Martin Luther is credited with returning the church to a proper theology of the cross. The theology of the cross is much more than preaching that Jesus died and rose from the dead as Saviour. The theology of the cross is an emphasis on the shock of the Gospel. It states that God works in the opposite way in which we would expect Him to work. Want a giant killed? You do not send in an inexperienced, young, untrained sheepherder to accomplish the job. No one would do such a thing. And that is why God did it. Want to rescue your people from the clutches of a superior force who outnumbers you, is smarter than you and has held your people in fear for many years? Do not hire the coward who is threshing grain in a wine press out of fear. And if that is who eventually gets the job, do not reduce his troops to an absurdly small number and send him into battle with water jugs and horns. But that is what God does. He calls murderers, schemers, liars, cheats, children, women, the uneducated, the undesirables and those who do not want the jobs they are called to. And when God wants to save the world from its sin He does so in ways that seem to deny the power of what is happening.

What do people see as they look at Jesus on the cross? They see a man hanging in agony. He is blood drenched from the beatings. His body drips blood, sweat and the spit of his mockers. Blood drips from the wounds in His head from the crown of thorns that was thrust upon it, from His side that was pierced with a spear, and from his hands and feet because they are nailed to wood. He is a pathetic mess. Yet Paul will tell us that on that cross Jesus is making a public spectacle of His enemies (Colossians 3:15). This is the theology of the cross. God will accomplish the greatest victory ever won by becoming a man; by becoming a poor man; by becoming a defeated, beaten, forsaken man. It defies everything we know about how to get the victory.

We are the people threshing wheat in a wine press for fear of our enemies. We are the stammering shepherd on the back side of the desert. We are the “are nots”. Our work is less about gifts than it is about the power of God to work through common clay pots. The reason we take a back seat to no one and live and speak with passion and conviction and confidence, is not because we have learned how to do things so well. It is not because we are superiorly gifted. It is not because we have discovered really good theology. It is because God uses the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are. It is because He puts the treasure of the light of the Gospel of God in ordinary clay pots so that the power will be seen to be God’s. It is so that He will be glorified and not us. And no matter how well we know this lesson and no matter how much we have had this pounded into us, we still fall prey to the allurements of power and fame and believing that if we build it they will come. We are tempted to look with envy at the mega pastors of the reformed variety and feel vindicated that our day has come at last and that maybe we can get in on the parade, not as mere spectators but as those who are being spectated. It is a denial of the cross. It is to forget that the waterers and planters are nothing. It is to believe that when we are strong then we are strong. It robs preaching of its power and the preacher of his passion and faith in the message and the work of the Holy Spirit to win His chosen ones through the foolishness of the message preached. We need to rehearse to ourselves the theology of the cross and find that it is a fountain of water that will sustain us more than all our machinations and understandings of how things ought to be done.

We are in danger of our own type of prosperity Gospel these days simply through our infatuation with those who have, by the undeserved grace of God, been used of Him to save their tens of thousands. Who does not want their buildings bursting at the seams next Sunday? Who doesn’t want the baptistry in use every Sunday? These are not bad desires. But we need to keep on our guard lest we find in these things the indispensable elements for the success of our work. We are called to display the manifold wisdom of God and that wisdom is the cross of Jesus Christ – an event that wins by becoming nothing, triumphs through defeat, and defeats death by dying. I thank God that I have been put into a church full people not considered much in the eyes of the world. Many of them leave church every week to dysfunctional family lives, poverty, welfare, minimum wage jobs, and mental illness. It is not possible to stand before this group of people on any given Sunday, look out at the smiles and the demonstrative worship and listen to shouts of “amen” and applause for one another and not preach with passion. Why are so many of these people so happy? Their problems are immense. Just a small group of people armed with nothing but water jugs and horns – and the power of God. It is a church full of “are nots” and it is glorious. God is using this church with all its problems (and we have a ton of them), bad theology (and we have a ton of that), illiteracy (far too much of that too), mental illness, on top of all the normal problems and sins of a church, for the salvation of people in this community. We are not seeing much in terms of people coming to faith in Christ. But we are what God has called to preach the Gospel to them. The people of this church have found out, after eighteen years of sitting under its current senior pastor that he is not as smart as they once thought, not indestructible, does not have all the answers, cannot administrate well at all. An “are not” pastor preaching in an “are not “ community to an “are not” people. This is not what Rexdale needs. But it is how God, congruent with the way He has worked throughout all of history, will win His chosen Rexdale people. I cannot imagine anything that could possibly put more heart or passion into the preaching of the Gospel. We dare not fall into the trap of “if only” thinking. If only we had had the support of the Board. If only they put into practise the lessons in the messages we preach. If only they got along. If only they had listened. If only they had taken the truth seriously. If only they would witness …. .

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.  [2] And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.  [3] And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  [4] Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  [5] Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  [6] And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [7] So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  [8] And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.  [9] Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”  [10] So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [11] Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’  [12] Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  [13] And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  [14] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Can the bones we preach to live? Does your heart believe that as you go to the pulpit this Sunday that God can make the bones live? Do we believe it when we go to work in the morning? Do we believe it at our schools? Do we believe He has got us where we are so that He will save people through us? We need to believe that God has us where we are because He intends to save people. He has not sent us out on a fool’s errand. The bones we preach to are not more dead (and not less either) than the ones Ezekiel preached to and God has not brought us into this valley for nothing. We need to preach believing that our call is not Isaiah’s, until God tells us that it is. In other words, we need to preach with the belief that God intends to save people through our preaching. Heart preaching that reaches the heart is preaching that believes that the Gospel is the power of God and it will save.