Pain, sorrow, poverty, sickness, disease, violence and death have no redemptive value.
They are not a part of God’s plan to save the world. They are what Jesus came to save us from.
We need to remember that this weekend.
This Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we will have remembrances and celebrations of the cross. Some crosses will be backlit and draped with cloth. Others will be decorated with lilies. We will sing songs about the Wonderful, Beautiful Cross. All of that is good.
But let me encourage and caution my fellow pastors about something as we honor and praise what Jesus did on the cross. We must leave no room for misunderstanding. Let’s be very clear that this is not a celebration of violence and death, but of Jesus’ victory over it.
I’ve never known a church to glorify violence on purpose. But over the years I’ve heard far too many sermons and watched too many passion plays that seem to emphasize the pain and violence of the cross as if pain was the point.
Pain was never the point.
The cross did not become glorious until the tomb was empty.
Why Take Up Our Cross?
When Jesus told the disciples to take up their cross and follow him, I do not believe he was telling them to suffer for him. Some have suffered greatly. Many, including me, never have.
But I do believe he was asking us to be willing to suffer for him.
There is a great difference between the two.
Being willing to suffer is noble. Wanting to suffer is some kind of sickness. Not alleviating suffering whenever we can is sinful.
Jesus doesn’t call us to suffering. He calls us to joy, hope and love. But he was honest enough to let us know that the path to all those wonderful things goes through some painful territory.
Life involves suffering and pain with or without a cross. The cross of Jesus gives purpose to that suffering. It calls us to speak and act redemptively within our suffering. And to relieve the suffering of others.
While there is no nobility in suffering per se, there is great nobility in a willingness to endure suffering, poverty, pain, sorrow and death for a cause greater than ourselves.
That is what Jesus did on the cross, and what he calls us to do when he asks us to take up our cross.
Jesus Never Embraced the Cross
Jesus did not go to the cross easily. He resisted it, despised it and ultimately endured it. But he never embraced it. If we imagine Jesus going to the cross with anything less than rage, anguish, grief and something close to regret, we’re fooling ourselves.
So no, Jesus do not go to the cross easily. But he went willingly. And that’s all that matters.
The early Christians knew this. They did not sing songs about the beautiful cross. As Philip Yancey correctly notes in his brilliant book, The Jesus I Never Knew, it was not until a couple generations after the Romans had outlawed crucifixion that it was ever used as a Christian symbol. It’s unimaginable that anyone who saw a crucifixion in person would have considered using a cross as a symbol of faith.
The Purpose of the Cross
Jesus didn’t endure the cross because he wanted to experience the suffering of shame and separation from God.
He endured the cross because he didn’t want us to experience any of that.
The wonder of the cross is not that Jesus suffered, but that it put suffering in its proper place – as a step along the path, not our final destination.
So what do you think? What does the cross mean to you?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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