10/2/05 Luke 9:22-25 ( Deut. 30:15-end )
22 And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." 23 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
Starting soon on ITV are two programmes. One is "The Real Good Life" in which people leave the hurly burly of life for a quieter, self-sufficient existence. The other is called "Make Me Beautiful" and features many people vying for three opportunities to have cosmetic surgery.
These raise the question, "What is life about?"
Is life about pleasure, prestige, power, possessions, playing it safe, money, fitness, good looks, and/or an idyllic existence?
Jesus points out that there is more to life that all of these things. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
Jesus had just told his disciples for the first time that he would be rejected, killed and rise from death. The disciples didn't want this. They wanted an easy, painless way to glory. The glory of defeating the Romans and establishing a victorious, prosperous kingdom of Israel. The idea of their leader being crucified was abhorrent to them. Crucifixion was a public and common sight in Israel at this time.
A Bible dictionary says this about crucifixion. "A person crucified in Jesus' day was first of all scourged, beaten with a whip consisting of thongs with pieces of metal or bone attached to the end. This was not just done out of cruelty but was designed to hasten death and lessen the terrible ordeal. After the beating the victim was forced to bear the crossbeam to the execution site in order to signify that life was already over and to break the will to live. A sign detailing the crime(s) was often placed around the criminal's neck and then fastened to the cross. At the site the prisoner was often tied (the normal method) or nailed (if a quicker death was desired) to the crossbeam.
The nail would be driven through the wrist rather than the palm, since the smaller bones of the hand could not support the weight of the body. The beam with the body was then lifted and tied to the already affixed upright pole. Pins or a small wooden block were placed halfway up to provide a seat for the body lest the nails tear open the wounds or the ropes force the arms from their sockets. Finally the feet were tied or nailed to the post. It could take days of hideous pain as the extremities turned slowly gangrenous; so often the soldiers would break the victims legs with a club causing massive shock and a quick death. Such deaths were usually done in public places, and the body was left to rot for days, with carrion birds allowed to degrade the corpse further."
No wonder the disciples didn't want to know!
23 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
Christians have crucified their old, sinful nature ( Gal. 2:20 ) and risen to a new, resurrection life. This is the "denial of self" that Jesus refers to. Whilst it is a loss, it is not the loss of anything that is important in the light of eternity. In return the believer receives many things. This may include persecution and suffering. But also forgiveness of sins, peace with God, a joy within, the friendship of Jesus and of other believers, a sense of worth and purpose, the power to live for God, and the prospect of being with God forever with new resurrection bodies.
I suppose we have all heard the expression, "Oh, it's a cross I have to bear", when people refer to a disability. This isn't what Jesus had in mind.
John Howard Yoder; "The believer's cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer's cross must be, like his Lord's, the price of his social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost. . . . It is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come."
Today's Old Testament lesson included. Deut. 30:19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
Jesus offers everyone the chance to chose life. A life of abundance ( John 10:10 ). A life that shows that we are citizens of heaven and not of earth. Let us grasp that life. Face up to the consequences that include rejection, betrayal and aggression from a dying world. When we do, we will not be on our own for we have God's Spirit to guide, strengthen and comfort us.
Not until we have been crucified with Jesus can we be united with Him in His resurrection.
Not until we have cut ourselves off from our old life can we be free to live the new life that God has for us in the power of His Spirit.
In the second day of Lent it is good to be reminded that we are to daily let our wills be broken and submitted to the will of God. It also good to know that Easter is not far away.
The hands of Christ
Seem very frail
For they were broken
By a nail.
But only they
Reach heaven at last
Whom these frail, broken
Hands hold fast.
John Richard Moreland (1880?-1947)