We all like to get something free. Maybe it’s that toy that comes with a Happy Meal, or the Buy One get One Free deal at the food store. But we’ve also learned that if it is free it usually is not very valuable. It’s a gimmick or a “come on” to get you to buy something else. We’ve been ingrained with the idea that you only get what you pay for. But then the Lord steps into the path of our lives. He give us something free that is valuable beyond measure. So valuable that there isn’t enough money on earth to buy it. Our redemption, our standing in righteousness before God’s absolute holiness, our life now and for eternity. This is a gift purchased with the blood of the sinless Son of God, a free gift to each of us from Almighty God that no amount of money, no amount of good works, can possibly earn. Jesus asked the question “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”(Matthew 16:26) There is noting we can give, but it has already been given to us on a cross outside Jerusalem. All we can do is bow in humble worship and thanksgiving.
On a number of occasions when Jesus healed a person He began by saying, “your sins are forgiven”. He knew that healing begins on the inside. For a person to be whole it must include spirit and soul, as well as body. We, too often, only look at the outside need. Take this away, Get rid of that, Heal this diseases . Certainly, these are important. But the necessity for inward healing is the reason why Jesus died on the cross, and didn’t take over the throne of Rome, as many wanted Him to do. He could have displaced the political leaders and ushered in a new government of justice for all people, but there would still have been angry disputes among neighbors, envy, and covertness among people, fornication and adultery, and all the other evils that come from a corrupted heart. The cross has to be Jesus’ ultimate throne, and His crown woven of thorns. Only His atoning sacrifice that removed our sin caused separation from God could be the means of our true healing. We do pray for outward physical healing, and change in other bad physical conditions of life, but the greatest healing is always the one we find at the foot of the cross.
We took a ride last evening to our son and daughter-in-law’s home about 50 miles away. In this season many of the homes are lighted in brightly colored decorations, and also a number of those inflatable lawn figures of Santa, Disney characters, and others. We even saw a blow up dog – I think it was supposed to be a dog – that had to be taller than I am. There were a number of manger scenes reminding those passing by of the wonderful birth we are celebrating. It was also interesting to see a number of homes that included a lighted cross with their decorations. I was very glad to see these reminders that the Christmas event can’t be separated from the redeeming act the Child of Bethlehem came to do on our behalf. The manger and the cross are bound together as one act of God’s gracious love for mankind. All of the lights and decorations are festive as they should be for the celebration of this birth. But it is the cross that brought us our greatest gift, life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
One of our members was a blacksmith. There are several items of his metal creations around our church, as well as our strong handrails on the outside steps. His home was filled with many pieces of his work. Bill would use the expression, “everything works better with a little iron on it”. I thought of that yesterday as I was putting a small cross over the back entrance to our church building. Everything works better with a cross on it. Bill had a cross on his life and is now with the Lord. For a Christian the cross defines who we. The cross is our source of forgiveness, righteousness, peace before God. It is at the cross we learn to fear and love God. It is with the sign of the cross on our lives that we want to look beyond ourselves, our own comforts, to the care and needs of others. It was at the cross that the Son of God defeated the power of sin, death, and the devil. Life grows as God intended when one comes to the foot of the cross, and yields to the Saviour whose love for each of us put Him there.
There is an article in the latest issue of WORLD magazine on Christian persecution in Nigeria. Many are being gunned down, women and children captured, churches burned. One of the striking features of these raids is that the radical perpetrators go to great lengths to destroy all the crosses. Even to climbing steeples to tear them down. The cross is a hated symbol. It is an offense to many. The cross has been given by Almighty God, the one true God, in His declaration to mankind. In that one symbol two truths are laid on the hearts of people whether they realize it or not. First, that the nature of man is sinful and corrupt, totally separated from God, and that there is no effort or appeasement in man’s power to bridge that separation. Second, the cross means that in the deepest of love, God sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die on that cross making the atonement that man is incapable of making for himself. The cross confronts us with who we are, and who God is. For many this is a truth too uncomfortable to deal with. It must be removed. It must be destroyed. This is no pretty gold or silver symbol on a chain that is a mere fashion statement. It is a truth that cuts to the heart of life, and requires a decision. A decision to either fall in worship before God the giver, or try to flee from the God who searches every heart.
When a rocket is about to be launched there is a count down, 10…9…8… When there is an exam coming there are just 3…2…1…days left to study. That relentless pursuit time weighs heavily as the day approaches. Such were these days for our Lord. He knew clearly what was ahead. The prophets had foretold the events of this week hundreds of years before, but that was hundreds of years. Now it is down to days and hours until Jesus faces His trial. He still went to the Temple to teach the people. He still healed a few, but the Jewish leaders looked on, like vultures waiting for the kill. All of this rested on Jesus’ mind as He spent these days. He found some comfort with the company of His disciple, but the task that lay ahead weighed on Him every moment. He would be the unblemished Lamb of God who shed His blood for the sins of all mankind. There was no other way. He alone, God in human flesh, the perfect man, would make the atoning sacrifice. Tuesday…Wednesday…Thursday…until the cross.
Jesus was always reversing things. He fulfilled perfectly the law God required of mankind, but He refused to be bound by the legality of the Pharisees. He called disciples to an important mission, but instead of great perks with the job He told them there would be suffering, persecution, and death. He offers us new life, the best life possible, but says that we must first die to ourselves and be reborn in Him. He submitted to governing authorities allowing them to murder Him so that He would become King of all kings and Lord of all lords. Following Christ means coming into His world, His life, His nature. It is not just having some of the nice things we like about Jesus come into the world we’ve made. Jesus doesn’t just offer us a nice moral standard to follow. He shows us the cross and says there alone you will find the life that really matters.
This most holy week began yesterday with our Lord’s triumphal ride down the slopes of the Mount of Olives and into the Eastern Gate of the holy city, Jerusalem. He received a conquering hero’s welcome with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Many in that early morning crowd truly believed that the One promised to come and sit on David’s throne had finally arrived. They rejoiced because now the Romans would be driven out, and the glory of Israel restored. Even by entering the Eastern Gate the prophecy of Ezekiel was being fulfilled. That was the gate through which the Lord had said Messiah would come. But Jesus was entering that gate with a purpose no one expected. The throne that He would occupy would be an executioners cross on a hill outside the city. He was coming to die.
As we get older, many of us face the problem of forgetfulness. Did you ever walk into the middle of a room, and then ask yourself, “what did I come in here for?” Come to think of it, I’ve been doing that for a long time! Did you ever think of God as being forgetful? He is, but His forgetfulness is by choice, and it is selective. In His great mercy He chooses to forget our sins, and not hold them against us. He said through Jeremiah, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (31:34) This is the marvelous forgetfulness of God! As we come to Him by way of the cross of Jesus Christ, He lets all of our sins fall to the ground right there, and sees us wearing the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. He remembers our sins no more. So, when we have those “senior moments” it reminds us of the wonderful grace that allows us to walk free with our Lord.
The cross is a strange symbol because it is far more than a symbol. Some will use it as a fashion statement with no more meaning than that. Others keep it as a good luck charm. Still others demand that it not be displayed in some businesses or on public lands. Many only want the cross without the body of Christ hanging on it. Whether people like it or not, the cross of Christ looms large over all human life, requiring some kind of a reaction. It will be ignored, hated, fondled, or adored, but it remains very large in all life. A Roman execution that happened 2000 years ago declares that God acted in the midst of human life, and that action has not ceased to touch all lives. For some it is the declaration of God’s love, grace, and salvation. For others it is a gentle call of God’s Spirit urging them to find something more for their lives, even if they can’t identify it as God’s calling. For still other it is burning judgment that stirs a hatred for all that is of the one Holy Triune God. The cross is a dividing line for all human history. For us, it is our hope, and our calling to share the love we have been given in that wondrous sacrificial action of God.