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by Prentice Meador


    The story goes this way...

    He is remembered for his cunning and able statesmanship at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), which was dominated by the four major powers who defeated Napoleon. His name: Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord. Even though France had caused all the turmoil and should have been severely punished, she got off lightly due to the diplomacy of Talleyrand. Later, a Frenchman asked the astute Talleyrand for his advice on how to start a new religion. “You might want to be crucified and be raised on the third day!” he responded.

    When God goes to work, it’s awesome! Mysterious! Far-reaching! Beyond our comprehension! No human could have foreseen salvation through a cross! Who would have thought of great work being done in a cemetery? Only God connects the dots of crucifixion and resurrection.

    But why was God at work in Christ? After creation, why didn’t God simply withdraw? God could have allowed people to go their own way.

    Instead, he set about to accomplish something more with his creation. Far from withdrawing, God became deeply and compassionately involved with his lonely, guilty, fearful, and insecure human creatures. Deep within him is the urge to mend broken people.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Jesus’ sense of mission from Luke 4:18-19)
    It is a temptation to feel that the power in Christianity may be found in doctrinal rightness or institutional correctness. We still are tempted to think that we can attract more people if we employ methods other than love. Yet, Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up ... will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). We can be totally confident that the power at the heart of the Christian faith is nothing less than the power of self-giving love. The activity of God at work among his people is the power of self-giving love. We are to love those within and those outside the church. We must tell and show people that we love them. So, it is important that we not only agree with the doctrine of love but that we practice love. That’s God’s way of working.

    How is God at work on the cross of Jesus? Consider two insights: (1) hate never looks more like a loser than when it wins; (2) love never looks more like a winner than when defeated.

    In any given moment, a nail, a scourge, a bitter cup, or a hammer’s blow may appear to win. A good life breathes its last breath. Hatred’s way of getting back at people is almost unbelievable. It can, in the name of right, produce the greatest wrongs. No matter what it looks like it is doing, hate can only destroy; it has no power to build. Hate can seduce, but it cannot convince. Hate can manipulate, but it has no power to create trust or commitment. That’s the scene on Friday at the cross.

    Love, on the other hand, has the power to endure. Reviled, love does not return the same. Hurt, it does not retaliate. Bruised and defeated on a cross, love proves victorious. For, beyond the moment of death on a cross, it endures as self-giving love — the greatest power ever known on earth. Love rises to endure — never to be defeated. That’s the scene on Sunday morning at the tomb. Ernest Freemont Tittle frames it in eloquent language:

    You may place upon the brow of truth a crown of thorns. You may mock truth, scourge it, spit upon it. You may even crucify it between two lies. But ever on the third day it rises from the dead, begins to be seen, heard, and heeded. In any given twenty-four hours love may prove to be no match at all for sheer brute force. A crossbeam, some nails, a hammer, a spear, a sponge dipped in vinegar and lifted to lips in anguish; a loud inarticulate cry as one who has put his trust in love gives up the ghost. But when sheer brute force has had its little day of triumph and vanished from the earth-love is more than ever alive and begins to govern the ages.*

    In the face of his enemies, Jesus tells several stories that astonish; parables that remind his harshest critics that God cares about sinners and that his grace is not only amazing and mystifying, but it is made powerful by his sacrificial love. Those stories will have to wait until next time, but if you want to sneak a peak at them, go ahead and read Matthew 20:1-16; 21:28-32; and Luke 7:36-50. Just remember, God is at work, and nothing, not even our religious preconceptions, will ever be the same.

This is Part 1 of a series.
(Next week, Part 2)

* Ernest Freemont Thrie, Jesus After Nineteen Centuries (New York:Abingdon Press, 1932), 142-143.
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