The Cross of Jesus

The Cross of Jesus  2/24/13

Believe  it or not, there is disagreement today across groups of Christians about the  meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. When I grew up, we learned very early in Sunday School that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and the sins  of all people. Today, that isn’t always the case in the broader Christian  community and, even among ourselves I would guess that we often fail to see the  true importance of the cross of our Lord as the center and very source of our  ongoing life with God. A good example of how other Christians see this is that  Lutherans seem to get accused of being great Good Friday Christians, but poor  Easter Christians and even worse Pentecost Christians. I think what our critics  would have us believe is that the Christian faith is more than just Jesus’ death  on the cross; it’s about new life in God and a spirit-filled life with God. I am  the first person to say that yes, the gem of the Gospel has more than one facet,  but first and always the faith of orthodox Christians is rooted firmly in the  cross, that is the suffering and death of Jesus Christ for sin. The cross of  Jesus is the center and source of our faith.

In the  Gospel reading today, are Jesus’ own words. Jesus himself says his suffering and  death in Jerusalem is the purpose and reason he is sent into this world. So here  we have our Lord Jesus speaking clearly and prophetically about his mission and  purpose in this world. “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and  tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for  it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

These  words foretelling his death stand at the center of the narrative surrounding  Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Scholars who do these kinds of things note that  this passage occurs right in the middle of the so-called “Travel Narrative” of  Luke’s Gospel. All that means is that in what Luke records as the stories  surrounding Jesus’ travel out of Galilee, into Judea and then up to Jerusalem,  our passage today stands quite squarely in the middle of that section. This  should not surprise us as we know that Luke has set down an “orderly account” of  the life and ministry of Jesus. But it makes Luke out to be a tremendous  theologian by putting this section at the very center of his Gospel and Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem at the center of this passage, the center of the center,  as it were. With reference to the third day and noting that as a prophet, he  must go to Jerusalem to die, as appointed, there is no doubt what future event  Jesus is foretelling. These words foretelling his death stand at the center of  the narrative surrounding his travel to Jerusalem where he will die on the  cross.

In the  first half of what Jesus says here, he sounds like a prophet describing the  ministry of the long promised Messiah. Casting out demons and healing the sick  have been the draw for tremendous crowds to see Jesus. Jesus seems to be saying  that these miracles in themselves testify to the mercy of God being poured out  on the people. But there is a shift in his tone. “On the third day, I am brought  to my goal,” he says. Just as Jesus has been releasing people from the bondage  to sickness and demonic forces he will be brought to the goal when the final  release for all people is won, on the third day, his day of resurrection. The  goal is what Jesus was sent by the Father to accomplish in this world. In the  previous chapter he has already spoken of his bloody baptism on the cross as  accomplishment. It could only be clearer if Luke had recorded Jesus’ words at  the cross as “It is accomplished.” Luke didn’t; John did. But nevertheless,  Jesus’ cross is the center and purpose of everything he came into this world to  accomplish.

And so  for us then here is a lesson. The center of faith is not carrying out the Great  Commission, or feeding the poor, or even treating one another as you yourself  would like to be treated. As important as those things are, the center of faith  must be the cross of Jesus our Savior because it is the source of our faith. It  was on the cross that he stretched out his arms and gathered us to himself to  protect us, to rescue us, to save us from sin and death and the devil. It is  under the outstretched arms of Jesus our Lord that he pours onto us the water  from his side, washing away our sins in his death. There in his own death we  have life. The wages of our sin have been paid in his bloody body hanging as  cursed for sins and transgressions under the Law. There his blood is poured out  for us as a blood covering, a propitiation for sin. The cross is not just the  center of our faith, but the source of our faith.

Too often  we stray from this center. Many of us stray from the shelter of the cross,  certainly because there is so much work to do in God’s kingdom. For those of us  who stray off in this direction it is as if the cross shows us the need for  sacrifice for others or how hard following Jesus and continuing the work of the  kingdom might be. And the tricky thing is, it is! But we focus here, the true  center and source of faith and love begins to fade softly into the background.  Faith then really slowly stops being about what Jesus has done for us and  becomes more about us and what we think should happen in his name. “He must  decrease so that we might increase,” to turn the phrase on its head. There are  other directions too. There are some who simply and flatly reject that Jesus  accomplished anything on the cross. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day would certainly  fall into that camp. Modern day Jews, and Muslims, Unitarians and even many  people who bear the name Christian reject any sense of Jesus being punished for  the sin of the world and make faith out to be something we do, we believe, we  drum up as if God is lucky to have us believing in him in whatever way we can  muster and so anyone who does this act of believing no matter what the center  is, it is God pleasing. This is clearly not the case. In Jesus own words, he has longed to gather his people under his wings. No, the  center of our faith is the cross of Jesus. It is the focus and object of our  faith and Jesus intends it to be.

Does that  mean that all we are to do is stand huddled under the dripping blood of our  Savior? Well, yes and no. No, in the sense that there are hungry people to feed  and naked people to clothe and sick people to heal and homeless people to  shelter. But we don’t do those things from any sense of altruism or  philanthropy, that is, not out of the bigness of our hearts, but precisely  because we know how corrupt our hearts really are. We do it because we ourselves  have been fed and clothed and healed and even sheltered at the foot of the cross  of our Lord. And so in this sense, yes, we stand here pulling others in out of  the scorching heat, out of the hunger and out of the nakedness of the world and  into the Church were we have found our shelter and protection—under the wings of  Jesus. In this way the cross is the center and source of our faith in God and  love toward others. The cross of  Jesus is the center and source of our faith. Jesus stretched out his arms and  died gathering us to himself. He longed to do so. He gathered us. In the shelter  of his cross, the holy Church, we reach out to others so that they might be  washed and fed and clothed with Christ. Amen.

A Message  from Rev. Rev. Andrew Smith, Hickory, North Carolina, brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church,  Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact  Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it  On Project

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