April 15, 2022

The “Way of the Cross” Leads to Easter

By Glenn

Good Friday, the day Jesus hung on that old wooden cross, has been celebrated by Christians for centuries.  It was the culmination of His mission on earth.  The night before his execution he experienced the agony in the garden.  According the the Evangelist Luke 22: 41-44,

41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Instead of running, Jesus embraced the cross, taking on the sins of the world.  He had done nothing wrong.  Instead He bore the weight of the world’s sins and did not shrug.  Altruism, not self gratification, is the Christian vocation.

El Greco, The Disrobing of Christ, 1577–1579, Toledo, Spain

Paul explained the significance of this act of self sacrifice by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2: 9-11

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

   to the glory of God the Father.

The “Way of the Cross” leads to Easter.  Jesus warns, however, that His suffering, death and resurrection were not the end of the story.  

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

How can we possibly take up our cross daily?  The Gospels are full of examples: “Bear Fruit” Luke 3: 8-9

“Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 10And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” 11And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.”

In this passage John is exhorting the crowd to bear good fruit, professing a belief in God is not enough. When pressed for a definition of fruit, John says to share with your neighbors in need. This message is consistent with the 8th century prophets, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah. The consequences of disobedience are clear, barren humans will be cast into the fire.

“The Greatest Commandment” Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus’ ministry built upon the foundation laid by John. God gave the Law not only to foster the relationship between humans and Himself, but also to restore the proper relationship between humans. When asked “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus could have simply ended with “Love the Lord your God.” He didn’t. He chose to expand the answer to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is reaffirming that, yes, I am my brother’s keeper.

“Leave Your Gift at the Altar” Matthew 5: 23-24

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Earlier in Matthew, Jesus says clearly that God does not want to hear our empty words of praise if we are not willing to ask forgiveness from our neighbor. A healthy relationship with God requires a healthy relationship with our neighbors.

“They have Moses and the Prophets” Luke 16:19-31

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. . . . 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

In this passage Jesus explains that his requirements for salvation are not new; everything needed to gain access to the Kingdom can be found in God’s commandments. Human, however, have misunderstood the message. We believe riches are a sign of God’s favor and poverty is a sign of God’s condemnation. Like the Rich Man, we cling to our material processions as if they were God. Jesus warns, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16: 13)

“As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” Matthew 25:31-46

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25 gives the most vivid depiction of the Last Judgment. The Son of Man divides into two groups; there is no middle ground. Again, the judgment does not rest on lineage or belief; it rests upon human actions. Some humans will respond to the Word of God and serve their neighbor, while others will serve themselves.

What does the “Way of the Cross” mean then as we approach Easter?  How can we “take up our cross daily”?  We can serve others the way Jesus served us.  The benefits are priceless.

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