How the Church Failed Amy: The Danger of an Uncrucified Jesus
Amy was having some problems in her life. Quite naturally, she turned to her friends for help and advice. One friend told her she should get to know Jesus, and that He would help her with her problems. So Amy set out on a quest to get to know Jesus.
And Amy liked what she found. She attended a church service where Jesus gave people power to do miraculous things and where the name Jesus put a smile on everyone’s face. She listened to Christian radio where she heard about a Jesus who helped people when they were down and who was worthy of praise because of His love and power and holiness. She read a couple of books about how Jesus could help her get her finances straightened out, her family life fixed up, and her body put back in shape.
After she felt as if she had come to know Jesus pretty well, Amy started reading books about how, as a Christian , she was to live out her life and strengthen her grip on the faith. Amy was becoming so close to Jesus that she began to tell other people about how Jesus had helped her.
About a year later Amy was tragically killed in a automobile accident. The pastor comforted everyone at the funeral by describing how much Amy loved Jesus and how much Jesus loved Amy.
And in heaven when Amy appeared before the One she had grown to love, He said to her, “I never knew you. Depart from me.”
And Amy went to hell.
Every day people like Amy die and go to hell because they believe in the wrong Jesus. They believe in the Christ who mends their broken hearts, broken relationships, and broken lives. (And, it must be said, Christ certainly does all these things!) But they fail to see why and in what way Christ mends their broken lives. They fail to believe in the Christ whose heart was broken on the cross, whose relationship with His Father was broken on the cross, and whose life was broken by the bitter pain and agony of bearing our sins on the cross.
The central message of the Church is not Christ the Helper, Christ the Family Strengthener, Christ the Success Giver, Christ the Money Manager, or Christ the True, Blue Friend. The central message of the Church is summed up by St. Paul in two words: Christ Crucified.
That is our message. And if that is not our central message, our primary message, the message we hear and teach and preach over and over again, we are preaching a false Christ, a false Gospel, and a false God.
Christ Crucified: Is that the Christ in whom you believe?
The devil likes nothing better than to direct our focus off the crucified Christ to a perverted Christ, to a Christ divorced from the cross, to a Christ who makes more sense to us as 20th century American Christians. But Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor. 1:18). We don’t preach the cross as if to say, “See, now doesn’t that make sense?”
We simply preach the cross.
We proclaim the truth of a bloody, dead, God on a bloody, dead piece of wood shaped like a T. That is our message.
If the cross makes sense to you, you have not yet begun to truly understand it. The cross of the Crucified God transcends all sense. It is the message about a holy and righteous God who let us poor miserable sinners nail him to a piece of wood so that He might bleed and die for our salvation. It is the message about a 1st century Jew from a village in Israel who was crucified by some Roman soldiers for some unknown crime. It is the message about a Man who was also God, about a Sacrifice who was also a Priest, about a Lamb who was also a Shepherd, about a Defeat which was also a Victory.
And that is our message.
That is not the message Amy heard. That is not the message many churchgoers hear today. But it is the message you will always hear from this pulpit because we preach “Christ crucified.”
And what a message to preach! What a message to hear! The very message that the unbelieving world regards as stupidity and foolishness we know to be life and salvation and joy!
God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,
and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things
which are strong, and the base things of the world, and the despised,
God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things
that are. . . .
That is always the way of God—to use things that the world considers foolish and weak and despised to accomplish the most miraculous.
God the Father sends His eternal Son down to be born of a young Jewish girl in a dirty stable in the village of Bethlehem. God the Son takes on flesh and blood so that He might sweat, cry, bleed, eat, drink, and suffer with the rest of humanity: Miraculous
God the Father sets up the murder of His own Son. On a common Roman cross God hangs and dies that He might pay the penalty for our sins. God the Father raises His Son back to life, not with pomp and circumstance, but when no one is watching: Miraculous
God adds His powerful Word to common water from the faucet in our sacristy to bring people into the kingdom of God. He adds His powerful Word to common bread and wine to give us the eternal, life-giving Body and Blood of His Son: Miraculous
Jesus never ceases to be the Crucified Christ and the Resurrected Christ. He never ceases to be the One who continually draws us to His cross and passion and empty tomb. He never ceases to be the One who gives us life and forgiveness and grace in His precious Gospel and sacraments.
We who have been misled into following false Christs come to the true Christ and receive true and complete forgiveness. We who have broken hearts, broken relationships, and broken lives come to the Christ who was broken by the cross and receive from Him peace, life, and healing. We who have modernized Christ by divorcing the cross from Him confess our sin and hear Him say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
There is no true, lasting, heavenly joy outside of a crucified Christ, for there is no Christ outside of the crucifixion. There sin is destroyed. There death is vanquished. There the gift of life is ours.
For all the “Amys” of the world, for all the hurting, the crying, the needy, the lost, the poor, the downtrodden—for us—there is only one message, one hope, one Christ, one Gospel: Christ Crucified.
I preached this sermon on vicarage, in 1995, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lakewood, CO.
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