The Way of the Cross

As I said in the post Love Hurts a week or two ago, we do not need instruction on how to love people who love us.  It comes naturally.  What is as unnatural as a golf swing is loving those who give us a hard time.  For this we need instruction…and Jesus – like no one else – gives it to us.

Jesus gives us this instruction most dramatically in the way He lost His life – by a cross.  For this reason He says:

…If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
–  Luke 9:23

We think of the crucifixion as a once in a lifetime, if not a once in an eternity, event for God.  Truth is, the cross is emblematic of His daily experience with the human race.  We are His “cross to bear.”  We whine and complain; we’re ungrateful.  We’re faithless and disobedient.  We would wear out the patience of any human authority in a day or two, and it’s only His divine patience that keeps Him interested in us.  Therefore, our putting Christ on the cross is intended to demonstrate how we as the human race have daily – even constantly – been putting God’s love for us to the test.  Jesus’ crucifixion demonstrates for all time how God’s love withstands that test.

God wants us to love Him and each other this much, too.  The amazing thing is that He never even told us to love each other this much until He came down here to live as one of us and do it Himself.  The Law of Moses did not require the kind of love that Jesus did.  In other words, God didn’t preach a cross-bearing love until He Himself came and practiced it in human form.  As Paul says of Him:

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
–  Hebrews 5:8

Likewise, you and I learn obedience from the things we suffer.  Therefore, we don’t pay attention to Christ so that we can learn how to love those who are doing what we want; we pay attention to Christ because people – even in our own family – can be very, very disappointing.  He seems to know how to handle this.  Do you know anyone who would be a better source on the subject of how to love those who are unlovely?

Jesus Knew His Limitations

During his earthly life, Jesus never traveled outside the confines of ancient Israel.  A trip from one end of that region to the other was less than 200 miles.  Moreover, his ministry in that territory focused on Jews; he had to be pressed to spend any time with Gentiles.  This limited focus – limited both geographically and ethnically – wasn’t because Jesus didn’t care about Jews outside of Israel, or because he had no concern for Gentiles, but rather because he had to live within the limitations that his earthly life brought.  He did not take the world on his shoulders until he had shoulders big enough to hold it.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus did talk about his plans for Jews beyond Israel and for Gentiles the world over, but it was only after his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven that he released his disciples to take his message beyond Jews in Israel.  From heaven, Jesus could support the disciples wherever they went and show his love for the whole world.  While he was still on earth, Jesus lived within his human limitations.

You and I must learn to live within our limitations, too.  If while on earth Jesus was limited to what one human body can do, certainly we are limited.  As he had to eat and sleep, so do we.  Even the Good Samaritan was not patrolling all the roads of the world; he just helped the man he found on his way to whatever he was going to do in Jericho.

You cannot save the world, and you’ll wear yourself out trying.  Moreover, you’ll overlook the human needs in your midst if you’re looking too hard for them in the far corners of the world.  One of the burdens that broadcast and social media bring with them is news about all sorts of people in need we are in no position to help.  Help those you can help…so that maybe they can help the ones you can’t.  That’s what Jesus did.  This starts with your own family.

God is aware of your limitations.  You, too, be aware of them.  Do all the good you can…within them.

“A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief” for More Than One Reason

Jesus was not just “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” for his own sake.  Because he loved his neighbor, he was burdened with their sorrows and griefs as well as his own.  He cared about the difficulties that other people had to face.  Like the Good Samaritan who interrupted his own journey to help a wounded man lying in a ditch, Jesus had more on his mind than himself.

Do we have more on our minds than ourselves today?

A preoccupation with self is a prescription for depression…even if you are praying!  A preoccupation with Christ, however, is a prescription for the path out of depression.  There are other ways out of depression, but none so sure or as thorough.

A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief

Centuries before the Jewish Messiah was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote of him and of the work he would do on behalf of God and men.  Among the many lines Isaiah wrote about Messiah are these:

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
–  Isaiah 53:3

And in Jesus’ biography, chronicled in the Gospels, we indeed find that he turned out to be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  Why though?  Why should such a good man have sorrow and grief?

Here’s why.  Jesus was loving his enemies, and praying for those who were persecuting him.  He was turning the other cheek, and walking the extra mile.  This sort of life does not fall into the category of happy-go-lucky.  Of course, there was a joy inside of Jesus that sustained him, and that joy gave him the strength to endure with hope the difficulties that he faced.  But there was nothing frivolous or silly about his interactions with people; he was on a mission.  Living a life of love is sustained by a deep inner joy, while encountering many sorrows from without.

If you are following Jesus, you have noticed that your life is not lollipops and roses either.  And you don’t have to vary your daily routine to experience sorrow.  You can find it at home, at work, and in between.  Jesus put it this way: “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”  Huh?  Yes, it’s unappreciative and uncooperative family members and co-workers that give us the most sorrow and grief.  Even if they don’t thrust us through with the sword of ultimate betrayal and rejection they can still make us die the death of a thousand small cuts.  That is, even good people can sometimes be a pain.

What shall we do with such family members and co-workers?  Love them and pray for them; turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile.  This is the kingdom of God: overcoming evil with the goodness of God.  Thus is the sorrow of this world overcome by the joy of serving God.

The Childlike Attitude of Jesus

If we wish to cultivate a childlike attitude toward Jesus, there is no better example to follow than the childlike attitude of Jesus.

When you read the Gospels, you see that Jesus did not speak like any of his contemporaries.  He was not speaking in his own name or seeking his own will.  He was constantly speaking in his Father’s name and seeking his Father’s will – much to the consternation of the religious authorities.  Those religious authorities spoke in their own names and on the authority they had earned as they worked their way up the ladder of religious hierarchy, but here was Jesus – a grown man – saying to their faces, “My Father says…”  By becoming the least among them, Jesus became the greatest among them.

When we become adults, we put away childish things.  But this is speaking of childhood and adulthood with respect to each other – fellow human beings.  By contrast, who of us can say he has become an adult with respect to God?  Who of us can look Him in the eye and say, “I am as mature as You”?  If Jesus, as a fully mature man, lived out each day humbly serving as a child before his father, how much more should we live out each day humbly serving Him as “Father.”

A son bears the image of his father.  May people think of you more and more with each passing day as reminding them of Jesus.  This will surely come to pass as you conscientiously imitate the childlike attitude first exemplified by your Savior.

Can You Teach the Ten Commandments to a Child?

If true Christianity is simple, does this mean that you can teach its precepts to a five-year old?  Yes.

I am not saying that a child can understand, for example, the Ten Commandments to the same degree that you can.  Children cannot appreciate the depth and intricacies of such concepts as an adult can.  Nevertheless, with just little thought, you can explain each of the Ten Commandments even to a pre-schooler.  Even the seventh (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”), which might at first seem beyond reach, can be explained to a little child as “God commands Mommy and me to never leave you or each other…and we won’t!  And when you get married, you won’t either.”  Thus the essence of God’s most basic commandments are accessible even to a very small child.

Even if you don’t have a little child, you will still find it helpful to formulate your thoughts about Jesus’ teachings as if you did.  Knowing how a child would receive the teachings of Jesus informs us about how we should receive them.  For when we receive the life that Jesus gives as a child would receive it, we are receiving it as Jesus instructed us to receive it.  Our adult reasoning powers will allow His instruction to take deeper root within us – but it is the same seed that is being planted…and soil is soil.  Adults just have more depth of soil than children – more places for the roots to go.

An adult who can find it practical and edifying to sing to himself things like “Jesus loves me, this I know…” in his day of trouble will find peace with God and be a blessing to those around him.  By contrast, an adult who finds such things too childish to be helpful is missing out.

Murder and Hate

About 1,500 years before Christ, Moses said:

You shall not murder.
–  Exodus 20:13

Then when Christ came, He said:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
–  Matthew 5:21-22

(By the way, “the fiery hell” is not referring to the afterlife but rather judgment and wrath in this life.)

Thus, God sent Moses to tell his fellow Israelites not to kill each other, but Jesus came to tell human beings not to even hate each other.  (Though it’s become unfashionable to say it, it is absolutely true, practical, and important that we hate the sin and love the sinner.)

If you’ve never killed anyone, that’s good.  But have you ever harbored anger or bitterness in your heart toward anyone?  If you want to be right with Jesus, you have to do something about that.

Here’s how the apostle John put the matter:

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
–  1 John 4:20

Therefore, shun hatred as much as you shun murder.

I’m just telling you how to stay on Jesus’ good side and avoid wrath in this life.  If you don’t care about doing that, you can just ignore what I’m saying.

More Thoughts on Being a Disciple 7 of 7

Review

I’ve spent each day of the last two weeks writing about some aspect of what it means to be a disciple – a learner, a student, a pupil – of Jesus Christ.  Let’s review all that’s been said.

Here’s what I covered the first seven days:

  • Introduction
  • Jesus Is the Teacher
  • The Text
  • Hearing and Doing
  • Discipline
  • Daily Accounting

And here are the topics I covered the last seven days:

  • Authoritative Teaching
  • A Disciple Spends Time with the Teacher
  • How a Disciple Measures His Progress
  • Letting Your Progress Be Evident to All
  • Seeking Feedback from the Teacher
  • A Word to the Wise Is Sufficient

As you’ve seen, there is much more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than just taking the name.

Take heed that the following description does not apply to you:

…many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.
–  John 6:66

Instead, be like those to whom Jesus turned after the “many” withdrew:

So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”  Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.  “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
–  John 6:67-69

More Thoughts on Being a Disciple 6 of 7

A Word to the Wise Is Sufficient

Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain,
Yet his foolishness will not depart from him.
– Proverbs 27:22

Some people are unwilling to learn righteousness even when the consequences of their actions scream out lessons to learned.  Since you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are not one of those people.

Note the distinction between those willing to listen to the wisdom of experience and those who are not willing.

At night my soul longs for You,
Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently;
For when the earth experiences Your judgments
The inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
Though the wicked is shown favor,
He does not learn righteousness;
He deals unjustly in the land of uprightness,
And does not perceive the majesty of the Lord.
–  Isaiah 26:9-10

Though God gives insight to everyone through the experiences of life, the wicked are not willing to learn from the consequences of their own folly.  Let us not be like them; let us learn from the consequences of our folly.

Wiser still are we when just a word from the Lord is sufficient.  Therefore…

…”Whatever He says to you, do it.”
–  John 2:5

What Moses said to the people of God applies even more to disciples of Jesus Christ:

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.  So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’.”
–  Deuteronomy 4:5-6

Our growth as disciples brings glory to our Teacher – and all the more so if we learn from His word rather than merely from the hard knocks of life.

Yes, we can learn from the hard knocks of life – but thanks be to God that there’s a source of learning that can prevent some of the hard knocks of life.  A word to the wise is sufficient.

More Thoughts on Being a Disciple 5 of 7

Seeking Feedback from the Teacher

Imagine trying to learn from a teacher who only lectured to you – never gave you any feedback on how you were doing.  It would be very frustrating to attempt to learn from such a teacher.

Jesus gives us feedback.  Consider what Paul said:

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil…but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good…
– Romans 2:9-10

Paul’s statement is consistent with what the prophet Isaiah said:

“There is no peace for the wicked,” says the Lord.
–  Isaiah 48:22

The obedient soul is a soul that is blessed.
The disobedient soul is a soul that is cursed.

Live in such a way that God may bless your soul with positive feedback.