The Cross is Jesus Suffering with Us and Because of Us

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today I want to take a look at the paradoxical nature of the cross. The cross is simultaneously judgment, and forgiveness all in one. And whether the cross is judgment or forgiveness is often the result of perspective.

Andrew Sung Park writes this,

“When the cross of Jesus is seen from the perspective of the oppressed, it signifies God’s suffering with them; seen from the perspective of oppressors, the cross means God’s suffering because of them”.

And this little difference – makes a huge difference.

The truth is that God suffering on the cross signifies God’s solidarity with all who have been abused, oppressed, or hurt through evil. God knows what it is to be killed by an empire about power, oppression, and might.

Yet the cross is also simultaneously reminding us that God’s death is because of oppressors. That the death of Jesus Christ is the result of oppressive systems, people, and regimes that use violence to make peace. The cross stands in judgment of those systems, and offers forgiveness to those who are oppressors.

The trouble with this, or the offensive part of this is that we like to most identify with the oppressed. We like to most identify with the God who suffers with us, not because of us. 

But the truth is that I am not really all that oppressed (I’m white, western, male, and educated). And the reality is that most of us probably reading this are not the oppressed in many significant ways. Through simply being born in the West many of us have inherited much privilege that others do not have.

I bring this up because I know personally I would much rather look at the cross as a place of God’s solidarity with me, but I know if I’m going to be honest I also need to look at the cross as a place of God’s judgment with me. Of the ways in which I can and do participate in systems that hurt other people. The difficulty is that in today’s day and age we don’t often see the ways in which our actions contribute to hurt around the world. We don’t see how our privileges might be at someone else’s expense.

I say this all not to make anyone feel guilty – because I believe guilt is a terrible motivator. I say this all because what God has been speaking to me and reminding me of is that yes the cross is a giant reminder that I’m forgiven. But the cross is also a giant reminder that there is evil in the world, and it’s often in us.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said,

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

And I think the answer to Solzhenitsyn’s question is – Christians should be willing to destroy a piece of their own heart. Christians should be willing to do the hard work of examining our hearts and seeing how we might change. Christians should be the most motivated to change because when we look at the cross we know two things: 1) we are forgiven and included, so we should not be scared or fearful of doing a courageous moral inventory; 2) we all have sin and evil within us, so we should know we need to do a courageous moral inventory.

So I say this all to remind us of one simple thing: we should be so grateful for God’s forgiveness, so grateful that we do the hard work of examining why we need it. Because if you are anything like me there are actions I need to cut out, there are habits I need to be freed from, there are revelations from God’s Spirit as to the best path I need to hear. But it is easy to ignore doing the hard work of inwardly looking.

I just think that the cross invites us to do that hard work of inwardly reflecting on our lives. The cross says to us we are welcomed and included, but that there are parts of all of us that need to be changed. May we have the courage to really examine our lives, listen to the Spirit, and make changes so that we might not only accept the gift of grace from Jesus Christ – but live like him.

“Jesus Fights Bad Guys Daddy”

IMG_6616The other day I saw Asher drawing intently. He was just really going at it and was so excited. And he said “Look Daddy, look at what I drawed”. I asked him what it was and he said, “It’s Jesus! He’s ALIVE Daddy! He’s Alive!!”

I thought that it was really very cool that he knew that Jesus was alive. I felt like…well that I was a good dad and even better pastor. And then I asked him what was happening on the other part of the page and he said, “Daddy those are the bad guys, Jesus is getting them.”

“Oh” I said, “Jesus is fighting and getting all the bad guys?” And he looks at me seriously and says, “Yep daddy, Jesus is getting the bad guys.”

I thought to myself that maybe I wasn’t as great a dad/pastor as I thought. Because Asher is all boy and is always turning things into weapons (like tape measures) and batarangs (like hangers). He’s always dancing around being a ninja, a knight, or an angry bird. He loves to wrestle, and I thought this was all just influencing his thoughts about Jesus.

Until of course I realized that Asher is right: Jesus does fight the bad guys.

Sometimes when we think of Jesus we just think he is all “nice, meek, and mild”. We hear that Jesus is love (which is true) but then think Jesus is passive (not true). We imagine Jesus just being a really nice person who lets us do whatever we want, smiling all the time. But that’s not really the picture that the Bible paints of Jesus. Yes Jesus is love incarnate, but love isn’t passive. Love actively stands against injustice, love actively stands up for the hurting, love doesn’t let the status quo reign. The cross is the supreme self revelation of God – revealing God to be self-sacrificial love. But the cross is also the place where Jesus does fight the bad guys of sin, death, darkness, injustice, and evil.

So while I don’t want to read too much into a 3 year old’s drawing of spots, and red marker – I think Asher is on to something. Jesus is love, but Jesus is also a protector. Jesus is also a savior from evil and injustice. Jesus does fight the bad guys, not in the way we would with violence and retribution, but he does fight the bad guys none-the-less.

Of course Asher probably wasn’t thinking about how Jesus fights the bad guys with non-retributive love and self-sacrifice when he drew his picture…but either way he is on the right path.

On that day Asher reminding  me about an important part of who Jesus is: getting the bad guys. So today if you are struggling in a tough part, Asher would want to remind you that Jesus is with you, standing up for you, and standing against the dark. I think that’s a good reminder.

The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Devils, Distance, and Drawing Close ~ James 4

hand-of-god-1383050-1280x960On Sunday we looked at another pretty challenging teaching of James, but also one filled with hope and promise.

James writes this, ““So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you”. (James 4:7-8)

James is sharing that the heart you respond to God with, is how he will respond to you. That if you are open to God, seeking God, humbling yourself to God – he will draw you close. But if you are pushing him away, fighting him, and rejecting him – God honours our freedom but still seeks to care and have compassion for us.

So James reminds us to check our hearts, to see if they are pushing God away, or opening up to him. 

James also reminds us that if we resist the devil he will flee from us. And as I’ve said before, even if you don’t believe in the devil, you’ve experienced him. In the Bible the devil is the source of accusation, fear, and someone who actively seeks to separate ourselves from God. The truth is we have all felt accusation, and fear which separates us from God.

James wants to remind us that this doesn’t need to be so. That if we just were to resist the accusation, the guilt, the fear, the separation, the devil would flee and we would move closer to God. That if we would but draw close to God, he will draw close to us and the devil must flee as we move closer to God.

We ended up with a pretty clear main idea, that we need to repent and rely on God. 

God promises to be there with us, to push away the devil, accusation, guilt, and fear but we need to repent and rely on him. As long as we are going our own way, as long as we assert our independence, as long as we pretend we don’t need him – he can’t help us. He can’t help us when we are resisting and pushing him away.

So on Sunday to make this real, we did something I don’t often do. We did an altar call. We invited people to simply come forward who wanted to physically say to God ~ I need you in some area. And that was it.

But sometimes we need to do something tangible to connect with God. And the truth is we are all broken and need God, so we can all use with doing something tangible. 

So if you are in the place where you need God today – do something tangible. Maybe kneel, maybe write out your needs, maybe ask someone to pray. But do something, because God’s promise is that if you move closer to him, he’ll move closer to you.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We need to repent and rely on God.

Teaching Points:

  • “God gives what he demands” – Augustine
  • God will respond with the heart you have for him.
  • One of the primary roles of Satan is to separate God and people.
  • Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.
  • How often do we try to go it alone and hide our flaws?
  • We live with a lack of light, because we refuse to rely on him.
  • We need to repent and rely on God.

Adult Discussion Questions:

“The reason we struggle isn’t because we can’t overcome our failures, but because we are too proud to ask God to move.”  What do you think of this statement? Have you experienced the truth of these promises: that God WILL come near as we come to Him in true humility, and that Satan WILL flee from us as we resist him? What do you need to repent of? Confess? Get clean from? Admit? (Remember, this is how James says we come closer to God – it is crucial in our relationship with Him) About what things are you too proud to admit the truth? (Our pretending prevents God from working) How can you practically turn from these things and rely on God, beginning today?

 

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Have you ever needed help with something, but you didn’t want to admit that you couldn’t do it alone? How can we come to God today, letting Him be the one that helps us through our weaknesses and failures?

Challenge for the Week: To repent and rely on God…today.

The Problem of Evil, Theodicy, and the Power of Story

dark-cloud-1539729-1599x1066The problem of “theodicy” (evil, and cruelty in the world) is a problem that theologians have wrestled with for decades. I read this one line a little while ago and it really resonated with me.

What do you think of it?

We don’t have an argument that solves the problem of the cruel world, but we have a story – Francis Spufford