If you grew up in the 70’s, the World Trade Center was often portrayed as a “cultural icon”. I remember going to lunch in 2nd and 3rd grade. Everybody had a “King Kong Lunch box” with a picture of the Kong, straddling the World Trade Center. It was awesome. It was both a technological and an engineering marvel. The World Trade Center represented “American Excellence” it made a statementto the rest of the world about the greatness of our country and our way of life. It was part of what made so many want to come to America. It was also why some aspired to “bring it down”. It stood less than 30 years.
Mark recounts how the disciples marveled at the Temple complex as they followed Jesus out of it on that day. It was just newly completed and was itself a technological and engineering marvel in its day. It too, was a “cultural icon” representing not only the grandeur of Herod, but of the “glory of Israel”. It made a statementand it was a joy to all who came to Jerusalem. That’s also why, her enemies wanted to “put them in their place”, the Temple was the first thing they thought of tearing down - not one stone left upon another. The whole thing stood for just a little more than 30 years.
I. Ever since the tower of Babel the people of the world, have been erecting “cultural icons”.
At times these icons have been as grand as the World Trade Center. The very size of their construction making a statement like, “Look what we are able to do!”. At other times though, mankind has erected icons that have been grotesque and ominously threatening. 1 Samuel, chapter 31 tells how the philistines, upon the death of Saul, took his body and fastened it to the wall of the philistine city of Beth-shan. This was an icon. It made a statement: “Here’s your king compared to our king”, or even, “Here’s what happens when another “king” gets “uppity” and gets in our way”. Saul’s body, hung on the wall, was an icon that the Philistines erected to not only make a statement about Saul and Israel...in that time, it was an icon that was also making a statement about the Philistines judgement of Israel’s God.
II. When you put a defeated kings body on display, it made a statement
A. The cross of Christ was intended to be just such an icon.
1. Today, you see it everywhere. Some people use it to make a statement about themselves (i.e. “I’m a Christian”). In other places (like in pop culture), it seems to have been robbed of any meaningful statement whatsoever.
2. To Christians, it has largely become an icon that makes a statement about God’s love for us. It reminds us that Christ went to the cross voluntarily. It testifies to us that Jesus suffered in our stead; that He paid the price for our sins; that He shed His blood in our place.
B. But make no mistake: the cross was first and foremost, an icon made by men.
1. It was erected to testify to ithe superiority of an earthly power.
It was a judgement. That’s why there was a sign over Jesus’ head. “Here is Jesus, King of the Jews” and that’s why that sign was written in three languages. The cross was first and foremost an icon that was erected by men, to pronounce judgement on Israel’s God while glorifying themselves.
2. We should realize, that though God has used this icon, it is not an icon He devised
a. God would never do such a thing.
God would never pin a man to a wall or a cross just to watch him suffer. When Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”. It was because God, in His sorrow and having deemed to do what needed to be done for justice to be satisfied, had to “turn His face away”. God would never mock and sneer at a man while died. That’s what the scriptures means when they say, “The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked would turn from his wicked ways, and live”. God would never make such a monument and consider it to be “to His glory”. That’s not the kind of God we have.
b. Sinful human beings do such things.
People, like the idolatrous Philistines, do this. This is to say, “Here’s what you get when you say, “Your ways are not like our ways; for your ways are ‘higher’ than our ways”. Here’s what you get when you say, “My thoughts are not like your thoughts, for my thoughts are higher than your thoughts”. Here’s what you get when you dare to say that “all my works are like filthy rags”. Here’s what you get when you say that God isn’t just “in all of us” or that He isn’t simply, “In my heart”. Here’s what you get when you answer Pilates’ question of, “What is, truth?” and your “truth” doesn’t confirm what I think. Behold, the cross, “buddy”. You can just “get out of my face”.
c. Make no mistake Christ was put on a cross as an icon to man’s judgement
Like Saul, Jesus’ body was hung in order to make a statement. This was Israel’s judgment concerning the true faith and religion. This was the world’s judgment of both Israel and her God. To this day, the cross remains an icon that, whether the world admits it or not, still makes a statement...a judgement...about what a sinful world really thinks of her true God.
d. Only in light of the Resurrection, do we see CHRIST’S glory.
In the Resurrection, we see God in Christ, triumphing over the judgements of men. In light of the Resurrection, we see Christ’s glory in His obedience unto death; His forgiveness of His enemies; His denial of Himself. His promising to come again, in judgement, to raise all people from the grave...to restore and give new life to those who wished Him dead.
III. The cross remains an icon that speaks of judgement today.
A. It’s an offense to a perishing world because it confronts them with what they really think of God.
As the bible says, “They shall look on Him whom THEYhave pierced”. They pierced Him (and would pierce Him still) because He rebukes their lies and deceit...because He condemns their “pre-marital relations”; their homosexual relations; their rejection of His Word in favor of their feelings; their thieving and coveting and their slanderous thoughts and actions.
B. Ironically, the icon that man erected to justify himself, becomes that which justifies God’s judgement of man.
The cross simply repeats man's boast. It says, “Yeah, you did this”. As Paul says, “Whatsoever the law says, it says to those under the law that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world held accountable to God”. We all need to hear this.
IV. The icon of the cross is what prepares hearts and minds for the Gospel
The gospel is not that “someone loves you” or that “I’ve seen your need and I think you’re important and that’s why I’m giving you a warm cup of soup on a cold winter day”. That would be the fruit of the gospel...and as our Lutheran Confessions say, “Good works flow from faith...indeed they must flow (if faith is genuine and true)”...but this is not the gospel. It’s a fruit of faith. (hopefully).
The gospel is that, while men were piercing Him and exalting themselves by hanging Him in that place...God was preparing to count His death as both a substitutionary and even an atoning death for you, in His place. Now that He has stopped every mouth...Now that not a stone of man's testament to his own glory remains...Now that He has held the entire world accountable, through its own icon...Now He says, “Behold the King of Kings. Behold the Lord of Lords. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the word”. Whoever believes in Him will never be put to shame! His body is given for you. His blood is shed for you...and look, He lives! This King that comes to judge is not only able to put down and raise up kings, He can break the laws of nature. He is truly God – a God that is capable of restoring a right relationship with you, to reconcile Himself to you, by using the very icon that men once made in order to set themselves apart. It’s incredible. On top of that, now that He’s got every glory-mongering mouth shut, He promises to count your faith in Him as righteousness. Your trust in Him; Your acknowledgement of Him and His good and gracious will. Your acknowledgement of His righteousness, gets counted to you as your righteousness. Through faith, God is once again the loving, gracious and merciful God, and you are back to being His humble and beloved creation. The righteous shall live by faith.
Conclusion: This is the gospel of the cross that was proclaimed by the Apostles & Prophets. It was proclaimed before Kings and courts and nations and fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters. It is Christ and Him crucified...and it is still our message today. God has promised to be with you whereever you are called to give this testimony. The Words have already been written. The icon has been fixed in its place. THE CROSS MAKES A STATEMENT: CONVICTING THE WORLD OF IT’S REBELLION AGAINST GOD AND OF GOD’S MERCY
It silences every mouth and shatters the stony heart that you might listen and hear these words: “Given and shed for you”. In Jesus’ Name +