Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Sleebo Feast
Volume 7 No. 436 September 12, 2017
II. Featured Articles

Boasting in the Cross

By Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: Galatians 6:14

"God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ"
 (Galatians 6:14a NKJV).

A cross is a strange thing to boast about.

Most people boast about other things: their family, their background, their education, their career, their salary, the size of their house, the important people they know, the great deeds they have done, and of course their children and their grandchildren. These things are not wrong in themselves, and it is understandable that we should feel good about our accomplishments, our connections, and our family.

But who boasts about a cross?

In the first century the cross was an instrument of torture, a means not simply of death but of ghastly suffering. Few people today would boast of an electric chair, but even that comparison is not quite right because an electric chair is designed to kill within a few seconds.

Crucifixion was not like that. Historians tell us the Romans were experts at killing. They had learned well the lessons of previous empires. They knew that to stay in power, you must be ruthless against your enemies, so they became experts in execution.

Of all the various ways the Romans had of killing people, crucifixion was the worst because it took so long. The whole point of crucifying a man was to expose him publicly, to nail him up in agony, and to do it in such a way that he might live 24 hours or even 48 hours and in rare cases even 72 hours in unimaginable suffering. There are stories of hundreds of people being crucified at one time, of roads where you could see crosses for miles in either direction, where you could hear the multiplied screams of the dying and the wailing of family members who could do nothing to ease the pain.

Cruel and Unusual

Crucifixion was bloody, brutal, and inhumane. In today's terminology, crucifixion was the ultimate in "cruel and unusual" punishment. Victims were first beaten, then they were stripped and nailed to a cross. Over time the Romans perfected the process so that the criminal would suffer in agony for hours, being forced to raise himself up by placing his weight on the nails in his hands and his feet, every breath a gasp of searing pain. It was torture in its purest form.

When you consider our text in light of that, a question comes to mind. How could anyone boast in a cross?

Paul, what are you thinking?
How could you say such a thing?

To us the cross is beautiful. In fact, it is the singular sign of the Christian faith, which is why the Muslim terrorists in the Middle East make sure they destroy the cross wherever they see it. But we have beautified an object of terror, cleaned it up, and covered it with gold and silver so we can sell it as jewelry.

In the church the cross is beautiful.

That thought would have been unimaginable 2000 years ago.

I don't wish to suggest that we do wrong by making the cross the symbol of our faith, or that it is wrong to wear the cross. Even though I used the world "jewelry," I know that for most people, the cross is more than that. It is a precious emblem of their faith. I'm simply pointing out the irony that a symbol of suffering and shame has become the universal symbol of the Christian faith.

On one hand the cross stands for the faith of the followers of Jesus. It transcends time and culture and language. It unites believers who can't agree on much of anything else. We are the people of the cross called by the One who died on the cross to follow the way of the cross. On the other hand the cross reminds the world that there is no way to God through good works or religion or self-effort. The cross spells the end to man's attempt to gain God's favor. No wonder the world has a hard time with the cross. One verse of a familiar gospel song gives us both sides of this truth:

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

What we love, the world despises.

In his book The Contemporary Christian (pp. 61-67), John Stott discusses five objections modern men and women have to the cross of Christ. Let's meditate on these objections in light of Paul's commitment to boast only in the cross of Christ.

I. The Intellectual Objection

This is what Paul called the "foolishness" of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). When he came to Athens and preached the gospel, the brilliant thinkers of that great city regarded him as a "babbler" (Acts 17:18). The Greek word literally means "seed-picker." It's a term of derision roughly equivalent to "country bumpkin," "chatterbox," or (to quote Eugene Peterson) "airhead." When they heard him preach, it made no sense to them so they dismissed him as a babbler of nonsense. Nevertheless Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23). The Jews could not accept that their Messiah would die like a man under a curse from God. To the Gentiles it seemed absurd. Who could ever believe a thing like that? How could you worship a God who died on a cross?

Those sentiments persist in the 21st-century. Many people think it is absurd to believe that a dying Jew on a Roman cross could save anyone. I can see their point. After all, we believe that the hope of salvation rests in an itinerant Jewish rabbi who was arrested, rejected by his own people, beaten, treated like a common criminal, crucified between two thieves, and buried in a borrowed tomb. Then we go to the world and say, "There is your Savior!"

This isn't, of course, all that we believe about Jesus, but that is how some people hear it. In the face of this, it is tempting to water down the cross and to talk in generalities of God's love for the world. But it is the cross that demonstrates the extent of God's love (Romans 5:8). The cross shows us how far God will go to save us.

Faithfulness to Christ demands that we continue to preach the cross.

II. The Religious Objection

This has to do with the exclusivity of Christ. Recently I talked to an evangelical leader who predicted this will be the next doctrine to go. Already some evangelicals feel uncomfortable with John 14:6 where Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The problem with this verse is not with the words. The words are simple and clear. It's the meaning that some people don't like. Jesus plainly said he was the only way to heaven. In our feel-good, make-everyone-happy, don't-leave-anyone-out age, that verse doesn't fit in. You can almost hear someone saying, "Who are you to claim that your religion is any better than anyone else's? How dare you suggest that only Christians go to heaven."

It sounds positively un-American, very unfriendly, and possibly illegal.

Certainly you won't win many friends by preaching on this verse.

If we consider John 14:6 an anomaly, what do we do with Acts 4:12?

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved."

"No other name."
That's clear, isn't it?

Stott points out that the Corinthians wouldn't have minded if the early Christians had said, "Jesus is a God," meaning that he is one more deity to be added to the bulging pantheon of Greek gods. They would have been happy to push their gods around on the shelf to make room for one more named "Jesus." If Paul had said, "You can have Jesus and keep Zeus too," that would have played well in Corinth. No problem. No issues. No controversy.

But Jesus as the one-and-only way to God?

Paul would not compromise on that point.
Neither should we.

Stott concludes that "what people want is an easygoing syncretism, a truce in inter-religious competition, a mishmash of the best from all religions. But we Christians cannot surrender either the finality or the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. There is simply nobody else like him" (p. 64).

Why was Paul stoned?
Why were the early Christians martyred?
Why were they seen as a threat to Rome?

They taught the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. They would not go along with a watered-down version of their faith that said, "We've got Jesus, but you've got your gods, and it's all the same in the end." Why preach Jesus if there is some other way of salvation? Why sacrifice to take the gospel to the lost if they aren't really lost?

III. The Personal Objection

Many people object to the preaching of the cross because it humbles the proud. The gospel announces that there is nothing—absolutely nothing!—that you can do to save yourself.

This is a hard word for modern man to hear. We're okay with the love of God in a general, fuzzy sense that allows us to feel good about ourselves. We have a hard time with verses like Romans 3:10, "There is no one righteous, not even one," and Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure," and Isaiah 64:6, "All our righteous acts are like a polluted garment."

There is no other religion in the world like Christianity. We are the only people who preach free grace. Ours is the only free religion in the world. Every other religion says, "Do this and live." Our God says, "It has been done for you." The whole gospel comes down to just three little words:

Do vs. Done.

Every other religion is based on works. You go to heaven because of what you do: Give money. Go to church or to the synagogue or the mosque. Pray toward Mecca. Light a candle. Pray all night. Keep the feast days. Give alms to the poor. Offer a sacrifice. Keep the Ten Commandments. Be a good neighbor. Obey the law. Stay out of jail. Be courteous, kind, and forgiving. Try harder. Do your best. Follow the Golden Rule. Live a good life. Many of those things are good and noble and right, but the problem with a religion based on "doing" is that you can never be sure you've done enough. And if somehow you finally do enough, how do you know that you won't blow it all tomorrow by one stupid sin?

The whole difference comes down to this: Christianity is based on what Christ has done for us. Every other religion is based on what we ourselves do.

This verse from Jesus Paid It All makes the message clear:

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I'll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calvary's Lamb.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

If you preach that gospel, some people aren't going to be happy. They won't like it that your church is in their community or that you have moved into their neighborhood. The gospel message of "grace alone" offends the pretensions of modern man. He doesn't want to hear that he is a sinner, and that he can do nothing to save himself, and that if God doesn't save him through Christ, he will not go to heaven.

There is something in us that says, "I am willing to trust Jesus 90%, but I want to throw in my own 10%." God says, "No deal." It's either 100% Jesus or we don't go to heaven at all.

We must preach salvation by grace because the gospel is truly the Good News the world needs to hear.

IV. The Moral Objection

In the first century Rome and Greece were hotbeds of immorality and idolatry. The Greeks created a verb to describe the city of Corinth because it was so perverted, so vile, so given over to fleshly indulgence. They said certain cities were "corinthianized," meaning they had reached the depth of evil typically found in Corinth.

That's how bad the ancient world was. It was wholly given over to licentious behavior.

Into that world came the early Christians preaching the Good News that Jesus Christ could change your life from the inside out. It was, in the deepest sense, a promise of liberation from the sins of the flesh. No mystery religion could do that. No other system of thought could take men and women far gone in sin and set them on the path of holiness.

We can see this very clearly in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 where Paul reminds the early Christians that they had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. The order is all-important:

We turn to God.
We turn from idols.
We turn to serve the living and true God.

You can have Jesus or you can have your idols, but you can't have both at the same time. When Christ comes in, the idols must leave and take their moral filth with them.

That message was unwelcome then.
It is unwelcome now.

If you want Jesus plus your sinful ways, forget it.
You aren't ready to become a Christian.
You don't really want Jesus until you are willing to agree with God about your sin.

There is an upside to this truth. If you are ready and willing to deal honestly with your sin, you can be changed forever by Jesus. Please understand. Coming to Christ is not like slapping a coat of paint on a shack. Coming to Christ is like those renovation shows on TV where they take an old, ramshackle house with sagging porch, broken windows, vermin-infested walls, leaky roof, cracked foundation, and they strip it down and then rebuild it totally so that it becomes a thing of beauty.

Coming to Christ means submitting to his "extreme makeover" of your life. That frightens some people so much that they never come at all. But if you are willing for the Master Carpenter to take over your life, when he is finished, you will be masterpiece of grace for all the world to see.

V. The Political Objection

This is the objection to the lordship of Jesus. Here's an interesting fact about the Romans. Whenever they conquered a new territory, they generally left the local religion in place. They only asked that the people in that region be willing to make an offering saying, "Caesar is Lord." The term they used for Lord was the same Greek word translated "Lord" in the New Testament. As you might expect, Christians across the Roman Empire steadfastly refused to say "Caesar is Lord." They were willing to be good citizens, willing to pay their taxes and to obey Roman law. But they could not violate their conscience by declaring "Caesar is Lord."

As a general rule, Christians ought to be good citizens, we ought to support our leaders as far as we can, and we ought always to pray for them. But we can never give ultimate allegiance to any president, prime minister, king or queen, or any military leader. That's why Christians have gotten in trouble over the centuries. We pledge our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. Any lesser allegiance is just that—lesser. We can't give ultimate allegiance to any human leader even when we are of the same political party. In American terms, Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat. He's far above partisan politics.

He's the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We owe our ultimate allegiance to him alone.

So here are the five objections to the cross of Christ:

The intellectual objection, which says the cross is foolish.
The religious objection, which says the cross is intolerant.
The personal objection, which says the cross is humiliating.
The moral objection, which says the cross is too demanding.
The political objection, which says the cross is subversive.

Those objections were present in the first century, and they are still with us today.

Three Concluding Thoughts

So where do we go from here?

1. We must hold fast to the cross of Christ.

The fact that the world doesn't like it or even objects to it has no bearing on what we must do. The famous London preacher Charles Spurgeon said it this way:

"Jesus died for me." Those are four words to live by, and four words to die by.

We must be ready to live for Christ or to die for him if necessary.

2. If we hold fast to the cross, we must not expect to be popular with the world.

All of us have been saddened by the news of Muslim terrorists who attacked Garissa University in northeastern Kenya. When they attacked the students, they asked, "Are you a Christian?" If they answered, "No, I'm Muslim," the students were spared. If they answered yes, they were killed. When it was over 147 students were dead, some of them shot, some beheaded.

Not everyone killed was a Christian, but most were.
This is the high cost of following Jesus in the 21st-century.

Maybe we need a "back to the cross" movement today. We talk about the love of God, but apart from the cross the love of God is just an ethical concept. We can't separate the love of God from the bloody cross of Calvary.

Samuel Rutherford said, "Christ has no velvet crosses." He wasn't crucified on a velvet cross, and he doesn't have a velvet cross for you and me either.

3. We must hold fast to the cross because it is the only way of salvation.

Jesus died there.
He paid the price.
All our sins were laid on him.

So here's the good news. If you want to go to heaven, Jesus has already paid the price. All you need to do is to take hold of the cross of Christ by faith.

Run to the cross!

Just take the words of that gospel song and make them your own:

Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.

Don't delay. Run, run, run to the cross!
Embrace the Son of God who died for you.
That cross will take you all the way to heaven.

Boasting in the cross?
A cross is an odd thing to boast in.

God forbid that we should boast in anything else.

Copyright © 2015 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

Boasting of the Cross

by William G. Carter

Scripture: Galatians 6:11-18

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

All the triumphant music today does not mask the truth of Holy Week. Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem and he comes to die. He rides down the hill in humble majesty, but he is not the King that Jerusalem wants.

It is difficult to hold this together. We hear today's hosannas, we anticipate the hallelujahs of next Sunday. But sometimes we forget that, in between, Somebody dies. Jesus rides a donkey into the city. The crowds cheer. They cut down leafy branches and wave them in victory. They put their cloaks on the ground, kind of a poor persons' red carpet into the city. Jesus arrives from the Mount of Olives, the very place where the Messiah was to appear. It's a big moment. A huge moment!

But he knows what he is going to face. Halfway down the hill, he pauses for a good view of the city, and he weeps.  "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You are the city that kills the prophets." Then he rides into the city just like a prophet. He goes into the temple and drives out the flea marketeers – just like a prophet. In full sight of the Roman soldiers, he takes on the religious establishment – just like a prophet. Luke says Jesus dies like a prophet. He is innocent (23:47), he is full of God, and therefore he is condemned. He is the prophet, he is the king, and nobody wants him.

I suppose if all we had was Palm Sunday and Easter, we might miss what happens on Friday. Like that church in southern Pennsylvania. The minister is new this year. He stopped in yesterday and discovered that the people in charge of flowers have already decorated the sanctuary with hundreds of Easter flowers, including a large floral cross. They were so pleased with themselves. The minister said, "What are you doing?" "Well, the flowers are so pretty, we thought it would be nice to have them for two Sundays in a row. And it gets people in a good mood for Easter."

Sure does. Nobody has to die. Nobody has to be betrayed, arrested, dragged to a trial, condemned, humiliated, and hammered to a cross. The flowers are too pretty for all of that.

How strange, then, to hear Paul say, "I never want to boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

You could accuse him of being a grump. Call him Eeyore. That's what they did in Corinth. They thought he was a downer, that he took the glad tidings of Easter and turned into a sad story of the cross. They said, "Paul, are you still preaching about the crucifixion of Jesus? That's the same sermon that you preached last week. You're supposed to be an apostle, Paul. Get another sermon!" And he said, "That's the only sermon I have, the only sermon I preach. I preach Christ crucified, even if that's a stumbling block to the Jews and silliness to the Greeks." I guess they will never put him on the flower committee where my friend is the new minister. Paul would show up with cans of black spray paint and deface the tulips.

Or when he heard what was happening in Philippi. It really disturbed him. Paul loved that little church, started it with his own hands. And he hears that some are squabbling with one another, and it tears him up. Some rival preachers have also come in, and they are preaching nonsense and it boils his blood. Just when he might explode, he takes a breath, and says, "Remember Jesus. Have the mind of Jesus. He was One with God, but he didn't clutch that, hold onto that. No, he emptied himself and made himself a servant of all. He gave himself completely away … even to the cross. Remember that, and be like Jesus."

The cross is important to Paul. He never mentions Palm Sunday, and doesn't spend a lot of time speculating about Easter. It's not that he doesn't think Jesus alive; No, he believes Jesus is alive, risen from the dead. There is no doubt in Paul about that. But what tantalizes his theological imagination is the cross. Christ, the king and Lord of all, is crucified.

As he writes to his churches in Galatia, in central Turkey, he says, "The only thing I have to boast about is Jesus on a cross." That's quite an affirmation, because Jesus went to the cross, not Paul. This was the supreme act of Christ's faith, says Paul. He gave himself on the cross to free us from the evil machinery of the world (1:4). He took all the curses of our human imperfection to the cross (3:13). All our arrogance and pride was crucified when Jesus was crucified (2:17-19). If we think God will love us if only we do all the right things and follow all the ancient rules, we are scamming ourselves and headed down a dead end.

Oh no, it is all so much better than that. We boast of the cross because Jesus does on the cross what we cannot do. He sets us free from an endless trap of religious obligation. He liberates from the human obsession to prove ourselves. "All that stuff was killed off with Christ," says Paul. "Jesus set us free to live in freedom with God (5:1)." There is nothing for anybody to boast about – except to boast of what Christ has done for all of us.

Ever know anybody who boasts? We had a classmate in high school who could boast better than anybody. He went out for track, made the team, and told us how fast he could run, how high he could jump. He went out for football, made the starting backfield, told us how good he was, how many points he scored. He did very well in his school work, constantly at the top of the academic gene pool, telling the rest of us about his scholastic average. In fact, he decided that going to a regular college wasn't good enough for him. He was going to West Point. He was nominated by the congressman and appointed to the military academy. Of course, he told us all about it.

Do you know why he boasted? Because he was superior. He believed he was better than everybody else. If you were to ask him, he wouldn't call it boasting; he would call it "telling the truth." He really though he was better than everybody else.

Three weeks after he left for West Point, he was knocking on my door. His countenance was pale. He had a grimace chiseled on his face. "Couldn't cut it," he murmured. "It wasn't for me." I had never seen him like that – he had actually failed at something. He was a mortal like the rest of us. He had come to me as a trusted friend to confess his failure. I was starting to feel some compassion for the guy.

Then he said, "So you're going to the university at Binghamton this fall?" Yes. And he said, "Well, if they can take somebody like you, I'm sure they will take me. I mean, the bar isn't set very high."

Why did he boast? Because he thought he was superior. He really believed it.

Do you remember who crucified Jesus? People who thought they were superior. Jewish religious leaders: they followed God's Law precisely, more perfectly than everybody else. They believed that they were doing the right thing when they condemned him. And who else? Roman officials: they were part of the strongest, fiercest, most efficient empire that the world had ever known. A standard crucifixion was all in a Friday's work. Religious leaders and career soldiers, professionals so sure of their own competence and power that they could boast. And their signature achievement? They killed the Son of God. So much for competence and doing the right thing…

Here's the thing, says Paul. "When I look to the cross of Jesus, all my boasting is crucified and gone. All my expertise is killed off. I have nothing left to stand on, nothing really to brag about. There is nothing superior about me at all. It's as if my whole world of achievements and classifications and status symbols has been killed off." The righteous religious leaders who condemned Jesus were not righteous enough. The competent Roman politicians weren't competent enough. If we were in the same position on the same day, any one of us would have done the same things that they did.

Here's the thing: neither Jew nor Roman Gentile could boast of being superior. Neither religious rule-keeper nor pagan expert is better than the other. All those categories of "success" and "failure" don't matter before the cross. All those descriptions of "superior" or "inferior" don't count any more. It doesn't matter if you are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female – in Jesus Christ, there is a new creation. The adjectives that we use to describe ourselves and other people do not matter.

All that matters is the Risen Christ took all of those distinctions to the cross and did away with them. The God who saves us from "this present age" doesn't see any of us as superior to any other. All God sees is a multitude of children who need to be rescued. Some of them need to be rescued from thinking they are better than anybody else. Others need to be rescued from a lifetime of being treated as dirt.

"This is what I boast about," says Paul: God's saving love. It's right there on the cross of Jesus. No need to impress anybody, because, frankly none of God's children are any better than any other of God's children. God believes we are capable of peace and worthy of mercy. That is the good news of the cross.

To the Galatians, the apostle gives his last word – which is our blessing at the start of Holy Week. "Brothers and sisters," he says – you know he means all of us brothers and sisters. We belong to God, so we are brothers and sisters of one another. Then he gives his blessing: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." The last word is grace. At the end of everything else, there is grace. Divine favor – that's grace.

And it isn't our grace. It is the grace of Jesus, the Living One, who died to set us free. We didn't have to do anything to earn it; he did all the heavy work for us. That's why it is grace.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

Christ's Cross Eases Suffering, Teaches Love - Pope Francis

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

With his cross and resurrection, Christ promises to walk with and ease the burden of every suffering person, whether that suffering comes from violence, addiction, a broken family, hunger, persecution or the death of a loved one, Pope Francis said.

In his reflection, Pope Francis told the young people that in every encounter with Christ's cross, they can draw strength from him and they can leave the heaviest part of their burden with him.

Through the cross, the pope said, Jesus also unites himself with "those young people who have lost faith in the church, or even in God, because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel."

Pope Francis did not get specific about the forms of counter-witness, but his words brought to mind the well-known Via Crucis meditations written in 2005 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, only weeks before he became Pope Benedict XVI, in which he denounced "filth" in the church, which was widely interpreted as a reference to clerical sex abuse.

At the same time, Pope Francis also has denounced the counter-witness of clergy and other church personnel who see ministry more as a career or who drive around in fancy cars or exhibit an extravagant lifestyle in other ways.

The meditations read during the service also focused on drawing strength from Christ's cross and healing one's wounds in the wounds of Christ. Each written from the perspective of a different person in the church -- including a missionary, an engaged couple, a pro-life activist, students, those who use social networks -- the meditations asked Jesus for the strength to follow and imitate his service to others.

Pope Francis began his reflection recalling the pilgrimage of the World Youth Day cross, which has been carried across oceans, mountains and plains in preparation for each international youth gathering. The cross was carried from station to station along the Avenida Atlantica to the main stage.

"It is, as it were, almost 'steeped' in the life experiences of the countless young people who have seen it and carried it," the pope said. "No one can approach and touch the cross of Jesus without leaving something of himself or herself there, and without bringing something of the cross of Jesus into his or her own life."

At the center of the Christian faith, he said, is the certainty that "Jesus, with his cross, walks with us and takes upon himself our fears, our problems and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful."

Pope Francis did not leave his mention of the wounds vague; he said Jesus united himself "to the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and defenseless," to families in difficulty, to those addicted to drugs and to "every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day."

The suffering Jesus walks with those persecuted for their faith or discriminated against because of the color of their skin, the pope said. And he draws close to "so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions because they see in them only selfishness and corruption."

Jesus is beside those mourning the more than 200 young Brazilians who died in a fire in a nightclub in Santa Maria in January, the pope said, adding to his prepared remarks.

But it is not only the faults, violence or wrongs committed by others that Jesus takes upon himself, Pope Francis said. "The cross of Christ bears the suffering and the sin of mankind, including our own."

In taking on people's burdens, he said, Christ leaves treasure of knowing what great love God has for each person, "a love so great that it enters into our sin and forgives it, enters into our suffering and gives us the strength to bear it."

Looking out over the crowd lining the beach as far as the eye could see, Pope Francis told the young people that God's love "is a love in which we can place all our trust, in which we can believe."

With Christ, he said, "evil, suffering and death do not have the last word because he gives us hope and life: he has transformed the cross from an instrument of hate, defeat and death into a sign of love, victory and life."

Pope Francis encouraged the young people to let themselves be "smitten" by God's love and allow it to transform the way they see others, so that they would treat everyone -- especially the hurting -- with mercy and tenderness."

Drawing a page from classic Ignatian spirituality, Pope Francis told the young people to imagine themselves as one of the characters in the Gospel account of Jesus' passion and death.

"Be like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood," he said, or "like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness."

The Cross Has Always Caused Problems
A Pastor on Northern Vancouver Island wrote to online study group this message:

"I'm having difficulty with the Gospel this week; what is this cross that I am to take up, and what am I to deny in following Jesus?"

Another Pastor, a student minister in the United States wrote:

"I find this a hard gospel text because it talks about suffering rather than joy."

The cross has always caused problems to people. Brutal and barbaric - the
cross was a tool of political power for the Romans. They maintained their
power because of the fear of death on the cross.

When one was condemned by the state, the condemned literally had to "take
up his cross" and carry it to the public place where he was to be crucified. It was part of the humiliation process, the mechanism of social control for which crucifixion was invented.

The cross was an instrument of suffering and shame - and no more so than among the Children of Israel - where the scriptures themselves declare: "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree".

To die on a cross was a sign that one died cut off from God, and cut off from the people of God - a sign that the person was rejected. And of course in the case of Jesus this was very true.

Richard J. Fairchild, If Anyone Would Follow Me

The Cross of Christ

by Dr. James MacDonald

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
- 2 Corinthians 5:21

The cross of Jesus Christ is the signature symbol of the central event in the history of civilization. Yet, today we depict the cross as common. Jewelers pound it into all sorts of finery so we can staple crosses to our ears and wear them around our necks.

Merchandisers manufacture this symbol of unlimited atonement into fuzzy things for our rearview mirrors or decorations for our gardens. From teacups to T-shirts, people have used the cross to corner the market on crassness. Department stores hawk chocolate-covered crosses for Holy Week. Baseball players and businessmen cross themselves before a big moment. The cross itself has become big business, but it was never intended to be some lucky trinket. This is profanity in the truest sense. Is it any surprise we have lost the wonder of what happened on Calvary?

The resurrection of Christ was the event that accomplished salvation and verified Christ's victory over death, but it was the cross of Jesus Christ that showed us the grace of God. Everything that God wants us to know about Himself comes together in those crossbeams.

Our entire purpose in life is to elevate the Cross. Think on Jesus Christ there. In your mind's eye, picture Him stretched out against the sky. What's He doing up there? Answer: He's subbing for you and me. He's taking God's wrath for your sin. He's satisfying the just demands of a holy God. He's paying the price that God's holiness requires so that you and I can be forgiven. In the place where our blood should have stained the ground, Jesus hung as our substitute.

You can't understand the Gospel until you understand this idea of substitution. Jesus' death was in the place of every person who has ever lived. I am in that line. You are too. Each of us deserves to die in payment for our own sin, but Jesus stepped in and took that penalty for each of us.

- James MacDonald

My heart overflows with gratitude when I think of Jesus Christ taking upon Himself the penalty that was mine to bear! Lord, You demonstrated such love that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Put yourself in the picture! Whenever you see a picture of Jesus on the cross, in your mind's eye picture yourself there. Picture your face in the place of Jesus' face. See your blood spilling down in place of His. You should have been there, but Jesus took your place.

Source: Walk in the Word


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