Power of the Cross

Have you wondered why the cross, of all the symbols in the world, represents the Christian faith? It’s a symbol of humiliation, suffering, and death. Why would a religious movement want to associate with such a uninviting identity?

Prepare to be captivated by the paradoxical beauty of the crucifixion and resurrection, and uncover the deeper meaning behind Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

The website, Fast Company, posed a question I want to start with today: What’s the greatest logo of all time?

They said the average person gets bombarded with upwards of 5,000 brand messages every day.


Every brand wants some expression that will not only be simple and memorable but will tap into a deep level of desire.

Companies want their logo to be a symbol that people associate with a product that has a kind of a heart appeal, so when they see it, they not only think of that company, but they want to buy whatever it is the company sells.


I’ll show you a few they said are great to test how effective they are.

If you know the brand name, you can just say it out loud.

Here’s the first one.

Image on screen: Logo of Nike (just the Nike swoosh)

This is the swoosh for Nike.

Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, and this image is supposed to look like one of her wings.

It was developed by a graphic design student named Carolyn Davidson.

She was literally working for $2 an hour. She got paid $35 to create this swoosh.

Phil Knight, one of the founders of Nike, said of it, “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”

I’m sure it did!


Image on screen: Logo of Amazon

This is Amazon.

Often, logos have a hidden meaning. If you look carefully at where the yellow line starts and ends, it’s showing you can use Amazon to buy everything from A to Z.

Plus, the yellow line is a smile to represent how happy people are who shop on Amazon. And I think how happy the people are who own Amazon.


Image on screen: Logo of FedEx

The next logo is FedEx.

FedEx says, “When it’s got to get there fast.”

So there’s an arrow in between the E and the X that represents speed, movement, and accuracy.


Image on screen: Logo of Baskin-Robbins

Another logo that was on the top of the list was Baskin-Robbins.

I’m probably the only one who had never noticed they have a 31 in their logo.

The 31 is incorporated in the B and the R to remind you they have 31 wonderful flavors of ice cream.


This next one doesn’t even have a name attached to it.

Image on screen: Logo of Starbucks


What would happen if Starbucks were to close tomorrow and no coffee were available?

The country would collapse.


Image on screen: Logo of Google

Then, there’s Google.

The logo for Google is the word Google. I’m not sure why this one made the list.


Image on screen: Logo of McDonalds (just yellow M with red background)

The Golden Arches of McDonalds.

Business Insider says this is the most recognizable logo in the world.

It means satisfaction.

You get food. You get it fast. You get it cheap. It tastes good. Kind of.


We live in a world of logos.

Some of the smartest people in our world stay up late at night trying to dream up one of these logos and figure out a way to make it real clear and real compelling. So when you see one, you think:

I’d like to be associated with what it is that logo stands for.
I’d like to be a part of whoever is associated with that company.
I’d like for what is reflected in that logo to be expressed in my life.
I want to be part of that.

A good logo isn’t just memorable; it’s compelling.


What’s the greatest logo?


That a good question, because for 2,000 years now, the simplest expression of the Christian faith is standing right here.

For 2,000 years now, the primary image that has been associated with Jesus and the movement he started has been, oddly enough, two pieces of wood that were fastened together to execute slaves and criminals.

For people who follow Jesus, this is the corporate logo. This is our brand.


This is terribly strange.

Other religions have much more inviting symbols, as you may know (the Star of David or a crescent moon or a lotus flower — images of light, nature, and beauty).

If you were designing a symbol to attract men and women all around the world to be part of a movement, no marketing expert would recommend a means of execution.


It’s become so familiar in our day through jewelry and art and so on that we have largely been desensitized to it, and we forget its shocking meaning.


How likely is it that PG&E would choose as its logo an electric chair with the slogan, “The power is on”?

How likely is it that jewelry makers will sell necklaces with little guillotines on them?

How strange that more graves are marked by crosses than anything else?

It’s unthinkable that they would be marked by other causes of death — like gallows or knives or guns (unimaginable), but we don’t even think about the cross.


You should know this did not happen by accident.

Jesus was the master of images, as of all else. He deliberately chose this one, the cross, and it became, as he knew it would, the most famous and powerful image in history, precisely as he intended.

The obvious question is — Why? Why a cross?

Well, that’s what I want to look at in this message.


We’ve begun, as a church, to study this remarkable book in the New Testament called 1 Corinthians.


Corinth was a lot like the Bay Area. We talked about this last week.

Corinth was rebuilt by Rome, so it had a startup culture.
It was generating enormous wealth.
It was culturally and ethnically and religiously very diverse.
It was extremely competitive.
The people who lived there were obsessed with status.


If you think a cross would be a strange logo to us, it would be exponentially stranger to them.

In fact, this moves us to a part of what is utterly unique about the Christian faith.


An author, Fleming Rutledge, writes:

The world’s religions have certain traits in common, but until the gospel of Jesus Christ burst upon the Mediterranean world, no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man.


It was Jesus who conceived of such a thing.

It was Jesus who used the cross to express the deep loss, brokenness, death of humanity, and the measureless, suffering love of God. And this paradoxical pathway to a life of victory, and satisfaction, and abundance that Amazon, Nike, Starbucks and McDonald’s only give us tiny little tastes of.


Now, Paul has been haunted by and captivated by the cross of Jesus.

Here’s part of why we’re talking about this.

Last year, we devoted ourselves to studying Jesus’ great message, the Sermon on the Mount.

This year, we’re studying Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. And what runs all through Paul’s letter is this image of the cross, this message of the cross.

Now, the cross is about much more than just how to get a ticket to heaven.

For Paul, it’s as though everything Jesus taught about the reality of the kingdom of God — that those who become servants are actually the greatest, that the first are last, that it is more blessed to give than to receive, that those who seek their life will lose it but those who die to themselves will receive their life.

It’s like everything Jesus ever did or taught somehow got fully expressed and fully embodied on the cross.

It’s as though somehow that cross embodied evil, guilt, and death the way Jesus embodied goodness, love, and life.

Jesus turned the cross from a weapon intended to kill God to a weapon God would use through Jesus to kill death by dying himself.


I was thinking about it this way.

Those who study physics tell me that in the beginning, there was this tiny point called a singularity, and in the Big Bang, the entire universe came out of it. It’s hard to conceive.


It’s like what Paul saw was somehow the entire expression of the kingdom of God (God’s infinite capacity to love and to forgive and to create) was contained in this one tiny, insignificant, cruel, little cross.

And in the resurrection, the kingdom exploded out of it and is still expanding.

It’s like the crucifixion and the resurrection is God’s big spiritual bang, and they are available now for your life.


So we will study this book, and in particular, study the cross.

And seek to be a people of the cross in this strange, diverse, wonderful, wealthy, weird, divided, innovated, isolated, often spiritually impoverished Corinth called the Bay Area where God has planted us.


Paul said this:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:17-18)

By the way, the word translated message is the Greek word, logos.

It’s where our word logo comes from.

The logo of the cross — the message of the cross — is the power of God.


Now, this would sound just utterly bizarre to Corinth.

Corinth prided itself on its intellectual and cultural life.
It was a Roman colony.
It had overtaken Athens as the intellectual leader of its area.
It had found favor with Caesar.
It had Greek wisdom and culture.
It had Roman power and wealth.
It had sexual freedom and financial opportunity.
Corinth was where you came if you wanted to get ahead.

Crucifixion would not have struck the people of Corinth as a good career booster.

The ancient world knew a lot about execution. They practiced it quite often. They knew how to execute people swiftly with just the stroke of a sword to behead them.

They knew how to execute people privately — Socrates was condemned to die and took hemlock with a small circle of friends.

Crucifixion was much more of a hassle for a government.

It required a team of four soldiers.
There had to be a centurion present to oversee it.
The cross itself had to be constructed.

Crucifixion was time-consuming and very costly, and governments always want to keep expenses down, so why did they do it?


Two reasons.

First, crucifixion maximized the pain inflicted on the one who was crucified. It took hours or even days to die.


The main reason was that crucifixion maximized the public humiliation of the person being crucified. It was a public spectacle.

The victim would be stripped naked. This happened to Jesus.

This was an essential part of crucifixion — to have no power over your body, to be exposed, and shamed, and mocked.


Then, there would be a procession to the place of crucifixion, kind of like a parade.

Someone would shout to the crowds the nature of the crime, and they would carry a board on which that crime was written.

They would take the longest route through the most crowded streets to attract maximum attention.


A Roman writer named Seneca who lived around Paul’s time wrote that any self-respecting man would commit suicide before ever allowing himself to be crucified.


Rome only used crucifixion for slaves (it was actually called the slave’s punishment).

Or for rebels who conspired against the government.

Rome was trying to control foreign countries like Israel who hated them, and this was their way of discouraging rebellion.

So if you were thinking about being the Messiah, your number one rule would be, “Don’t get crucified.”

Conventional wisdom (the kind they admired in Corinth) would say, “This is a good rule for leaders in general.”


Ron Heifetz from Harvard has a great definition of leadership. He said:

Exercising leadership might be understood as disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.


Jesus disappointed people at a rate they could not absorb, and they crucified him, and yet, Paul did not minimize Jesus’ public failure.

In fact, he highlighted it.

He wrote:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)


Now, I’d like you to think about this as three alternative brands — three logos.

And you can think about which one you would prefer for your own personal brand for your own life, because we live in a world where everyone has to have their own brand.


Paul says the people of Israel, the Jewish people, demanded signs.

We would often see this in the Gospels. Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law would say to Jesus things like — “Teacher, we want a sign from you.”

The idea here is they’re looking for works of great power — miracles that would indicate this leader has enough strength and charisma to overthrow Rome.

If we were to attach a logo to this brand, it might be a picture of The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, former wrestler and football player turned movie star who is so strong he’s called The Rock.

You want a Messiah? You want The Rock.

This logo would say:

“The way to the good life is more power, more strength, more charisma, the ability to dominate — demanding signs of power.”

I get that. I would want that too.

But Paul says, “That’s not Jesus’ brand.”


With the second brand, he says, “The Greeks looks for wisdom.”

Now, if we were going to choose a logo for this one, it might be a picture of Albert Einstein, a brilliant, brilliant guy.


Now, you have to put the word wisdom in quotes here, because in Corinth wisdom was all about how to pursue honor, and wealth, and status.

It was really all about self-promotion and public recognition.


When Paul says he didn’t preach with wisdom or eloquence, this is often misunderstood.

It doesn’t mean he used poor logic or bad grammar. Very much to the contrary.

It meant he deliberately identified with people of low status and lived among the Corinthians as a servant.

He defied conventional wisdom of making your life about getting ahead.


To try to secure the good life by demanding signs that guarantee power, influence, control, domination, and strength — I get that brand.

To try to secure the good life by being the smartest guy in the room and figuring out how to get ahead of everybody else — I get that brand.


Then, there’s Jesus’ brand.

Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified.”


I want to talk about how strange that one phrase is.


Do you know what an oxymoron is?

It’s two words that actually contradict each other.

Jumbo shrimp
Hell’s Angels
Small crowd
Virtual reality
Civil war
Country music


The oxymoron in this particular passage is Christ crucified.

We’re likely to just skim right past that.

Christ was not a name. It was a title. Jesus was his name.

Christ was the title that meant anointed one or Messiah.

Crucifixion meant, by definition, that you were not the Messiah — that Rome had defeated you.

You could have a Messiah or you could have a crucifixion, but you could not have both.

Yet, Paul is rubbing the Corinthian’s noses in it.

It would be one thing to preach Christ — anointed leader, wise teacher, noble character. I get that.

But Paul doesn’t say, “We preach Christ.”

He says, “We preach Christ crucified — failed, crushed, shamed, humiliated, and executed.”

A few verses later, he gets after the same thing.

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom [again in quotes] as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Do you understand how utterly upside down and disorienting this is to everyone in Corinth?

The cross meant Jesus had been tried and found wanting.

He could not give enough signs of his power to rally his own people to overthrow their oppressors.

He could not plead his case with sufficient wisdom and eloquence to persuade Roman justice.

He tried. He failed. He lost. He died.


In a world where honor was proof of merit (we understand that world), where shame and failure were proof of worthlessness, Jesus experienced the deepest, most public, most dehumanizing shame known to the ancient world.

And this is what Paul leads with.

Which means one of two things:

Either Jesus was not as great as they thought. Or greatness is going to have to be redefined.

The good life (the purpose of life) is going to have to be redefined.

Corinth is going to have to be redefined.

The Bay Area is going to have to be redefined.


Either Jesus was not as great as they thought.

Or the purpose of life, and the nature of God, and the foundation of hope, and who counts and who doesn’t, and the power of suffering love to overcome hatred, and the possibility of having our evil and sins forgiven by God — have all been turned so radically upside down by a crucified carpenter, that Rome and Caesar and Corinth itself look like stage hands in comparison.


What Paul is claiming, against all odds, is that in thousands of years when the Roman Empire has crumbled, this man Jesus will still be expanding his kingdom.

Which is exactly what has happened.


And that is the power of the cross.

The power of the cross turns out to be the power of God fully expressed in Jesus Christ. And most fully in Jesus on a cross.

We preach Christ and him crucified.


Then, it becomes the power of the resurrection.

We all love that, but you can’t have a resurrection if you don’t have a crucifixion first. You can’t skip the crucifixion part.

Jesus couldn’t.


You see, here’s where this gets real personal.

We can’t either.

And this now is the noble, glorious, painful, scary path that we’re called to, the adventure we begin together this week.

Often people misunderstand this about Christianity.

Often people think, “Jesus died on a cross so that I don’t have to.”

Not Paul.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

Thank God!

This is the way to the good life that everyone is so passionate to find out about.

But it’s not the way of Corinth — more status, more money, more power.

It’s the way of the cross. That is, full surrender to God.

At the cross I lay down my life. I confess my sins, and I receive his life and his forgiveness.

And if you’ve never done that before, I invite you to do that today.


At the cross, I give God my life, my money, my time, my ego, my habits.

I give him my old self, my old life, and I receive this new one through Jesus.


Jesus, the master of images, told us, “This is the way.” He said:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

Jesus chose the way of the cross, and he named the cross as his image before he ever died on one.


Let me say a word here because you may wonder, “If that’s the case, how come we don’t have a cross dangling from the ceiling in this room?”

Why are we not into the public display of the cross? Some places are.

Why don’t we all wear them around our necks? Some people do.

Well, there are many people and traditions that are deeply committed to the public display of the cross.

There are churches where you can find them on every wall, and people who make the sign of the cross many times every day.

And I wouldn’t want to find fault with that at all.


One reason we don’t do that is in this room we wanted to create a safe place for anyone who’s exploring faith and wants to learn about God.

I have friend who was from a different religious tradition. He was Jewish, and he came to church. Eventually, he made a commitment to Christ.

But he said when he first came, one of the things that enabled him to return was that there wasn’t a cross, that kind of imagery, because if that would have been in here he would have been real uncomfortable. He said he couldn’t have come back.

We want this to be a real safe place for everyone.


But the main thing I want to say is — I believe Jesus’ main concern, his main desire, is that you and I become a people of the cross.

His primary concern is not about its visible display.

His primary concern is that the self-giving, self-sacrificial love that is supremely expressed on the cross be publicly displayed in your life — in this room, in board rooms, in living rooms, in every room — that you be a man or a woman of the cross.

Jesus said these words that we just read — some of the most sobering words ever recorded in human history, words that have changed more lives than any other words.

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)


So now I ask you Blue Oaks: Have you chosen to become a people of the cross?

Have you?

Have you told God privately in your heart, “Every day when I get up, God, I’ll take up my cross. I’ll be a follower of Jesus. And whatever is in my life that is displeasing or dishonoring to you, I’ll crucify it.”

Have you become a man of the cross, a woman of the cross?


Today we have little crosses in baskets in the lobby.

I want to invite you to grab one of these on your way out. And take it with you into your week.

And ask God to allow you to live in the way of the cross, in the power of the cross. That is, humble, God-powered love.

Take it to your office or your school or where you volunteer as a reminder to work under the cross this week.


Make it your goal this week not to promote yourself but to do your work diligently with his help, cheerfully, constantly asking Jesus to partner with you, to guide you, to give you creativity and perseverance, looking to see who around you that you might encourage.


When you’re at a meeting this week, pray God would let some other person say something really smart. Pull for your biggest rival to shine the brightest. That hurts. I know. I feel that, but it’s good!


If you’re at school, take tests under the cross. Now, this will change the way you take a test. — No cheating! No comparing with anyone else. No worrying. Do your best, offer it to God, and then let it go. Nail that test to the cross.


When you get in your car, drive in the way of the cross. It will change the way you drive.


I was in a parking lot and I pulled into a spot without realizing another person was waiting for the spot.

A great big guy got out of his truck and started walking toward my car. That was kind of a scary moment.

I looked at his truck and noticed he had a cross hanging from his rear view mirror. I said, “Hey! You have a cross. I’m a pastor. We’re like spiritual brothers!”

He didn’t kill me.

And I was so grateful for that little cross.


This week, when you look on your phone or you turn on your computer, go online under the cross.

Am I looking at sites Jesus would look at?
Am I not looking at sites Jesus would not look at?
Am I posting things Jesus would post if he were me?


This week, take the cross into your home and ask God to help you be a servant to your roommate, or your siblings, or your spouse, or your children.

Let the cross remind you that God has not put you in control over them; even though you know their lives would go so much better if they would just let you run them.

Instead, under the cross this week, help them. Listen. Care. Serve. Notice. Encourage. Speak truth. Give.


This week, take the cross with you into our Corinth, because I’ll tell you a little secret.

There is a wisdom that you cannot Google.
There is a treasure you cannot get on Amazon.
There is a hunger you will never satisfy at the golden arches.
Fed Ex might save you a little time but not eternity.


Through the cross of Jesus

The power of God — we are more than conquerors.
And the riches of God — “…though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.”
And the wisdom of God — all of the treasures of the wisdom of God are found in Christ.
And eternal life… can be yours.


Here’s the deal:

Some people look for signs — power and domination. Not us.

Some people look for wisdom and being the smartest guy in the room. Not us.

We’re going to read this book. We’re going to follow Christ crucified. We’re going to be people of the cross.


Let me pray for you as Christian and the team come to lead us in a closing song.