Genesis 18: 20-32
Colossians 2: 6-15
St. Luke 11: 1-13
“The Black Cross”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
Within the Lutheran Church there is a symbol that is commonly and uniquely shared among us throughout the globe, and that is the Luther Rose. The symbol at its very center has a Black Cross, set inside a Red Heart, which rests on a White Rose, surrounded by a Blue Sky with a Gold Ring as the border. Now there isn’t anything particularly special about this identifier, for we are free to use whatever appropriate symbol we wish to use, thus we are not bound by this Luther Rose or obligated to use it. Yet we still have it, for it is a wonderful teaching opportunity to explain the Christian faith. If someone comes to you asking what this symbol is, use that moment as an opportunity to explain each of the parts and by doing so you will also provide a testimony of your faith.
Now at the absolute center of this rose is the core of our entire faith, the cross. Everything points towards the cross. The Old Testament prophecy to the cross, and the New serves as a witness to it and all the grace that comes from it. Without the cross the entire Bible is meaningless, for the culmination of all human history, the climax of this amazing story known as Earth is and will forever be the cross.
The creation points towards the cross. The fall is the reason for the cross. The promise to Abraham is fulfilled through the cross. The Passover event in Exodus foreshadows the cross. Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to cure the poisoned Hebrews depicts the cross. King David and his psalms lift up the cross. Isaiah prophesies the cross. The Babylonian Captivity extends to the cross. All that is in the Law and Histories and Prophecies and Stories of the Old Testament is fulfilled through the cross.
And our faith is found in the cross. Our Salvation comes not from the birth of Christ, nor His parables or early miracles. Our Salvation comes chiefly not in the Resurrection or Ascension, though the inheritance and promise of heaven does. Our Salvation begins with the cross. This is why, Lutherans place particularly strong focus on the cross, an almost year-long Lenten like focus where every day to us is Good Friday. In fact our theology is not called Lutheran Theology, but rather the Theology of the Cross. Everything we believe in begins first with the cross, is always looking towards the cross, and concludes with the cross. The cross is our cornerstone, without it our faith crumbles, thus instead of placing our focus on the majesty of Christ, which we do, we place our chief focus on the suffering of Christ.
The cross at the center is black. It is bleak. It is filled with misery. The cross is a killing device intended to torture their victims for hours as the agony of their own weight crushes their body. Christ suffered on that cross, and we should never forget that. He endured so much pain and then died on that horrible tree. God died… but he died for us.
People these days are too squeamish. They want to focus only on the good parts of the Bible. They go to Easter but never Good Friday, for one feels good but the other reminds us of the tragedy that Jesus went through. We want to praise God who is alive and lift up the resurrection, yet ever so briefly acknowledge
the suffering. We want to feel good, and ignore the painful things in life. But to such mentality I say this, how can you appreciate the good things in life without acknowledging the bad things? How can you truly appreciate the Gospel without understanding the Law? How can you lift up your hands in praise and elation without pointing out the reason for the praise and elation? How can you claim you are saved without stating from what you are saved? How can you praise the resurrection without looking first at the cross?
Without the Law, the Gospel is meaningless. Without Good Friday, Easter is meaningless. Without Christ’s death, His resurrection is meaningless. Without stating you are a sinful person incapable of saving yourself, lo incapable of doing one good thing, then the salvation and forgiveness of sin and gifts of righteousness and ability granted to finally do good works which comes only through faith in Him is all meaningless. Without sin, the cross is meaningless.
The reason why Jesus died on the cross is to save us from our sins. John 3: 16-18, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but
whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Notwithstanding, though the cross was already black in a sense for it is a killing device, through the suffering of Jesus Christ, the cross truly became the blackest and most bleak of things for through the cross Jesus took on all our sins. The weight of the entire world’s sin was place on that singular cross.
I’m surprised it didn’t snap in two under that most certainly crushing burden. I’m surprised a dark miasma of sulfuric gas didn’t seep out the grains of the sin soaked wood that made the cross. I’m surprised reality didn’t fold in on itself as that spiritual mass of cosmic sin gravitated and compounded in and through the suffering of Jesus on that cross. The color black barely suits the depravity of that singular object. Not even the blackness of a black hole which swallows light can hold a candle to the cross.
But least we forget the reason why the cross is so black, which is because through it Jesus is taking on the sins of the entire world throughout all time and space; it is black because Jesus is taking on your sins, all of it, so long as you allow Him.
Whereas we should never be happy as to why Jesus had to die on the cross in the first place, there is much joy for through the cross, Jesus has indeed forgiven you of your sins and has overcome the Devil so that you will be set free/saved from his prison. Jesus suffered the consequences of sin so that you won’t have to. Jesus took on the weight of sin, so that you won’t have to. Jesus went to Hell with all that sin, so that you won’t have to.
In our second lesson, which is alluded to in the Lord’s Prayer, St Paul says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Forgive us our debt, forgive us our trespasses, forgive us our sins… all of which means the same thing.
At birth we are sinners, and throughout our lives we continuously accumulate sin. Our collective trespasses against each other and against God is debt that can never be forgiven through our own merits. In fact, even if we were to perfectly obey the Law, according to Luke 17:10, Jesus says “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Perfectly obeying the law is a net zero, it is what you ought to have done in the first place. So if you sin and do good works, debt or a net negative plus ought or a net zero, what do you get? -1 plus 0 is still -1!
No amount of works will ever cancel out sin, the debt you have accrued. Thus works or merit will never lead to salvation. So how do we cancel out our debt? We don’t, but Christ takes on your debt and suffered the consequences. Thus if Christ says, I will pay off your debt for you by going into Hell in your stead, then there is no debt for you to pay off; in other words only faith in Christ, and on no account of merit, can you be saved from the debt of sin and the clutches of Hell. For the legal record of debt
that stood against you was nailed to the cross, paid through the precious blood of our God.
In the end, so long as you have faith in Christ and allow him to take on your sin, He will do so, thus cleansing you from the spiritual blights that damage your soul. It is through the cross and the cross alone that you are saved. The sin you had, has been nailed to the cross. The darkness that was in you has been absorbed by the cross. This is why the cross is the center, and why we absolutely need it.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, though the tragedy of the cross is so damning, help us to boldly face the reality of sin so that we willingly with faith cast our sins upon that dreaded tree, and through such graciously receive salvation. In your heavenly name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.