”Jesus takes up his cross, and we are to do the same…”
Second Sunday of Lent, 25th February 2018.
”It is very easy to remain outside the Kingdom of God: not so easy to enter, there is a cost. It is true, salvation is free : but it is not cheap. God gives the Kingdom: but the accepting of God’s gift means the rejection of many other things. The Kingdom of God offers the greatest gifts: but it demands exclusive loyalty and whole hearted devotion.” (T W Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, p.130).
In our Gospel, Jesus reveals, in order to bring the victory of the Kingdom of God, he prophesies that he must take up his cross. To be members of the Kingdom, to be his disciple, to be his follower, he says we must take up our cross…Jesus speaks and the shadow of the cross is seen over his life. And Jesus invites his followers to have cross shaped lives.
This is the first of three times Jesus predicts his passion. His suffering, rejection, death, resurrection. The price of God’s gift.
A person can suffer and be admired. Jesus if he had only suffered, then he could have been welcomed and praised as Messiah. His death could have been seen as a tragedy. But he was to suffer and he was to be rejected by the majority as well as the religious leadership. No honour for him among the leadership or among most of the people. He suffered. He was rejected. The price of God’s gift to you and me.
But why this divine plan? There is divine purpose for the suffering, rejection, cross and resurrection. It is not PLAN B – where something went wrong. It was Plan A all along. Jesus said:
”For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’‘ (10:45).
Ransom – the word is for setting free of a slave. We have the same idea in movies – an amount of money paid for someone freed. How are we enslaved? We all have ”sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). But how come? Jesus said:
”What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.” (Mark 7:v20-23).
The heart of the human problem, is the human heart. From within comes sin in its various forms in thoughts, words, actions. And this leads to consequences as we hurt others, our world and ourselves. And there is the consequence of judgement, that all of us would face for our sins when we stand before God.
Jesus prophesies he will die. His death is to be a ransom, setting us free. As Isaiah 53 is heard on Good Friday ”the punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). He will take the punishment upon himself for our sins – that flow out of our damaged hearts. Jesus atones for our sin.
But the cross is not only about atonement. It is about love.
When we hear these words, when we will remember Christ on the cross during Holy Week, it is out of love for each one of us. We were ill. We needed healing. We faced judgement and separation from God. And so, that this would not need to happen, the Son of Man will suffer, be rejected, and be killed. As Jesus reminds us: ”Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). Later Paul declares: ‘‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). So the cross, and as we take the bread and wine in our Eucharist, reminds us of God’s incredible committed love to us…
So we see the shadow of the cross over Jesus. He goes to the cross to atone for our sins, through his death. And he goes to the cross in great love for each one of us.
And then he looks to the crowd, to those who are considering following him, and to those who are following – the 12 – and he declares they too must deny themselves and take up the cross.
They would turn from selfish ways. That they would surrender to Christ. That they must be willing to suffer and be rejected for the sake of Jesus. To risk all in following him. In Matthew 10, Jesus shares more what it all means. How his followers may be imprisoned for their faith, be betrayed or attacked by family members, hated by the general population because of Jesus, or simply persecuted. But he shares that they aren’t to fear those who can hurt the body but cannot ultimately harm the soul. That they are of great value to God despite what they experience and have to endure. As their Saviour, would suffer and be rejected, they were to imitate the one they followed, willingly to suffer for Christ’s sake.
To take up our cross – a strange phrase – but it suggests a willing to suffer and be rejected as we obey the commands. Perhaps a temptation to lie at work – or to agree with a lie at work. To stand up against it can hurt our career or relationships with colleagues. Or pressure at college or university to enter into a sexual relationship outside of marriage – when people will think you are strange if you want to only to have sex inside a married relationship. Different situations when we may obey Jesus commands, and the reactions that come, which can mean we take up the cross.
To close, I wanted to share three true stories, to show what it all can mean: (from Open Doors UK resource: Standing Strong in the Storm)
Sariman was a young student preparing himself to serve the Lord among the 30 million Sundanese people of Indonesia, which are the largest unreached people group in the world. During a violent attack on the Bible School, Sariman was killed and many other students were wounded. Sariman bravely assisted his friends although he could have saved himself. Before his death he was tortured and other students shared how he was murdered. He was hit with a bar of wood and iron, then hacked, stabbed, and his mouth cut from the left cheek to the right cheek.
Upon hearing another testimony of martyrdom, many people ask ”why this tragedy Lord? How long will you allow this to continue? This is such a terrible loss for this ministry: what is the sense in all of this?” Then the head of the Bible school continues this story ”The victory in this tragedy that only 10 days after the murder of Sariman we had 10 new applicants to study at the bible school. Today, 6 months, after this incident, we have 98 new students who are willing to go where Sariman would have gone. The blood of the martyrs is seed.”
A missionary working in Morocco wrote: ”Is faith in Christ worth dying for? Physically dying for? I quickly saw that if it wasn’t, I had no business presenting the gospel to Muslims. You see, when a Muslim receives Christ, he faces certain persecution and possible death. How can I ask a Muslim to receive Christ as Lord, if I have doubts in my own heart. If Christ isn’t worth dying for, He isn’t worth living for.
On the other hand, if Christ is worth living and dying for, then we have a gospel of infinite value to Muslims… Ahmed came to see me one day, honestly sharing his fears with me about following Christ. He asked: ”What if I go to prison?” This kind of question always intimidated me, the missionary said. I wasn’t sure that I could ask someone to be willing to go to prison when I myself had never gone. Yet now I realised that it was Jesus who was calling Ahmed to take up his cross and follow, it wasn’t me asking him.”
Finally a story from the Netherlands. In the 16th Century Protestant and Catholic persecuted each other and Protestants also persecuted other Protestant believers, such as Anabaptists. These Anabaptists – who were persecuted for having different views from the main Protestant churches – were burned if male, drowned if female. The Church has a horrific past in persecuting each other as Christians.
The true story is of a man called Dirk Willems. He was captured, imprisoned in his home town of Asperen, just over the border in Gelderland. Dirk knew his fate would be death if he remained in prison. So he made a rope out of strips of cloth and escaped down with it, over the prison wall. However an alert guard began to chase him.
There was a nearby pond which was covered with a thin layer of ice. Dirk risked a run across it. He made it. But the ice broke under the guard. He cried for help. Dirk believed the Scripture that a man should help his enemies. He immediately went back, and pulled the prison guard out of the freezing water. In thanks, the guard would have let him go. But the burgemeister – chief magistrate – on the shore of the pond ordered the guard to arrest Dirk and bring him back.
Back in prison went Dirk. He was condemned for his views, which included allowing secret church services in his home and let others be baptised as adults there.
Dirk was burned to death on May 16th 1569. He showed his love for his enemy and saved his life.
Dirk Willems shows both our points doesn’t he? We can think of taking up the cross and think of Ahmed in Morocco, or the students and friends of Sariman who go out knowing persecution and violence could meet them. But Dirk shows us, that to be a follower of Christ is also about those decisions we encounter each day – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Pastor in 1930s and during the War, said, ‘every day there are new challenges. Every command of Jesus is a command to die – to our self centredness and desires’, to follow in the footsteps and example of Christ. Sometimes it is easier, better for us to do something, but Christ invites a different more difficult choice, a choice that may even cost us.
Also Dirk shows us Christ. Us, in our sin, in the water, the ice has broken. We need help. Christ comes to rescue us, despite what it costs him to do that. That guard – his life was saved, ultimately at the cost of Dirk’s life. We gain life, through the death of Christ.
Shall we pray…