16. A Pattern

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 16. A Pattern

Mt 10:38  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

So far in these short meditations we have been focusing on the crucifixion, the actual events of Christ’s death on a wooden cross at the hands of the Romans at the instigation of the Jews. Now we move on to consider something of the significance of ‘the Cross’, the meaning behind the event.

We start with this somewhat enigmatic reference to a cross, being carried by any and every Christians – for that is what is implied here; this does apply to every Christian, every believer in Jesus, every follower of the Son of God. I use the word enigmatic because without quite a bit if thought it is puzzling, it is mysterious, it is unknowable.

Let’s consider the basic picture, a man carrying a cross. What does it tell us? This is a man on his way to being crucified, to being put to death. This is a man as good as dead, because although the death has not yet occurred (and none of us know when we will die) if this man is now carrying a cross, it means he has been condemned and on his way to the place of execution; yes, he is as good as dead.

So what is Jesus saying?  If you want to be worthy of Jesus, if you want to be considered one of his followers – a Christian – then (at the very least) you have to take on the attitude of one who has given up his claim to his life, one who considers they have put their future into the hands of God for His disposal if that is what He wants.

Later in Matthew we find the same thing but slightly extended: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mt 16:24) Did you see the extension? “must deny themselves”. It’s the same thing but put differently, i.e. give up their claims to their life, give up their claims to their future and put them all entirely in God’s hands so that He can work out the best for us. He, of course purposes better for each of us than we do for ourselves, and how we struggle to believe that!

We plot, we plan, we organise, we scheme, we hope for the best, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn’t, and the thought of putting it into God’s hands (really) is difficult if not impossible and yet, here it is laid out before us a number of times in the Gospels, this challenge that goes to the heart of being a Christian, this challenge that must haunt us we approach Easter. Will I opt for the imitation life that will be so fleeting (and which may even crash and burn) or will I trust it all into His hands and say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – in my life”?

6. Helpless

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 6. Helpless

Mt 27:40 “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

We said in an earlier meditation that ‘crucifixion’ tends to refer the event while references to ‘the Cross’ tend to refer to the significance (in theology if you like) or meaning of it, but we have to amend that for there are references that use the word ‘cross’ where it is no more and no less than that physical means of killing someone, the place or means where Christ eventually (and it was an ‘eventually’) died.

And thus it is in our verse above. Christ is now hanging on the wooden cross in agony and here, in this glimpse, this quick frame in history, we see something that is incredible, something I find that almost takes my breath away. It is Christ’s voluntary helplessness. The same thing is implied a few verses later: “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Mt 27:42)

Just think about this, not what we know of Jesus who is the Son of God who has left heaven and come down, but Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the caller of men. For three years and throughout the pages of the four Gospels we see Jesus in total control. He resists Satan’s temptations (e.g. Mt 4:1-10), and when a crowd manhandle him out of the synagogue and go to throw him down a hill, he simply walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Lk 4:30) He walks on water (e.g. Mt 14:25), he stills a storm (Mk 4:39), he heals hundreds (Mt 4:24, 12:15, 14:14 etc.) delivered from the demonic (e.g. Mt 9:33, 17:18 etc.) and he raised the dead (e.g. Lk 7:12-, 8:49-, Jn 11). He would not be cajoled into premature action (see Jn 2:3,4, 7:1-6).

No, what we see in all these examples, and we could add even more, is the Son of God in complete control of the circumstances. He IS the Son of God with all power and authority given to him, an authority which caused men to marvel (e.g. Mk 1:27) and yet, now, we find him hanging on a cross, gradually dying, with passers by (v.40) and the religious establishment (v.41,42) deriding and mocking him – and he takes it!

It has been commented upon by others that in this we see the incredible humility of God. At his arrest he held back impetuous Peter with, Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53) We might say all of the power and resources of heaven were at his disposal but that was not the way. Instead it was the way of total submission to the forces of evil in mankind and utter helplessness. Worship him!

3. To be Endured

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 3. To be Endured

Heb 12:2 For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

In the first two meditations we considered how twice, as we’ve seen, the apostle Paul declared the vital importance of the crucifixion of Christ as the heart of the Gospel. There is also a sense within this verse from Hebrews of this same importance, but this time it was by Christ himself as perceived by the writer to the Hebrews.

There is within the words, “he endured the Cross” that same sense of its vital importance that we saw in Paul’s understanding and which we sense when we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as first he says to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Mt 26:38) and then goes on to pray, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (v.39)

Clearly everything human in Jesus revolted at the thing that was in front of him, his crucifixion, and if there was a way out, he would have taken it, and yet there wasn’t because ultimately it was his Father’s will, the will of the Godhead agreed before the foundation of the world (e.g. 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8). No, he could not just walk away from it, that was not an option, but it was not a thing to be looked forward to.

Without doubt, for Jesus this experience of being abused, of being rejected, of going through agony, of being separated in awareness from the Father, and of taking into himself the awfulness of our sins, all of this was something utterly horrible, something that militated against everything that he was, something to be endured, suffered, tolerated and put up with. There was nothing romantic about what he was doing, there is nothing romantic about the Cross; it is just a vital necessity for the salvation of mankind.

But the writer to the Hebrews puts the crucifixion in context, for it is part of the divine plan but it is not the end of it, merely a stage of the plan to be endured.   After the cross has got to come the resurrection (implied) and after that the ascension where he returns to heaven and again takes his place at the Father’s right hand. Jesus knows that that is what will follow and that will be a time of great rejoicing as the plan of salvation has moved a stage on and the way is open for the salvation of whoever will come. It is only the wonder of that part of the plan that holds Jesus and helps his resolve as a human being to go through this terrible stage immediately ahead of him. It is a vital necessity if mankind is to be saved, and yet it is terrible, something to be endured, something ghastly to be gone through and it is only what will follow, that helps him through it. Be silent before the Lord.

1. Significance

Introduction to Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross  

In the series we were following we came to an appropriate point where we could pause up and come back to it in a month’s time. We are in the period referred to as Lent, and Easter Sunday is in 30 days’ time.

To quote the Internet, “For Western churches Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday. (This year [2018] it began on February 14. The date varies from year to year, starting in either late February or early March. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays), and is treated as a period of reflection and, for some, a time for fasting.”

I am aware, looking down the list of subjects and themes we have covered in the past, that I have written on ‘Aspects of Easter’, another series simply called, ‘Easter’ and another on the ‘Holy Week’. However, my attention was recently drawn to the number of references in the New Testament to either the ‘cross’ or to the word ‘crucifixion’ and so I would like to attempt a series of short meditations on single verses that contain either of those words. I do this in fear and trepidation because this is really holy ground and verses standing on their own do not form a theology and therefore this attempt denies creating a neatly structured or systematic approach. Each day will thus stand on its own and may or may not follow on from the previous one.  Their only link is that somehow, and it may be tenuous, every verse refers to that terrible event that we remember on Good Friday. I will say no more at this point and simply let them speak for themselves and trust that by the end we will have seen a fresh focus on this key episode in the life of the Son of God.

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 1. Significance

1 Cor 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

For many across the world, the words, ‘the Cross’ or references to the crucifixion of Christ, mean little. Others attribute a mystical sense to such words, others have a vague inkling of a mystery that just eludes them. For the apostle Paul, who we find writing here to the church in Corinth, the whole matter pertaining to the Cross, to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is of absolutely crucial importance.

I like the Message version’s take on verses 1 & 2: “You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”

Paraphrase versions are so helpful aren’t they. The JBP version is even more enlightening: “You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ and the fact of his death upon the cross.”

Paul’s life was amazing; he was absolutely sold out to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went and here he makes sure we understand that the heart of that message was Jesus’ death on the Cross, the event we remember on Good Friday. I nearly wrote, “that we are looking forward to on Good Friday” but unlike perhaps a birthday party, this terrible event is not something to be relished. It is absolutely horrible, and in this series, I do not intend to visit the events of the Cross in any great detail; I’ve done that already elsewhere.

The thrust that comes punching out of this present verse is that, as far as the apostle Paul was concerned at least, whatever else we might teach about Christ (and I recently wrote a long series which I found impacted me deeply called, ‘Focus on Christ’) the most crucial part of our teaching about Christ, if we are to follow in the great apostle’s footsteps, has to be the Cross, has to be the crucifixion of Christ. I think we are going to see that crucifixion focuses more on the event, the fact that Christ was put to death on our behalf, while ‘the Cross’ refers more what Christ was achieving through that event on our behalf. So, when Paul speaks here of Christ’s crucifixion (and later on we’ll see his earlier reference to ‘the message of the Cross’ (1 Cor 1:18), he is saying the gospel is anchored in the death of Christ and without it there would be no gospel. It is that important and for that reason we will consider it slowly in the days ahead as we look at both the event (crucifixion) and its significance (the Cross). Pray for help as we do this for we tread on holy ground.