Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bearing Your Cross

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Matthew 10:34-42

You’ll remember Simon of Cyrene, of course. The man who has been immortalized as the one who carried the cross of Christ. When Jesus could go on no longer, the Roman soldiers grabbed this guy out of his innocent-bystanderness in order to pick up Jesus’ cross so that He could go on to the Place of the Skull. The cross of Christ is the crux of history. We talk about Jesus bearing the cross. Does it take away from what He did knowing that He couldn’t even carry His cross to Calvary? Is it presumptuous of Jesus to say to us that we must bear our cross when He Himself didn’t even carry His own?

No, it doesn’t take away from what He accomplished, because He didn’t come to bear His cross but ours. He has no cross to bear. He did choose, however, to bear our cross. In the Roman form of punishment, the criminal was compelled to carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion. But though the Romans were crucifying Jesus, they weren’t dictating the form of punishment He suffered. God Himself was. Christ did not come to carry a wooden cross to a hill. He came to bear the burden of our sin. He walked that path to the hill on which He was crucified in order to carry a burden beyond what those Roman soldiers could imagine. Little did they know that the man they were prodding up the hill of Golgotha was the one who would be taking away all their sins.

So if Christ has born the cross for us, why does He say that if we do not carry our cross and follow Him we are not worthy of Him? It’s important for us to understand what carrying our cross is and what it isn’t.

What it is is suffering. What it isn’t is looking for suffering. Suffering on account of Christ doesn’t mean we go moping around. You know those people Jesus talked about who pray on the street corner so others can see how holy they are? In the same way that we’re not to do that, we are not to go around making sure everyone knows we are bearing a cross for Christ. Seemingly the opposite of what Christ is calling us to, it may not seem to the world at all that we are bearing a cross. We are in fact to be joyful in our enduring of our suffering.

Living as a Christian is kind of like a achieving a balancing act. If you think what the gymnasts have been doing the last four years in preparing for the Olympics this summer is impressive, they’ve got nothing on us. And I’m being serious. Obviously, physically speaking they are without peer in regards to balancing. But what a Christian needs to do in his or her life in carrying one’s cross doesn’t require talent, but something that has nothing to do with what a gymnast does. It requires faith. No matter how much talent, how much drive, how much work you put in, an Olympian, or even the greatest Christian, cannot accomplish the single thing that is needed to bear one’s cross—faith.

Faith is simple trust in your Lord Jesus Christ who bore the cross for you. It sounds simple doesn’t it? So why do you fail so miserably so often in your following of Jesus? It’s because you don’t see your life as a balancing act. You see it as a means to achieving happiness for yourself. Faith, by contrast, locks on to Jesus. Faith does not see bearing one’s cross as a necessary evil but as a natural part of following Jesus. But this is so unnatural to our sinful flesh, which is constantly concentrated on itself. Jesus’ call is to discipleship. To denial of self. To accepting suffering as the will of God in your life as a Christian. It means denial of self even to the point of loss of life itself.

What bearing one’s cross means is not that we can’t do anything we enjoy. God, after all, did create life and created it for our enjoyment of it. Bearing our cross does not mean we don’t have any fun. It doesn’t mean we become a monk or are miserable every second of the day. What it means is that we don’t seek our enjoyment of those things at the expense of bearing our cross. We certainly are not to hate our parents and family. God commands us to honor our parents and love our family. But we may be more concerned about how they feel about us than about what our Lord Jesus Christ thinks of us. If the things of this world are more important to us than what God wills for us, even if it means suffering, even if it means suffering unto death, then we are not worthy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bearing our cross is not a way to gain favor with God. It is a way for God to show His favor to us. This might sound odd. If God wants to show His favor to us, why make our lives difficult? It’s like the saying, with friends like these, who needs enemies? But here is where we see one of the most important things that God does for us and how He does it: and this that He loves us. We know He loves us, of course. But the way He does it is not only by the Gospel, by the pure abounding grace He pours out upon us in His Son Jesus Christ. It is also through the Law. It is through His hammering work upon our stone cold hearts. This is truly an act and work of love by our gracious God. If something’s broke, it needs fixing. That’s what God does in His work of the Law. He breaks our stony hearts so that we may see our guilt and our need for His salvation. How loving would He be if He ignored our sin and let us go on our merry way to hell?

His work of giving us a cross to bear is similar. We may not like it, but it is His loving work He does in our lives. Without a cross to bear we would get soft. We might even think we don’t need God. But bearing your cross is not a demand on you. Our sinful flesh sees it as that and rebels against it, but it is actually a blessing from God. Jesus brings this home in the last two Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” He doesn’t say we are blessed by Him if our cross is removed from us, but if we bear our cross.

How do we bear our cross? We prayed this morning in the Collect of the Day for our Lord to “grant that we may gladly hear [His] Word proclaimed among us and follow its directing.” One of the simplest things we can do as Christians to bear our cross and follow Jesus is also one of the hardest: be in the Word of God. Read it. Study it. Meditate upon it. When there are so many other appealing things to read; or to watch on TV; or simply things to do—it’s hard to hunker down and really get into the Word of God.

Why did Jesus use the term “cross” to describe what a person must bear if he is to be a follower of Him? Because the cross is the premiere symbol of self-denial. Jesus makes this clear in His very next words: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Consider the cross the Christian bears in light of the cross Jesus bore. Jesus denied Himself. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” Jesus is not asking of us to forget who we are or to get rid of everything that is important or enjoyable to us.

But He is straightforwardly telling us that He comes first in our lives. If we can’t do something as simple as be in the Word of God on a daily basis, how worthy can we expect ourselves to be? If this sounds like Law, that’s because it is. It is exactly what our selfish hearts need to hear. Because in hearing it we see what is behind it, and that is pure love; grace, mercy, and peace from God our Savior and our Lord Jesus Christ. He invites you to be in His Word so that you may be strengthened by Him to stand firm in the day of trial. He invites you to His Holy Supper so that you may be comforted and forgiven. He reminds you daily of your new Birth in Christ through the water and the Word so that you may know that this reminder is really nothing else than His granting to you of eternal life. Amen.


No comments: