Friday, February 03, 2017

The Power of the Cross: A Word to Al Qaeda and ISIS

We're now seeing reports of online training videos from Al Qaeda's Arabian Peninisula terrorist group, one of which is called, "Courses for Destroying the Cross."

There are all sorts of thoughts this provokes in me. But two in particular stand out.

The first is this. Islamist terrorist groups operate under the misconception that the pluralistic West, including the United States, is entirely Christian. And like many non-Christians in this country, they also are under the misconception that some boisterous, political Christians speak on behalf of all Christians. Just as I do not assume that Isis or Al Qadea speak for all Muslims, people shouldn't assume that terrorists speak for all Muslims. It's dangerous and inappropriate to dump all Westerners or Christians in the same category. Shorthand stereotypes like this are almost always false.

The second thought is this. Whether it's to Islamist terrorists or most people in the post-modern West, the cross is always an object of derision.

The cross is seen by most as a place of defeat and many self-identified Christians shroud it in sentimentality or ignore it altogether.

Christians believe (and by faith, have experienced) that the cross on which Jesus Christ died is also the place where He achieved victory over sin, death, and darkness for all who turn from sin and trust in Christ. That's why we call the commemoration of Jesus' death on the cross "Good" Friday.

Jesus, revealed to be both God and human, led a perfect, sinless life, then offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. By that sacrifice, He won life for those who believe. Romans 6:23, in the New Testament, says: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Jesus says that we become heirs of His victory when we pick up our crosses--in other words, admit our own need of forgiveness and new life, submitting to the crucifixion of our old sinful selves--and follow Him--that is, trust our whole lives to Him and seek to live in faithful dependence on Him.

The good news or gospel is that, by faith, we can apprehend a share in Christ's destruction of our sin, by belief in Him. Jesus' resurrection affirmed Christ's victory on the cross. Death couldn't contain Him...and it can't contain those who trust in Him. This, in turn, frees us to love God, love our neighbor, seek justice, and boldly share Christ with others.

For many, the cross of Christ and the gospel of freedom from sin, death, and darkness that was unleashed from the cross seems foolish and implausible. But with the apostle Paul, Christians can say: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16)

This past Sunday, in many Christians congregations around the world, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, was the appointed second lesson. We read and heard these verses at Living Water Lutheran Church as well. Paul addresses those who think that the power of the cross can be destroyed in the ways buildings can be or that it can be killed the way mortal human beings can be. This is what he writes:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'”

So, a word to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a word also to ISIS: You will never destroy the cross or its power to change lives for good.

You will never conquer its life-giving power.

You will never erase the witness for Christ.

You will never stop the Church's Christ-mandated mission of making disciples.

The Word of God will have the last word.

And all who trust in the Lord Who gave Himself on the cross will keep on loving God and loving you, and living beyond the bounds of death, irrespective of your nihilism, your violence, your hatred, and your bombs.

From the cross, Christ said, "It is finished," or more literally, "It is completion." On the cross, Jesus has already defeated the sin, death, and darkness in which you truck. And you can do nothing to undo His victory or the victory He gives to all who believe in Him.

And one more word: Christ died on the cross for you too. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) Join the people of the cross in daily turning from sin and daily trusting in Christ. You too can live in the power of God's amazing grace given in Christ. You too can know the victory of the cross!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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