The Mark of the Cross
Galatians 6:14-17 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.5 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. 17 Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
2018 has been the Year at the Cross for us. I began the month of January with a sermon series on the cross and its impact, and we heard many, many testimonies from members of our congregation about what the cross means to them.
This past week in choir practice, Sue Ragland shared that she had worn a necklace, a large cross, that was so heavy, it made the outline of the cross on her chest. When she took the cross off, the image of the cross remained. She had been marked by the cross. It had literally made in impression on her physical body. The story lingered with me, and I began to ask myself, “Does my life bear the mark of the cross?”
Does the cross just move us or does it mark us? Does it define who we are? Does it just inspire us or does it shape us to the point that when others see us they can see the cross of Jesus?
When we think about the cross we may have a sentimental feeling about it. We may have great affection for it, but to the first-century person, the cross wasn’t a beautiful piece of jewelry that contained the news of the best story ever. It was the symbol of the lowest form of death and the ultimate humiliation. It would be like us wearing a small electric chair around our necks today. That is the connotation it had back then. A proper Roman citizen would never have mentioned the cross in polite conversation because it stood for rejection and shame. It had no beauty. It had no inspiration. To follow the cross, to speak of the cross for a first-century Christian was to take a great risk. It was to identify yourself fully with Jesus, and doing so was dangerous.
It doesn’t cost us anything today to wear a cross except the price of the jewelry itself, but when Paul trusted Jesus, he identified himself with the cross and took the consequences. Yes, to hold up the cross of Jesus had consequences. To the Jews, the cross was a stumbling block. To the Gentiles the cross was foolishness (I Corinthians 1:18-31). To the legalists, the cross was to be avoided. They would rather make it about circumcision than the cross because they were always looking for ways to avoid the shame associated with the cross. They didn’t want to deal with the consequences of the cross.
How many Christians today are trying to claim Christ without embracing the consequences of the cross? Romans 12:1-2 tells us we aren’t to be conformed to the world’s way of thinking and living, but we are to be conformed to the image of Christ. What that means is that our lives are to take on the shape of the cross. In our main text in Galatians 6, Paul was refuting those who were saying that the new Gentile converts would have to be circumcised. Yes, circumcision had been the Old Testament mark which identified God’s people, but when Jesus came, it wasn’t about an outward mark of faith, but rather an inward circumcision of the heart. It was about taking the shape of the cross inwardly, being conformed to the way of the cross, being changed on the inside to become someone who was willing to go wherever, do whatever, and say whatever in order to further the message of the cross.
Paul even got a bit snarky with folks who were demanding that Paul and others pressure people into circumcision. He basically said, “You want to compare marks? You want to prove your faithfulness to God in and through your physical body? I can prove my devotion for Christ beyond a shadow of a doubt for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. He literally did. He was frequently in prison which would have left several marks on him both physically and emotionally. He was exposed to death time and time again. He received whippings and was beaten with rods. He had bruises and marks from where people had picked up stones and thrown them at him. But it wasn’t about physical marks for Paul. They were but a representation that he had been marked by the cross.
Paul was saying, the way of the cross will have consequences or implications for your daily life. God gave me four ways our lives are to be marked by the cross if we are truly following after Jesus.
If I have been marked by the cross, I will embrace sacrifice.
In Matthew 20:28 Jesus said He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Those who follow Jesus will seek not to be served, but will sacrifice of themselves to make sure others are served.
When we look at the sacrifice of Jesus, we have to understand that He died not only a sacrificial death, but He lived a sacrificial life. I’m not sure we think about that so often. Jesus led a cross-kind-of-life long before He was ever on the cross. It wasn’t as if He lived the way He wanted for 33 years and then said, “Ok, God, these last few weeks leading up to the cross are Yours to script.” No. Jesus lived a sacrificial life long before He lived a sacrificial death. His whole life was spent following God’s plan for His life.
Think about the fact that Jesus never married. He devoted His life to learning and to teaching and traveling to impact others. That was a tremendous sacrifice. He didn’t take an earthly bride. He said, “The church will be My bride.” Jesus never built or owned a home. He slept wherever He could find a spot as He traveled about. He was someone who had to borrow from others. He had to borrow a donkey for the triumphal entry. He had to borrow space in an Upper Room to have the Last Supper with His disciples. He wasn’t in any way tied to the things of this world.
Now, I am not suggesting that we all sell everything we have and live as nomads here in Teays Valley, but I am saying that the way of the cross means we will not be preoccupied with the things of this worlds, so that like Jesus, we can be preoccupied with the things of Heaven.
I really don’t believe Jesus got up every day and said, “Hmmm. Should I do this, this, this, or that?” “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe.” I don’t think He was weighing His options as He thought about His day’s agenda. No, He said of Himself in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” In other words, Jesus had settled whose mission He was going to accomplish, long before the mission even got started. He had sacrificed any earthly desires in order to do the will of the Heavenly Father. I believe this kind of sacrifice is only possible if we are single-minded like Jesus was.
Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus emptied Himself of His position in Heaven, and surrendered Himself to God’s plan by becoming a man, by becoming a servant. He who was lauded by angels came to heal our diseases, wash our feet, and die for our sins. It was a complete sacrifice from the time He came until the time He died. We can only follow Jesus to the extent that we are willing to empty ourselves of ourselves and take on the nature of a servant as God would define it for each of us.
Sacrifice is really a mark of spiritual maturity. We start by surrendering ourselves to Christ. That happens as we become Christians. Then as we grow, we move to sacrificing ourselves for Christ so that others can experience the mark of the cross for themselves.
When we choose to take Jesus, we are taking up His cross of sacrifice which means we no longer live for ourselves but for the Lord. Paul said of himself in Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ and I NO LONGER LIVE, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If I have been marked by the cross, I will forgive quickly.
Jesus wasted no time forgiving sins. He didn’t wait until the cross’s mission was complete to show us why He had come. The woman caught in adultery, the paralytic who needed more than physical healing—were recipients of God’s forgiveness when they engaged Jesus. Jesus made it clear that He had come to forgive people of their sins. May I put it this way? Jesus came to relieve people of their sin. You and I have the same opportunity. We can relieve people of the burden of their sin against us by forgiving them.
It is telling that even while Jesus was on the cross, forgiving others was on His mission. Why is that? Jesus always gave people what they needed. They needed forgiveness for what they were doing to Him. We are living in a culture that needs to experience the power of forgiveness. We live in an angry culture. There are anger management classes that can become mandatory when courts decide people don’t have the skills to live well in their relationships. There are techniques being taught to teachers so that they can teach kids as young as elementary school, how to calm down and manage their emotions. There are family members writing off family members due to the inability to talk through and pray through conflict, and there are marriages on the brink today because we haven’t learned the language of forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t excuse what has been done. It was a weighty matter for God to forgive us. It wasn’t a trite, flippant, “I forgive you.” It wasn’t a “That’s ok. I understand.” No, it was “Look at Jesus on the cross. Look at my Son. This is what your sin has done, and this is what forgiveness costs. It is awful. It has hurt Me more than you could know, but I am willing to bear it because of my love for you.” It is ok to help people understand the weight of their offense. God’s forgiveness was more than words. It was a demonstration. People had to SEE forgiveness in action. It is OK for people to know that what they have done has hurt us deeply, but we need to release them quickly in our hearts and minds because that is the example Heaven has set. Jesus forgave WHILE He was being crucified. It wasn’t on the other side of the Resurrection after He had some time to think about it and weigh if it was worth it.
I like that Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” when He forgave the people who were hanging around the cross. I think it gives us a perspective from which we can forgive others. When people hurt us, often, if not most of the time, they don’t know that they have hurt us or they don’t know the extent to which they have hurt us. Forgiveness actually helps them see there was something wrong, there was a need for forgiveness, there was a transgression committed, there was a line crossed. Am I right? Without offense, without sin, there would be no need for forgiveness. Forgiveness reveals there has been an offense.
Forgiveness becomes the act through which people can see who they are and what they stand in need of. Forgiveness actually points people to the cross. Now, that means that we have to learn to grow up to the point where we can have a conversation with people who have hurt us to let them know what has transpired that has caused us to come to the conclusion that we need to forgive them. I’m not talking about someone forgetting something they promised to you. Just forgive that in your heart. I’m not talking about someone who was having a bad day and they didn’t stop to speak to you. Just forgive that in your heart. But in weighty matters, where there has been mean-spirited action or where there has been repeated behavior that has caused you anxiety or tears-where you have been crushed in your spirit or diminished in your opinion of yourself—where your reputation has been damaged or your character has been called into question, you need to have a conversation because I can almost guarantee you in many of those heart-wrenching moments, the person didn’t even realize what they were doing or at least didn’t realize the extent to which they were doing it.
Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Oh, many knew they were crucifying an innocent man, but they didn’t see how wrong, how evil, how wicked, how self-centered they were. Forgiveness points out that there has been a problem and gives people grace to grow into becoming different people. Isn’t that what happened to you when God forgave you? Haven’t you been given room to grow in Christ through the grace God has shown you?
And un-forgiveness causes us to grow into people we don’t like, people whose lives are heavy with grudges and are light on love. That is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:25 to settle matters quickly with other people. We like to write people off quickly, but that isn’t the message of the cross. The message of the cross is, “It is finished.” In other words, the conflict between God and us is over. He settled it. Whether everyone chooses to enter into that relationship with God or not, He has done His part. He has settled it. Forgiveness of sin has been obtained through the cross. If you are in Christ, God isn’t going to say, “Yeah, but remember the time you said my name in vain? Remember the time, you used your body in an unholy way? Remember the time when you didn’t make good on a promise you made to me?” No, God isn’t in the remembering business; God is in the relieving and removing business, and when you confess your sin, it is removed and remembered against you NO MORE! What a relief it is to have your sins forgiven!
God won’t write you off because of your sin or because of some offense. That is the message of the cross, and it is the message you and I are called to not only preach, but to practice in our day-to-day-relationships!
If I have been marked by the cross, I will love no matter what.
If you are going to be a disciple of Jesus, one mark on your life will be your love for other people. People from all countries. People of all races. People of all kinds of status. People of every religion. People whose politics make you question your sanity. Old people and young people. Even people who you could legitimately say live in opposition to you, you know, the people the Bible calls your enemies. We are to love even them.
The weight of the command to love cannot be overlooked or diminished. Matthew 22:37-40 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Everything hangs on or hinges on us getting this right. We cannot say we have been to the cross if while we were there, the love of God was not deposited into our hearts. And if the love of God has been deposited into our hearts, it was deposited there in order to be dispensed to others.
Love is the action of Heaven. You and I were enemies of God. We stood opposed to Him. We offended Him. We ignored Him. We snubbed Him. We dismissed Him. We violated His holiness, but while we were yet sinners, God demonstrated His love for us. Romans 5:8 says God demonstrated His love for us by doing for us, by coming towards us in love while we were still His enemies. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. In our wrong and sinful state we couldn’t approach God, so He came to us. God loved us when we were at our worst. Does that sound like the way we love others? Are we willing to love them when they are at their worst?
Love has to be the priority of a believer. Love isn’t a feeling. Love is a commitment we make because like God, we have placed a value on people. For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) Love led God to take action to help us when we couldn’t help ourselves. The cross kind of love draws toward people that would naturally repel you. It is an on-purpose kind of love. Does that level of love mark our lives? Take a moment and read through this Scripture and just see how much the cross has marked your life in this area:
(Show this slowly so that people can silently read it.)
1 John 4:7-12 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Did you catch verse 8? Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. If we don’t love, have we truly been marked by the cross?
If I have been marked by the cross, I will make disciples.
The message of the cross is one to be preached. It is one to be shared. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Our Church of God church planter in Kenova at New Beginnings Church of God made a bold statement recently that has continued to resonate with me. Here it is: “You can’t say you are a disciple if you have never made a disciple.” -Bob Ingels That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?
Perhaps this is where the rubber meets the road where the cross is concerned. Are other people being marked by the cross because we are leading them to Jesus? When Jesus called the first disciples, He made it clear what discipleship was all about. He said the purpose for which He was calling them was that they might become fishers of men. Discipleship is about worship and prayer. It is about faithfulness to the Word of God. It is about seeking the will of God. It is about serving and loving others and meeting their needs, but ultimately, it is about bringing people to Jesus.
In Luke 9:23 Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Are we following closely enough that the cross is leaving a mark on us?