Why Did Jesus Die? The Scandal of the Cross

Part 1 of the Lenten Series “The Message of the Cross”

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The “Alexamenos Graffito” (approximately 200 AD)

In 1857, archaeologists working on the Palatine Hill in the city of Rome unearthed a home that once belonged to the Emperor Caligula and, after his death, became a boarding school for imperial page boys. While they were sifting through the rubble, they came upon an ancient form of graffiti on one of the plaster walls—graffiti depicting a naked human figure with the head of a donkey nailed to a cross, with a man in a posture of worship underneath. The graffiti scrawled underneath says, in Greek, “Alexamenos cebete Theos” or “Alexamenos worships his God.”

The graffiti, which likely dates from around 200AD, is considered to be the earliest example of the Roman mockery of Christians and their worship. The donkey’s head adds to the insult—a symbol of stubborn foolishness. Alexamenos, one of the early Christians, is thus depicted as a fool and representative of those like him who worshipped a crucified man.

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Written On Our Hearts – The Gospel and Reform

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Galatians 1:1-12

We have reached the conclusion of our series on Reform, but as with most things related to reformation, the end is really only the beginning. Once we learn the cycle of reform, we begin to look for the new future God wants to bring to his people and we anticipate what life might look like within it.

The life cycle of a revival reminds us that we are always in process. If we look at Josiah’s reform, we see how it conforms to the historical patterns we see throughout history. Revival begins with the Word of God stoking the fire in a leader, who in turn brings it back to the people. That is usually followed by significant growth in large numbers as people respond to the Word. Those numbers then require some necessary organization that leads to institutionalization and bureaucracy—usually the beginning of the end of revival. Eventually, that institutionalization leads to stagnation and death—to dark times awaiting another movement of revival.

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Remember Who You Are: Practices That Sustain Reform

2 Kings 23:21-23; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

We have come to the fourth stage of King Josiah’s reform this week, which we read about in 2 Kings 23:21-23. It’s a few short verses but some of the most powerful in the story. In this stage, Josiah re-institutes the Passover festival as an ongoing practice for the whole nation of Israel.

It’s an important step, especially given how Josiah’s reform had unfolded to this point.

Remember that we began by saying that reform usually launches when someone is encountered by God and begins to see that something is wrong with the world around them and that something is wrong with themselves. Josiah’s reform began when he encountered the Word of God written in an old dusty scroll discovered in the temple. That set him on a road to personal transformation which, in turn, would lead to reform for the whole nation.

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Exchanging the Glory: Reclaiming the Image of God

Part 4 of the “Reform” series, in which we look at the third stage of Josiah’s reformation and discuss ideas and worldviews we need to challenge and purge in our own day.

Texts: 2 Kings 23:4-20; Romans 1:18-25

In this series we’ve been talking about the fact that every so often in history, the people of God have what we might call a rummage sale—a time when we get rid of some of the ideological and theological junk that has accumulated in order to get back to the basics of the faith. We’ve been looking at the reforms of King Josiah as a model for how that kind of reform happens—it begins with a personal awakening, realizing that there’s something wrong with our world and with us; it continues with a rediscovery of God’s Word—remember that Josiah is given the scroll found in the temple and, last week we saw that he led the entire nation in a Bible study saying, in effect, “We are going to live by this book.”

The next step in reform, then, is to begin ordering life around the foundational story of the Scriptures. To that end, Josiah begins a great purge—not a rummage sale, but actually backing up a dumpster to Jerusalem and getting rid of a lot of pagan stuff—the idols and practices that had accumulated over several decades and had led the people of Israel astray.

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“These Ruins Are Inhabited” – Returning to the Word

2 Kings 23:1-13; 2 Timothy 3:15-17

One of the things I’m most excited about for my renewal leave this summer is the chance to spend two weeks studying theology at Christ Church College in Oxford—the very same college where John Wesley studied. I’ll be taking courses in the Psalms, the theology of St. Paul, on baptism, and reading the early church fathers. For a history and theology nerd, this is a vision of the kingdom come on earth as in heaven!

I had a chance to be in Oxford for a day in 2006 and was just taken aback by the depth of history and old architecture that is everywhere. Something that is “old” and “historic” here in the US (particularly here in the west) might be decades or a couple of centuries old. There, something that is “new” could have been built in the 15th century!

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