The Cruciform Lens

March 29, 2024 | Brandon Cooper
This sermon argues that the cross of Christ should transform our perspective by moving us from a focus on status and performance to one on grace. It suggests the cross provides a “cruciform lens” through which we can understand God, others, and the world in a new light. The cross subverts human ideas of power, wisdom and merit by conferring its gifts through Christ’s sacrifice rather than our own works. This new perspective shaped by grace should change how we view and treat all people and situations.


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Good evening. If you want to go ahead grab your bibles you can open up to First Corinthians Chapter One will be in First Corinthians 122 to 24. This evening, First Corinthians 122 to 24 As you’re turning there, in 1857, archeologists are working in Rome on Earth, a bit of graffiti from about the year 200. Kind of a crude drawing of a naked man hanging on a cross with the head of a donkey. And kneeling before Him in prayer is another man and the caption to this offensive little cartoon says, Alex seminoff worships his God. And you understand the point, the absurdity of someone worshipping a crucified criminal justice struck this other somebody who ever wrote the graffiti as to be mocked because it was so absurd. In fact, Francis buffered in his book, unapologetic tried to capture what a modern day equivalent would be, to worshipping a criminal crucified on a cross. And He suggests an example might be a a migrant worker, trying to sneak into this country or another illegally who is suffocated in a freight container, along with countless others, of course, that’s happened to and and to worship that man as a god, despite the fact that there is no dignity, no cachet, no glory, in his death, for him to go on and be worshipped as a god would be well, absurd, unthinkable. Even more than that almost unconscionable. The cross is a scandal. It makes no earthly sense. And yet it is the centerpiece of the biblical story. We need to reckon with us. Why does God reveal himself supremely? And save us through this means? And what does that mean, for all of us? I’d submit to you kind of our point of this evening is that the scandal of the cross should give us a new perspective on just about everything. We need a cruciform lens, cruciform cross shaped lens like a, you know your phone’s got different filter settings on its camera, right? You you flick one on, and all of a sudden, everything’s in bolder colors, or maybe it’s black and white. That’s kind of what the cross should do for us, or if you’re old enough to remember the days of film. And if you remember that, some of you even I do, okay, so if film, you remember looking at the negative, and in the negative, everything was backwards. So if it was black, it was white, if it was white, it was black. And so I think the point here is that we come into the world with a negative filter. And it’s only when we put the cross shaped lens on that all of a sudden, we see things as they really are in full color. So what are we going to look at tonight, we’re gonna look at what that old perspective is the photo negative perspective, and we’re gonna look at how the cross then changes that perspective. Those are the questions that we’re going to seek to answer here in First Corinthians one. So again, First Corinthians 122 to 24. If you’re not there yet, get there now, but a little bit of background just as we’re talking about this. So Corinth was a cosmopolitan city on a major trade route. And what is now Greece. And as a result, it attracted all sorts of social climbers, maybe a US equivalent would be something like Manhattan, that’s kind of what Corinth is. So these are people who are all about winning status for themselves. And of course, in that they’re not all that different from where we are, because I think most parts of the world actually that’s kind of what we’re about winning status for our selves. So that’s the lens we come in with. But what does the cross do to it what happens we have the cross at the center, that’s what we’re talking about. Here it is first Corinthians 122 to 24. Paul writes, Jews, man signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles, but for those whom God has called both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Alright, let’s look at this. So okay, what’s the lens we come into the world with the cultural lens, if I could reduce our cultural lens to just a single word, I think it is status, status, and performance. In other words, kind of earned merit. We get people to think better of us or we think better of ourselves as a result of what we’ve done. You can see status symbols all over this text in these paragraphs, you know, starting in verse 20. For example, in the passage, I just read verse 26, as well look at some of the words that are there you see words like wise, teacher, philosopher, righteous, influential, noble. Now, some of those are given by the accident of your birth, like nobility, but most of those are earned. If your name is Socrates, Jr, you may get a teaching gig at the local community college, but that doesn’t make you a philosopher. But you got to actually earn that, right. But think how this lens then this, this status seeking lens shapes, how we see ourselves, our neighbors, and even our God, it would give us in each case, what we maybe would call a market mentality, like it’s transactional. So, myself, for example, how does this shaped my view of myself, I need to advance myself, in this instance, you know, I’m that social climber there in Corinth. And what happens when you do that your your self image fluctuates, like the stock market, like on your good days, when you’ve done really well at work, or something like that, you know, the stock market is up and you’re feeling really good, I knew it. I knew I was smart, I knew I was good at this. And you know, you’re just on top of the world. And then the next day, when it all comes crashing back down, you’re starting to question, Do I have any significance? Is there any meaning to my life? Am I worthwhile or not? That’s how we see ourselves. But how do we see others then? Well, others are either going to be competition, or useful idiots that we can exploit in our own self advancement. You know, can she helped me advance? That would be the big question we might think of with, you know, our networking, somebody at work, or even, you know, you could bring that into marriage, you know, is this somebody who’s going to make me look better? If you got, you know, good wages coming her way, she’s going to be a good parent, something like that. What can you do for me, if it’s something well, then I’ll use you even exploit you. And if it’s nothing, well, it’s easy to just discard or just ignore you. You understand how that mentality would promote divisions within society. Of course, we see it here, the division between Jews and Greeks, the one group Jews, they see themselves as righteous because they are scrupulously keeping God’s laws. But of course, the Greeks see them as foolish, stupid, clinging to fables and fairy tales, ridiculous things like the idea that there would only be one God and that He has selected you of all nations on Earth. The Greeks on the other hand, they see themselves as wise they got Plato, they got Socrates, they got Aristotle, they’re doing pretty well here. But of course, in the eyes of the Jews, they are just immoral, because they’re not keeping God’s law. These same two divisions persist, of course, today, we’ve still got the religious secular divide, of course, the religious are those who try to earn the status by good deeds, the secularists would be those who try to earn the status by impressive deeds. But that status requires lines, because that’s the only way if you know you’ve actually achieved status. Am I above the line? Or am I below the line? If I’m above it, I can look down on it and despise those who are underneath it. This happens politically, of course, the line goes this way, because of the people on the left and the right. And so you’re either those godless progressives or those racist populace, depending on which side of the line you’re on? Of course, we have a line religiously, are you righteous? Or are you not? But it’s not just the religious who have this. Atheists will often draw this line. They’re the smart ones. We’re the Dumb ones. And there’s some really funny lines to like when it comes to things like tolerance. We’re the people who don’t draw lines, unlike those of you beneath the line, who do draw lines, or religious pluralists. All the people below the line think they have the whole truth. With their one puny, little religion, we actually have the whole truth because we know that you all only have part of the truth. We all draw lines. So you understand this, the status seeking market mentality performance narrative, when it comes to ourselves, and how we view other people, but what about God? What does this have to do with our relationship with God? Well, Paul tells us right because he says Jews demand signs, and the Greeks look for wisdom. Did you notice that in both cases, God needs to prove himself to us to show that he’s worthy of our devotion. It’s the same question just on the cosmic scale. What can you do for me?
Do you have the power that I need? Do you offer the wisdom that I seek? And so our performance is still to the Earn status, the Jews are coming at this from the perspective of we’ll keep this covenant so that you’ll deliver us and thus prove that we’re in the right, after all, which we were pretty sure we are, or the Greeks are saying, we’ll seek the absolute so long as we attain enlightenment, and then get to prove that we’re wise like Plato, neither one is actually seeking God or gods. They’re seeking to use God to get what they want. They’re willing to perform, to earn what they desire. Thank goodness, things have changed, right? Nobody’s ever come to Jesus just seeking the blessings He offers, maybe it’s money, maybe it’s a good marriage, or well behaved kids or inner peace. You can see the whole enterprise is fueled by demands and desires, give me what I want. And then all that I’m at the center, even for the religious. But now we understand why Paul calls the cross, a stumbling block, and foolishness, because it is the opposite of status winning. It is weakness and stupidity, when would I need his strength and wisdom? Like we got to market mentality when it comes to our religion, this Jesus stock is bust, like invest in Bitcoin or something, you got better luck there. So why is it a stumbling block? You know, what makes it such a foolishness let’s keep looking kind of the second point here, the idea of a crucified Christ. Let me read again, this is 22 and 23. A so Jews demand signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. This is what they’re looking for. And this is what we’re offering. This is what we preach, and they don’t line up but actually doesn’t say, We preach Christ crucified capital, see, that would need a definite article there. It just says, a crucified Christ. Crucified Christ, that’s just an oxymoron. That’s like saying, We preach a successful catastrophe. Which, by the way, is exactly what we preach. But that’s beside the point. It would be impossible to overstate just how jarring that phrase would be to Paul’s original audience. Some of you are here tonight, you got crosses on your necklace, or maybe even a tattoo. No one here tonight has an electric chair as a pendant on their necklace. Nobody’s got, you know, the chemicals for a lethal injection tattooed on their forearm. And even that doesn’t quite capture it, by the way, because the whole point of a lethal injection is that it would not be a cruel or unusual punishment. When you’re executing a criminal. It’s meant to offer as much dignity as possible in an execution. That’s not the cross. The cross was not just meant to be an execution but a humiliation. One commentator describes it like this what the scene would be like he says victims would hang naked bowels would empty dogs would probably cadavers would be left to rot smells would carry birds would scavenge. And this shame was expressly public, like a McCobb advertising hoarding. That’s what the cross was. It was a billboard saying Rome wins again. Look at what happens to those who cross us pun intended. There’s your victory. There’s your power. There’s your sign. There’s your wisdom. No wonder it is a stumbling block. In Greek where there’s actually scandal, like we get our word scandal from that, and foolishness, you know, where do we get from that? Moron? That’s it. moronic scandal. There’s your victory. Except it really is. It really is our victory. The cross of the great paradox not just a Christianity but of all things. It subverts everything. It takes that photo negative and turns it into the full color photo turns the symbol of Roman power and cruelty into the enduring symbol of God’s triumph and charity. And elsewhere Paul makes this point with devastating effect. He writes to the church and Colossi Having disarmed the powers and authorities. He made a public spectacle Have them triumphing over them by the cross. I thought that this helpless, naked, crucified torture victim, embarrassing the Imperial authority of Rome. They’re the spectacle. They’re the billboard. Except the cross doesn’t just flip Rome on its head, it flips all of us on our heads, especially when it comes to our status seeking market mentality performance narrative is why after all, is Christ hanging on that cross? Because you and I did not perform adequately. We failed. You want to talk status, we can talk status, apart from Christ, you know what your status is, and my status, condemned sinner. That’s it. That’s the status we bring with us. So Jesus came to give us what we could not earn. Exactly what we just saying about all sufficient merit. He confers this status on us it is a gift. Look at how Paul plays this out verses 27 to 31. And he subverts everything I’ll, I’ll show it to you as we go. But here’s verses 27 to 31. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things the world to shame the strong God chose the lowly things of this world, and the despise things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him, just because of him that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. You see what Paul’s saying? He is saying, in the world thinks you’re foolish. But that foolishness is actually God’s wisdom for you, you have become the wisdom of God as you believe this. He says, Christ is our Righteousness, righteousness here meaning our accepted status before God, which contrasts with the weakness, the lack of status that we had earlier. Or Christ has become our holiness here not meaning our our good works, but are being set apart or being consecrated to God brought into nearness to him, which contrasts with our being despised. Formerly, in Christ is our redemption, redemption, meaning that we were purchased by a new owner at great price, which proves that we are no longer Nobodies, the things that are not us, we don’t have our freedom and dignity purchased for us. But all of that is only by grace. And so the cross flips salvation on its head. So we come into this world with a with an N shaped narrative. Christopher Walken says this, I like this a lot. So literally, he’s gonna flip it on its head and shape, narrative meaning lowercase, and we try to climb the ladder up to God, by doing all our good works. And then God pours blessings out on us. The cross flips the end on its head. It’s a U shaped narrative. There’s what happens first. God comes to us in Christ, by grace, we appropriate through faith, and then we respond in loving obedience to Him. Walking goes on to say I love this quote. He says he’s quoting from Ezekiel 18, verse 20, he says, into the monotonous drumbeat of the one who sins is the one who will die, Grace syncopated and insistent, but we just have this drumbeat, you sin, you die you sin, you die, you send it out, but but, but for grace, to fusions to write, but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ is by grace you have been saved. It is that but that overcomes the market mentality. Why? Because God did not ask what we could do for him when he saved us. This was an act of self sacrificial, self disinterested love, walk and goes on to say he’s kind of riffing on John 316, maybe the most famous verse in the Bible and he says, John 316, doesn’t say For God so calculated profit and loss that He gave His one and only son.
No, but for God so loved the world. It is a freely given love. It is the logic of super abundance, lavish generosity. We are given all that we seek and more in Christ. What does that do to us? That radically transforms us from the inside out so that we have a whole new perspective of ourselves? neighbors and of our God, let’s look at that perspective. The cruciform lens. Paul’s point is simple. Verse 24, to those whom God are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Right. Once you’ve grasped the wonder of the cross, your perspective changes what was foolishness becomes wisdom, new lens, new views, what looked like foolishness is now wisdom, it looked like weakness is now strength, it looked like failure is now victory. the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, the weakness of God is stronger than human strength, verse 25. But it doesn’t just stop there. It’s not that this gives us a new perspective on the cross. This gives us a new perspective on absolutely everything, when we change from the logic of performance to the logic of grace, in that market mentality that cost benefit analysis, to the logic of super abundance, like if we possess all things in Christ than we can give freely. Like, if you got $30 left in your checking account in three weeks until your next payday, you’re probably not offering to pick up the tab for the friends you’re out with. But if you just inherited $400 billion from a rich uncle, you didn’t know you had happy to pay right? All of us why because does matter, we’ve got so much you can you can have it. That’s what we have in Christ, we’re in that latter category if we belong to Christ, not just with money, but with our most precious resources like time and our very lives. Because death is not the final word any longer. You see through the cultural lens. Sacrifice is stupid. It’s wasteful, inefficient, useless. We’re only willing to love to pour ourselves out if it brings us some benefit. This is what romance is all about. Right? I’m willing to pursue her because of how she makes me feel about myself. Because I know people back home will be impressed if I’ve got a girl as smokin hot as her on my arm. Because I think she’ll make a good mom, whatever it might be. But the the gospel undermines that utilitarian view of people, of all things of how we live our lives, think of Mary, pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’s feet, just before he is arrested. It’s wasteful. She wastes the perfume, it’s gone just like that. And on his feet, no less. And one of the disciples thought that way to listen to what Jacque Elul says about this. He says the one who protests against this free gift is Judas, he would have preferred it to be used for good works for the poor. He wanted such an enormous sum of money to be spent usefully giving to God introduces the useless into the world of efficiency. And this is an essential witness to faith in today’s world. I love that. That’s really deep. My read it again, giving to God introduces the useless into the world of efficiency. And this is an essential witness to faith in today’s world. Our culture is marked by efficiency and usefulness above all else, like that’s what characterizes American culture. And the Gospel says no, that’s not good enough. We can do better than that. And so every time we pour ourselves out, wastefully, we’re proclaiming the gospel of Christ to a world in desperate need of it. Because if after all, weakness, like death on a cross can actually be this tremendous display of strength. Well, then why wouldn’t the wasteful and inefficient actually be what is precious beyond worth? A murderer laying down his life? Well, maybe more mundane examples. Maybe a young person who gives up a Saturday morning week after a week to hang out with a widow, lonely widow, just for conversation, same stories week after week after week. doesn’t bring any benefit. But it’s pouring out wasteful, pouring out the sake of love for the sake of the gospel. Maybe it’s you helping a colleague at work knowing you’re not gonna get credit for it or doing more of than your fair share of the group assignment even though everyone’s gonna get the same grade than the homework. That you shaped Grace narrative replaces the N shaped performance in other words, not just with God, but with others too. Because all of a sudden we treat people not as they treat us, do for them what they can do. For you, we’re going to treat people as God treated us. And that leads us to make choices like forgiveness, erasing debts owed generosity, not just of wealth but of spirit to humility, service, even when the job is thankless and out of sight and mercy, what is mercy except the overcoming of the lines of division, judgment and disdain and separation? Because the cross starts to erase all those lines, doesn’t it? You can’t really be on the right or wrong side of a line, because under the cross the criteria and isn’t performance, but mercy. And so all of a sudden, we find ourselves loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute us, and judging our own sin most harshly not the sins of others, because we know that there but for the grace of God go all of us. The new lens gives us a new perspective on what’s happening to history and world events. You know, if you were to, to read newspaper today through the lens of, say, Darwinism, or even just this performance based religion, you start to end with things like Well, it seems like might makes right, the strong inherit the earth. The rich and beautiful and intelligent are just going to come out on top more often than not. How often today, does it look like evil is winning that evils rewarded? In Psalm 73 asef, talks about as he talks about the fact that he almost stumbled as he was looking around him because righteousness just didn’t seem to be worth it. He began saying, Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. And he goes on for some verses to say, look, like the people who cheat are the people who got ahead. What’s the point of being righteous, except he concludes the psalm like this, my flesh and my heart may fail. But God has the strength of my heart and my portion forevermore. God is my portion. That means I’ve already got everything. I have more than anyone else who does not have Jesus. I am already rich. So we can’t draw a straight line from appearance to reality. In other words, because we know especially from the perspective of glory, that the downtrodden are often victorious. And in fact, it is the meek, who will inherit the earth. But that’s not just in the future, that’s not just in the life to come that that will be true. But in the present, also, because what does Paul say here? He doesn’t say that the cross will become wisdom and power for us at some future date. No, it is already true. If you’re seeking that look to the cross. In fact, whatever you’re seeking, you will find it there. Joy,
even in pain, or death, because now we know that the world can’t take from us what matters most. Not even our loved ones who die in Christ. Hope, of course, because our victory is secure. Christ won it for us on the cross, love, freedom, peace on down the line. You start to understand what Martin Luther meant then when he said that he deserves to be called a theologian who comprehends the visible things of God seen through the cross. Your theologian when you begin to look at the world with a cruciform lens, cross shaped glasses on the cross is the only lens through which we can properly understand reality what God is doing and why. And that’s the point. You want your big idea, your takeaway for the evening. We’ve been saying it all along the cross should change our perspective on everything. Cross should change our perspective on everything. So put your cross shaped glasses on, flick the cruciform filter on on your phone, make sure you don’t have the photo negative but the full printed photo, grace, not performance, because things are not what they seem. They certainly weren’t on that Friday, couple 1000 years ago. We closed by quoting John Stott and his magisterial the cross of Christ he writes this about the paradox the cross He says, The Christian claim is that the reality is the opposite of the appearance. What looks like and indeed was defeat of goodness by evil is also and more Certainly the defeat of evil by goodness, overcome there. He was himself overcoming, crushed by the ruthless power of Rome. He was himself crushing the serpent’s head. The victim was the victor. And the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world. That is the paradox of the cross. That is the cruciform lens. So put your glasses on and let the cross change your perspective on everything. Let’s pray.

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