We are living in a post-Christendom time of “Cross-less Christianity”. Over the years since the Third Century Christian leaders in many places have compromised with political and military leaders to avoid persecution and conflict with popular culture. We have developed a mushy, inoffensive and vague liberal theology of love that denies the power and need for the Cross and personal salvation. False prophets have convinced us that as long as we don’t offend anyone and are a ‘good person’ we are a Christian and assured of eternal spiritual life. The Readings for Holy Cross Sunday remind us that in spite of our good intentions and good behaviour we are still all guilty of rebellion against God in some way – and need a personal Saviour.
1. Hebrew story reminds us of the consequences of rebellion
“Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”
Their grumbling was a rebellion against God and God’s servant Moses. Rebellion separates people from their covenant relationship with God. The Ten Commandments define and are ways of testing personal love of God. In the story God allows snakes to bite and kill those who rebelled. The consequence of rebellion are both a death of the covenant relationship and the physical death of the rebels.
- The lesson is not that God is harsh and judgemental
- Lesson is that God still loved those who rebelled and created a way for them to come back into Covenant relationship and live
- Jesus used this story to explain who He was and His mission
- Snakes that took away life were transformed into a new way back to right-relationship through repentance and obedience
- Rebels had to repent and believe in God – that He would heal them if they obeyed and gazed at the snake on a pole
- Jesus used this to explain His mission on the Cross
- Thing that kills is transformed by God into the thing that saves
- Human disobedience is forgiven because of Jesus obedience
- Forgiveness is conditional on:
- Obedience in the form of repentance (emotional death to the rebellion) and
- “belief in” what Jesus accomplished on the Cross
Death on a cross was a ‘stumbling block for the Jews’ who remembered their teaching that people hanged on a tree were “cursed” – and could not even begin to understand the Cross. The idea that one man could die for the sins of the whole world was – and still is completely illogical – to everyone, including believers.
- Key is that Jesus is not just a man – God is His biological father – people do not believe in the divinity of Jesus
- Just as in the snake story, God added to His Covenant a new provision, a new way for rebels to be restored to Covenant
- Penalty for rebellion against God was death – life sacrificed
- God Himself provided a perfect sacrifice – He came to Earth Himself, in the form of Jesus through a human mother, and offered Himself as Jesus on the Cross for the sins of the world
- Perfect obedience on the Cross paid for human disobedience
- God added to His Covenant that “those who believe in Him (Jesus) shall not perish”
- Just as the Hebrews had to obey God and gaze on the snake on the pole to live; Christians have to obey God and believe in what Jesus accomplished on the Cross to have eternal life
3. We need to clearly understand what “believe in Him” means
There is a huge difference between ‘cultural Christians’ and believers. Cultural Christians may know a lot about Jesus, go to church and try to lead a good life loving God and neighbour – but often they have not quite ‘got it’. Close only counts in horse shoes.
- They know about - but may not really BELIEVE IN Jesus.
- “Believe” in the Bible is more like “trust in” or “depend on”
- Story of monk who held boys head underwater – desperate
- “In” – Dative case in Greek = physically inside, connected to Jesus by the depth of our love relationship with Him
- Believe in = depend on Jesus as our personal saviour
- Believe in = transformed by Jesus self-sacrificial / agape love
- Believe in = respond to that agape love with love for others
- Example of people at St. Edmunds who are old and tired but still drive to the Food Bank and Clothing Bank to serve others
4. Readings teach us the cost of being a believer
Being a Christian is more than agreeing with a philosophy of love of God and neighbour. This would make us good Jews, without Christ and the hope of forgiveness and eternal spiritual life. This is a heresy that denies the Cross, and would make Jesus death meaningless.