PAISLEY SOUTH CHURCH.
Christine and I have been pursuing the possibility of live streaming a weekly sermon with the experts who know much more than we do as to the logistics of how to do this. In the meantime, we will put a weekly sermon on the Church website and also a prayer, taking it turn about each week. For this first week Christine has written a very acceptable message to all of you which is also on the website and the following is the first of these sermons.
We also hope to have a sermon on the website for each night of Holy Week beginning on Monday 6th April.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this anxious time. Keep safe and best wishes.
SERMON “THE CROSS OF CHRIST”.
READING: St. John 12. 20 – 36.
The Rev. Dr. David H. C. Reid was the minister emeritus of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. Prior to taking up his Charge in New York he had served as chaplain to Edinburgh University. He was also one of the Queens chaplains in Scotland and he was also a minister in one of the Churches in Helensburgh.
In a Passion Sunday sermon of his entitled “The Inevitable Cross,” he says: “Some time ago ‘Time Magazine’ printed the results of a questionnaire of thirty prominent people in the USA. These thirty people were given one hundred famous events in history and they were asked to list them in order of importance and significance for mankind.
Dr. Reid says the result of the poll was most interesting. Top place was given to Columbus’ discovery of America. In fourteenth place, three events were placed equal. They were:
- The discovery of X-ray by the German scientist Wilhelm Rontgen in 1895.
- The two brothers – Wilbur & Orvil Wright’s first air flight on 17th December 1903 from North Carolina in the USA.
- The crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Reid makes the point that among those answering those one hundred questions there were many members and adherents of the Christian Church. That is to say – there were men and women who had, more times than they could count, confessed in worship their belief that the risen Lord Jesus Christ was and is the Saviour of the world.
These Christian men and women would have heard time and again that Jesus Christ the Son of God had died for their sins. They would have received the bread and wine – the great symbols of the Sacrament of Holy Communion – the great symbols of the body broken and of the blood of Christ shed for them. They would have joined in singing hymns such as – “In the cross of Christ I glory towering o’er the wrecks of time.”
“How then,” asks Dr. Reid – “How do they reconcile the affirmations they make in Church, with their belief that the crucifixion of Christ should only share fourteenth place in order of importance for mankind?
David Reid speaks of their spiritual guard being down on this occasion. Now we all know how difficult it can be to affirm our Christian beliefs in the secular world. We like to think of ourselves as Christians but we don’t want to give the impression of being too Christian! – We don’t want to be too unpopular with others who don’t share our Christian values.
We have Christian morals, and principles but we don’t want the secular society to think we are really all that different from them. As a result, we tend to shelter our religious beliefs within the walls of the Church or within the walls of our private lives. Outwith these times we breathe in secular air. We tend to live a secular life. It’s so tempting and easy to live our lives by secular standards, values and judgments.
If any of the professing Christians who took part in the survey had been challenged as to how they rated the importance of their choices they in all probability would have answered, “Of course this was just a secular judgment. I wasn’t thinking about religion.”
David Reid draws our attention to something that is very important here and it is this. We cannot, or at least we ought not to, make a distinction between our religious beliefs and our secular beliefs. A Christian ought not to have beliefs for the Church and other beliefs for the world.
A statement concerning the significance of Jesus cannot be true for example here in Paisley South and be less true or untrue in our home, or in our workplace or in our leisure and social activities.
Of all the proclamations the Church makes, the crucifixion of Christ on the cross is a historical fact and must surely come out a clear number one in any poll of most significant events. Why do I say that? It’s because it deals with eternity. What we believe about the crucifixion of Christ will determine where we will spend our eternal lives.
This Passion Sunday is a solemn reminder to us that Jesus suffered and died. He was nailed to a wooden cross and he died as a substitute for us. This is the most significant that we can ever know. It is the most significant thing that has ever taken place in history. Nothing is more important. Secularists and unbelievers don’t like to acknowledge this but it is a fact of history.
The crucifixion of Christ didn’t take place in a Temple, or in a Church. It took place outside a city wall. Pontius Pilate was a historical person who gave instruction that the historical Jesus should be crucified on a real cross. The passion, the suffering, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is not just a story in a book for us to read. They are on historical record.
What is in question is this. How much importance and what significance do we attach to the fact that Jesus suffered and died in this way for us? Or to put it another way – If we were asked to categorise one hundred events and place them in their order of importance – where would we place the cross of Christ?
I am sure that if I handed out this one-hundred-word questionnaire. Assuming we were in Church, most people would have no hesitation in placing the crucifixion as number one. But what if the survey was carried out in Paisley shopping Centre or Braehead, or any other shopping centre on Monday afternoon by one of the national newspapers; would our answers be significantly different?
The death of Christ changed the course of history and it still changes the course of people’s lives today. For many people the cross and the passionate death of Jesus are seen only as something we pay our last respects to in the Church, but in terms of everyday life, the crucifixion has little or no part in our thinking. The Times Magazine results seem to bear this out.
The Christian Church has drifted a long way from the time when Paul came to Corinth declaring, “I am determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
The thrust of Paul’s lifelong ministry was to say to people, “I offer you Christ. I invite you to put him at the very top of your priority list, because this is what you need more than any other thing. This is the only way in which you will know blessing and fulfilment in your life and you need to find Christ for yourself in this life. We are reminded that this is even more true than ever at this time f threat form the coronavirus.
In every age and generation attempts have been made to bury Christ in some cave like the Dead Sea scrolls and to construct a philosophy of life based only on his teachings.
Another of the great Scottish preachers of a previous generation was the late Professor James S. Stewart of New College in Edinburgh. He said:
“It must be the most hopeless, sterile, soul destroying thing imaginable to have only arguments, advice, and moral points of view to offer to the world to help it in its troubles. It makes a world of difference when you have Christ to offer. To have a living accessible and all sufficient Christ – how different that is. It is redemptive; it is effective, and it is gloriously charged with hope.”
He says, “The preacher’s message must always be, “I am coming to you with Christ. You didn’t want him. You despised him and you rejected him. You killed him. But God has raised him up. You didn’t want him. You killed him – but look what God has done and look at what he can do for you.”
The death of Christ is the most significant event in the entire history of all mankind. Nothing ranks above it. There is nothing we can compare with it. This must always be the preacher’s message. We all need to make this discovery and we need to live each day of our lives by it.
Christ wants you to know – He is the way. He is the truth and he is the life. i.e. He is the way to eternal life and no one can be with God in eternity unless we are willing for him to lead us there by the hand.
Unbelieving men and women don’t want him. So called sophisticated men and women despise him and reject him and they will spend eternity without him. That’s what they want and that’s what they will have. And that is cause for great sorrow.
Christ reveals himself only to those who are prepared to make him number one. Make him your first priority. Make him your first love. When you are determined to do this, he will show you that he is the way the truth and the life. Fanny Crosby the hymn writer comes closest to summing it up when she writes:
“To God be the glory great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
Who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life-gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Let the people rejoice!
Oh come to the father through Jesus the Son,
And give him the glory! Great things he has done!”