TURN RIGHT AT THE CROSS
April 1, 1997 Issue
by Edward Williamson
Beside a country road near my home congregation stands a large, stone cross overlooking a pair of graves. This cross is located adjacent to a crossroad, down one lane is a country church house, down the other lane are several dairy farms and residences. One could imagine that a person giving directions to a stranger looking for the church house, or one of the dairy farms might use the expression, "turn right at the cross" to describe how to reach their destination. Turn right at the cross, such a simple statement, yet so profound, because spiritually speaking that is what each of us must do.
The apostle Paul emphasizes this point in Galatians 3:1 when he writes, "0 foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?" (All quotations from the New King James Version). If Paul were writing his epistle today perhaps he would ask we foolish Americans why we do not obey the truth. The purpose of preaching was, is, and shall ever be the clear portrayal of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If the church forsakes the preaching of the crucified and resurrected Savior, someone or something else will fill the void and bewitch the lost.
An excellent illustration of the message of the cross took place in a revival conducted by a neighboring congregation recently. Several of the men of the congregation had constructed a cross out of rough logs. This cross was coarse and heavy, made of old oak wood, and probably not unlike the cross which Jesus carried to Golgotha. When these men had finished constructing the cross they placed it right in front of the pulpit! When services began, this cross stood, looming in the front of the building. When the evangelist stood up to preach and took his place in the pulpit, the cross was in the way. You couldnt see the preacher for the cross. The best part of the sermon that evening was the fact that several times the preacher said "this cross is in the way". The message was two-fold: first, anytime a preacher stands up to preach, he ought to see his audience only through the cross, and secondly, every time the congregation hears the word preached, they ought to hear the word through the cross. Let us never forget that it is the message of the cross which will save people from their sins, and it is the message of the cross that will keep people saved from their sins. Preachers and elders, how long has it been since the message of the cross was your message to the church?
The centrality of the cross can never be disputed. Jesus was crucified with two thieves, one on his right hand and the other on his left (John 19:17-19). Jesus was crucified in the center! This did not just happen, for Jesus the cross was always at the center. Consider His teaching in John 3:13, when he stated "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up", or in John 8:28, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of myself; but as My Father taught me, I speak these things." It is very interesting to note that when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, an unbeliever, a Roman centurion said, "Truly this Man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39). Jesus further spoke of the centrality of the cross when he exclaimed in John 12:32, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."
The apostle Paul in numerous contexts wrote of the centrality of the cross. In First Corinthians 1:17-25, several important concepts are revealed. In verse 17, Paul warns that the cross of Christ can be made of no effect if the gospel is preached with the wisdom of worldly words. In verse 18, the cross is characterized as foolishness by those who are perishing, but as the power of God to those being saved. The similarities between this verse and Romans 1:16 cannot be ignored. In Romans, Paul states that the gospel is the power of God to salvation, in First Corinthians, he states that the message of the cross which saves us is the power of God.
These verses point also to the summation of the gospel in First Corinthians 15:1-4, where Paul quite succinctly stated that the gospel which saved was that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures. This gospel according to Paul was declared, preached, and delivered by the apostle, and received, stood in, held fast, and believed by the Corinthians. The centrality of the cross is once again demonstrated by the gospel which saves.
Paul further emphasizes in First Corinthians 1:22-24 that the preaching of the crucified Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. So it is in our day, how foolish, how utterly ridiculous it is that someone should have to plead with rational people to the world. But that is exactly what pleased God (I Corinthians 1:21). The centrality of the cross! To those who are called, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:24).
Paul repeatedly warned against the wisdom of man. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, he said that he did not come to them with excellence of speech, or wisdom. When Paul came to the Corinthians, he determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified! Why? So that their faith would not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. The centrality of the cross. Weakness, fear, and trembling, these are the words which Paul used to describe himself among the Corinthians. However, when it came to the message of the cross, Paul presented it in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I like to hear good, powerful, scriptural preaching as much as anyone, but I would much rather hear a weak, fearful, and trembling servant of God deliver the message of the cross in power and Spirit than to hear a well-constructed exegesis utilizing the wisdom of man. And I believe Paul would share this sentiment. As he said, "But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).
Turn right at the cross, this is the central plea of the bible. How do we turn right at the cross? By being crucified with Christ, as Paul states in Romans 6:1-6. If we are baptized into Christ, we are also baptized into His death. But, as the gospel tells us, Jesus rose again the third day, likewise we rise to walk in newness of life. Our old man of sin is crucified with Him, the body of sin is destroyed, we are no longer slaves of sin, only by turning right at the cross.
As Paul told the Galatians, once we are crucified with Christ, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Its not our life anymore, we belong to another. We belong to the Son of God. As new creatures in Christ we are commanded to walk in the Spirit. As Paul says, "And those who are Christs have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:24). We are different, we must be different. That is what it means to turn right at the cross.
The results of turning right at the cross should be abundantly clear to all those around us. The walk and conduct of the Christian should be such as to draw a clear distinction with the world. A changed life with a new direction and destiny is the most powerful tool for the advancement of the church. The Philippians were instructed to become blameless and harmless, without fault in the midst of a perverse society. They were told to shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14-16). Turn right at the cross and let your light shine!
Sin is a human problem which has plagued the world since Adam and Eve, Paul in one of several listings of sinful activities stated quite emphatically that those engaged in such activities would not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), but in the same passage he said, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." These Corinthians were no worse, or better than Americans today. They had turned right at the cross. Any person today, no matter how immoral, reprobate, or sinful can likewise be washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus and by the Spirit of God. This is the message we need to emphasize. The message that to many people is foolishness, that sinful man can turn right at the cross and be saved.
The apostle Peter tells us that when a person turns right at the cross their former associates think it strange, but as Peter says, "We have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles. . ." (I Peter 4:1-4). To Peter, we should live our lives for the will of God. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we should lay aside sin, run the race, and look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). And Paul tells us in Titus, that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and looking for the appearing of Jesus (Titus 2:11-14). Each of these passages illustrate the results of turning right at the cross. Let us remember the message of the cross of Christ, for it and it alone will determine our eternal destiny.
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