Today, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we encounter a scandal.
First of all: if you step back to take a fresh look at it, the act of exalting a cross, of all things, appears as complete foolishness. The cross was a brutal weapon of torture and execution in the times of the Roman Empire. To provide a more relevant example, imagine churches where, in the elevated place of honor, stood an electric chair, a guillotine, or a hanging gallows.
Secondly: this cross, in particular, was the instrument of the death of Jesus Christ, our Messiah and Lord, the Son of God. With this cross, we killed God’s Son. This cross was the most tragic mistake humanity had ever made.
But the greatest scandal of all is this: that, in spite – no, because – of the pain, the horror, the tragedy of the crucifixion, God chose it to be the central instrument of our salvation. For without the cross, there would be no Resurrection. It was by that horrible death on the cross that Jesus conquered death itself.
Now – Christ Himself said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
And in George MacDonald’s words, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”
In an act of divine wisdom, though apparent foolishness to human wisdom, God chose the suffering and death of Christ as the door to eternal life. Because His triumph over sin and death came by His suffering and death, it is in uniting our daily sufferings to Christ that we are actually brought to eternal life in Him. And it is only by this path, by dying to ourselves daily through the cross, that we can be saved, for He has said, “he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:38)
So I’ll end with both a warning, and a word of consolation.
The warning is this. To all you who flaunt the soft “gospel” of good feelings, good intentions, and #soblessed hashtags, stop living in denial. Loving those who are easy to love will not save you. Holding up an “everything is happy because I’m a Christian” façade will not save you. And thinking being a Christian begins and ends with going to church and being a nice, decent person, is a grave mistake. Jesus wants to transform your life into a resurrected life; and He needs you to take up the cross in order to do it.
And now for the more consoling truth. To all you who are suffering (and I expect that covers the vast majority of the human population) – there is hope. The world has no answer to your pain. But Christ does. If you will let Him, He will unite your pain with His pain. He will carry your trial with you. And He will bring you into His great act of redeeming the world.
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