see it in Jesus, who went willingly and knowingly to the cross, who bled as he hung on the tree for you and me. We see the way of the cross in how our salvation was won on that day so long ago.

We see the way of the cross in countless disciples of Jesus, who chose costly obedience over cheap comfort, who endured opposition and trials to proclaim that Jesus Christ saves sinners, who risked everything to follow their one true love and their only hope, Jesus Christ.

We see the way of the cross in churches that, like Paul, bear on their bodies the marks of Jesus. We see it in churches who follow Jesus so closely that they begin to look like him – they love what he loves, hate what he hates, endure what he endured, and by the grace of God one day will overcome. We see the way of the cross in churches that care for the poor, the refugee, and the those with special needs, not for the glory it will bring to them, but because they boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see it in churches that hold fast to Jesus and proclaim his name to the world, when spouting heretical ramblings can get you more money and more people flocking to your cause. We see it in churches that are not committed to causes of their own making, but to the cause of Christ. We see it in churches that worship, forgive, serve, pray, and love in holiness, grace, and truth.

How do we view the cross of Christ?

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.

Paul ends his letter by bringing us back to the center – to the cross. Friends, we are tempted at every turn to try and move past the cross to something we think is better or more comfortable. But we are reminded this morning that there is nothing better. The cross lies at the heart of the Christian faith as a shocking reversal. What the world counts as shame and embarrassment – that our Lord died – is, in fact, the greatest and most beautiful victory in the world. It is the victory that God has accomplished on our behalf and the one we can boast in.

How do we view the cross of Christ?

May we – as disciples and as a congregation – resist all temptation to move the cross to the edges, but live with it at the very center of our lives. May it be so with us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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