The government of Polish Prime Minister Jaruzelski had ordered crucifixes removed from classroom walls, just as they had been banned in factories, hospitals, and other public institutions. Catholic bishops attacked the ban that had stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland. Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms.
But one zealous Communist school administrator in Garwolin decided that the law was the law. So one evening he had seven large crucifixes removed from lecture halls where they had hung since the school’s founding in the twenties. Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had these taken down as well.
The next day two-thirds of the school’s six hundred students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then they marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby church where they were joined by twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the protest. Soldiers surrounded the church. But the pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world. So did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning. "There is no Poland without a cross." (Chuck Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, pp. 202-3.)
This morning we reach the conclusion of our series of sermons from the book of Galatians. As Paul comes to the end of his letter he takes the pen into his own hand and restates what has been the central focus of the entire letter. He doesn’t conclude with a list of twelve important things to remember nor 5 nor even three, but just one thing that matters: The Cross of Jesus Christ
Interrogative: The quick witted and critical among you are already asking, "If Paul only emphasizes one thing, Why does your outline have three points?"
Transition: The answer is that in these last few verses paul shows how the centrality of the cross relates to three different things--first to the false teachers that he has written this letter to oppose, then to himself, and finally to all those who trust in Christ. Let’s look frist at how the cross relates to those false teachers. For them the cross is...
I. One Reason to be Ashamed
v. 12-13 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.
Remember, these false teachers are called Judaizers, they want the Galatian believers to follow the external requirements of the law to somehow enhance their salvation. Paul has repeatedly emphasized that the work of Christ upon the Cross and the Grace of God is sufficient for salvation, circumcision and diet and dress codes don’t have the power to transform lives. Paul has also at least twice earlier in the letter made the point that the reason these teachers are seeking the circumcision of the Gentiles is because of their own pride. Paul makes the point again here and adds that they are doing this to avoid being persecuted for the Cross of Christ.
The cross is a real problem for those who want to indulge their pride. It’s a problem for those who have a desire for others to see them as successful. Because the cross is pretty embarrasing. It wasn’t the religious symbol it is today--at that time it still carried the full implication of what it really was--and instrument of torture and execution.
I believe that the Judaizers were still concerned what the Jews in their old synagogue thought of them, hanging out with unwashed gentiles. If they could only say to them "see these Gentile Christians are living as good Jews because of Jesus," they could’ve been spared some embarassment. They were unwilling to proclaim, "the cross of Christ and not the law of Moses makes men acceptable to God."
And so the Cross was still a stumbling block to them. They wanted to play a part in the salvation process, their own and that of others.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that "The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard." The Judaizers wanted success stories, and the cross was for them a reason to be ashamed.
Next Paul relates the centrality of the Cross to himself. For him the cross is his...
II. One Reason to Boast
v. 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.
Now Paul contrasts the boasting of the Judaizers in their own work--the work of the flesh, with his only boast--in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Paul doesn’t boast in his heritage--though he tells the church at Phillipi he could claim a reason to. He doesn’t boast in his success as an evangelist. He doesn’t boast in his status as an apostle in the church. No, he boasts only in the cross of Jesus Christ.
For Paul--as should be for us also--The cross was not something to be ashamed of, for as he wrote to the church at Rome, the it is the power of God for salvation.
The cross may look like defeat, but it is victory, victory over sin, victory over the law, victory over the grave.
He doesn’t simply say that he accepts the message of the cross, that he can live with it. He revels in it, he boasts in it. The cross is the centerpiece of his life. The place where justice met grace. The blood stained, hated Roman instrument of torture, had become precious to him, for it was the place where His life had been transformed.
Finally Paul relates the central place of the cross to the lives of his readers, telling them that it is the...
III. One Thing that Counts
vv. 15-16 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
Now you may be saying "wait a minute, it doesn’t mention the cross there." Well that’s true but the cross is implied by all that has gone before in the letter. The cross is the source of the transformation that Paul calls "a new creation." And again a contrast is shown between the way of faith and the way of the law. Paul says it doesn’t matter if you’re circumcised or not, what matters is that you’ve been transformed on the inside.
ILLUSTRATION: London businessman Lindsay Clegg told the story of a warehouse property he was selling. The building had been empty for months and needed repairs. Vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and strewn trash around the interior.
As he showed a prospective buyer the property, Clegg took pains to say that he would replace the broken windows, bring in a crew to correct any structural damage, and clean out the garbage.
"Forget about the repairs," the buyer said. "When I buy this place, I’m going to build something completely different. I don’t want the building; I want the site."
Compared with the renovation God has in mind, our efforts to improve our own lives are as trivial as sweeping a warehouse slated for the wrecking ball. Circumcision, following the external requirements of the law, these are window dressing on a condemned building. All he wants is the site and the permission to build. (Ian L. Wilson.)
Yes the new building will need to have new windows--in other words the new life that Christ wishes to work in us will be a life marked by right living, and that will require cooperation on our part with what the Spirit means to do in us, but that transformation is a response to his new construction not a replacement for it.
And all contruction costs have been paid in full at the cross.
There is really only one thing that really matters in this life. One event which divided the History of the world. One payment which covers the cost of sin: It is the cross of Jesus Christ:
This is the cross that causes those who are concerned about appearances to stumble.
This is the Cross in which the blood bought boast for it is the source of salvation.
This is the Cross which Transforms lives and Hearts.
The Cross of the New Creation.