Enemies of the Cross
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi about certain people who were the enemies of the cross of Christ:
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:17-20)
Who were these enemies of the cross? Do they still exist today? To answer this question we must understand what the cross means. It means we have failed as human beings.
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement[ by his blood, effective through faith. (Romans 3:21-25)
Because we have sinned does not make us enemies of the cross. The real enemies of the cross are those who think they are righteous without the cross. The Pharisees believed that they were righteous because they kept the law of God. They were pious. They were religious. And they were judgmental of others. Their type still lives today, even in our churches.
As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem one last time he wept over the city:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Luke 13:34-35)
Jesus was facing death in Jerusalem. The Jewish leadership had rejected him. They had not just rejected him, they rejected his ministry. They believed that they did not need anything from Jesus because they had all that they wanted from their understanding of Judaism.
The Pharisees had a cursory understanding of the Law. But, as Jesus accused them, they neglected the weighty matters. From the Gospel of Matthew we read:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)
The Pharisees failed to understand that God required righteousness. This could be imparted into them by God alone. It took the atoning act of Jesus on the cross, and it required their acceptance, appreciation, adoration, and praise. They would have none of it.
God was looking for Abrahams. From today’s Old Testament reading:
The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)
God made of covenant with Abraham. All Abraham had to do was to believe it and receive it. Abraham had some doubts, at first, because it seemed as if he would have no offspring through whom the promise of God could be brought forth. God makes us promises, but we must believe him. The greatest promise he makes to us is forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal with him. We must believe him and we must trust him to bring this about.
Are we enemies of the cross today? That depends. Are we smug in our faith? Do we focus on the faults of others and overlook at own faults? If any of this is true about us, then we have misunderstood the cross altogether. Jesus said:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
If we do not wish to follow Jesus in this way, then we are enemies of the cross. The cross demands that we deny ourselves. We do not have all the answers. We cannot make ourselves righteous by our good works. God demands more than we will ever be able to do on our own. He requires our faith and trust that he alone can make us righteous. We must believe in Jesus, but we must also follow him. Abraham believed and followed God. God reckoned it to him as righteousness.
During this Season of Lent, it is traditional for many to give up something they enjoy as an act of penance or spiritual discipline. If successful, the temptation might be that they become prideful about it. What about denying ourselves instead? What about giving up our right to be right? What about placing ourselves entirely in the hands of God? That frees him to fashion in the likeness of his Son, as only he can do.