Of all the different symbolic crosses of Jesus, perhaps the Jerusalem cross is the most important one for the church.
Of course, all of the variety of crosses that we are looking at each Sunday during this sermon series, have a common thread – that Jesus Christ died on a cross for the sins of the world. That, in and of itself is wonderful news! It’s why we refer to our faith as good news, to know that the God of all creation has sent Jesus Christ to be our redeemer, our deliverer, and our Savior.
But the particular cross that we are looking at today, the Jerusalem Cross, is in my estimation, the most significant one of all even as important as they all are. Because, it’s the Jerusalem cross that reminds us that the good news of our faith is not meant to be kept to ourselves, but is meant to be shared and celebrated with the entire world.
You will notice that the Jerusalem cross consists of a large cross in the middle with four smaller crosses surrounding it. In this particular style of cross, the large middle cross symbolizes the presence of Jesus Christ, while the four smaller crosses symbolize the task of the church to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the world.
And this is why this particular type of cross is called the Jerusalem cross. The Christian faith began in Jerusalem since that is where Jesus was crucified on a cross and was resurrected to new life. But then Christianity gradually extended to the whole world through the faithful witness of the early church.
This cross is also called the Jerusalem Cross because it was used on the flags of the Crusaders during the Middle Ages when they left Europe to try and recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and put it under Christian control again.
The Jerusalem cross is important for us to think about during the Season of Lent, because it reminds us that our faith in Jesus Christ is too wonderful to be kept to ourselves.
Have you ever had something to say that was so wonderful that you couldn’t keep it to yourself? Have you ever wanted to shout at perfect strangers some great news?
A friend told me about a time when he stopped by Kroger to pick up a few things. As he was heading toward the aisle where soups are sold, he noticed a man going up to strangers and talking to them. He thought to himself, “Oh, I hope he doesn’t say anything to me.”
But, sure enough, he started heading right toward him!
He thought to himself, “What would cause this man, who looked to be somewhere in his mid to late 20s, to be OK with going up to complete strangers, and telling them about something without knowing what their reaction might be? What was his urgent message that he just had to share with everyone shopping at the grocery store that morning?”
Well, it turned out that he was representing a new business that had just opened in town. And this young man told him how this new business could really be helpful to him, and that if he would go to that business later in the day, he would get a free pizza!! He then handed him a piece of paper with the name of the business the address of the business, and the free pizza coupon.
My friend said that he didn’t take him up on his offer of the free pizza, but the important thing about that day for him wasn’t that he chose not to visit that new pizza business in town, the important thing for him was that this guy was willing to share something that was so important to him with complete strangers.
I see lots of people like that. How about the guy who is willing to dress up like the statue of liberty and stand outside in bone chilling wind to get you to come in and get your taxes done there? That’s dedication!
Or sometimes I see a person standing near a busy intersection, wearing a costume like a banana suit, or a big chili pepper, trying to get my attention to come and check out the store they’re representing.
Someone told me that near where he lives, one of these costume-wearing-guys stands near a road waving to the cars going by, dressed up as a large drink cup with a huge straw coming out of his head!
Now, I know, they’re not doing this for free. But, you couldn’t pay me enough to do what they’re doing.
You have to respect someone who is willing to wave his arms around while wearing a hamburger suit. I mean, that takes some courage and boldness.
And all of this reminds me of what people must have thought of those early Christians when they first started going around the city of Jerusalem telling people about a Messiah who was crucified, dead, and then raised from the dead.
In my mind, there’s no comparison between a person wearing a hamburger suit, and the early Christian on the streets of Jerusalem telling people about a crucified and risen Messiah.
The disciples of Jesus had it a lot harder in my opinion.
I mean, we’ve all seen a hamburger, and most of us eat them from time to time.
But not many people in the history of this world have even seen someone who was dead, and is now alive again.
But this is the news that those early Christians wanted to tell everyone they could, and this is what the early church did. They boldly shared the good news to all who would listen that the God of all creation had defeated sin and death at a particular time in history by sending Jesus who died on a cross, rose to new life, and ascended to heaven to rule as King over all of creation.
And of course, just like cars speeding by people wearing costumes, or shoppers who walk past people trying to get you to try a new perfume at the mall, not everyone responded to the good news that those early Christians were sharing.
Some people totally ignored them and dismissed them.
Other people laughed them off.
Some even reacted with insults, and in some cases, physical violence.
But some – -- some responded and believed.
Why would people respond favorably to news like this? Our Gospel reading this morning tells us why. This passage is one of the few New Testament passages where we are told that there was an actual, audible voice from heaven. And this voice says, “I have glorified it, (meaning God’s name) and I will glorify it again.”
And the way that Jesus would glorify God’s name would be through his death on the cross. Knowing that he was about to give his life in order to glorify God’s name, the Gospel writer John tells us that Jesus’ soul was troubled, which shows us Jesus’ humanity as he anticipated what was about to happen to him.
This passage of scripture helps us have a deeper glimpse of who God is. Here we see a God who is willing to go to great lengths, indeed, the greatest length, even sending his own Son to experience death on a cross, for the sake of the world.
And because Jesus was determined to do whatever it took to glorify God’s name, even if that would mean a painful death on the cross, Jesus says in our scripture reading, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”
Jesus’ death on the cross would mean that the powers which had usurped the world and laid it to waste --- those evil forces that have trampled on the poor, and have exalted themselves as kings, lords and even as gods – all of them would be judged, condemned, and driven out.
Not because Jesus would pick up a sword and use violent means against them, but through Christ’s sacrificial death and victory over death on the cross, they would be defeated!
This is why Jesus says in our Gospel reading for today, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
The Gospel writer, John, is helping us to see that the whole point of the cross is that this would be the way that God’s name would be glorified, and how the evil and sin of the world would finally be defeated, including death itself.
And if that’s not good news, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not worth sharing with the people around us, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not worth telling complete strangers, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not worth going to the four corners of the world to proclaim, I don’t know what is.
It’s through the cross, that people are drawn to Christ. It’s through the good news of the cross, that death and sin have been defeated. The cross is the good news of our faith. And it’s meant to be shared.
One of the many reasons why I am proud to be a part of the United Methodist Church is that our denomination is presently sharing the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ in more than 125 countries around the world through our General Board of Global Ministries.
Thanks to your generous support each year throughout our denominational apportionment giving, we support missionaries all over the world, including many right here in the United States. These missionaries are sharing the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ, and thanks to your generous support, people are being drawn to Him.
But we also need to be aware that people need to hear this good news right here in our own backyard, here in Athens and the surrounding area. Our church is called to share the good news of our faith right here.
Most demographic studies indicate that well over half of the people who live in our surrounding area have no church involvement at all.
While it’s wonderful that our church shares the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed, and we are helping to bring about transformation in our community, there are still so many more people we are being called to reach.
As we journey through this Season of Lent and think about what Jesus Christ did not only for us, but for the whole world by dying on a cross, I hope and pray that God will break our hearts as we realize just how many people in our own neighborhoods have yet to know and embrace the redeeming and unconditional love of Jesus Christ, and know the joy of being involved in authentic Christian community through a local church.
Here are a couple of very practical ways that we can share the good news of our faith with the people in our community and both are important.
The first way is by sharing with others how God is at work in our lives. We’ve been calling these, “thin place moments,” where
heaven and earth overlap in our everyday lives creating a thin place where we experience God’s presence in a very real way.
I have asked Wendy Merb-Brown to come and share a recent thin place moment that has happened in her life.
(Wendy Merb-Brown Shares)
Sharing our thin place moments with others is a great way to witness because we are simply sharing how God is at work in our everyday lives. People enjoy hearing stories of faith.
Another way that we can share our faith with others is through serving others in practical ways. Our Athens First Saturday monthly outreach is one of those ways that we share our faith by serving others.
When we meet at the church this April, it will mark our one-year anniversary of our 1st Athens First Saturday outreach.
We have been offering God’s love by serving our community in a variety of ways like picking up litter, leading a nursing home worship service, providing flowers to the hospital, writing out positive sidewalk chalk messages for people passing by our church, providing Valentine packages for children with cancer, making blankets and giving them away to organizations in our community.
In addition to our Athens First Saturday, there are other ways that we serve in our community like through the Trimble backpack ministry where we help to provide food for low income children, the Kairos prison ministry, our Christmas Giving Tree outreach, handing out hot chocolate and donuts to college students during finals week this past December.
We will also be sending a missions team to serve people in Honduras this summer. Using our words and our hands in sharing God’s love with our community and world is how we are faithful in living out the meaning of the Jerusalem cross.
I hope and pray that our church will never turn away from our most basic and fundamental reason for existence: to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ. As William Temple, former archbishop of the Church of England once said, “The church exists for the people who are not already in it.”
So this is why we have the Jerusalem cross. So we will never forget that the message of the cross is not meant to be kept to ourselves, but to be shared with the whole world - all four corners of the world: North, South, East, and West.
Thankfully, this cross that has four crosses around it, won’t let us forget.
Crosses of Jesus: The Jerusalem Cross
Small Group Questions
Philippians 3:17-4:1 & John 12:27-36
March 12, 2017
The Jerusalem cross is known for the cross in the middle and the four crosses around it. The smaller crosses represent the four corners of the earth and our calling to share the love of Christ with the whole world.
How is the church sharing Christ's love with people in our surrounding community and all around the world?
Most of us are part of the church because of somebody that took the time to personally invite us. Perhaps our parents encouraged us to attend church at an early age.
Who might you invite to attend church?
Our church encourages people to share their "thin place" moments. That is, the times they have experienced God's presence in a real way in their day to day living.
Share a recent "thin place" moment in your life. Remember, it doesn't have to be dramatic. Often times, these moments are subtle, but equally powerful.
One of the reasons Christians are willing to step out of their comfort zone to share their "thin place" moments and their faith with others is because we want others to experience the good news of Christ in their lives.
What makes the Christian faith, "good news" in your life?