Are We Afraid of the Cross?

[Ed.  Next week the Church (the church universal) commemorates Holy Week.  Several years ago, we were have a discussion with several of our clergy friends and we were dealing with the question of Palm Sunday.  Do you celebrate Palm Sunday or do you focus on the cross?  For many Christians, they come to church on Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  The next time they come to church is Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.  It is great that we have both of these celebrations, but are we missing something?  Jesus speaks of suffering to his disciples.  Paul speaks of suffering for the cause of Christ.  He even goes so far to ask, “What do we expect?” when it comes to suffering.  The cross is an essential part of the redemption of humankind.  The Bible tells us without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.  This is an essential part of the atonement – the blood that Jesus shed for us is what paid the penalty for our sins – it restores the relationship that God had planned for us all along.  That is a rather long introduction to Pam’s post this week, “Are We Afraid of the Cross?”]

Several Sundays ago, I was teaching about communion during our Elementary Worship Celebration.  I started out by talking about Lent – it is a time to remember what Christ did for us on the cross and that it is a preparation time for the Easter season.  “Communion,” I said, “Is a time we remember the last supper.”  Each child was given a picture of the last supper.  I asked if any of them knew what the picture was and when it happened. One of the children asked if it happened at Easter.”  I was happy to know that they were in the right ballpark.  Then I asked them what happened on Holy Thursday. I was sure they would not know Maundy Thursday.  The children were not aware of the events of Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.  I was surprised that children didn’t know and yet in a way I was not surprised.  As Dale mentioned during the introduction, we teach about Palm Sunday on that day, and the resurrection on Easter and forget that there were a whole week’s worth of events that happened in between.

Here are some of the events that happened from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday:

  • Jesus cleansed the temple. (Matthew 21)
  • Jesus teaches the people many parables. (Matthew 21-25)
  • Jesus was anointed at Bethany (Mark 14)
  • Jesus observes the widow’s offering (Luke 21)
  • Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room for their final meal together
  • Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him.
  • Jesus prayed and was arrested in Gethsemane.
  • Jesus endured several illegal trials.
  • Jesus was mocked and beaten.
  • Jesus was crucified.
  • Jesus was buried.

The week that Jesus spent in Jerusalem was a busy week. From the biblical accounts, he did a great deal of teaching during that final week.

Why do we focus on the bookend events of Holy Week and not the space in between?  Is it that we are afraid of the cross?  Are we afraid to speak of Christ’s suffering?  Is it that we cannot deal with the reality that Christ was beaten to within an inch of his life?  Is it the thought of the flesh hanging from his body after all those beatings?  Or the holes in his head from the crown of thrones?  Or perhaps it is the guilt that our sins put him up on the cross.  Unfortunately, when we focus on the bookend events, we miss a great deal of the story.  Over the last few years, we have put a concentrated effort on highlighting the events of Thursday and Friday, so that people understand the price that was paid through Jesus’ suffering on the cross.  Last year, we had a very meaningful Good Friday service.  This year, we are planning a Maundy Thursday service.  Events like these are great, but we also need to remember what God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy.  We (parents) are commanded by God to teach our children the things of God.   4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6.) It is important to tell our children the story of Jesus, that not only did he rise up from the dead victorious, but that he suffered for our sins – that his body was bruised and broken for us – it was literally torn in two for us.  I encourage you to spend some time in your Bibles this next week, recalling the events that happened in the space in between:  Matthew 21-27, Mark 11 -15, Luke 19-23, and John 12-19.  Let’s not be afraid of the cross of Jesus for it is in the cross and the price that was paid that our sins are forgiven.

 

Why Are We Here?

In 2002, Rick Warren published the book, The Purpose Driven Life. Some of you may have heard about it. Some of you may have heard some of its criticisms. That’s not why I mention this book. The reason I mention it is similar to why I mentioned In His Steps several weeks ago. It’s because of the sub-title, which is “Why are we here?” I love the very first sentence in the book. It’s really something that all of us could use, including me. The first sentence is, “It’s not about you!” That is a great statement – this life is not about you and it’s not about me. In just two weeks, I have been asked to assist with a Walk to Emmaus. I will be going to play bass during the music portion and to serve as an assistant spiritual director and I will also be speaking as well. The theme of our walk is “It’s All About Him!” based on the Alan Jackson song of the same name.

Who is the Him that is referenced in the song? It is the same Him that is the subject of our message today. The Him is Jesus. Why did Jesus come to earth? What was his purpose? In addition, we want to take a look at these questions: What on Earth am I doing here? What is my purpose in life? These are questions that everyone will ask eventually. We have all asked these questions. I think it is important to ask these questions.

As we opened our service this morning, we were reminded of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Over the years I have pondered how those who shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” could be the same that shouted “crucify Him, crucify Him” just five days later. As I’ve pondered it, I’ve come to the conclusion that there were two groups of people. Those who were at the triumphal entry celebration were probably Jesus’ closest friends and followers. The gospels let us know that Jesus had many followers beyond the twelve disciples. Those who followed after Jesus were probably those followers. Luke (19:39-40) records it this way: But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” I really believe this means all of those who were part of the celebration and not just the twelve.

Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes at this moment of the triumphal entry. You are on the top of the world. Your followers are completely behind you and even they are irritating the Pharisees. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had the chance to be the center of attention and then your world comes crashing in. If you study the book of John, this event is the turning point of the book. From John 1 all the way to chapter 11, Jesus is slowly gaining a crowd to the point and this is right after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees cry, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!” It appears that his follower were ready to crown Jesus King of Kings and Lord of Lords right then and there and yet in just a few days, all would change. This week is a particularly intense week in the life of the believer or at least it should be. Like I mentioned last year, too many believers go from celebrating the triumphal entry directly to celebrating Easter or Resurrection Sunday, completely ignoring everything that has happened during the week. Now this won’t come as a popular notion, but the Christian life is not about us being happy all the time. There will be times of suffering. There will be times of incredible pain. There will be times when we feel that everyone both friends and enemies have deserted us. I really encourage you to make plans to be part of both the Maundy Thursday service, which will be combined with Mosaic in the Fellowship Hall and the Good Friday service at Minnie’s Chapel at 7:00 PM. I realize that gas is expensive, so we will run the van from the church parking lot, leaving at 6:15 PM. I really believe these services will put the resurrection in perspective. I know last year, I spent the whole week writing devotionals chronicling the entire week and especially chronicling Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In addition to the services, I encourage you to check out my blog this coming weekend as I share the scriptures and thoughts about this week.

On Sunday, Jesus was on the top of the world. Thursday night, he met with his closest followers – the twelve disciples to celebrate the Passover together – that is part of the subject of Thursday night’s service. But just before that Judas agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and Judas began to look for opportunities to betray Jesus.

The disciples gather in the upper room (or guest room) of a man’s house to eat their “last” meal together. While they eat, Jesus speaks up and tells them that someone in the room will betray him that very evening. Can you imagine Judas’ shock? I find it amazing that he even has to ask if he is the one. It is at this celebration that Jesus institutes what we know as the Lord’s Table or Communion. After they were all done, they went out to the Mount of Olives and Jesus then told all the disciples that they would desert him. Peter gets foot in mouth disease and declares that even if everyone else deserts, he will not. Jesus reminds Peter that he will deny that he even knows Jesus three times by the time the rooster crowed in the morning. Even then Peter denies that it will NEVER HAPPEN.

This brings us to the crucial point of the message. Jesus takes the disciples to Gethsemane. All twelve went to the garden and Jesus left nine of them on the edge of the garden and took Peter, James, and John further into the grove. Then he tells them to sit and pray and keep watch. Jesus needed his disciples as he prayed to the Father. Jesus went a little further and prayed: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Can you imagine — here is God in the flesh (as John tells us) and even he is struggling with his purpose. Jesus was looking for another way – if there was any way out of the suffering and still do the will of the Father, he was looking for it. If Jesus struggled with suffering, why do we think that we are going to get a free ride? I get so tired of hearing that God doesn’t want you to be sick or poor or suffering or any other negative. Just because you are sick or poor or suffering doesn’t not mean that you lack faith. Trials come (as James writes) to perfect our faith – to mature our faith. How can our faith mature if with never have any trials. My good friend Mark, emailed my regarding our current financial situation and wrote: Dale, my thoughts and prayers are with you as you face these financial challenges. I believe God allows these things to happen in his church to refine and refocus us. If we keep our priorities straight, our prayers fervent, and our purpose clear, our Father will guide us safely through the storm.

Contemporary Christian band MercyMe sings these lyrics:

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory

And I know there’ll be days

When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to
praise You Jesus, bring the rain.

Like I said last week, sometimes we blame Satan for things that are really designed by God to make us stronger disciples in the faith.

Jesus pours his heart out to God and afterward checks on his disciples and finds them sleeping. Three times Jesus pours his heart out to God, seeing if there is any way but the cross, but there is not. Each time he returns to find his disciples sleeping. Jesus knew why he was here. Jesus knew the purpose for his coming to earth. Even when the crowd shows up with Judas, Jesus simply says to Judas, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” A skirmish follows and Jesus reminds his disciples that all of this is part of the plan. Jesus tells both the disciples and the crowd, “This is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” Jesus knew his purpose.

Do you know the purpose of your existence? Do you know why you are here on this earth? Sometimes I think we lose our way. We forget why we were made. We forget why Christ saved us in the first place. Earlier this week I was listening to Spirit-FM on my way to work and a devotional thought came on the radio. She asked, “For what purpose were you born?” She related that she had a friend who said she was born to be an encourager. Now, this wasn’t the way her friend was born. She worked on being an encourager as she stepped out of her comfort zone. Even thought this wasn’t in her natural gift set, she felt that God had called her to be an encourager. Is there something that you feel God is calling you for which you don’t have the skill? Perhaps, it is way out of your comfort zone. God doesn’t always call us to something that is comfortable for us. Why were you placed on this earth? To what has God called you? Is it in your comfort zone? Probably not! Jesus went way out of his comfort zone to save us from our life of sin. How do you want to respond to him today?