In today’s lesson we hear that Jesus is being challenged by the leading religious authorities of Israel. We need to understand that the world in which Jesus was ministering considered the religious authorities as the upper-most influential people of their world. And so, as Jesus is
explaining to his disciples that he will be rejected, condemned and killed as a result of the judgement by the elders, chief priests, and the scribes -- this is like the whole world rejecting Jesus’ message, and the implication is that anyone who is following him may also suffer the
same fate of judgement. Could you or I, on our Lenten Journey with Jesus, fall under the judgement of the leaders of our land or the so-called "religious authorities" of our day . . .?
As the disciples hear Jesus telling them about what is to come, it is no wonder that they do not wish to accept what Jesus is saying. Peter is the one who vocalizes what they all must feel, "No Lord, you cannot die! Such things can never happen to you Lord!" We can also enter into
the understanding of the disciples . . . "Lord, would you want for me to think or do or say things that sound disagreeable to people in positions of power in our society today?" And if I follow in your footsteps, what dangers might await . . . and, indeed Lord, if we believe you are
the Prince of Peace and the essence of your Gospel is Love – then why would people not agree with this message today?"
Consider for a moment the early days of following Jesus. For the disciples, and the crowds of seekers -- life must have been incredibly exciting as they followed the Lord throughout Galilee where Jesus was going from village to village preaching the Good News; healing people of all
kinds of diseases! What a time, what a joy-filled experience! There must have been laughter and shouts of excitement as Jesus came to each village . . . and began to teach the people by the Word. And then he was also delivering people from evil spirits, refuting human arguments about
religious practices and Jesus even healed people from impossible diseases and life circumstances that made people outcasts in their own society. When Jesus came into your town, everything could change overnight!!
Perhaps, as a disciple of Jesus, every once in a while when Jesus had healed someone of prominence in a town or village, the disciples got treated to a nice banquet -- surely there were some fringe benefits to being one of the chosen disciples . . . . But more importantly,
listening to Jesus and seeing him perform a miracle made you feel like you were part of the mission too. With all of this activity in mind, we can understand that the disciples were riding the wave of a movement, and this movement was called the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of
God–come to earth. The movement was spreading rapidly wherever Jesus went and preached and people were fed in body, mind and spirit. Looking back on the time, we can say that it was like a mountain top experience happening every day!
Of course we know that mountain climbing is not always such an elating thing. Rather, mountain climbing in the real world can be exhausting, dangerous and a difficult activity. But when you succeed in reaching the summit, there is also elation and joy. Brief glimpses of God’s
truth and goodness triumphing over injustice, evil and despair surely give us a feeling of gratitude to be in the Way of Jesus. When peace and love prevail in spite of darkness, war or poverty–then we know that we are about the work that Jesus is doing, because that was the kind of
work he was doing when he traveled throughout Galilee.
The work of the Kingdom, God’s work, brings genuine joy to others by and through works of justice, truth and healing . . . and these things also involve faith. When we see these things happening (because we are walking with Jesus in the way of the cross then we gain a sense that we
are accomplishing something for God -- which brings us joy. Doing such good work, is what Jesus’ means when he tells us we must carry the cross.
And Jesus did say that we need to take up our cross and travel on through life . . . we are to keep on going even though we get tired, discouraged or frightened at what might lie ahead.
Just before Jesus died on the cross he talked about the difficulty of being a Christian, of being his follower. He said, "If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Jesus was saying that to be his follower there will be difficult
times, but if you keep going even though you may feel tired, discouraged, or frightened you will know God’s love (remembering that Jesus experienced pain and suffering along his way) and be filled with the love of God which is the greatest reward.
But just as it was necessary for Jesus to undergo suffering and rejection for our sake, so it is also necessary for Christians – we who identify ourselves with him and his mission . . . to undergo various kinds of trials in order to live more fully for Jesus, which is often against
the grain of what the world says is right, sometimes even when voices from high places are saying, "Hey this is the ‘Christian’ thing to do," we must consider if what those voices are saying really depicts what Jesus would do or want us to do . . . .
This is especially relevant today when voices in the world around us (many identifying themselves as Christians) are saying that God hates _______ or that it is God’s will that somebody died or should die or that we should go and bomb ____ because they are evil people . . . . Such
statements have no relevance to what Jesus preached nor what God wills for the world, let alone the ones for whom Christ died. God does not hate – God loves!!!
God loves us so much and abhors death and suffering so greatly that he sent Jesus into the world to show us, by his own flesh and blood, since Jesus was God in human flesh, that God does not will for anyone to die nor hate another human being. God wills for us to have life and to
create, sustain and love life. It breaks God’s heart when we say that we hate someone . . . and to say that God hates someone for any reason is pure blasphemy! Such ideas are not from Jesus, but come from darkened minds. And God is not dark but always pure light!!
And so, perhaps we can consider what Jesus’ means when he says that we must take up the cross and follow him is that we need to take up all of the brokeness of the world, including the brokeness of our ourselves or our own brothers and sisters in the family or in the church who
sometimes get the story wrong or mixed up. We need to shoulder this heavy burden at times, perhaps like a mountaineer shoulders his or her satchel filled with necessary equipment or food or provisions for safety of oneself or the safety of another . . . and we need to carry this burden
for it is the burden of our Lord.
However, like the mountain climber who secures him/her-self with a rope and so holds the rope for their fellow climbers coming up from below . . . the safety rope and harness are also secured from above. Sure, we’re always looking for the next hand grip or toe hold, but there is a
rope that ties us off, lest we fall and plunge to an unfortunate outcome below. Yes, this rope and safety laniard are secured for us in our faith in Jesus who has gone before us. And so, as we are shouldering the burdens which sometimes become uncomfortably heavy or awkward to carry,
we reach for the next foothold and pull ourselves up a little higher.
Looking up to the one who has gone before us gives us strength to carry on. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow (as the old hymn says) we are enabled to carry on faithfully for our Lord–day by day. And furthermore, we secure the way for those who will come after us. We
work to build a safer world, a safe and passable route for others to follow. The trail we blaze is made by peace-making, not by war mongering or profiting from the misfortunes of others. The way that we secure is made safe because we deal fairly with others and we reward our workers
along the way with just wages, fair trade practices and assurances of peace that are backed up with good will.
Perhaps you have realized by now that the life of faith is all encompassing, it is not just about securing our own salvation (as though we even could), but the life that is devoted to Christ and the Kingdom that he preached into being looks out for neighbors near and far. The life
that is all about walking where Jesus walked considers that the path eventually winds its way north and south, east and west. It crosses borders, cultures and even other religions. What is constant about the journey is that we shoulder a cross of humility. Sometimes it is heavy, but it
is always carried with love . . . it is never used as a weapon, but is to be a symbol of peace . . . it always points to the one who bore it for our sins. And yet it also reminds us of the one who rose from the tomb. The cross that Jesus asks his children to bear is the cross of his
love and it teaches us again and again how to love others, even as Christ loved the ones who placed him on that cross so long ago.
And so when you hear the words from Jesus about taking up the cross and bearing it day by day – do not lose heart Christian! But take up the cross with a new joy!! Consider it a priviledge to shoulder the Cross, because of the One who bore it on our behalf. Consider its message –
"God loves Me" and, "God so loved the world that he sent his only Son . . . " And consider that the one who was crucified rose from the dead . . . to secure a place for us. And he ever lives to intercede for us, he ever lives through us so that we might continue to teach and preach the
same things that he did in our world today. The burden of the cross becomes a labor of love when we remember all that Jesus gave to us – so that the world will continue to know that God is Love.
Let us pray,
Lord Jesus, in this time of Lent we are continually reminded of the ways we are called to follow you. Help us always to remember that you love us even when we were unlovable, you gave yourself for us even when we could not appreciate your sacrifice on our behalf. So work in our
hearts Lord, that we become humble in our spirits, but strong in love and faith to live for you and love others more and more. In your name we pray these things.
more writings of Pastor Jon