As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Cross focused or resurrection focused, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Easter Sunday April 21, 2019. The Reading was Luke 24:1-12.
Right place, wrong time
I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, Right place, wrong time. It’s this whole idea that you might be where you are supposed to be, but you’re either too early or too late to make the most of you being there. Or maybe, you’ve been in the wrong place at the right time – for example, maybe you late for something that you were meant to be at, but by being late, and being in the wrong place, it allowed you to make the most of an opportunity, to have a chat with someone that really needed to have a chat. The reality is that neither of these things are bad… it’s just not ideal. You just don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In our Bible reading today, we have something similar told to the ladies who come to visit the tomb. They are told that they are looking for the right thing, in the wrong place. Well, not exactly. They came to the tomb looking for the right thing in the right place – that is, they came looking for the dead body of Jesus, which would be expected to be in the tomb, right where it had been left. Because, really, apart from Lazarus, there hadn’t been many examples of dead bodies just getting up and moving.
Jewish tradition valued care of the deceased, and so it was right for the ladies to come and anoint the body with spices and incense.
And so, it seems really odd to hear the angel tell them that they are in the wrong place. They were looking for the dead among the dead. They were in the right place at the right time for what they were intending to do.
Cross Focused living
I think many Christians are in the same spot as the women were. They’re doing what they think is the right thing to do, and doing it at the appropriate time if it was the right thing to do. They’re just missing an important piece of information. They are cross focused.
What I mean by that is that many Christians put their focus on what Christ did on the cross as the most important thing. That Christ dying on the cross is the most powerful and significant thing that Christ did.
But Crucifixion isn’t unique to Christ. Jewish historians Josephus and Appian both refer to the crucifixion of thousands of people by the Romans. Crucifixion isn’t what makes Christ special. Many thousands of people were crucified and stayed dead.
When we, as Christians, become too cross focused, and live out our life and faith in a way that is cross focused, then the way we interact with others becomes cross focused as well. That is, we become focused on the punishment.
We live out our lives in a way that says “we don’t do this” or “We don’t do that”. Even in Salvation Army Soldiership, we sometimes get too cross focused, as when someone asks what soldiership involves, we’ll say “we don’t drink, smoke, or gamble.” Surely, there is more to Christianity than what we don’t do.
When we become too cross focused, our evangelism methods become less effective. Cross focused evangelism tells people that if they don’t change their ways, they will be punished. It seeks to convert based on fear. And the only way for cross focused conversions to continue is to keep establishing that fear. If you back slide, you will be punished. If you do the things that we say are bad, then we will be very disappointed in you – we might even throw you out of our club and not let you back in.
Stop looking for the living among the dead
But the angel tells the women to stop looking for the living among the dead. Because Jesus isn’t dead. He’s not among the dead, he has risen.
You’ll notice that in our church, we don’t use a crucifix – that is, our cross doesn’t have a body attached to it. This signifies that Jesus is no longer attached to the cross – he is living, he is risen.
And as such, we need to stop looking for the living among the dead – that is, we need to stop looking to bring people to faith with cross focused thinking. Fear isn’t going to bring people into faith. And as hard as it can be for the church to realise that, it is what we need to do.
Throughout history, the Church has held a position of power within the community, and was able to utilise that fear to bring people to faith, and keep them there. But these days, the church does not hold that same position. As such, perhaps we need to look to Jesus’ response to sin, and see how we might respond.
In Mark 2, Jesus heals a paralyzed man, having first said to him “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He doesn’t write out a big list of them, doesn’t ask him to repent, doesn’t say “Unless you follow me, I will not forgive your sins”. He just forgives them.
Similarly, in Luke 7, where a pharisee objects to a woman he declares as a sinner anointing Jesus’ feet with tears and perfume, Jesus tells the pharisee a story, and then says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” She didn’t ask for forgiveness. Jesus didn’t lecture her and scare her into repentance. He just forgave her.
Often, Jesus would forgive their sins and then tell them to go and sin no more. He wouldn’t say what those sins were, and he didn’t go into the details of consequences for not leaving their life of sin. There was no fear, just an instruction to not sin any more.
Resurrection focused living
You see, while Jesus was very well aware of where his life was headed, he didn’t engage in cross focused living. He didn’t scare people into repentance so that he wouldn’t need to die on the cross, because he realised that the cross was not the end game – it was just the necessary step on the path to the resurrection so that we can live resurrection focused lives.
Jesus didn’t tell people what not to do. He didn’t teach through fire and brimstone sermons. In fact, his harshest sermons and criticisms were reserved for the pharisees who were so focused on cross centered living. Most of his teaching was not telling people what not to do, but instead showing them how to live.
Jesus shows his disciples that the way to live is to show love, forgiveness, and mercy to all people. To show that life is better with Christ than without.
Because I absolutely believe that life is better with Christ than without it. And if you’re here today and you haven’t invited Christ into your life, then I want to invite you to believe in Christ – not because you’re going to go to hell if you don’t, not because there’s some sort of punishment. No, I want to invite you to believe in Christ because I believe in Christ, and I know that my life is better with Christ in my life, and I know that your life will be better with Christ in your life.
Now, some may say to me, But Ben, what about all those lists of sins that Paul lists in his letters, and I want to say to you that for the most part it’s just good advice anyway – but unless you base that living in the love, forgiveness, and mercy that Jesus teaches, then you’re still focused on the Cross – you’re looking for the living among the dead. Jesus is alive, and wants to share that life with you.
So go out and live a resurrection focused life. Go and live a life filled with Love, forgiveness and mercy. Go and live a life that is filled with resurrection power living on the inside. Because life is better when you are filled with resurrection power, living a resurrection focused life, and sharing Christ’s resurrected love, forgiveness and mercy with all people.