September 14, 2008
The Elevation of the Cross
We now know we have discovered almost __ from archeological discoveries, that many of the Jewish people after the return from Babylon understood that the Messiah was not going to come as a triumphant conquering king on horseback with an army to drive away their enemies, but that He would be a suffering servant, as Isaiah had related. One who would be bruised for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities. And yet, the very truth of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord is reflected in the fact that there could probably have been no bigger scandal, both to Jews and to Greeks, if one were going to make up a myth, than the story of a man who was hanged on a tree and then rose physically from the dead. Both of these things were abhorrent to the people to whom they were preached and could only be accepted on the level of faith. To the Jews, the cross of Christ was stumbling block. St. Paul uses the word scandal – the word scandal is stumbling block. If you wanted to protect your house at night, you would put around it on the paths and at various intervals, big stones. And then if people attempted to sneak up on you in the dark, they would trip over these stones and fall. And these were called scandaliza, or stumbling stones. They were meant to protect you.
And the cross of Christ was a stone of stumbling to the Jews in their blindness. Why? Because in the Old Testament had declared, it had been decreed, “Cursed is he who is hanged upon a tree.”
The Old Testament had declared that whoever was suspended from a tree as a form of execution, that that person bore a curse. The indication was that his share in life had been cut off. Yet, in understanding this, we discover what the real meaning of the text was: that he who would hang upon the tree would indeed be cursed because he would take upon his shoulders the curse that lay upon mankind.
“On the day on which you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall surely die.”
So, to heal the consequences of humanity eating from that tree, Christ himself came and became the manifestation of the tree of life, the tree from which Adam and Eve could have eaten in the garden, but refrained from eating.
The Jews said, “How can He be Messiah? First, we know the Messiah remains forever and He said, ‘I will be lifted up from the earth.’?”
They understood when He said, “I will be lifted up from the earth,” that He meant He would be crucified.
Have no question about it, the Jews who were listening did not understand this as some kind of parable, it was clear to them when He said, “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me,” that He was talking about being suspended upon a cross.
And they saw this as nonsense, as foolishness, as the abrogation of everything that they had expected. So when the cross of Christ was preached to the Jews, only those whose eyes were spiritually open, whose hearts were able to listen to the word, who were able to see with the eyes of their soul, were able to see that He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.
That when He cried out, “Father! Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani. My God, why has thou forsaken me?” He was crying out with the voice of all humanity, that He was repeating not only the hymn of David in the psalms, but He was repeating the lamentation of Adam outside the gates of paradise. But it was not God who had forsaken Adam or David, it was Adam who had forsaken God, and David who had turned is back on God.
To the Gentiles, the cross and resurrection were great foolishness because it was a given, it was as certain to them as global warming or random evolution are to people today, that the body was evil. The material universe was decaying. It was a trap, a prison, in which pure soul matter was captive. Most Greeks believed that there were two kinds of souls – good ones and evils, and that they were all imprisoned in these clay pots called bodies. It’s why the Greeks began to regard the body with disdain. To say that a person rose from the dead was to them an absurdity. You know Americans don’t understand that.
When I taught a class on death and dying, I would ask people, “What’s your idea of life after death?”
And I’d always have three or four people say, “Well, I believe in reincarnation because this isn’t the life I ordered.”
And I’d say to them, “Isn’t that interesting. The real religions that believe in reincarnation, that is to say Hinduism and Buddhism, for the most part do not regard reincarnation as something good. They regard it as a trap, as a cycle, a being forced back into the flesh again. And they regard as good only escaping from the body.”
Why? Well, David can explain to you how when Alexander the Great came to India, he brought Greek philosophical ideas right at the moment when Buddhism was taking shape and Hinduism was in crisis. So the ideas that were current among the Greek philosophers became current among the peoples of India and China. The body was a prison.
When St. Paul went to the area of ___, to Athens to preach to the Greek philosophers about Christ, and he said, “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead,” the Greek philosophers partly because of their own stubbornness, partly because of Paul’s bad Greek said, “He’s teaching about two new gods: Jesus and Anastaisius- resurrection.”
They thought resurrection was a god. It could not occur to them, they could not get it through their thick heads, that the body was not made for destruction but for glorification. A single tribute to the glorious and honorable character of human individuality, of personality, of personhood is the human body which can touch, and taste, and feel, and hear. Which is capable of sensation, which has a face that can be seen and can see, capable of being known and of knowing, capable of being located and which has an eternal destiny – a destiny of union with God in which we will shine like the stars in heave, shine in bodies. The idea that God created each of us as precious personalities, each of us individual, each of us to love as no one else has ever been loved, cries out for the eternity of human nature, for its redemption, its restoration.
By the way, I read from one of the postings on the internet, there’s an Egyptian Orthodox priest in California whose name is Butras. He’s 72 years old, and he has begun through the use of satellite to telecast and broadcast sermons to all of Arabia and all of the Islamic east.
What he’s telling people is, “Jesus Christ is a God of love. He doesn’t invite you to be frightened of him. He doesn’t threaten you. He welcomes you. He did die on the cross; not in vengeance from an angry father, or in ransom to a devil who had a right to claim his life, but as an act of pure selfless love, he stretched out his hands and accomplished both our atonement with the Father and our redemption from slavery to sin and death.”
And he’s preaching that, it’s being broadcast all over Arabia, and people are contacting him and saying they have converted, they have become Christians. And al Qaeda has put on his head a $30 million prize if someone kills him. Now we only have an $8 million prize on the head of Osama bin Laden. They call him Islam’s public enemy number one. Why? Because he’s teaching to hate Moslems? Because he’s teaching to make holy war on Moslems? Because he’s teaching that we should despise them? No, because he’s teaching the cross of Jesus and the love of God for his people.
So, brothers and sisters, it still remains a scandal. The Greeks wanted wisdom, they wanted to understand how they could escape and become stars in the sky or enter into some kind of Elysian joy, or whatever it was that particular branch of Greek philosophy held up as it’s ideal. And the Jews refused to accept Jesus because he was crucified. So what a great and marvelous thing it was when the Gospel of Christ could penetrate into a heart that was hardened either by Greek philosophy or by Jewish misunderstanding. The veil that the Jews had made Moses put over his face when he came down from the mountain because they couldn’t stand to see the transfiguration light shining reflected from his face, St. Paul says remained over their eyes. What a wonderful thing when that veil can be pierced, when that load of prejudice and of ignorance could be raised, and when those that either asked for signs and miracles or who wished to hear wisdom about escaping from the body, allowed the cross of Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God to penetrate into their hearts and through his love to be converted.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!