The Absurd Obscenity of the Cross

On this Good Friday, we set our hearts and minds to remember the selfless act of Jesus giving His life for humanity. There are some who struggle with the premise of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  To a non-Believer, the account appears to be a bit absurd and obscene.  Christians will want to provide a compelling argument against this perception to the non-Believer.  When we examine the Scriptures regarding the introduction of sin and the ultimate removal of sin, we can then understand and appreciate Jesus being the answer.

Sin can be defined as anything that violates the ideal relationship between an individual and God.  Sin was introduced in the Garden of Eden through the act of disobedience. This caused a ripple effect of corruption resulting in physical and spiritual deaths which allowed Satan to have dominion over all that God had given to man.  The old sacrificial system used for the atonement of sin was insufficient. There are no deeds or enough burnt offerings that we could offer to God the Father to protect us from His wrath.  Jesus was and still is the answer.

The entry of sin, the answer to sin, and the ultimate removal of sin all have one common component – a tree.  Through the act of disobedience, Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil ushering sin into the world. (Genesis 3:1-6 KJV)  We celebrate Good Friday because Jesus provided the solution to sin by dying on the tree. (Acts 5:30 KJV)  We anticipate the ultimate removal of all sin in eternity through the Tree of Life. (Revelation 22:1-3 KJV)

The fact is that what Jesus endured for humanity was absurd and obscene, yet necessary.  The absurdity was the arrest, trial, conviction, and sentencing of Jesus.  The obscenity was the mockery, brutality, and crucifixion of Jesus.  Sin separates us from God the Father placing us in spiritual darkness (or death).  Before the crucifixion, our Heavenly Father saw the absurd obscenity through our sins.  After the resurrection, God sees the shed blood of His Son that covers the multitude of past, present, and future sins.

True Disciple Requirements and Characteristics

What makes us true disciples for Christ? True discipleship is more than acknowledging God, being baptized by water, identifying ourselves as Christians, and attending worship services religiously. Jesus made this clear to the mixed multitude of followers in Luke 14:25-35. Not everyone that followed Christ were true Believers or Disciples. It is evident through the Scriptures that Jesus wanted people to be aware of the requirements. He was not seeking enthusiasts, fascists, or groupies who falsely identified themselves as His disciples. Jesus was specific about the requirements.

True Disciples will…

  • Love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds (Matthew 22:37; Luke 14:26-27; John 14:15)
  • Study the Scriptures for teaching, reprimand, improvement, and training in morality which will equipped us for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17)
  • Possess faith in God (Hebrews 11:6)
  • Assist in spreading the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 19:9-10, John 8:31)
  • Acknowledge that we are not exempt from enduring affliction, persecution, and suffering (Matthew 10:24-25; Luke 14:27)
  • Pursue Christ (Luke 14:27)
  • Be productive, fruitful (John 15:8)
  • Teachable (John 14:26; John 6:60-66)
  • Live our lives characterized by love (John 13:35)
  • Worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24)

In Psalm 15, David asked God, “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” David was making inquiry to what characteristics were necessary to be Citizens of Zion. This Psalms identifies five important characteristics for the Citizens of Zion. The Citizens of Zion will be…

  •  Psalms 15:2 ~  Sincere about their relationship with God and be blameless in their Christian Conduct. Obedient to all ordinances and commandments of  God.
  • Psalms 15:3 ~  Those who avoid speaking evil (gossiping and backbiting), and are careful not to cause harm to anyone.
  • Psalms 15:4 ~  Values and respects virtues and godliness, but despises wickedness and does not envy their possessions.
  • Psalms 15:5 ~  Philanthropists who freely gives to the poor within their ability. They will not accept bribes or be a party in extortion.

When we compare the requirements with the characteristics, we are able to see how they align with one another. In knowing the requirements and characteristics, do we still say “Yes”? If we examine our personal relationship with God, are we meeting His expectations? Are we sincerely striving to be the true worshippers that God seeks?

Counting the Cost

The gift of salvation is free. (Romans 5:15) However, there is the cost of discipleship that all must consider. Luke 14:25-33 (NIV) provides us with a recount of Jesus speaking to the mixed multitude of followers. Not everyone in the multitude were true followers of Christ. Jesus being aware of this fact spoke to the multitude regarding the requirements of true discipleship. Jesus was not interested in enthusiasts. He was seeking true disciples. Verses 26-27 says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

In these verses, Jesus emphasizes that a true disciple must be willing to give up family, friends, and their own lives to follow Him. This is very important. Not simply because we must be willing to give up everyone and everything but because it means that our lives are not our own. We do not live for ourselves; we live for Christ. It is also important to focus specifically on verse 27. Jesus makes references to carrying their own crosses. The cross is a symbol of suffering and persecution. In other words, are you willing to be insulted, physically beaten, and/or tortured to serve Him? Will you lay down your life in service for Him? He encouraged the followers to reflect upon these requirements before willfully committing.

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus states that not everyone that cries out proclaiming to prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles in His name will enter the kingdom of heaven. Furthermore, Jesus says that He will tell them, “…‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” This group of people are the hypocrites displaying a form of godliness, without the power. In Matthew 25:31-46, speaks of Jesus’ return and how he will address the sheep and the goats. Sheep are symbolic of God’s children who will reap the inheritance of the kingdom and eternal life. The goats represent the hypocrites who will receive eternal punishment.

There is a difference between calling ourselves a Christian and actually being one. Christian are called not to love the world or anything in it. (1 John 2:15) It is our duty to be living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1) Our greatest commandment is to “…’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” We must evaluate ourselves honestly and soberly. Now that we know what it takes to be a true disciple we must ask ourselves the question. Is God seeking us?

Worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth

In the Book of John chapter 4, John provides the narrative on the Woman at the Well. This narrative provides insight to the type of worshippers God the Father seeks. John 4:23-24 states, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Jesus explains to the Samaritan woman at the well that the physical location of worship is not relevant. Who we are and how we live matters to God. The Father seeks those whose worship engages their spirit in the pursuit of truth.

Why must we engage our spirit in our worship? Because God, sheer being itself is spirit. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about the greatest commandment in the law, “Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 NIV) Our worship is a reflection of our love for God. We are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. In other words, we are to love God with our entire being. God provided man with the honor of being created last. Unlike any other creatures that God designed, God gave man a soul. One of the ways we are created in God’s likeness through our soul (soul is interchangeable with spirit). The soul is an intelligent, immortal, and influencing active spirit. Our spirit not bones and flesh is required for true worship.

How do we worship God according to His standards if we are ignorant? The answer is simple, we cannot. Hosea 4:6 (NIV) provides a warning regarding ignorance, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” Worshipping God in truth means to worship God as His word directs. John 17:17 (NIV) says, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Attempting to worship God from what the Scriptures direct us to do in worship is empty and in vain. Mark 7:7 (NIV) tells us, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”

Amos 5:21-23 (NIV) illustrates how God detest vain worship. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” If we are living sinful lives and using religious rituals and traditions for appearance sake, God will despise our worship and not accept our offerings. He desires sincere hearts and not the worship of hypocrites.

Our worship should not be dependent upon how we desire to worship God but according to what God commands. We must worship in spirit and in truth. It is not a choice between spirit or truth. Both are requirements for proper worship pleasing to God. We cannot engage into worshipping God “in truth” but not “in spirit”. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8 (NIV), “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” Any endeavor to worship God that is not specified in the Scripture is in vain. We need to ask ourselves the question. During corporate worship services are we more concern about our image or our attitude toward God?

Being Living Sacrifices

Examining Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul addresses the Body of Christ regarding true and proper worship. He encourages the Believer to consider God’s compassion and blessings toward us. For this reason, we should offer God something very precious – ourselves. Being a living sacrifice means to present our daily lives as an offering to God. We must reverence God in all that we do. Actively seeking God by keeping our minds focused on Him and His Word allows us to be transformed. We are called not to conform to the traditions and ideologies of the world but to live according to God’s will and purpose. With God to guide us we are empowered and equipped as God’s perfect will for our lives unfolds.

The Apostle Paul states “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Loyal devotion is what we should desire to give for His mercy toward us. For our sacrifice to be pleasing to God we must present our offering according to God’s standards. Our attitude and the way we present ourselves before God is vital. This is perfectly illustrated in Genesis 4:3-5 as it recounts the offerings of Cain and Abel. This was the first act of worship after man’s fall. Abel presented before the Lord the “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” Cain, on the other hand, offered yield from his farm. Abel’s sacrifice received God’s approval and was pleasing to God. However, Cain did not receive the favor of God. Why?

Hebrews 11:4 (NIV) says, “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” Abel presented an offering of atonement acknowledging that he was a sinner deserving death but hoping for mercy through his sacrifice. Abel’s offering was through an act of faith and being a true worshipper. Cain presented an offering of acknowledgement and thanksgiving. Cain did not submit an offering as an act of faith but from the force of education or natural conscience. When we read further, we learn that although God rebuked Cain’s offering Cain was given another opportunity to present an offering.

There were two key causes to the rebuke and rejection of Cain’s offering. Cain was disconnected from God -lacking a true relationship. Cain did not have the right attitude in his worship. Proverbs 21:27 (NIV) says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable — how much more so when brought with evil intent!” Cain’s reaction to God’s rebuke would indicate that Cain’s attitude was wrong from the start. When Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God, Cain sulked and became angry. Cain’s sin was not in his sulking or anger. Cain had a choice to correct his attitude in presenting offerings to God. Yet, he chooses to take out his anger on Abel in murder. One of the most important lessons we can learned from Cain’s life is to present our offerings by faith, with the proper approach, and in reverence to God.

We are no longer bound to the old sacrificial system because Jesus paid for all of our sins on the cross. Yet, the requirements for presenting our offerings have not changed. We must worship God according to what He commands in His Word. God alone is worthy of our worship; therefore, He should be our focus when we worship. Like Cain, God gives us the opportunity to reevaluate ourselves. Do we desire to worship God for the right reasons? Do we present our offerings by faith or out of tradition? Are we the true worshippers that God seeks?

Our True Identity in Christ

I Peter chapter 2 verse 4-12 talks about The Living Stone and a Chosen People. Metaphorically, Jesus is referred to as The Living Stone. This reference denotes His attributes of invincible strength, everlasting duration, and our rock of offense for all our enemies. Jesus is our protection and security. He is our foundation of all our hopes and happiness. It is through Jesus that we have true knowledge of God. By Him we have access to the Father and are made partakers of spiritual blessings.

As God’s Chosen People we are like living stones being built-in the temple of the Holy Ghost. Our purpose is “to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5 NIV) Because we put our trust in Jesus we will never be put to shame. (1 Peter 2:6 NIV) For those who did not believe, the rejected stone [Jesus] became the cornerstone. (1 Peter 2:7 NIV) Their disbelief will cause them to stumble because they disobeyed the message and forfeit their destiny. (1 Peter 2:8 NIV) It is because we are God’s special possession (a chosen people, royal priesthood, a holy nation) we are highly privileged. We have the honor to praise God. Before accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior we could not possess the privilege of mercy. We must remember who we are in Christ. We are the Elect. We should not remain as babes in Christ but continuously grow in our relationship and knowledge of Him.

Being a true worshipper is not about religion but relationship with God. For a moment, think of a person you consider being your best friend. Reflect on your relationship with them. Ask yourselves these questions. Why are they your best friend? When did you know that you could trust them? What do you know about them? Where are they when you need them? How did you become so close with that person? How did you learn about their likes or dislikes? You invested time with them. You observed their responses to various scenarios. You shared good and bad experiences with them. During rough times they have been a shoulder to cry on. You shared private and personal things with them and they did not spread it around town.

Do you have the same “best friend” perspective as it relates to your relationship with God? In order for us to know God, we need to invest our time with Him. We should seek to learn about what is pleasing and displeasing to Him. We should desire to communicate with Him frequently. We should rely on Him through times of calamity. We should celebrate victories with Him. We should show Him our appreciation, respect, and love daily.