The Empty Cross: People!
Ephesians 2:14-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[a] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[b] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.
Oh, God, we know that you love us so much. And yet not only you love us but every person on this planet. Every tribe, every tongue, every nation. Lord, you love people that we don’t love. We pray that today you teach us about the cross. Teach us about the love you have. That your heart might be in us that we might be people of the cross. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Everybody agreeing says, Amen.
If you want to start a company, or you want to launch a cause, one of the first things you need to come up with, or you need to agree on with your team would be a logo. We need a really good logo these days to capture people’s attention because there are so much competing things for our attention, right? We see thousands of advertisement every day so a logo is very important. One advertising executive said that a logo is a symbol of everything that a company represents. So I am going to put you into a test this morning. Everybody gets to play. And what’s going to happen is an image is going to come up on the screen, and I want you to call out that company that that logo represents. All right? Now every woman and man for yourself. It’s not a team effort, all right? We will see you the first one to call it out. I am watching and listening. Are you ready? Get, set, go! (slides) The importance of a logo is obvious, isn’t it? We just tested out. Every one of us knows the logo. Then do you consider what the logo is of Christianity? It is an empty cross, isn’t it? And for those of us that know Jesus and follow Jesus, the cross is a powerful symbol. When we look at this cross where the prince of peace died, it warms our hearts, it draws us closer to God, it reminds us of him. When we see a cross, it causes us to something. And yet if you think about it, this is probably the worst pick for logo ever. It would’ve been an advertising nightmare in the first and second century because the cross was an instrument of death! It would’ve been equivalent of somebody saying, “You know what? I want to start a new company, a new cause, and I want to have our logo to be an electric chair!” Does it really have the same ring as say McDonalds or Cubs or Packers? That’s what our logo is. Tertullian, the Christian writer wrote in the year 204 that people that follow Jesus, we are devoted to the cross. They are devotees of the cross. This is what he wrote. To early Christians, this was the logo. This was the powerful symbol that describes who we are as followers of Jesus. And if you think about it, as bad as the logo was, it’s a miracle that they were able to spread the good news, the first follower of Jesus. I mean, think about that group. Maybe you read about them. They didn’t have any buildings like we do today. They didn’t have any budget. They didn’t have any musical instruments like we do today. They didn’t have marketing. They did n’t have political power or personal prestige. They didn’t have a persuasive ability. What did they have? How come did this movement take off to the point where we are sitting here today? They had the cross. They had conviction. They had victory in Jesus because of the cross. They understood the great commission to go spread the gospel of Jesus all over the world. And we like the first followers of Jesus are called to be devoted to the cross, to the people fo the cross. Wouldn’t you agree? That is our call. That’s our task. And this morning we are going to take a look at Ephesians 2, a chapter in the Bible that describes what this means to be a person of the cross. What does it look like?
(slide) The first answer is that the empty cross unites us to God! This is great news. We are Easter people. We believe that on the cross this incredible event took place in history. Jesus hung on the cross and all of our sins was put on him. And then he was raised from the dead. Jesus, he changed history. He changed our story. He definitely changed my story. What about you? What does cross do? Look with me number 1. (slide) The empty cross moves us from death to life! In Ephesians, Paul says, (slide) Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins…But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) Ephesians 2:1,4-5 (NLT). We cannot earn this. It’s a gift that we can only receive.
Look with me number 2 (slide) The empty cross moves us from far away_to near! Far away from God to near to God! That’s what this beam that points to heaven does. Now, we are going to look at the next part of the Scripture. Before we take a look at the next verse. I want to have a little Bible study here. I want you to know what a Gentile person is. There are two groups of people in the world. There were Jewish people and there were Gentile people. What does it mean to be Gentile? It means that you are not a Jew. Simple definition. All right?
So now let’s look at the Scripture. Paul says (slide) “In those days you were living apart from Christ. (He is talking to Gentiles. Non-Jews) You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (slide) But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:12-13 (NLT)
“But Now” circle those two words. You’ve been brought near to God. You are the blood of Christ. This is true for the first-century believer and this is true for us today. We who are separated from God have been brought near. Promises of God can be real in our lives. Love is built from God’s heart to our hearts. And this all is represented in the cross. Church, think about those two words, “BUT NOW.”
We were once dead but now we are alive. We were once far away but now we are near. The hymn, “Amazing Grace” says I one was lost, but now I am found. I was blind, but now I see. This is amazing grace! This is the cross! This is why it’s the symbol. This is everything that Jesus represents! Because what it does is a relationship with God.
Now we can almost close in a prayer with this wonderful message except the Scripture doesn’t stop there. There’s more to the story. There’s more to God’s glory to be revealed in your life today. And I got to tell you it’s a little tougher than what I have just been talking about.
See, all we get to do is receive God’s grace. Just receive it. The repenting is hard. I would admit that. It’s tough. We really just need to come to God with open hands but the real work begins as we talk about the horizontal beam of the cross. Let’s see what the horizontal beam of the cross means to us.
(slide) The empty cross unites us to one another! One another! What are we going to talk about? People! People, especially that are difficult to get along with. See, this is part of the cross. You know John 3:16. You’ve heard this verse probably before. (slide) “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” So you know this verse. Then you know what 1 John 3:16 if you flip in the back of the Bible? The verse says this, (slide) “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16 NLT) Wow, that changes things, doesn’t it? This is higher level of commitment. It’s maybe what we first thought. Because we are supposed to be willing to lay down our lives, give up our lives for brothers and sisters. How? How is this possible? Look with me to fill in the next blank.
(slide) The empty cross moves us from hostility to peace. That’s how. Let me ask you a question. What relationship in your life is most volatile? What relationship in your life needs the most work right now? Now if they are in the room, don’t look at them or turn your head to them. Just think about it. Just picture them. Think about the relationship. That one person. That one person you feel hostility toward, and they might feel the same toward you. One more question. What group of people do you feel hostility toward? You know we like to group people. We like to label people. Each of us has our favorites and each of us has our less than favorites. What is that group for you? God wants you to move hostility to peace with even them, with even that person. Look with me what Paul says to Ephesians, and I want you to circle the phrase, circle the word “Peace”, okay?
(slide) For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. (slide) Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. Ephesians 2:14-18 (NLT)
How many did you get? Four. That’s right. Peace, peace, peace, peace. They did peace in there relationships. The Jews and the Gentiles. How bad was it? It was really bad. Let me tell you how bad. One biblical scholar talked about these two groups of people hating each other so much that he said Jews had immense contempt for the Gentile. They said that Gentile were created to be fuel for the fires of hell. Now that’s tough stuff, isn’t it? If a Gentile woman was about to give birth, and she was in need, and a Jewish person was walking by, they cannot help. They would not help because they hated her simply because of the way she was born. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile young woman, the family of that boy would immediately hold a funeral because he was as good as dead. This is hatred, isn’t it? I mean, can you wrap your mind around this? If you are a baseball fan, it would be cubs’ group of fans getting together with some of St. Louis Cardinals, and you are watching a game together in perfect harmony and love with one another. Now you are getting there. You are starting to warm up to it. This is what was going on. This is how divided they were!
You know the poem that is written by Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”? This poem describes two farmers to come out every spring following the winter freezes the stones of the fences would fall over. And it would come out every Spring and they would repair the fence believing that good fences make good neighbors. Have you ever thought this? They certainly did. They went out and fixed the fences every year. Except one farmer begins to question this habit. And Frost has him say these words. He says, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.” Did you hear those words? “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants a wall down.”
In our relationships, God is saying to us we need to tear down the walls. God is saying, “People of the cross, there’s something we don’t love about a wall.” They want the wall down. People of God, people devoted to cross, what is the Bible screaming at us today, the Scripture is screaming, “People of God tear down your walls! Tear them down! Eliminate them with that person! When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died, I know that there’s peace that can be had through the power of the cross. In every relationship we can move from hostility to peace. And you might say, “I don’t want to do that.” I understand. I don’t either. This is a hard teaching, isn’t it? Jesus says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” This is a tough stuff. Why does he say this? Here is why! Because hate cannot drive out hate. Hostility begets more hostility. But love drives out hate. Light shines through darkness and darkness cannot overcome it. We know this. We all know this, right? We know that God’s way is higher than our ways.
So what we need to do is just lay down our arms, lay down our hostility. Seek to be actively engaging with a tough mind and tender heart and we are going to love people no matter what, which is by the way God loves you and me.
So what bridge needs to be built? There was one girl whose name was Ruby Bridges. Ruby Bridges lived in the early 1960s. She was only 6 years old when she was chosen to be the first African American to enter the local elementary school. Tough assignment for 6 year-old girl, don’t you agree? One day the young girl walked through racially jeering crowd dodging tomatoes in her direction. She walked confidently, step by step with her eyes fixated on the door. Never stepping to the left or the right. She just made her way with great confidence. Why? Because the night before, she was laying in her bed, her mama came to her, laid down with her, said, “You can do it, Ruby. You can do it for the world. And remember Jesus faced the mob, too. And he dare to love those who persecuted him. And he told us to pray for those who persecute us.” 6 years old Ruby can do this. What about me? What about you? Jesus says, “Blessed are those peacemakers.” Why would he say that? Because somebody has to make peace. Somebody, anybody got to make peace. We get to step forward. We have to understand what it means to have this cross at the center of our lives. It means we are willing to lay down our lives and move from hostility to peace. Look with me number 2. (slide) “The empty cross moves us from strange to a family.” I would’ve been really sufficiently challenged if we just went from hostility to peace. But Paul takes up another notch! Another step! Look with me verse 19. (slide) So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Ephesians 2:19 (NLT) What is he saying to these groups of people that despise each other? Paul is writing to the Gentiles and Jews. They hated each other! What is he saying? He is saying, “We are citizens now, citizenship of the same kingdom, the kingdom of God.” That’s the first name. You see the second name? “You are members of God’s family.” All of us, whether you are Jewish or Gentiles, we are adopted into God’s family. We come from different families. We come from different places. We come from different ideas. And yet God says, “I want to bring you all together to be part of one family. And I know this is difficult. It takes determination, doesn’t it? It’s not easy. It’s not efficient. But you know what? You don’t have to like it. Because it is the way of the cross. Choose this day whom you will serve! Are you going to live God’s higher way? If you do, here’s why it is so important. Love will win at the end. But there’s one more. When we do this, when we try to love our enemies, love that person, that group that is hard to love, and the unbelieving world finds Christians to be believable. They find us to be credible. Because we believe and do what we talk about. We love. I have a friend who is serving in the inner city of Chicago. A very tough neighborhood. And she told me there was a 16 years old kid who started coming to her church. His name is Kim. My friend told me he was a tough kid. And Kim came wearing all black to proclaim he was an atheist and he wanted all of the church people to know this all the time. And here is the thing that really bugged my friend who was pastor at the church. Kim always sat at the front door to be a greeter. On a Sunday morning an atheist kid wearing all black greeting people! This is not what they want! My friend said she began to have some hostility that built up in her toward Kim so she said to her youth pastor, “Go get to know him! Love him! That’s an order!” And the youth pastor came back to her and told her, “Hey, pastor. Kim’s behavior comes out of his story. Kim’s mom, she always wanted a girl so when Kim was born, she named him Kim, called him her daughter. When he was five and a half, Kim was left to babysit with his next baby brother. A new baby was born into the family. And Kim accidentally drowned his baby brother in the bathtub. So his mom, when she got home, went into a rage, she stabbed Kim multiple times until the authorities got there. She is down to prison for life. And his father holds Kim responsible for killing his brother and for imprisoning his mother.” My friend pastor felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit for my hostility. One day her church was having a service on Sunday morning. That morning a children’s choir from Africa gave them a special concert. All the African children from more than 20 counties in Africa. She said it was a beautiful concert. And Kim was on the balcony and he made his way down, all the way down to the front. And my friend was worried about what he was doing. Kind was maybe nervous. Kim melted at the altar. And he waved his hand to my friend to come over to him, so my friend came over to him. Kim said, “I want to pray to receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” And my friend didn’t behave very pastorally. She said, “what?” Are you serious? And she called the youth pastor who really loved him and they prayed! And after they prayed, my friend was still in shock. She asked, “Kim, what happened?” And he said, “Pastor If Jesus can unite all these people from all over the world, I can believe Jesus is real!” Church what we love as he loves. Then unbelieving world finds us truly believable. They find the message of the cross to be real because we love! It is cross. It’s a cross, our logo. Who do you need to love? Who do you need to reach out to love? Do you know this song? (slide) We are one in the Spirit We are one in the Lord We are one in the Spirit We are one in the Lord And we pray that all unity May one day be restored And they’ll know we are Christians By our love by our love Yes they’ll know we are Christians By our love. Thanks be to God! Amen.