Cross
Lenten Learnings Series Week 1

Ephesians 2:12-18  (12)Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  (13)But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.  (14)For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, (15)by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  (16)and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.  (17)And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; (18)for through him we both have access in one Spirit.

Today begins the season of Lent; our journey with Christ where we remember His suffering, crucifixion and resurrection.  The time is 40 days, not including Sundays.  Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and praying, tempted by Satan, getting ready for His ministry that would require His suffering and death.  The nation of Israel spent 40 years in the desert looking for the Promised Land.  In this time, we remember who we are, we remember our suffering, our destiny, and we remember our call to ministry.  We remember the Cross and that the Cross was not just for Jesus, but also for us.  Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality - we are from dust and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).   

I want to try to talk about a circle today, 360 degrees.  Ephesians 2 describes this circle.  I believe God wants us to come full circle with our lives. 

1. Verse 12 says, 12Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 

This is the beginning of our circle.  This is our life BC, Before Christ.  We were once far off; separated from Christ and strangers to God’s will and promises -  hostile, unloving to God and others.  We were people without hope.

A good picture of this life is slavery - like the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt.  They were in a land not their own.  They were hurt and brutalized; slaves to an evil master.  Our sin enslaves us.   It takes us to places far from God – sometimes physically, always spiritually.   We too are slaves to an evil taskmaster – addiction, untruthfulness, selfishness, sexual addiction, fear, darkness, sin, hopelessness.  You define it.  

The Bible says this is all of us.  Romans 3:23 says, ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’   Romans 6:23 says, ‘The wages, or penalty of sin is death.’ None of us are born Christian, we are born into sin.  It is our inherent nature.  

2.  Verses 13-16 say, ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.  (14)  For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, (15) by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (16) and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.’

You were living in your BC, then Christ came.  Sometime, somewhere, we had an encounter with the Cross of Christ.  No one is born a Christian, it’s not automatic, we must meet Him – praying during a storm, a speaker shares the Gospel and that shiver goes up our spine, a tear cannot help but roll down our cheek.  A Walk to Emmaus, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a near miss accident, an unexpected blessing.   Sometime, somewhere the power and awe-ness of the Cross was presented to us.  It dropped with a thud before us and we knew we must deal with it.  We met the real Jesus who suffered, died, and rose again.  You open your heart and say Yes to a relationship with Him.  

This is our Cross moment. This is our justification, our reconciliation to God, our conversion, our re-birth, our salvation. (We are coming around; can you see the circle?)

The Apostle Paul writes this letter to the Ephesians.  He hated Jesus; he felt everything about Him was a lie and he made it his personal mission to stop him.  His BC was hatred, persecution, murder of those who followed Christ.  Then one day, the risen Christ confronted him.  The power of Christ stopped him dead in his tracks; he was shown how blind he really was to God, and a voice – ‘Paul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:4).  

This was Paul’s Cross moment.  It changed his life forever.  He later wrote, For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

3.  Verses 17-18 say, (17) And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; (18) for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

No longer are we aliens to God.  No longer does our negative attitude rule. No longer are we without hope or purpose.  Christ brought peace to our soul.  Christ made us a new man, a new woman.  Then - we begin to share what we received.   People notice the change; kindness, forgiveness, sharing, peace, love all happen.

The message of the Cross is now being lived out in us.  This is our AD time.  AD is a Latin term which means ‘anno domini’ the year of our Lord.   This is the Lord’s time in us.  (Can you see us coming around, moving in the circle?)

What do we do?  We share it with others.  One thing for sure, the Cross is the great equalizer.  We recognize we are all in the same boat of sin.  We are all sinking fast.   Regardless of race, sexual preference, education, financial or social status we all drown.    But the Cross is for all.   Regardless of race, education, financial or social status Christ died for all.  John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

We are all created by the same God.  We are all saved by the same Cross.   We are all equal in the eyes of God.   That’s Truth.  But Reality is -  from the moment we are born until the moment we die – we are all different.  We are different by race, education, financial and social status, geographic latitude.

Full circle is working to make us all One in Christ.  Verse 16 says, …and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. 

Coming full circle is when we take the Cross and help others be reconciled to God and others in this world today.  It is when we work to bring justice, freedom, forgiveness, hope, love, peace to others who are different than us. 

Jesus told his disciples, "If any person would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  (25)  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (26)  For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?  (27)  For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). 

The Cross marks us as equals and we are to work and serve to make others equal with us and Christ.

I heard Dr. Thomas Long, professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.  He is a great preacher.  A local funeral home had brought him to Toledo to talk about preaching funerals a better way.  He described with intriguing stories how in times past Israel mourned Moses for 30 days when he died.   How we have mourned Presidents and world leaders by placing their bodies in the Rotunda and having public ceremonies of mourning.   But today, it is different.   Many do not honor the life of a dead loved one the same today.   He gave example of how mom dies in February in Arizona.   The daughter is the executor and lives in Minnesota.  As instructed, the daughter is notified by the funeral director via cell phone or email of her mother’s death.   She instructs the funeral director to cremate her mother’s body and send her cremains to her in Minnesota.  That next summer, when the family gathers for a picnic, the ashes are distributed on a beautiful lake where mother loved to vacation.  He felt there was a better way. 

Dr. Long said the church he attends is right across from the Statehouse in downtown Atlanta.  In this neighborhood, homeless and street people are in the same vicinity as State Senators and Congressmen.   Many of those politicians attend his church.  The new student pastor at the church had a heart for the homeless and began outreach programs to them.   They were fed in the church and she shared the Gospel with them.   Then she had the idea to invite them to their Ash Wednesday service last year.   So here they come – state politicians, lawyers, highly educated, prosperous, known - and homeless, street people, poor, unknown, some illiterate, all poor.   They sit in the same sanctuary and when the time comes – they all come to the altar to receive the sign of the Cross on their forehead.   Then they are instructed to circle the sanctuary.  Statesmen – homeless form a circle together; they join hands and see each other across the circle, they see the cross.  They are equal, they are one.  Tom Long said in that moment the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong in that place.

From the moment, we are born until the moment we die we are all different; race, education, financial and social status, geographic latitude.   But the Cross is the great equalizer.  With the Cross we are equal in the eyes of God.   When we take up His Cross and carry it onto the highways and byways around us, it works to make others equal.  To take people who are so different than us, politically, financially, socially – the poor and homeless – and make us equal.  So tonight, receive Him and His Cross – and then carry His Cross to all the places around here.

I invite you to repent this day.   Then somewhere, receive the sign of the Cross on your forehead.  But don’t return to your seat – circle the sanctuary – when all have been marked by the Cross we will have opportunity to look at each other across our circle.  All of us, though different in many ways, will all have the Cross that makes us equal and makes us One.  And together we can leave this place and work to make others, different than us, One with us and One with Jesus Christ.   May many others join the Circle of Christ because of us.

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