July 3, 2022| 4th Sunday after Pentecost: The Glory of The Cross
Paul writes in today’s epistle to the Galatians, “May I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but the new creation is everything!”
For Paul, the cross of Christ is everything! Indeed, for Paul, the cross is the hinge of human history. In Galatians, Paul is contending with certain Jewish-Christians who maintain that the Christians of Galatia are to be circumcised in accordance with Jewish law.
Paul says, “no.” The cross of Christ has obliterated all such false distinctions. Paul’s basic theme in Galatian’s is freedom in Christ. For Paul, the “Cross of Christ” and the “law” are mutually exclusive as ways to salvation. Indeed, Paul charges that his Jewish-Christian opponents are subverting the Gospel of Christ! “Boasting” on what is done in the flesh is sternly repudiated by Paul as being incompatible with the Christian message. Paul allows only for boasting in the Lord. And to boast in the Lord is to boast in the Cross of Christ. Paul charges those Judaizers (a term reserved for those Jewish-Christians who contend that the observance of Torah and the practice of circumcision are necessary) is an affront to the new gentile converts who have been baptized into Christ.
Paul’s words suggest that his argument is based on observation: he observes that his opponents are trying to avoid the persecution that comes from preaching the power and the wisdom of the cross. God did not merely “reform” humankind. In these last days he has sent his son—born of a woman—to fulfill the demands of the Law. God’s son comes in the middle of the old creation to transform reality in which God, acting in Jesus, accomplishes our salvation—the redemption of the whole world. It is in the cross of Christ that all resistance to the love, grace, and mercy of God is defeated and that means the defeat of the principalities and powers of the old world order, or Satan.
Now, in today’s Gospel reading Luke here includes a curious saying of Jesus. Jesus responds to the return of the 70 preachers who joyfully report, “Lord, in your name, even the demons submit to us.” The handwriting is on the wall. In proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God, the disciples are engaging the powers of darkness and death. And Jesus says in that moment: “I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning!”
In saying this, Jesus underscores the cosmic significance of the mission of the 70, reporting a visionary experience that apparently coincided with their successful combat against the forces of darkness, the forces of Satan. The life distorting and oppressive power behind the scenes belongs to none other than the architect of evil—Satan, whose name in Hebrew means, “the Accuser.” Does Jesus’s vision of Satan’s fall to earth indicate that the power of evil has been broken? Not on your life. Luke casts Jesus as having set his face like a flint, to journey to Jerusalem, there to suffer and die. The yet powerful activity of Satan reveals itself in the passion narrative in Luke TWICE. First, Satan enters Judas Iscariot who will betray Jesus. And second, Satan desires to have Simon Peter that he may, in Luke’s telling, “sift him as wheat.” This anticipates what we know of Peter and his three-fold denials of his Lord, following his strenuous assertions that he will die for his Lord. Satan, on the other hand, is resolved to “sift like wheat” the intimate associates of Jesus, to test the strength of their character and the vigor of their faith. We now know that all will desert Jesus, save John and a handful of women, in his hour of need.
It is significant that Luke places Satan at the very heart of the Passion narrative. The Liar and the Father of lies, according to John’s Gospel, invades Jesus’s close circle of friends in his last hours. So no, the world is not yet done with Satan. This archenemy of God’s sovereignty is aligned against a holy God. Jesus’ vision of Satan’s fall to earth, then, seems to be a prophetic vision of the future and the final defeat of Satan in the face of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The account of Satan’s fall occurs in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, where John writes:
"Now war broke out in heaven; and Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the Great Dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil, and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
What has already taken place in heaven, in God’s decision on behalf of human salvation, is now to take effect on earth. In the Cross of Christ, the whole creation is being reclaimed for God’s sovereignty.
Any Christian “boasting” would then have to take the form of a “glorification of the cross.” For Paul, “my boasting” cannot simply be based on “What happened to me” (circumcision in the flesh), but what happened to me in the Spirit through Christ’s death. For Paul, Christ is always the crucified Lord of Glory.
“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything.” For Paul, the “new creation” is everything. Boasting in the cross of Christ is only possible for those who have “put on Christ.”
The clear result is that the relationship that once existed between humankind and the cosmos (the world) has been nailed to the cross. We are now dead to sin, but alive unto Christ. By the cross all has been changed. We are no longer slaves to the “elemental spirits of this world.” We are now the free children of God through Christ.
All who “put on Christ” in baptism, have renounced the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are the new creation—no longer slaves to sin, but alive unto Christ. This is the new reality. This new foundation in God’s absolute decision in favor of absolute love has dethroned Satan, the accuser of humanity. Jesus, in showing his innocence in the Passion narratives of the Gospels, has cancelled this accusation; he has “set it aside.” God nails the accusations to the cross. He reveals its falsity, its lie. Satan has been unmasked as “the imposter.” Or to put it another way, the principalities and powers of this world- which made human beings obligated to Satan and his minions-have been exposed, once and for all. Satan is now disclosed in all his deceit, violence, and rebellion. By nailing Christ to the cross, the powers believed they were avoiding the danger of disclosure. They did not suspect that, in the end, they would be doing just the opposite. They would be contributing to their own annihilation! They did not, and they could not, anticipate the revelatory power of the cross. The cross shakes up the world! Its light deprives Satan of his principal power, the power of darkness.
Once the cross completely illuminates this dark son, Satan is no longer able to limit his capacity for destruction. Satan will now destroy his kingdom and he will destroy himself. Dante, in his Inferno, represents Satan as nailed to the cross. The “accuser” is fully revealed in the crucifixion of Christ. Which is why Paul writes in 1st Corinthians:
”This is not a wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would never have crucified the Lord of Glory.”
Satan himself did not understand it. Or rather, he understood it, but too late to protect his realm. His slowness in understanding has had tremendous consequences for human history. He expected the results of the cross to be favorable to his interests. His calculation has been completely undone and he has been decisively defeated. Only Satan could have set in motion the process of his own demise without suspecting anything was wrong. In so doing, God has rendered the truth of God universally understandable. It is this inability to understand the absolute dimensions of divine love that represents Satan’s ultimate downfall.
“God does not act treacherously, even towards Satan,” writes Rene Girard, “but allows himself to be crucified for the salvation of humanity, something that is beyond Satan’s conception.”
Truth is extremely rare on this earth. There even arise occasions to think it may be completely absent. When violence threatens to overwhelm us all, there stands the cross.
When lies threaten to undo the very fabric of the social order, there stands the cross!
When disappointment and heartache, and failure and unbelief threaten to undo us, there stands the cross.
So long as fear and doubt, despair and hopelessness threaten to undo us, there stands the cross.
So long as there are lies, lies, and more lies and deceit, vulgarity, and rebellion at the heart of our American Democracy, then Satan is alive and well on planet earth.
So long as there is the systematic destruction of Ukraine and the continued slaughter of men, women, and children, then Satan is alive and well on planet earth.
So long as there are billions of people throughout the world who suffer from food insecurity, then Satan is alive and well on planet earth!
Dear friends, as you come to the altar this morning to receive the gifts of bread and wine made holy, bring your doubts and your fears, your disappointments and your anxieties, your sadness and your heartache, your sorrows and your pain. Here is the power of the cross on full display. It is the power of the victorious Christ who gives himself for you, and for the life of the world. To receive him is to be:
Encouraged in his love,
Emboldened in his power, and
Enfolded in his mercy.
Come and receive him. AMEN.
The Rev. Lorne Weaver