We this week the passion of Christ. This weekend we will celebrate the resurrection, so for a few moments, let’s recount the crucifixion of Jesus…something that no sensible person really denies. The man, Jesus of Nazareth, was beat and executed over 2000 years ago. No historian disputes this. Even atheists admit this.
But think about how scandalous this idea was, and remains, as world religions and heroes go. The hero, or conquering king, in the fairy tales and legends, that existed long before Hollywood or Marvel Comics, showed us, again and again, that the hero “wins”, kills the bad keys, rescues the princess in the tower or, at the last minutes breaks out of the dungeon and kills the dragon.
But the story about Jesus, the greatest hero in history, is nothing like that. He does not behave anything like we think, or day-dream, that a hero should. “A (conquering) king who dies on the cross must be the king of a rather strange kingdom. Only those who understand the profound paradox of the cross can also understand the whole meaning of Jesus’ assertion that: “my kingdom is not of this world”.( Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Think about it. When you think of Jesus, He is nothing like the “gods” or heroes of antiquity—-not even the heroes of the Old Testament.
It appears that we have it all backwards about what is noble, praiseworthy, honorable and of eternal consequence. Think about it: “It costs an omnipotent God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things or to bless us, but to convert rebellious souls cost Him His own crucifixion.” (C.S Lewis.). It’s one thing to heroically die in battle like a Stonewall Jackson, or be murdered by a coward, as was Abraham Lincoln. But those two deaths actually rallied the troops and pulled those that believed in their causes to bravery. But the way Jesus died was embarrassing, humiliating and caused His crowd of followers to scatter and hide, not rise up and demand justice.
If you are a maturing Christian, you do not entertain the childish notion that all people are basically good or that everything is going to work out just fine in our nation, Europe, China, or the world; it’s not going to happen, even though we ought to work towards peace and goodness!Nor Christians should not believe in the church’s human power to overcome evil or inequality—and we would be wise to remind our leaders in Rome, Nashville and our church leaders of this! Rather, “Christians believe solely in God, who creates and does the impossible, who reanimates life out of death, who has called the dying church to life…. against and in spite of us and through us.” (Bonhoeffer). But God does it alone. It’s not our committees or our compassion that matters. It is the work of Almighty God that will change the course of history in. Ukraine, Russia, China, and Washington, DC.
Jesus told us that if we wanted to follow Him and be true citizens of this strange kingdom, we would have to , “take up our crosses.” That cross is already there if you are ready, you need only take it up. But some folks pick their own crosses and become advocates of worthy causes in the UN, or local charities, or so that they can feed the world or save baby seals. Others pick their own form of suffering and then claim to be a martyr for Christ. But Jesus taught quite clearly that each of us has his or her own cross, already appointed, and appropriately determined by God. What’s the cross He’s given you to be bear? Carrying that cross—the one He gives you— will glorify God and perhaps cause others to stand in absolute awe that are are able and willing to hear it. Jesus carried His cross, though bloody and battered, and He never whined, complained that He did no deserve it, et. al……and neither must we.
I don’t come to you one preaching down to anyone here or to appear pedantic about how a Christian must live, but rather as one that frequently does the opposite of what a true disciple should do. Perhaps you can find some comfort in my shortcomings if you are also a wayward disciple at times! But Jesus was born to suffer——and I was born again for no less in my vocation. But how to I hold up when I am spat upon or ridiculed, or beaten down? God forbid that call down curses on those that curse me or pray for them to fall!
Bonhoeffer once said that, “Christ is Christ only as the suffering and rejected one that He was; so the disciple is a disciple only as one who suffers and is rejected…as one crucified with Jesus. Discipleship, understood as being bound to the person of Jesus Christ, places the disciple under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross.” And yet we look at suffering as something that abases, when in fact it elevates us closer to the very bosom of our Savior.
As you think about Easter and what Jesus performed, it was not a matter of His will, but His Father’s that triumphed. He surrendered to the Father in Gethsemane . It’s no less with a disciple of Christ today. “It is not our will but God’s will alone that matters.” (Bonhoeffer)
We talk about wanting to be close to God and we wonder sometimes why He seems so far away. But Christ never suffered from any separation for God… but for one moment—-that climatic time in history when He took upon Himself the accumulated weight of sin of every man, woman and child that ever walked or will walk upon the earth. At that point Christ became the anathema of perfection and purity—-He carried upon Him every grotesque and unimaginable insult and aberration of what God intended for mankind—-and God turned away from such a dreadful mutation of what all men should be.
And because Jesus did this and thereby paid the price of death for mankind’s sin, God need not turn His omniscient eyes from me but can look upon me —-and you—and smile, call us His own, and remind us that He is very pleased indeed with us.
But note that Jesus Christ was not gloriously transported from earth into heaven after He preached, taught and endured all the arguments and attempts to stop His work. He instead had to go to the cross to complete His task—-and that assignment was consummated through suffering. Don’t think it strange that God is using your life, and your suffering, for greater things that you can imagine now.
Many of us have experienced a lot of death recently. But I suppose that no one has seen as much senseless death, this past month, as the citizens of Ukraine. Over 70% of Ukrainians profess to be Christians, and they believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but they’ve also seen close, and up front, people die, as those they loved, were murdered by the Russians. Those that were killed know that were not “immortal”—-that is, incapable of death. Thousands have died in Eastern Europe now. “Easter is not about immortality… but about the resurrection from a death that was a real death… with all its frightfulness and horrors. Christians believe that it was the resurrection—-or coming back from a death, the body and the soul of Jesus Christ. We believe that each of us—the whole person—will also be resurrected by the power of God’s might.” (Bonhoeffer). Jesus proves this….this is the Easter message.
Do you see the point? We are mortal creatures that will die one day….and we will be mourned. Jesus did not come to cause all humanity to be immortal, that is, to not die, but to allow all mortal people to become resurrected from the horror of death and decay and become new, immortal beings.
Jesus did not come to instantly stamp out pain, suffering or even death—-though some were demanding that of Him. Death and pain are still there and we will experience all of this——just like He did…especially if we follow Him. There’s no shame or surprise for the Christian in this matter. The glory is that Christ showed us what will happen to each one of us when He comes again and the trumpet is sounded. At that point, for us, death, suffering, humiliation, pain will all be forever destroyed…….but not yet.
But somewhere, somehow, it seems that many of us that attend church regularly, or call ourselves “followers of Jesus Christ”, have neglected to embrace the life He led, i.e. one of “self-denial”; when we do see this life of self-denial, humility and a preparedness to suffer in the life of another, it strikes us as odd…abnormal…not-of-this-world; and of course all three observations are correct. Denying yourself and following Christ is an essential aspect of the true Christian life, and the cross is central to human understanding of everything for which we live and breath. “Without the cross, there is no atonement, every one of us would stand forever in the role of Judas.” (Bonhoeffer). We would still be wanting to make Jesus into something He is not or betray Him.
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8). Jesus knew what that meant. It means lowliness, abuse, persecution. It means remaining misunderstood for an entire life, perhaps. It means hatred, death, the cross. And Jesus chose this way from the beginning. It is the way of obedience and the way of freedom, for it is the way of God. And therefore it is also the way of love for human beings.
Mary and Martha cried when their brother Lazarus died, but later Jesus raised him from the dead! You know, of course, that Lazarus died again—-and Mary and Martha were probably there when he died the second time. Do you think that they wept the same the first time as the did they second? Of course not. They knew the truth now and their grieving was different.
The Bible says in Mark 11 that Jesus was moved by the grieving and tears—-but we all know that He Jesus did not cry, in verse 35, because He had lost Lazarus. He wept because of the reality of suffering and death, but also because of how blind people still were to who He was and His power to overcome death. Do you weep for the ones you lost like Mary and Martha the first time they lost Lazarus—or the second time?
What happened to the followers of Jesus Christ after the Jewish leaders caught Him, and the Roman soldiers beat the tar out of Him, whipped Him till He was literally skinned alive, and then nailed Him to a tree… naked and freakishly bruised and bloodied…. is exactly what they wanted to happen. Jesus followers pulled away, doubted Jesus divine purpose, hid and stopped talking about this new “Kingdom of God”. But the resurrection three days later changed everything. Has the resurrection changed your life?
Augustine observed that crucifixion was not only painful, it was also painful and public. The public nature of Christ’s death inspires us to face death heroically. Do you want to follow Him? Then it must be public—-as well as your torments and taunts for choosing Him. Jesus surrendered to whatever the Father wanted in Gethsemane—have you?