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April 14, 2019, 2:00 PM

The Power of the Cross - Complete Surrender


The Power of the Cross -- Surrender

 

So here we are, 1/3 of 2019 is already behind us and Easter is only a couple of Sundays away. The Easter bunny, colored eggs, those nasty little balls of sugar called “peeps”, new bonnets and dresses; flashy ties and new shirts --- and oh yeah ‘The Cross.’  

 

Now my intention there wasn’t to minimize the Cross, what it stands for; the glory it brought to our Lord and Savior and the hope that lies beyond that tree, but unfortunately today the season has become more about the traditional Easter egg hunt than about a fervent desire to search for a deeper understanding of the Cross.

 

So many of us prepare to celebrate the season, but we do it from a worldly perspective. Instead of our focus being on Jesus’s humble, yet grand entrance into the city where the chants of hosanna and praise Him would soon turn to jeers of crucify Him, we think about what’s the nicest outfit I can pull out of my closet for that special day.

 

Rather than reflect on those final hours when He was brutally beaten, cursed and spit on; forced to carry a Cross on His back at least twice His weight only to be impaled on it with nails driven through his wrists and His feet, we think about what  we’re going to eat after church.  

 

Then in a final show of the humility that defined His life, He was buried in tomb that wasn’t even His own. But then He really didn’t need it anyway; did He? Only to fulfill prophecy. This earth was never His home. Death couldn’t hold Him.  The grave couldn’t keep Him. This world didn’t define Him.

 

His glory came in His death on that tree and in that moment and the days that followed, His resurrection from the dead; His ascension into heaven; witnessed and testified by hundreds; He became our eternal destiny.  And the Cross became the symbol of our salvation.

In His walk to the Cross; His death and His resurrection, the hope for a Messiah expressed by Isaiah in our Scripture, chapter 53 became reality. And it was in that reality all who had ever had faith in God from the days of Abraham forward and those of us today who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are blessed by God with His gift of grace and eternal life. Follow along as we hear the suffering of our Lord unfold through the words of a prophet 700 years before Christ even walked this earth. Isaiah 53.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

 

            Isaiah was filling his people with hope for the coming Messiah. But he wasn’t promising some physical specimen that was gonna turn people’s heads. In fact, he was implying just the opposite. In contrast to the physical presence of King Saul or other strong men of the old Testament, Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would actually be somewhat --- undesirable…  as looks go. But God reminds that it’s not about the outward appearance. He’s concerned with the heart.  

 

            If the promised Savior came as some mighty man of war, people would flock to him for all the wrong reasons. But with a lowly appearance, this angle wouldn’t  even make sense. The only way his ministry would be effective would be through his complete dependence on God and his obedience to carry out God's plan, especially in the face of suffering. Instead of being applauded He would be "despised and rejected." Suffering wouldn’t be just a shallow part of his life experience. It would characterize it. He would be a "man of sorrows" and "acquainted with grief."

 

 

            Sin always brings about suffering and shame. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they immediately hid themselves because they were ashamed. When Isaiah’s suffering servant came, He too would experience the suffering and shame that was part of sin's penalty. But that sin didn’t belong to Him. It’s ours. He would willingly endure this suffering, not because He deserved it, but because it was required for Him to walk in complete surrender and obedience to His Father's will.

 

            The Cross is the intersection of God’s love and His justice.  God gave His people a concept of the necessity of payment to redeem sin through the system of sacrifice He had begun with Moses. These animal sacrifices would be a substitute to remove God's punishment for sin. But as the writer of Hebrews says, “in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (Heb 10:3-4).” The promised Savior would be the "lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world  (John 1:29).”

               

                This reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God points us back to the Jewish Passover in Exodus. The Israelites were commanded to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and smear the blood of that lamb on the doorposts of their homes. The blood would be the sign for the Angel of Death to pass over that house, leaving those covered by blood untouched. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John recognized Him as the Lamb of God calling out God’s plan for Him to be sacrificed for all sin.
 

 

            Though the Messiah in Isaiah’s vision would carry the sorrows and griefs of those who deserved the punishment, many would still misinterpret His suffering as God's curse against Him. But far from being a curse, it was God’s will that led to His suffering. It was Christ’s absolute surrender and complete obedience to the will of God, all the way to the cross, that served as the payment for our sin that righteous God's justice demands.

 

            The promised Savior would suffer the piercing, the crushing, and the chastisement that humanity deserves and with His wounds, by His blood we are healed. The sinless, suffering servant would take upon Himself the iniquity of us all. As a result, those of us that are washed by His blood from the Cross are blessed with transforming peace and assurance of eternal life with Him.

 

            What belonged to humanity - sin, suffering and death - was borne by Jesus when He was nailed to that Cross. When we surrender to the Cross, what’s His ---  righteousness and eternal life – is transferred to us, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

 

            God’s great love moved Him to send His one and only Son to be the propitiation for sin. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, those who place their faith and trust in Him alone for salvation are guaranteed eternal life. Jesus calls believers to take up their cross and follow Him, but this  whole idea of bearing a cross gets kind of lost on us today. We use it to describe an inconvenience or a pain we have to deal with.

 

            But think about our description earlier of Christ bearing His Cross – twice His weight, beaten, bloody, weak. Jesus is calling His disciples to RADICAL self-denial. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:25).”  The cross meant only one thing to someone in the 1st century —death --- by the most hideous, gruesome means possible. Paul picks up this transformation of death from sinful self into a new life in Christ in his letter to the Galatians,

            “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).”
           

            We know there are places in the world where Christians are being persecuted for their faith, even to the point of death. We talked about China last Sunday, but a recent article in the Baptist Press describes the rising death toll of Christians in Nigeria, now at 280 in recent weeks after the slaughter of 52 believers by Fulani Muslim militants. The headlines read, “Christian deaths are spiraling in Nigeria as militant Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists escalate their attacks…There have been no major attempts by the Nigerian government to hold the Fulani accountable or disarm them ”

 

                Those men and women and children in Nigeria know what it means to carry their cross and follow Jesus in a very real way. We’re not there by any stretch, thank God, but we’re all called to absolute surrender, just like them. Even if we are never called to give the ultimate sacrifice, we must be WILLING to give our life out of love for the One who saved us and gave His life for us.

 

The Cross is the intersection of life and death. Our eternal destiny is determined by how we perceive it and whether or not we accept Christ’s sacrifice, His blood, on the Cross that day.

 

            I think a lot about how much I would love to be a full time Pastor. But I think God’s not ready for that yet. I had a recent experience that really brought that home to me. I had developed a really good relationship with one of our distributors in Florida. Never an issue with his account, but he seemed to manufacture reasons to call me at least once or twice a month. And we’d talk about everything BUT his account. A lot of times we would talk about our faith – not exactly the conversation a Credit Manager is supposed to be having with a client.

 

            Well about two months ago he called up and we started talking. In fact, it was the Friday afternoon before the Super Bowl. He started out about how he was so uncertain about his future. What he wanted to do – sell the business? Retire? What he’d do if he did. And somehow that morphed into a conversation about our faith. I told him about a video by Francis Chan where he uses a piece of rope about 50 feet long maybe to represent eternity. And about 4 inches on one end was colored to represent our life on earth.

 

            Chan has such a presence and a way with words, I really wanted Bryan to watch that video to help him understand the need to commit himself fully to Christ, because frankly, eternity depends on it. And I told him the same thing I said here last week, “when we think about our life, we’ve got to begin looking at it in terms of eternity, not just this little blip of time we have here on this earth.” To me that sums it all up.

            Well on Tuesday morning following the Super Bowl, I got word that Bryan had died. Less than four days after that conversation. His girlfriend called me that Tuesday afternoon and confirmed. She said she only knew two names from Florence, because Bryan talked about us all the time. And his gf knew he would want us to know.  I told her about our conversations, but she already knew, because he’d shared them with her. And she told me that they’d watched that Chan video together over and over that Friday night. And that was the last time she saw him alive.

 

            Now I’m not telling this story to make it sound like I chalked up a win for Christ.  Not at all. But what I am saying is this; we’ve talked about being intentional. We’ve talked about being missional. We’ve talked about seizing those opportunities God gives us to share our faith and not be afraid to do it. When we do that we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in people’s lives.

            Bryan was affected. How, I’m not sure. I don’t need to know. God knew the state of his heart and it’s about where his relationship with God was in those final moments of his life. I’m just blessed to have known him and to have had the courage to be transparent with him and him with me.

 

            The cross is our doorway to eternity. If we fully accept that Jesus paid our sin debt with His blood on the Cross, we repent and humbly admit that we’re sinners in need of a savior, then that door is wide open.

 

 

            The Greek word metanoia is generally translated repentance in the New Testament and its interpretation is less about being regretful for past actions than it is about renewing our minds by turning away from sin and to Jesus Christ for salvation. Paul is so clear in his theology, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2).”  

 

            Our life is meant to be a continual turning away from the things of this world that bring spiritual death and toward a new life of grace and hope that can be found only in Jesus Christ. But without repentance there can be no relationship with Jesus. Because without that acknowledgment, that ownership of our sin, there can’t be absolute surrender.

 

            There is transforming power in the Cross. The work of Christ on the Cross on our behalf isn’t something that was done beyond our comprehension or long ago and far away. It’s real and personal. We’re united to Christ through His Spirit and we’re called to live as God’s children now, even though the fullness of what we’ll become will only be known when we’re in His presence.

 

            When we accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross, surrender ourselves fully over to Him, we move into an eternal relationship with our Lord and we become justified through our faith.

             “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me (Luke 9:23-24).” This is the radical call of self-denial by Christ and it’s the essence of Christianity.

            We follow Christ’s example in these words, because this is exactly how He lived here on earth. Jesus knew the human condition.

            Fully human, He knew what it was like to be tempted: to envy, to be angry and get frustrated, to judge, to be anxious, pride, hypocrisy, all of it. But every day of His life, Jesus used the cross to deny sin to enter His life. “Since therefore the children share in the flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… (Heb 2:14).”

 

            Simply put Jesus said “No!” to the demands of the flesh and, by the strength given to Him by God, He endured until He won the victory, which was death to sin. This meant that He had to suffer in His flesh, and He had to cry out to God for help, but it also meant that He never sinned.

 

            “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (1 Ptr 4:1).”  Unlike Christ we’re all sinners, but we’re armed for battle the same way as Jesus. We’re called to suffer. We cry out to God for His help and mercy. We surrender to Him and not to the flesh.

           

            The power of the cross is intended to be applied to our daily life, by anybody, regardless of age, gender, personality, or background. It can be applied to any situation or circumstance and every kind of temptation. When we take up our cross daily, we DO NOT give in to those feelings of anger, irritation, or envy.

 

            We do not give in the desire to be proud or spiteful or lazy. We do not entertain impure thoughts or immoral acts. We refuse to become slaves to low self-esteem or discouraging thoughts that cripple our self-perception and damage our relationship with Christ. We “become doers of the word, not hearers only (Jas 1:21-22).”

 

            Where we were bitter and demanding before, we become a blessing to others. Once we were anxious and discouraged, but we become full of faith and instruments for action.

            Before we were judgmental and full of spite, but we learn to forgive and encourage. Instead of causing arguments and building on negativity when our feelings are hurt, we become examples of meekness, kindness and patience. As we deny our own desires with a solid grip on our own Cross, we grow in the virtues of Christ.

 

            As followers we become examples and champions for righteousness, compassion and morality. We become “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:14-16).”

           

            Wherever we are, whatever we encounter, however we feel, the power of the cross is our armor; gives us courage and hope; strengthens our will and our attitude in Christ. It gives us the confidence that we can do all things through Christ, because He overcame the Cross.

O death where is your victory?

O death where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55-57).”

 

            Through the Cross, Christ is the victor. Only in Him can we be freed from the bondage of sin. Have you surrendered --- to Christ? And I mean fully surrendered? Given in totally? Laid yourself bare at the foot of the Cross? Let go of arrogance, pride, worldliness? Shed yourself of the need to be built up by others; to fulfill some deep insecurity that really only Christ can resolve? Wherever He leads I’ll go. Plant those words in your mind and in your heart.

 

            Take up your cross and follow me, I heard my master say. I gave my life to ransom thee, surrender your all today. Listen to the words of that old hymn and give Christ complete control of your life today. I’ll be down front.

 

 


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