Let the words my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
We Christians use a lot of symbols in our worship and in even in the construction of the buildings we worship in. If you want a good sample of Christian symbols, take note of the decorations on the Chrismon tree. Obviously, one of the main symbols is the cross. Look around. How many crosses do you see here in the sanctuary? We all see the one on the altar. And there’s the one behind me. Do see others? What about in the stained-glass windows? How many of you are wearing necklaces with crosses on them? Certainly, I have one that is very unmistakable. I even wear one on a chain around my neck. Then there’s the one on the steeple outside and the one in the square of flowers we decorate at Easter. Even the floor plan of the church building is in the shape of a cross.
In addition, we often use the phrase “bearing a cross.” For us today, that generally means putting up with an inconvenience or hardship. For Jesus it meant carrying the cross, or at least the crossbeam for him to die on.
How different our image is of the cross of the first century. It was an image of extreme repugnance, an instrument of pain, cruelty, dehumanization, and shame. The cross symbolized the hated Roman oppression and was reserved for the lowest social class. It was ever present and was made visible to all who dared to look at the corpses as they walked along a road. In 71 B.C. the Roman general Crassus defeated the slave-rebel Spartacus and crucified him and six thousand of his followers and displayed them along the Appian Way between Rome and Capua. In Mark’s day, Nero crucified and burned Christians who were falsely accused of setting fire to Rome. So the cross was not something that was admired as having good qualities or memories. It was certainly not something anyone was proud of. It was quite the opposite.
Abraham was an old man. His wife Sarah was old. Yet they had been promised a son, who was yet to be born. And through this son there would be offspring that would be as many as the stars in the sky. Abram had already lived a long life and had a son Ishmael by Sarah’s servant, Hagar. One day God visited Abram and upon God announcing who he was, Abram fell on his face. He told Abram, who was now to be called Abraham of this covenant—that Sarai, now to be called Sarah would be the mother of this child.
Earlier in his life, Abraham had not been the type of person you like to model your life around. Sure, he had moved to the land God had promised him early in life, and even rescued Lot from his enemies. But when it came to his accumulation of wealth, his life became questionable at best. But God chooses whom he chooses, and he chose Abram. God told him that Sarah, who was now ninety, would conceive, and she would give rise to nations. Abraham fell on his face again but this time he laughed. His laugh was one of unbelief at first. God told him to call his son Isaac, which means “he laughs”. But it was on that very day that Abraham circumcised all the males in his household, a sign of his belief, or trust in God.
Paul used this story in his letter to the Romans to show them that it was not through the OT law that brought about this covenant between God and Abraham. But it was through Abraham’s trust in God, his faith in God, that he and Sarah would have a son. Paul was emphasizing faith in God, faith Jesus Christ that brings about salvation. God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Paul further writes that righteousness will be reckoned, or credited, those of “us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”
So Peter was wrong in rebuking Jesus. He could not conceive of a messiah being killed. But in Peter’s defense he and the other disciples had not grasped God’s definition of Messiah. It was larger than they could have imagined. It was not overthrowing the Roman tyranny. It was about eternal salvation for all believers. It was about trading our sins and their punishment onto one who was sinless. It was about God finding us not guilty of the crimes, the sins we commit. It was about faith, trust.
Therefore, we are to have faith. And having faith sometimes isn’t all that easy. It wasn’t easy for a hundred-year-old Abraham to believe his 90-year-old wife would have a baby. Jesus even told us we must deny ourselves and take up our own cross and follow him.
Now the question comes down to whether we as Christians have situations in which public pressure might lead us into denying our faith? We know that Christian faith is not always welcome in the workplace. Children and youth can feel the pressure also. Coaches sometimes threaten to throw kids off teams if they insist on attending church rather than practice or even have games on Sunday morning (even Easter Sunday!). Compared with the dangers faced by those in the first couple of centuries of Christianity, our discomfort with religion in public places may seem trivial. But loyalty to Christ in such situations is important.
Fred Craddock, author and called a “preaching genius, in an address to pastors pointed out the reality for most Christians in this country is seldom a life-and-death matter. He wrote back in 1984: “We think giving our all to the Lord is taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting 25ȼ here and 50ȼ there…Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done with little acts of love, 25ȼ at a time.”
It was Jesus who was raised up on the cross for our sins. It is because he died for us that we can see a wonderful cross, magnificent cross, one that we are not on. An empty cross, knowing that after dying he was raised from the dead and that he lives
Jesus calls us to follow him, to be committed to him, serving him, even if it’s 25ȼ at a time, little acts of love!
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