“As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all.” Blaise Pascal
One well know Easter song, “Jesus Lives” has as one of the stanzas the following:
Jesus lives, henceforth is death
Entrance-gate to life immortal
This shall calm our trembling breadth
When we pass its gloomy portals. Alleluia
There is a lot that can be said about the idiom: “The way of the cross” which is our meditation this morning (an idiom it is for sure because its meaning goes beyond the exact words and refers to a particular event). The way of the cross is many things. Of this many, one unmistakable one is the fact that it is the way of death.
It is about a Jesus who was crucified on the cross. When we talk about the way of the cross, we are firstly referring to that. Our Lord Himself said:
‘The kings of the gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them are called Benefactors. …’ Lk 22:24 “Not so with you! … whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mk 10:43-45.
That ransom was, we believe, paid at the cross. There Jesus did the dying. And we are to reap benefits. It is grace. And here is where we have to be careful: The streams of teachings, commonplace among us, say we can enjoy an endless flow of the consolations emanating from the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus. And it is true. However, when we view it like that alone, we may be making a great mistake. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 20th century martyr for this cause, said we do not understand the way of the cross fully if we stop there. Rather, we are preaching what he referred to as cheap grace. The most damning thing about such a version of grace is that God is called upon regularly to be “a present help in times of need” but, otherwise, Jesus is not Lord of our lives because there is no necessity to pay close attention to his commands!
One modern-day feature of such cheap grace is the kind of stuff that passes for prophesies in several places of worship. In conformity to “cheap grace” prophesies are a stream of consolations- Always telling ourselves nice things. Who does not want to hear that nice things will happen? Oh we all do. However, to any serious student of the scriptures, we must remember that the quality of prophesy is not if it is a nice statement. Since we are so used to prophesies as nice things, let me supply two counter examples where prophesies were NOT nice things. The first quality of prophesy is that it is a true statement of what will happen. Is it true? Paul the Apostle, talking to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus in Acts 20, said this,
“…compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city, the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task that Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace…”
He was going to a Jerusalem. He did not know what will happen there. The Holy Spirit told him that he will face imprisonment. He did NOT pray against it. He just went on because he was going to accomplish the purpose of God.
My second example is from the OT. In IKings 22:27, we have this remarkable passage: “ Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace. …” The king was angry! Why was he so angry? Read around that passage you find the problem was simple: King was going to war, He called the prophet of God to tell him how it would go. The prophet OF GOD told him the battle will not end well. He got angry and uttered those words in annoyance!
Of course we can also find many examples where God comforted his people and promised them better days. “Say kind words to the heart of Jerusalem, crying out to her that her time of trouble is ended, that her punishment is complete” the prophet blared in Is 40:2! The fact that is incontrovertible is that it can go either way! That is a fact! If not, if we must only hear nice things, it is soothsaying NOT prophesy! The grace that is true grace, Dietrich calls costly grace. I never tire quoting this:
“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ
It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin and grace because it justifies the sinner.
And above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his son: and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life but delivered him up for us…”
He calls us to enjoy the consolations of the Gospel. Wait a minute. He first calls us to follow him. Those consolations are for those who are obedient to the call.
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No there is a cross for everyone,
And there is a cross for me!
The way of the cross is about death. It is about resurrection. It is about a life that follows death. It is meant to be a consolation.
May your life and death supply
Grace to live and grace to die
Grace to reach our home on high
Hear us Holy Jesus!