Presented as a devotional, La Junta First Church of the Nazarene's Lenten service and dinner, March 19, 2010:
Like any woman, I like to look at jewelry, and the more sparkly it is the better. Sometimes when we’re at the mall or at Sam’s, the light hits those jewelry counters just right and something catches my eye so that I change my course of direction and go right toward the sparkling gems. “Oooooo,” is my first reaction as my husband groans. I laugh and say, “It’s sparkly,” and then continue walking. He responds, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
I see this as a little joke. I am not really into buying a lot of jewelry, but it is still fun to look and it is fun to hear him groan. I do not know why, it just is.
Have you ever noticed that every jewelry store has crosses for sale? They come in gold, white gold, silver. Some are plain; some adorned with jewels. Even though the jeweled ones are pretty, I prefer wearing my plain cross. There is just something funny to me about adorning something typically used as an instrument of torture.
Beyond the jewelry store, the emblem of the cross comes in various forms. People buy crosses as religious objects, decorative pieces for the home, and as artwork. Artists depict crosses in stained glass, like the one you see above my head in this sanctuary. There are jeweled crosses, crucifixes, crosses with scrolled edges. We see them carved into tombstones and erected upon hills. We even see flowered crosses beside the road from time to time marking the place where a loved one left this world and entered the next.
In my home, I have a photograph hanging on my wall of the plain wooden cross that stands across from the entrance at Point Loma Nazarene University. I walked by that cross several times a day for the four years that I was working on my bachelor’s degree. It is in a beautiful spot. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean and there are flowers and bushes all around it. That cross seems to tell people who enter the campus that the school stands for more than just academia. We also assume that people who wear the cross or who have depictions of it in their home do so because the cross means something to them. However, what does it mean?
Well, I do not think that I have to tell you, a group of people who attend church regularly what the cross means. We all know it is where Jesus suffered a horrible death to become the sacrifice for everyone’s sin, so I thought that I would focus this devotional on what the cross means to me.
Simply put, it means the same thing. It means salvation from sin and ultimately escape from eternal punishment, but there is more to it. Arthur W. Pink, an evangelical writer from the 20th century said, “The nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist. He announces a savior from hell rather than a savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of Fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness.”
A little boy once prayed, “God if you can’t make me a better boy, that’s OK. I’m having a good time the way I am.”
Isn’t this how we are? Changing is hard work, yet, that is to what Christ calls us. I believe changing, is one of the elements of faith that Christ was talking about when he said. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34.
A literal example of this truth was Simon of Cyrene when the Romans forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. One of my commentaries says that whenever the Romans forced someone to carry another’s cross he had to walk behind the condemned. I’m sure that Christ used the example of carrying the cross to describe what it was like to follow him as a word picture because it was familiar to his audience. The Romans crucified thousands of people. This was a common punishment for those who rebelled, so I am sure that the Jewish people knew exactly what Christ meant. Jesus added a new dimension to the word picture, however, because people who carried crosses were usually forced. God expects us to pick up our cross voluntarily. However, carrying our own cross is our only option if we are to follow Christ.
What does carrying the cross mean? What is our cross?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German theologian, went to prison for participating in a scheme to dispose of Adolf Hitler during World War II. From prison, Bonhoeffer wrote “The Cost of Discipleship.” In this book, he said that the Christian enters daily an arena of temptation and that he or she must bear the sins of others and forgive them. A Christian must “abandon the attachments of the world,” he wrote.
“When Christ calls a man,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “he bids him come and die.”
St. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20, NIV).
Therefore, this verse suggests that the cross we must carry is faith in Christ. According to Bonhoeffer, we must shun the temptation to sin; we must bear the burdens of others. In addition to this, as Galatians says that we must also bear our own weight. In essence, we have to give up our very selves to God and put Christ in charge of our lives. This is the cross we must bear – to die to ourselves and allow Christ to live his life through us. In this way, he uses our gifts, our lives, our personalities to do his will in a way that is unique to us. That is how Christ lives in us. We allow Christ to do this because we are grateful that God loved us and gave himself for us.
My generation is visually stimulated and that’s why movies speak to us so effectively. It started when I was seven. The late Johnny Cash narrated and sang songs for a movie called “The Gospel Road.” As a young person, I watched the movie about Jesus’ life with great interest, and then, when the Roman soldiers pounded the nails into his hands, the sounds of the blows seemed to fill the sanctuary and I began to weep. “I did that to him,” I thought over and over, so when my pastor gave the invitation to go to the altar, I went forward and gave my life to Christ. That movie, with its blonde Jesus no less, seems a little tame now when I watch Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.” The pain and rejection and the sickness of man just blows my mind when I watch that movie. I can’t get over the fact that Jesus, a gentle, faultless lamb, would go through all of that pain and rejection for us, but he did. I am grateful for the cross. I am grateful that Jesus suffered so much so that I could have abundant life.
That abundant life comes through denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus. It comes from recognizing and accepting the salvation that only Christ provides. True joy comes when we follow this pathway in life because we unite with God, our creator, and we allow him to mold us into what he wants us to be. This process is very difficult at first because we want to be what we want to be. However, as we give up our lives bit by bit, the Holy Spirit replaces the turmoil with joy as we realize that we are becoming who we truly are. True union comes when we feel joy with God over this fact.
So this is what the cross ultimately means to me—union with God and everlasting joy in him as I give my life away. The cross is not a trinket; it is a lifestyle. It is through the cross that we become reconciled to God and how we live for him.