The Cross: Bringing the Future of Promise
- Friday, September 19, 2003
Your outlook on life is often held hostage by decisions you made long ago. Suppose you're sitting in a park one day and a five-year-old comes up to you and says, "The secret to life is to do whatever you can to get what you want." A few minutes later a twelve-year-old comes up and mutters, "The most important thing in life is that everyone likes you." Finally a 16-year-old walks over and proclaims, "Independence and rebellion are the only things that really bring happiness." Would you decide then and there to structure your life around any one of these dubious insights? Not hardly. Yet have you ever stopped to think how much of your life today is shaped by decisions you made and opinions you formed when you were young? You were bitten by a dog and now are fearful of animals. You were called "tubby" in grade school and now the most important discipline you have is physical fitness. These immature pacts we make with ourselves often have great sway over the course of our lives.
In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul wrote: "And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2Co 5:15-17)
The atoning work of Christ on the Cross is the line of demarcation between our limiting past and our future of promise. For all who have received the new birth, the Cross becomes the most important event in our lives. God is "on the set" and he is reworking the drama of our past with a new ending and a new theme. Rather than a tragedy of despair and loss, our past becomes the telling of an adventure-sometimes frightening, sometimes thrilling, often with mystery, but always with purpose.
And the Cross does more. In the forgiveness of God, the Cross provides the remedy for the shame of our sin. Less often noted is the fact that the Cross also speaks to our unjust sufferings. For many, the most profound aspect of our lives is our suffering. The Cross recognizes our unjust suffering, for in his death Jesus endured the most horrible and unjust suffering in history. Of the crucifixion, Isaiah writes with prophetic horror: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer" (Isa 53:7-10).
Does Jesus say, "My suffering was worse than you'll ever know, so stop whining!"? No. "The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (Jas 5:11). His suffering was for our benefit, and he promises he will never leave or forsake us. Through the Cross we come to better understand justice and mercy; we see the possibility of glorifying God in our suffering; we grasp the meaning behind the phrase "entering into the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings" (Php 3:10); we experience his joy and "peace that surpasses all comprehension" (Php 4:7, NAS); life takes on an eternal perspective; and we become able to truly forgive all our oppressors. These realities may be as shadows in the mist to you right now, but God is at work bringing them into full view in your life.
A man in our church, whose father was continually in and out of mental institutions, lived for years with bitterness toward God for the difficulties in his life associated with his father's condition. Gradually, he began to see his suffering in light of God's glory. A breakthrough came when God spoke to his heart sovereignly as he listened to a sermon on heaven. As he describes it, "I think the glory of Christ began to break in on my heart. Slowly but surely God revealed my pride and arrogance in thinking that the God of the universe owed me explanations for the circumstances in my life. I wept with appreciation for God's incredible mercy and patience with me. It dawned on me that though my circumstances had produced great personal pain, they also had been hand-selected by a loving and all-knowing God to produce good things in my life that only they could produce. God graciously allowed me to experience several months of fellowship and reconciliation with my father before he passed away. I look forward to experiencing fellowship now with my heavenly Father without me placing demands on him to make sense of my life."
In a Culture of Self where the problems of the past continually invade the present, the Cross of Christ in the gospel of Christ is at work invading our past-overturning lies, redefining events, and extending the light of the glory of God into the darkest memories of our lives.
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