“but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,” (1Corinthians 1:23).
Paul is emphatic that the church only has one message – the cross. Not wisdom, not miracles, not Israel, not even the church, but the cross and the cross alone. Everything flows from, and must be subject to, the message of the cross. “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
His definition of the Gospel is centered, not on man, but on the cross: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The centrality of the cross is confirmed in Hebrews (Hebrews 10:11-12), Peter (1Peter 2:24; 3:18), and John (1John 2:2). It is central to the revelation of who Christ is: “…To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” (Revelation 1:5).
The cross was the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming as a man. Everything He did and taught led to, and was focused on, and flowed from, the cross. At every major intersection of His earthly ministry He spoke of the cross. Hebrews in speaking of His sacrifice quotes Psalm 40: “…a body You have prepared for Me… Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come– In the volume of the book it is written of Me– To do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7).
Without the cross we have no redemption, no church and no hope. At the same time the cross is a stumbling block to the Jew and an offense to the Greek and it is this aspect of the message that makes the gospel unattractive and even repulsive to most people. For this reason, from the beginning, men have tried to remove the offense of the cross by minimizing its importance, moving it to the background and trying to dress it up so the ugliness and shame of that tree may be made more attractive. For example the Galatian heretics tried to dress the cross in Judaism in an attempt to remove its offense (Galatians 5:11). Paul refers to this as another gospel (Galatians 1:7) and pronounces them accursed (v8).
Let me be clear, there is only one thing that can save and that is the naked cross, unadorned and unaltered. Any attempt to modify the cross and its message by adding to it or subtracting from it, or changing it, is heresy and is to be accursed (anathema). Not only does a gentrified cross not save, but it condemns those who create it and who follow it. It is the cross in all its cruelty, shame and gore, unadorned, but naked for the lost soul to see the cost of redemption, that alone can save. A gold or silver cross is an abomination and an idol. There is no beauty in the gory altar of the Tabernacle, but it was the only cure for sin. It could not be bejeweled, screened off or moved to a less prominent place. In coming to God, the first thing to confront the sinner was the horror of the price for his sin. He could not by-pass it and he could not replace the blood of the lamb with some beautiful fruit or flowers. (I encourage you to revisit the classic sermon “The Naked Splendor of the Cross” available here: https://youtu.be/igAHGfQJlts).
I suspect that thus far the majority of American (and other) Evangelicals will agree. But here’s the problem: Over time, American Evangelicalism has merged the cross with patriotism and draped the American flag over the cross so that the two things have become indistinguishable. A quick search of the internet will produce dozens of websites that sell the symbol of the cross and the flag. The graphic is not the real problem, but the reality it represents is. The naked cross just does not attract enough people and there is a desperate attempt to expunge the simplicity and shame of the naked cross and to replace it with something far more attractive. These charlatans have found the answer in American patriotism. Thus the cross is hidden behind Old Glory and thousands, from Charismatic extremists to Calvinist traditionalists have united around a common cause – the star spangled cross.
They preach about American greatness, sing the profane patriotic songs in their congregations (that glorify fratricide and the kingdoms of the world), rely on the Constitution rather than the Scriptures and pray to a god of their own design. Anathema! Anathema! This is another gospel, it cannot save and it condemns those who preach it and those who worship at its red white and blue altar to eternal damnation. Yet, thousands are flocking to these churches, not to fall broken at the foot of the Cross but to revel in the Constitution and defend its amendments.
I have absolutely no doubt that had Jesus lived today, he would drive the money changers (yes, at the end of the day, it is all about money), with their flags, Constitution and golden calf president from His house. But it is too late for that. They have already banished Him and His cruel cross from their presence (Revelation 2:20) and He stands outside the “church” calling to the few “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4).
“Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”(Hebrews 4:7). Jesus is coming soon and he is preparing his bride. Are you going to make America great again or are you going to prepare your heart and life for His soon return?
In case I have not been clear. Fanatical patriotism (no matter which nation) is worshiping the world and the things of the world. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24).
“Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)