Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Enemies of the Cross of Christ

"Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)" Philippians 3:17-19

Here is one of those curious phrases of St. Paul, "Enemies of the cross of Christ." Why does he not say, simply, "Enemies of Christ?" What does he mean by specifying the Lord's cross? What sort of enmity is this?

All my life, I have heard people talk of the people who carried palms (an ancient Semitic

symbol of a king), and proclaimed Jesus as the King, the Messiah, the Son  of David, as having missed the mark. They understood Messiah only in terms of the Day when He is revealed in glory and brings the final triumph of the Kingdom of God to all the earth. Indeed, that is true in every way; but so is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah (mostly in Isaiah 52:13-53:12), and the crucifixion foretold in Psalm 22. 

Indeed, the entire prophetic picture of Messiah as priest and sacrifice had also been in the Scriptures all along. But, just as Jesus' own words foretelling His death in detail, and His resurrection on the third day, went in one ear and out the other even of His closest disciples, so too, this entire message of Messiah's first coming to suffer death and thus redeem us, remained hidden. When Jesus had just told Peter how blessed he was for knowing Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, he had to rebuke him: 

"From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:20-25, notice the context)."

In Passiontide we emphasize the Lord's suffering and death on our behalf, with great emphasis on how He bore our sins away, and paid our debt of sin in full. And, this is quite right. Who, we may ask, might be an enemy of that? On Palm Sunday we read that great Christological passage, one chapter earlier than what I quoted at the start of this, in the same Epistle to the Philippians (2:5-11). Often that passage is quoted for its theology, and the theological subtopic of Christology. But, at the time that Paul wrote it, he had a pastoral reason, beginning with "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." 

Christ is, thus presented, as the great example of obedience and humility, leading to the verses that follow, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (12, 13)." It is the same thing that Jesus Himself had said: "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? (Luke 9:21-25)"

Any minister who preaches another way to follow Christ, one which does not involve daily self-denial, and following Him by taking up your cross, is false.

"For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him...For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (II Corinthians 11:4, 14, 15)."

Allow me to enumerate a few of the various enemies of the cross of Christ.

First, the inclusive "and "affirming" church." At a time when the whole world is witnessing persecution of Christians to the death at the hands of such butchers as ISIS and Boko Haram, we see mainline denominations in the United States (chief among them, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church USA, etc.), and other western countries (such as Sweden, etc.) teaching that nothing is more important than "affirming" people in their "lifestyle preferences." This includes treating carnal sexual trangressions as something to celebrate, rather than sins from which to repent. This includes homosexual relations, and also fornication and adultery. To support all manner of carnal sins, they also support abortion on demand, since they believe no one should have to accept any consequences. 

But, God's true mouthpiece will remain steadfast in the Apostle's Doctrine, and warn that all people everywhere must repent or face the danger of the judgment to come. 

Second, the Faith and Prosperity Gospel. You've seen it. Preachers on TV promise that anyone with true faith will never suffer. Nothing could be farther from the examples of God's greatest servants in Scripture (besides, never trust a man with styled hair).

Third, the "uplifting" and "inspirational" preacher. This enemy of the cross of Christ can appear in just about any context, including our own if we are not careful. By the end of all his sermons, everyone feels warm and fuzzy, indeed, exhilarated. But, no one is convicted by the Holy Spirit, through a faithful messenger, to repent from sin, or told how to be faithful, or how to apply the lessons of Discipleship in daily life.

There are others out there, I am sure. But these are prominent in our day and age. Their god is their belly, their glory is their shame, and they mind earthly things. They cannot proclaim salvation. They look for a way to be religious, or filled with faith and power, but in a way that has no cross. 

But, to be one of Jesus Christ's disciples, there is only the old fashioned way. You must take up your cross and follow Him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm coming to this late, but I enjoyed this post very much. I especially like the three enemies of the Cross.

RC Cola