Only Through the Cross!

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Theologian, Pastor, and eventual Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a sermon on Memorial Day in Berlin Germany on February 12, 1932:

“And is not precisely here the answer given that stands over the whole Christian message: Christ goes through the cross, only through the cross to life, to the resurrection, to the victory?  It is the wonderful theme of the Bible, so frightening for many people that the only visible sign of God in the world is the cross. Christ is not carried away gloriously from earth to heaven but must go through the cross. And exactly there, where the cross stands, the resurrection is near. Where it hangs by a thread whether one will desert the cause or remain faithful, there God is, there Christ is full. Where the power of darkness wants to overpower the light of God, there God triumphs and judges the darkness.”


The year 1932 was a grim time for Germany, much like the challenges we face today. Its new post-war republican government was struggling amid inflation, unemployment, and poverty, as well as conflicts with weak leadership at the helm of its government. In these difficult times, Bonhoeffer’s words resonate with us, reminding us of the hope and faith we can find in the face of adversity, but only through the cross of Christ.

Does the cultural and societal landscape seem  familiar to you in 2024?

Bonhoeffer shared in the fears of his countrymen as one of their pastors, but he also saw into the future suffering of  the church as it wrestled with the reality that patriotism must not become greater than the main point of the church itself. Namely Jesus Christ and him crucified. Remember, Bonhoeffer delivered his message in Berlin, Germany, on National German Memorial Day. A day observed to honor among others the fallen soldiers of the first World War, which Germany lost. What an internal conflict the German Christian citizenry found itself in morally during the holiday known as  Lent, Reminiscere, which religious institutions were encouraged to recognize.

Bonhoeffer chose for his main text Matthew 26:6-14 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Are things much different today? Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Iran…..the USA. Online Youtube preachers getting your focused upon the mark of the beast instead of the marks of the believer in Jesus. Dictates replacing discipleship, Doom scrolling through social media replacing Bible reading & family devotions.

In 1932 Germany, the war memorials were placed on or near or even IN the church grounds even at times within the buildings.  Such was the desire to link patriotism to religion in post-World War Germany, with Hitler lurking in the shadows of a broken nation seeking a second worldwide conflict.


We should remember what the Theologian was trying to teach the people that day. Our goal is not to languish in the past nor as believers in Jesus to make the church so patriotic or political that it ceases to have the voice of the church but becomes hijacked by another voice.


The purpose of the church among other things is to be the prophet who says the thing that no one wants to hear in society. Who refuses to allow the politics and the social ills of the day to remove the voice that Christ is the answer to all things!  More than that, the church accepts that it will end up suffering for speaking the truth to society and not going along with the politics of the day, whether they be liberal or conservative. When a believer is struggling with their patriotism over or against their salvation, we look to our pastors and our church leaders to know what to believe and how to believe it. How do we practice patriotism during an election year, as Christians? The key is that the voice of Christ must be the loudest thing. Even if the voice of the church or the word of god rebukes our over zealous patriotism that seeks to be the loudest voice above all else.


I was recently speaking with a denominational official about a particular church. I asked…How are they doing?

His tone changed…it became serious. “Not good,” came the response.

“Why not?” I questioned.

“They currently have no pastor. Without leadership, the church has strayed into becoming about politics. The former pastor led them astray. They have lost the way of Jesus,” he said, his voice sad now. “They have been knocked off track and are so deeply focused on the political divide that they have lost their way. They need someone to help them get back on track with the mission of Jesus.”


It’s one thing with a denominational official recognizing it. But if it’s that obvious, what do the Angels in Heaven think of the church? What does Jesus think of the church?


Revelation 2:1-5 says “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

As we head toward an Easter weekend during a politically charged season in the United States of America, how are you approaching the cross, the resurrection, and your church? Are politics a distraction, a focus, or a melding pot in your life this Easter? And whose voice is the loudest in your head?


The church is always called in every season to proclaim Christ first, Christ most, and Christ loudest above everything else! This week should be about the end of Bonhoeffer’s message to the German congregation in 1932. He exhorted the GermansChristians in the shadow of what would become World War two:

“It means looking out beyond the borders of our own nation across the whole world and praying that the gospel of the kingdom, which puts an end to all war, now may come over all nations and that then the end may come, that Christ may draw near…That means that God in the cross is near to us. That means to point to Christ on the cross, who one the victory through the cross….in the church means, know int the Christ alone wins the victory! Amen.”


Excerpts & picture taken from: The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon entitled National Memorial Day, Fortress Press, Minneapolis MN, 2012.


The picture is of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Memorial Church in London, England, where Bonhoeffer Pastored from 1933-1935.

NIV Bible,

Matthew 26:6-14

Revelation 2:1-5