Could We Face The Cross?
Could we face the literal cross, as Christ prepared to do? Many of us can’t even face the most minimal, the most trivial pressure. We’ll stand around and laugh with people cussing up a storm, smoking dope, drinking. We’ll patronize barber and beauty shops where filthy language is tossed around, bring our children there. We let degrading and oppressive shows blare from our TV sets, dumbing down our children who make idols out of foul-mouthed idiot rappers and half-wit reality TV "stars." Could we face the cross? We can’t face the cable guy. The school house. The workplace. Our testimony is so weak, the name of Jesus is utterly devoid of power because we won’t stand up for anything. We keep silent, laugh along, mind our business. Could we face the cross? Check your mirror.
People who claim to know and to love and to trust Jesus, but who
are nevertheless afraid of airplanes. Bold, finger-pointing,
pulpit-thumping prophets who shriek and holler at you, telling
you how to live and chew gum, who absolutely will not board an
aircraft under any circumstances. This puzzles me, Christian who
are afraid to die. Dying is the entire essence, the whole point,
of Christianity. In order to be a Christian, we must first die
to sin. We must first give up our lives, our family, our
friends, our security. The big problem with modern Christianity
is this doctrine of inclusion, wherein we practice Christianity
without sacrifice. We keep the same friends, maintain the same
habits, go the same places, all within the context of grace.
Which is a distortion of that doctrine. Grace is not a free pass
to do what we please. Grace is about the shed blood of an
innocent man Who took the hit for us. Grace means Jesus took the
punishment we deserved. Our flagrant, habitual, ongoing practice
of sin dishonors that sacrifice, spits on the cross. We become
nominal Christians—Christians in name only—who claim faith in
Jesus Christ but are too afraid to buy a plane ticket.
Conversion is about death. It is about killing off old behaviors, old possessions, the old lifestyle. It is about moving out of the familiar and into the unknown. About making a determined right turn on the road of life, leaving everything and everyone we knew behind to follow Christ. This is rarely preached nowadays. Most of what I hear preached is utter nonsense. Intensely bad and poorly constructed polemics on how God wants to bless ya and how we can achieve victory. Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey. 90% of preaching I hear these days, from my local churches, is utterly useless. It’s some guy rambling for an hour about nothing. The preaching teaches nothing, confers nothing, demands absolutely nothing.
As we approach Resurrection Sunday, these same men and women are endorsing “Easter,” in so doing demonstrating their lack of knowledge and respect for what is, indisputably, the most sacred day on the Christian calendar. Not even during this, the Lenten season, is there a call to sacrifice. They’re still up there, hollering and spitting, spinning around and tossing hankies, tuning up in that old Gospel sing-song blues. Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey. There is no injunctive demand, no call to action. Conversion, salvation, is no longer a life-changing event. No longer a choice that literally divides families, that sets brother against brother, husband against wife, father against son [Matthew 10:16-26]. It is what it has become: an add-on. An ineffective, impotent sweater we wear on cool days and tie around our waist when things get warm. Our Christianity is a claim we make idly and in passing only when absolutely forced to, while otherwise going about our lives in exactly the same way we did before we knew God. And why is that? It’s because that is the standard of the day. Because the conversion process itself has been so watered down and discounted that many of us don’t actually even know if we are in fact born again or not. We think we are. We hope we are. But I doubt many “Christians” are going to their pastors to ask. We assume we’re saved, the pastor assumed we’re saved. Everybody’s just playing church.
Could we face the literal cross, as Christ prepared to do in John Chapter 12? Many of us can’t even face the most minimal, the most trivial pressure. We’ll stand around and laugh with people cussing up a storm, smoking dope, drinking. We’ll patronize barber and beauty shops where filthy language is tossed around, bring our children there. We let degrading and oppressive shows blare from our TV sets, dumbing down our children who make idols out of these anti-intellectual nitwit singers and actors. Could we face the cross? We can’t face the cable guy. The school house. The workplace. Our testimony is so weak, the name of Jesus is utterly devoid of power because we won’t stand up for anything. We keep silent, laugh along, mind out business. Could we face the cross? Check your mirror.
Taking a stand has real consequences.
This is the lesson of the Gospels, one typically overlooked and
underpreached. We know the familiar story of The Passion (the
suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ), but most of
us don’t understand the reasons why. People didn’t just wake up
one morning and decide to kill Jesus. There had been lots of
false prophets claiming to be the Messiah, lots of lunatics
wandering the streets putting on magic shows, healing the sick
and raising the dead. For the vast majority of people who
followed Him, Jesus was just the latest and perhaps greatest
prophet to come along. Many of us assume people followed Him
because they believed in His message. There is no biblical
evidence to suggest that. People followed Christ because He
could perform magic tricks. Because He could heal. They followed
Him for selfish reasons: because they wanted something from Him.
Because they believed He intended to establish a political
kingdom and to liberate them from Roman rule. Nobody, not even
His own disciples, actually understood who He was and what His
intentions were. He did His best to explain these concepts,
often using stories (parables), but, in the end,
nobody—absolutely not one single person—understood His message.
When things got rough, every single one of them deserted Him,
and His closest friends denied even knowing Him. In the end,
Jesus faced the cross alone. It was a punishment He could easily
have avoided if He’d only been like us—go-along, play-along,
don’t make waves, didn’t take a stand. Jesus faced the cross
alone because He stood for something. Because He challenged the
ignorant Church Folk of the day.
Church Folk will crucify you. Patronizing Church Folk is an utter waste of time. Church Folk are more invested in the institution—the brick and mortar church—as opposed to the actual Church—the Body of Christ. Church Folk are jockeying for position, fighting over titles and offices. Many Church Folk are simply ruthless. They will assassinate your character in a heartbeat, spreading rumors and doling out secrets. Their weapon is rumor and innuendo, shadows that are difficult if not impossible to fight. They will kill you with words by running their big, fat mouths and then helping one another hide. Pastors: Church Folk will destroy your ministry faster than an electrical fire. The Church Folk of Jesus’ day were content to ignore Him until the size of the crowds following Christ became too large to ignore, and until Jesus began making claims the Church Folk had no option but to respond to.
Jesus has already clashed with the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem on a number of occasions. The first major confrontation comes in chapter 5 as a result of His healing of the paralytic on the Sabbath, commanding him to take up his mattress and walk. When challenged by the Jews, Jesus defends Himself and His actions by claiming to be God (5:17ff.). The Jews are already intent on killing Him, but now they are all the more eager to do so (5:18). In our Lord’s “Bread of Life” teaching, He makes similar claims, but this is in Capernaum, not Jerusalem. Many of those who have followed Jesus as disciples now leave Him (6:60-66). In chapter 7, Jesus returns once again to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, where His teaching divides people in this city. Some are strongly opposed to Him, while others are much more favorably impressed (7:15, 30-31, 40-44). Similar reactions are recorded in chapter 8, where our Lord’s words in verse 58 (“Before Abraham came into existence, I am!”) precipitate an attempted stoning, but His time has not yet come. Also in chapter 8, Jesus claims to be the “Light of the world” (verse 12). In chapter 9, He demonstrates that this claim is true by giving sight to a man born blind (9:5-7). In chapter 10, Jesus describes Himself as the true, good, and great Shepherd, while at the same time, He indicts the Jewish religious leaders for being wicked shepherds. He claims once again to be one with God the Father, which brings on two more attempts to stone Him (10:27-30, 39).
Jesus’ raising of Lazarus [John 12] was the final, inciting incident for the Church Folk. The Pharisees called a meeting of the Jewish ruling body, The Sanhedrin, and made a political argument—that Jesus’ teaching would ultimately provoke the Romans to curtail Jewish autonomy and, by inference, take away these guys’ cushy jobs and positions. Then Caiaphas, the chief priest, made a virtue out of murder by suggesting they make a martyr out of Jesus, that one man die for all—giving their murder plot a noble veneer by suggesting their actions were ultimately for the good of the Jewish people. This is what Church Folk do: rationalize un-Christlike behavior by claiming the ends justify the means. Church Folk comfort themselves with the ridiculous notion that the small evil they do in secret is somehow justified and rewarded by God. It is, at the end of the day, pure selfishness and obvious proof that these people simply do not know God. These folks—who claim to e Christians but who routinely engage in sinful behavior—are people with whom we should not associate [I Corinthians 5:11].
Beyond knowing the how of the Resurrection Story, it is important to understand the why: what motivated the religious leaders to plot Jesus’ murder, how that plot played out, and, especially, how many opportunities Jesus had to avoid that fate. Forget the legions of angels, at any time, at any step along that oath, Jesus could simply have retracted His claims to be the Messiah, and they’d have sent Him home. The Church Folk operated in the realm of words, and Jesus would have been worth far more to them alive and disgraced than dead and martyred. But He said not one word in His own defense. No matter how many times the atheist political leaders offered Him freedom—in exchange for simply retracting His words—Jesus remained silent.
He chose the cross. Willingly. Without compromise. Without hesitation. While we cannot stand up for anything at all.
This week, read John Chapters 10-21 to learn not only how but why Resurrection Sunday is the most sacred day of the Christian year.