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In the Shadow of the Cross

Dr. Roger C. Nichols, associate pastor,
First United Methodist Church of Joplin, Missouri
March 15, 1998


John 16:25-33

24-28 "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."

29-30 Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God."

31-33 "You believe at last!" Jesus answered. "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."(1)

Illustration via drama vignette: "Tell Me Again About Sunday Morning"

(This was a dramatic presentation given between the reading of the Scripture passage and the beginning of this sermon. The portrayal of an aging Mother Mary recalling the day of Jesus' death and resurrection.)

(Upon the conclusion of vignette....)

Tears welled up in her eyes as Mary remembered the terrible death of her beloved son. Yet the unimaginable events of Easter Sunday brought to her the tears of a new joy that was unimaginable. Her son was indeed God's Son, even her Lord, the Savior of the world. He had indeed "overcome the world!"

"Tell me that story again John...." Indeed, tell that story to each of us. The hymn says it so well, "I love to tell the story to those who know it best!"

Yet the power of Jesus' statement in today's passage has a power that goes far beyond that of hindsight. Jesus' proclamation of His overcoming of the world was made even before the cross was in sight. It was a statement of faith made before the actual events of His death and resurrection. Here we hear the words of the Son of God as He announces His victory cry for the whole world to hear, "I have overcome the world!"

His victory was in hand, yet the cross was ahead. Have you ever been at a place in life where you were assured of God's ultimate victory, yet there before you was a time of ultimate testing?

Why is it we presume that in our victory through Christ there will be no challenge to our faith?

Why is it in our victory through Christ, we assume that it's smooth sailing from here on out?

Sometimes things aren't always what they seem to be. Do you know what an oxymoron is? The Random House Dictionary defines an oxymoron as "a figure of speech by which a locution produces a seeming self-contradiction; pointedly foolish." (2) Dr. Laura lists some wonderful examples of oxymorons on her web page on the internet: "act naturally; found missing; resident alien; advanced BASIC; good grief; same difference; almost exactly; government organization; military intelligence; alone together; legally drunk; silent scream; small crowd; business ethics; Microsoft Works; soft rock; software documentation; sweet sorrow; childproof; now, then . . . ."(3)

Yet the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the greatest example of an oxymoron ever depicted: "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." (4) As we return to the cross today to stand once again in its shadow, let's consider a couple of other oxymorons of our Christian faith: "victorious death, atoning blood, and hope of the cross."

Our passage is part of the journey to the Cross in the life of Jesus. This passage comes in the midst of Jesus' teaching about how the world will reject those who follow Him (John 15:18-27); teachings about the guidance that the Holy Spirit of truth will bring (John 16:5-15); His going to the Father (John 16:16); and the promise of His joy that we will never lose (John 16:17-24).

It is now that the Disciples begin to understand the meanings of Jesus' teachings. They are beginning to grow into a newer and deeper spiritual maturity. At this point of their awakening to His words that Jesus challenges them to even greater faith, "Do you now believe?"

"Jesus' words might be taken as a statement rather than as a question as McClymont comments that in any case 'it is more an exclamation than a question.' Jesus is not calling in question the reality of their faith, but directing attention to its inadequacy. They do believe. But they do not, as yet, know the quality of faith that stands firm in the face of difficulty and danger." (5)

Yet in the midst of their growth, they are told by Him that they will abandon Him leaving Him alone in the time of His greatest struggles. "The cohesion of their little band will lose all its strength."(6) Yet to calm their fears and confusions, He proclaims the fulfillment of His mission, "I have overcome the world!" The word for "overcome" is "nikao." It is used only once in John's Gospel, six times in I John, and 17 times in Revelation. The cross would seem to the outsider to be Christ's total defeat. Yet Jesus sees it as His complete victory over all that the world is and can do to Him. He goes to the cross not in fear or in gloom, but as a conquerer."(7)

You and I are no strangers to the mountain tops and valleys of the life of faith. We know the joy of walking with Jesus, the peace of His forgiveness, and the presence of His Holy Spirit. Yet, we also know what it means to fail Him. We have turned away and missed the mark as fears and doubts have prevailed.

We know the struggles that took place in the shadow of the Cross. Yet, we know the comfort and victory of that holy place as well. How well we know the longing in Mary's heart to hear the story of that Sunday Morning told to us over again. Where are you today? Are you abiding in the shadow of the cross or are you looking at it longingly from a distance? Today, I invite you to cling to the old rugged cross, firmly standing beneath its shadow.

E. Stanley Jones wrote,

The Christian Church is founded on the cross. The cross is defeat and you cannot defeat defeat; you cannot break brokenness. It turns the defeat of calvary into the Victory of Easter morning. Jesus didn't bear the cross, he used it. So opposition becomes opportunity. This opposition can help us cleanse our wrongs, realign our scattered energies -- realign them to vital issues; squeeze out the irrelevant in our lives and programs and leave only the relevant."(8)

When we stray from the shadow of the cross, we can no longer see the Son of God and are left with wandering and searching for something other than God's answer to the problem of our sin. We are left searching for that half of God's son that does not exist apart from the divine.

Personally, we must stand in the shadow of the cross

You and I have victory in Christ personally when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior. At that very moment we whisper our prayer of confession and profession, Jesus gives us the victory that overcomes the world.

Yet at that very moment, we too make our way toward a time of testing. Just as Jesus moved toward the Cross' shadow upon Golgatha, you and I find ourselves at that point where Satan vigorously attempts to sift us away from Jesus.

Do you know how Satan will try to steal your victory? First of all, he tells you that you aren't good enough for God. He tells you that the assurance of salvation is only a presumption generated in the heat of an emotional episode. He plays on your weaknesses and exploits your faults. His lies and deceit are reinforced to the point of bringing you to tears of doubt and fear.

You have seen the victory that Jesus has offered to you, haven't you?

You have felt his precious assurance in your very spirit, haven't you?

More than personal experience and witness to His truth, you have His word that tells you the story over and over again about that Sunday morning when his pain and death was transformed into a joy of salvation and everlasting life.

It's when Satan is howling the loudest, that the simplest little prayer is all that you need, "Lord Jesus, I am yours. Your victory is mine. Send Satan away and keep me in the shadow of your Cross." This is a sort of "Jesus Loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so....."

Yet when we receive the Son, we receive all that the Father has available to us-- That which is only available to us through His only begotten Son.

Consider this story which was e-mailed to me by a member of our congregation:

Years ago, there was a very wealthy man who, with his devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate.

The widowed elder man looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector. The son's trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world.

As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His beloved son had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic.

Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. However, on Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the grieving father. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home.

As he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, "I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you."

As the two began to talk, the solider told of how the man's son had told everyone of his father's love of fine art. "I'm an artist," said the soldier, "and I want to give you this." As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man's son. Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man's face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the solider, promising to hang the picture above the fireplace.

During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy's life would live on because of those he had touched. He learned that his son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stilled his caring heart.

Easin his grief, the painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.

The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas Day, the day he had received his greatest gift.

The auction began with that painting that was not on any museum's list, the painting of the man's son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent. "Who will open the bidding with $100?" he asked. Minutes passed. No one spoke.

From the back of the room came, "Who cares about that painting? It's just a picture of his son. Let's forget it and go on to the good stuff." More voices echoed in agreement. "No, we have to sell this one first," replied the auctioneer. "Now, who will take the son?"

Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. "Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That's all I have. I knew the boy, so I'd like to have it." "I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?" called the auctioneer. After more silence, the auctioneer said, "Going once, going twice. Gone." The gavel fell. Cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed," Now we can get on with it and we can bid on these treasures!"

The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, "What do you mean it's over? We didn't come here for a picture of some old guy's son! What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! I demand that you explain what's going on here!."

The auctioneer replied, "It's very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son . . . gets it all." (9)

In the shadow of the cross, we find that we have all that we need from our Heavenly Father right there in His Son. Even more, we find that in the Shadow of the Cross, we have wonderful riches available to us through Christ.

Corporately, we must stand in the shadow of the cross

Corporately, the Church is the Bride of Christ. We are His, bought and paid for by His blood. Yet there are those who seek to lead the Church away from the shadow of the Cross.

The Changing Face of Our Society

No one here will debate that society has become more hostile toward Christians over the last fifty years. It only takes a moment to scan the headlines to realize that the morality of America is swirling down the drain. With Clinton and Lewinsky, Special Prosecutors to Congressional Investigators, Censure or Impeachment -- the dignity of our national leadership is irreparably tarnished.

In his his book, Our Sacred Honor, William Bennett reminds of our first president and chief executive, though a slave owner in a culture long ago, a man who led with morality and dignity our new nation:

"Washington understood what it meant to be a true patriot. A true patriot would serve his country selflessly, without pay. So in order to set an example, Washington refused payment for his services to his country, first in his role as commander in chief and later as president.... "As to the pay," Washington said, "I beg leave to say that no amount of money could tempt me to undertake this difficult workd. I have no wish to make any profit from it. But I will keep an exact amount of my expenses, and if these are paid I shall want nothing more." (10)

Yet the climate has changed not only in our nation, but also in our churches. It is more and more difficult to hear the victory cry of Jesus or to see the shadow of His cross.

"From Jesus to Christ" documentary(11)

The life of Jesus and the movement he started, brings some challenges to familiar assumptions and conventional notions about the origins of Christianity.

Featured scholars in this documentary are all from United Methodist seminaries at Boston and Duke. "Good history plays no favorites," says Michael White, of the University of Texas at Austin, principal historical adviser for the series. "Everybody gets a jolt somewhere along the way. No matter where you're coming from, you're going to find something you didn't know."

The broadcast explores new evidence suggesting that Jesus' followers, because of their diversity and the difference in their cultures and languages, looked at and interpreted Jesus and his teachings in many different ways.

The Global Gathering

The Global Gathering in Kansas City featured a feminist theologian in a seminar. She set the course for her session as she repudiated the image of the Cross:

"We don't need people bleeding, people dying, some man hanging on the cross."

To her, the cross was irrelavent and out of step with the real world. Yet if only she would draw near to the cross' shadow, she would find a true abiding place.

The Trial of Jimmy Creech

The trial of Jimmy Creech concluded Friday the thirteenth, March 13, 1998. The pastor of Omaha's First UMC was acquitted of violating the Discipline when he performed the lesbian wedding last September. The trial of this pastor was reviewed by a jury panel of 13 Elders from the Nebraska Conference. They agreed 11 -2 that he had in fact conducted this unsanctioned ceremony. Yet the two-thirds majority vote to convict him of violating the Discipline was shy by one vote at 8 to convict, and 5 to acquit. ^2% of the Elders stood firm for Scripture. Yet by the misplaced vote of only one pastor, Creech's malpractice was left unpunished.

If only one of those five pastor's had stood firmly in the shadow of the Cross, this heresy would have been curbed. Yet the world will not hear Jesus' victory cry through this action. The world will only hear that the United Methodist Church sanctions homosexual marriages. If only one of those five pastors would have stood in the shadow of the Cross. . . .

Immediately after the acquittal, Bishop Martinez of the Nebraska Conference reinstated Rev. Creech as the senior pastor of the Omaha First Church. Creech told reporters that his acquittal was "a victory for the Church."(12) Where is the victory cry of the Church when we sanction the sins of humanity against the very Word of God?

Then late Friday evening, a document was released by Ninety-two United Methodist Pastors from 28 Annual Conferences representing all of the Jurisdictional Areas of the denomination which affirmed their intent "to celebrate gay and lesbian unions." (13) This will only serve to perpetuate the pastoral misconduct of Creech by telling gays and lesbians all over the world that "the United Methodist Church can see no healing for your hopelessness."

Straying from the shadow of the Cross

When we stray from the shadow of the Cross, we lose the vision of Christ's cleansing and forgiveness.

When we stray from the shadow of the Cross, our ministry becomes impotent. We are unable to curb the tide of society's folly.

When we stray from the shadow of the Cross, we can no longer see the face of the one who died so that we might have new life!

E. Stanley Jones also wrote:

"If the Church of this Age marries the spirit of this age, then in the next generation it will be a widow. For this generation of secularism will be succeeded by another generation of secularism with its culture and its language and its outlook. For secularism has not fixed basis; it is the result of drives that ebb and flow and go the way of pressures" (p. 14).(14)

One pastor wrote on the internet this weekend:

"As is becoming painfully obvious with the Creech trial, the divisions within the Church are much deeper than the mere differences of understanding of Scriptural authority and divine revelation identified in the document. We are dealing with people who are absolutely wicked. It is not a disagreement between "conservative" and "liberal." It is an all-out war between good and evil. Unity is neither possible nor desirable between the two. In fact, we may go so far as to say that seeking or attempting to effect such "unity" is in and of itself and affront to Almighty God. 'But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.'" (1 Corinthians 5:11)

One of the faithful remnant of the Omaha First UMC writes:

"Could I ask all you ministers out there to do something this Sunday (and every Sunday) when you are preaching? Tell people what they have to do to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Tell them exactly what they need to do to be saved. Lead them in the prayer and walk them through it. Don't leave anything up for debate. Tell them they need to make a decision and spell it out in no uncertain terms. I never, ever heard that at my church and I didn't really get it until I visited a church of another denomination. We aren't going to get anywhere unless we start with this. The UMC has been too ambiguous for way too long."

When the tribulations come, are you standing firmly in the shadow of the cross? "Do you now believe?" (Jn 16:31)

Winners and Losers(15)

If they (without Christ) lose,
they lose everything because they have NOT Christ.
If we (who have Christ) lose,
we lose nothing because we have Christ.
If they win,
they win nothing because they have NOT Christ.
If we win,
we win everything because we have Christ.

Challenge

Can you see the shadow of the Cross today? Are you living under His atonement and blessing? Are you claiming Christ's victory over the world in your life? Jesus said, "Do you now believe?... I have overcome the world!" (John 16:31)

In summary, let us remember that . . .

In the Shadow of the Cross is our abiding place

In the Shadow of the Cross is a Rock from which

we can see the weary land

In the Shadow of the Cross there is a place for us to stand(16)

An Invitation

Has it been some time since you stood in the shadow of the cross?

  • Are you weary from the battles of this world?
  • Are you frustrated by the winds of this world that blow and toss you?
  • Are you looking for a place of solitude, a home, where you can find His peace?

You are invited to stand in the shadow of the cross.

  • A place of shelter.
  • A place of forgiveness.
  • A place of perspective.
  • A place of victory.

This morning come and place your life beneath the cross of Jesus. Come and take your stand in a weary world, beneath the Mighty Rock of ages.

Remember anew the form of One
who gave His life for you.
Remember today
a time long ago:
a Man never met,
His blood for you let.
Come take firm your stand:
a Cross, a man.
Make sacred your vow
as you stand below
a cross, a man, an eternal shadow.
(17)

God's grace is available to you today... in the shadow of the cross. Come and take your stand.


Sermon prepared and presented by:

Rev. Dr. Roger C. Nichols

First United Methodist Church

Joplin, Missouri

March 15, 1998


Endnotes

1. All scripture quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible.

2. Random House Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Random House, 1969), p. 1033.

3. Dr. Laura Schlessing, Dr. Laura's Web Site (http://www.drlaura.com).

4. 1 Corinthians 1:27, New International Version of the Bible.

5. Leon Morris, The Gospel of John, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1981) p. 712-12.

6. Morris, p. 713.

7. Morris, 715.

8. E. Stanley Jones, The Reconstruction of the Church, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), p. 123.

9. Internet source unknown.

10. William J. Bennett, Our Sacred Honor (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997 ), p. 45.

11. United Methodist News Service, News Release #147, March 12, 1998.

12. United Methodist News Service, News Release #150, March 16, 1998.

13. United Methodist News Service, March 13, 1998.

14. Jones, 14.

15. Pastor Michael Hinton shared this on the confessing movement web site in the wake of the Jimmy Creech acquittal.

16. Adapted from the hymn, "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," UM Hymnal, 297.

17. Roger Nichols, poem, March 14, 1998.


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