July 30, 2019

Thinking About the Cross-Bearing Life




Jesus says in order to be His disciple, we must take up our cross daily and follow Him. That means we accept our own wounds and limitations as being nailed to the cross of Christ and fully surrendered to Him. Jesus completely takes on Himself all our pain and suffering. So, we completely identify our lives with Jesus - what He stands for and what He wants to accomplish through us. Our human frailties, which have caused us many painful experiences, we now fully accept and surrender to Christ. He has experienced our pain and suffering and made it His pain and suffering. Our lives are made fully complete through faith in Jesus - and in Him alone. 

In identifying with the crucified Christ, we enter into the work that He finished on the cross for us - His taking upon Himself all our sins and transgressions. It was all included in His cry, "My God, My God, why have You forsakened me?" (Mt 27:46) This was the moment of our redemption. His cry upon the Cross was our cry of alienation from God. And now, by completely surrendering to Him, our cry is taken up into His cry and transformed by His resurrection. Rather than condemning ourselves for our weaknesses and making self-conscious efforts to try to be better, we surrender ourselves completely to the crucified Christ who shed His blood on the cross for us. There is no way of healing from our pain and suffering except through the love of Jesus that forgives seventy times seven and keeps no score of wrongdoings. 

The unmistakable sign of Christian disciples who have actually experienced the forgiveness of Jesus is the Spirit-given capacity to forgive their enemies. Jesus says, "Love your enemies and do good, then you will have great reward and be a child of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and to the selfish." (Lk 6:35) Jesus, the crucified Christ, is not only an example to the people of God. He is the living power and wisdom of God who empowers them to reach out hands of healing to those who have hurt them. As we more clearly hear Him pray for His murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34), He will turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. At the foot of the cross of Jesus we are all forgiven enemies of God, who are empowered by His love to extend forgiveness to others. 

In the agony of the cross Jesus said: "I know every moment of the sin, selfishness, dishonesty and degraded love that has disfigured your life. Yet I do not judge you unworthy of compassion, forgiveness and salvation. Now be like that with others. Judge no one." It's only when we claim with heartfelt conviction the love of the crucified Christ and risen Lord, that we can overcome all fear of judgement. As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, as if we are what we have, as if we are what other people think of us, we will remain filled with judgments, evaluations and condemnations. We will continue to feel the need to "put people in their place." To the extent that we embrace the truth that our core identity is not rooted in our successes nor our popularity but in the passionate, pursuing, "reckless" love of God embodied in His crucified Son - to that degree we let go of our need to judge others. We become free from the need to judge others by claiming for ourselves this foundational truth: "I am a child of God." We are loved by our heavenly Father. This is what Jesus means when He says, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged." (Mt 7:1) John says it this way, "In love there is no room for fear." (1 Jn 4:18)

The only true wisdom we have is our own experience of the love of the crucified Christ. It's our awareness that nothing - not the negative judgments of others, not our wrongful perception of ourselves, not our scandalous past, nor our fear, guilt, and self-loathing, not even death - can separate us from the love God made visible to us on the cross of Calvary. This awareness is where our true wisdom resides. There is no substitute for the gospel. It is the power and wisdom of the crucified Christ. When we are dying, we shouldn't want some trendy words given by someone for our comfort. Instead, we should want a priestly minister of God. We should want one who has struggled with his or her faith and still clings to Jesus. We should want somebody who has looked long and lovingly at the crucified Christ and experienced the healing only found in our risen Savior and Lord. 

It's the suffering Christ who "loved us and gave Himself up for us" (Eph 5:2) on the cross. The love of Jesus Christ on the cross is the divine reality. Our true lives are utterly incomprehensible except in terms of Jesus' love. Would we have remained with Mary Magdalene and John at the foot of the Cross as Jesus was murdered in the most brutal and dehumanizing way? And if we would've spoken to Mary and John of Christian life, ministry, prayer or discipleship, we would've surely spoken of Jesus nailed to the cross and now risen in glory - or not at all. We wouldn't have burdened them with our theological insights, or bored them with our ministerial successes or our gifts or anything else. We would be certain that they would've had only one question for us: Do you know Jesus? 

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* As a faithful Protestant, I'm coming to terms with Brennan Manning's The Signature of Jesus. I believe that many of Jesus' disciples don't have a clear understanding of the crucified Christ. I'm  thankful for clarifications made by Robin Riggs in The Lifestyle of the Cross.

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