“…Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
The ancient world was a vast field of magnificent temples. Only buildings bespeaking power, permanence, and ultimate authority could adequately proclaim the mystery of divinity. The gods deserved nothing less, or so thought the ancients.
Then God set up a cross.
It was forged by nameless servants of imperial authority. A bare, rude thing. A time tested instrument designed to evoke terror and coerce obedience through the application of unspeakable cruelty. Only the very worst, despised offenders suffered the fate of the crucified ones. The Romans lined roadways with them so that passers by would be forced to carry the weight of pitiful suffering and inhale the stench of rotting corpses. It was about as far from divinity as one could get. This is the symbol of God’s presence with us?
God set up His cross where the four roads we travel most, meet: guilt, failure, spiritual poverty, and willful disobedience. The gift of God’s cross, the baptism into Christ’s death, is not given until I see that nothing in the world – nothing - can address my sickness unto death except this one, impossible, ridiculous sacrifice. For only by the shame, cruelty and utter godlessness of the cross can the true magnitude of our guilt – and God’s merciful love – be measured. The cross proclaims to us what our true position in life really is. No wonder we flee from it for all we’re worth.
But Christ Jesus did not flee from the cross. He embraced it’s suffering and shame in love – for you. And three days after they laid His battered corpse to rest, God vindicated His trust and raised Him from the dead.
Through Word and sacrament God continues to set up the cross – and the empty tomb – in the center of our lives, and through them releases faith,hope and love. And since Christ Jesus embodies hope He rightly calls us to hope – not in our efforts, our so-called free will or determination, but in Him, the crucified. This is the scandal of the gospel – Jesus appears in the defenseless form of the crucified God to put an end to our pretensions to righteousness in order that we might have a righteousness based on faith. A righteousness won for us, the ungodly, through His death on the bloody cross and His resurrection from the dead, where the true glory of God is revealed.