Lent with Paul, Session 6

Christ and the Cross

“For I received from the Lord, what I handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant, in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes,” 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26.

 “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He did not spare his own son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?  It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  . . .  No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, not life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 8: 31 – 39.

Paul resolves to “know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” (1 Cor. 2:2).  What does it mean to live the message of the cross every day?  What is the message? 

The cross is a great act of love…God accepts, affirms, sustains, and supports us –He loves us – by taking His place with us, in and through Jesus.  He has chosen to be with us in our brokenness.  He has come to stay.  There is no dark corner of human existence which will ever be able to separate us from him again.  Now suffering and death are signs of his presence and power.  This is why we proclaim the death of the Lord  (John Dwyer’s “Theology of the Cross”).

Jesus did not suffer because suffering is good in itself.  It is not the physical pain and death of Jesus that saves us.  It is the love that filled him even when evil came up against him that assures us that God is always there to save us, to help us.  Jesus never gave up hope.  He placed all his trust in His Father. Jesus asks us to imitate him in this way.  That is exactly how Paul lived, and encourages us to do the same!

When we look at a cross:

  1. The cross shows us how awful, how cruel, how destructive evil is.

Evil can only hate and destroy. It is evil that made Jesus suffer.  We need to work to overcome any such sin in our lives.

  1. The cross is even more a sign of God’s power that gives us love, hope, and  goodness.  No matter how powerful evil can seem at times, God remains in charge.  God’s love is greater than any sin or evil.  God can save us and restore us to new life.  Death is not the final answer.
  2. Jesus makes the invisible God visible.  Jesus is the one who forever and completely shows us what God is like.  So on the cross, Jesus shows us how deeply and totally God loves us. God is one with those who suffer.  We can be sure of God’s presence when we are in need.
  3. We also need to see Jesus in anyone who is suffering or in need. We need to do all we can to help others – as if we were helping Jesus himself.

And so, the cross is also our promise to try to love as Jesus loved!

“Realize who you really are.  The Messiah died and was raised; you are in him; therefore, you have died and been raised – and you must learn to live accordingly,”(NT Wright, Paul, A Biography, p. 293)

2nd Reading: Philippians 2:  6 – 11

This is one of the earliest indications of an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ.  Jesus is in the “form of God”, “in human likeness” and “God greatly exalted him”.  Theologians debate whether Paul was truly speaking of preexistence, that Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man of Jesus on earth.  This would not be resolved until the councils of Nicea (325AD) and Chalcedon (451AD).  This passage is often called the “Christ Hymn” because of how poetic it is.  It was probably used as a creed or response in early worship, or maybe it was sung.  Maybe Paul wrote this piece himself or maybe he was quoting something the Philippians would have been familiar with  (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 349-351.

Reflect on some of the other phrases in the hymn…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  For the words to be closer to the original Greek, it would be translated as, “Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God, something to be snatched at.”  Jesus didn’t have to snatch his equality with God because it was his right, his being.  He didn’t hold it tightly either, keeping it for himself.  He offered it freely to ALL(Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 36).  This gift of beautiful life is a constant letting go.  We can’t hold on too tightly.  We are meant to give ourselves away, like Jesus did.  Not to be doormats, or be used by others…it is conscious choice.  We find the gift of who we are within ourselves and be that fully, opening ourselves with that intentionality.  We find that the gift comes back to us in abundance!  We “pour out as a libation”, but it only makes more room for God to fill us.

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