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FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
 

FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL

OUR THEME FOR 2010
(Part 8)

THE GOSPEL OF THE CROSS


The authentic gospel is the gospel of the cross.

It is the gospel that says suffering is a prelude and even pre-condition to redemption. It points to the necessity of a Good Friday before an Easter Sunday. The good news of salvation in Jesus was achieved through his suffering and death on the cross. Jesus “emptied himself, .... he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8). And what is the result of Jesus’ sacrifice and suffering? “Because of this, God greatly exalted him ....” (Phil 2:9-11).

Now the Father sent His Son to the cross. In turn, the Son calls on us, all children of the Father, to also live the way of the cross. This is at the core of the call to discipleship. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). There are three essential aspects to discipleship: (1) self-denial; (2) embracing the cross; and (3) following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Denying self

Today, people, even many Christians, do not like to deny themselves. They look to comfort, convenience and pleasure. Life in the world is dominated by materialism, secularism and selfishness, and even hedonism.

Even Christian preachers, in their desire to keep and enlarge their flocks, have resorted to the so-called gospel of prosperity. Accept the Lord Jesus and you will see your dreams fulfilled, whether this is about wealth, miraculous healing, power and position, thriving in a foreign land, or whatever. Of course it is true that if we accept Jesus and live according to God’s ways we will be blessed. But the blessings are not how we define them. In fact, suffering will be part of God’s blessings. The gospel of prosperity is a false gospel.

Taking up the cross

Now we are called not only to deny ourselves, but to embrace the cross.

Many do not like the cross, much less embrace it. The whole goal for secular society is to evade the cross. People look to avoiding pain. The cross is “foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23b).

How different it is for the apostles and the saints of old, and to the very few saints in our day and age. The apostles took up the cross as their Master did. The apostles were those who were directly taught by Jesus, commissioned by him, and knew him intimately. Though it was hard for them to accept that the cross would be the instrument of salvation, and they actually abandoned Jesus when he was arrested, and later Peter and others went back to fishing, they ultimately lived the true gospel. And they died embracing the cross.

How did the apostles die?

  • Peter was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross, as he told his executioners that he was unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus had died.
  • Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece.[1]
  • James, son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem.[2]
  • John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in a huge basin of oil during a wave of persecution in Rome, but was miraculously delivered from death; he was later sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos.[3]
  • Bartholomew (Nathaniel) was flayed to death by a whip due to his preaching in Armenia.
  • Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by the sword.
  • Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the sub-continent.
  • James[4] was thrown over a hundred feet down from the pinnacle of the temple, survived the fall, but was then beaten to death with a club.
  • Jude was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
  • Matthias[5] was stoned and then beheaded.
  • Paul[6] was tortured and then beheaded by Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67.
  • Mark[7] was dragged by horses through the streets in Alexandria, Egypt, until he was dead.
  • Luke[8] was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous preaching to the lost.

Throughout the history of the Church, many have been martyred for their faith in Jesus. They took up their crosses, even unto death.

Pope Benedict XVI, citing St Peter Damian, says, “One who does not love the cross of Christ does not love Christ.” Many Christians today will profess their love for Jesus. But the genuineness of their love will really be put to the test by his cross.

The cross is precisely the manifestation of God’s love for us (Jn 3:16). The cross is precisely the way to salvation. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). If we are to truly love Jesus, and if we are to truly experience salvation, then we must embrace the cross.

Following Jesus

As we deny ourselves and take up our cross, we are called to follow Jesus. This means we obey him and we model our lives on him.

  • We follow Jesus in many different ways.
  • We grow in holiness and righteousness (1 Pet 1:15-16).
  • We love one another (Jn 13:34-35).
  • We serve others and in doing so take the lowest place (Jn 13:14-15).
  • We proclaim the gospel of the kingdom through evangelization and mission (Mk 16:15; Mt 28:19).
  • We rejoice in the privilege of suffering for Christ (Heb 12:2).
  • We humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God (Phil 2:5; Mt 23:12; 1 Pet 5:5b-6).
  • We trust completely in God, who is just and righteous.

When we follow Jesus, he will lead us all the way to the cross, and beyond.

The fruit of the cross

Job, though he was just and righteous, suffered severely. His path, imposed on him but accepted by him, was one of affliction, pain, suffering, rejection, ridicule, mockery, wretchedness, mourning, grief, abandonment. Hey, that looks very familiar. Yes, it is the very path Jesus took!

So was Job not blessed? Indeed he was! And after his suffering came restoration, or redemption. In fact, he was doubly blessed--materially, emotionally, and certainly spiritually.

What for us will be the blessings that come with embracing and living the cross of Christ?

  • Purification. Nothing purifies as being put in the fiery furnace of affliction.
  • Humility. We realize how we are nothing without God, and how our puny lives are totally dependent upon His mercy and grace.
  • Becoming closer to God. It is only in our hopelessness and helplessness that we truly turn to God, often because we have nowhere else to turn. It is only in our affliction that we truly learn the lessons God desires to teach us. In the cross of Christ is wisdom for our lives.
  • Resignation to God’s will. Our human flesh is prone to living according to our own ways, having our own preferences and priorities. Often these lead to death. The cross removes our pride and self-centeredness, and brings us to surrender to and acceptance of God’s will.
  • Trust in Jesus. The cross makes vivid for us what Jesus has done for us, in winning for us our salvation. If he does that out of love for us, even when we were sinners, then he is one we can fully trust in. We can confidently place our lives in his hands.
  • Preparation for greater things. God wants to use us as His instruments for the life of the world. Once purified and placed in the proper posture before Him, then God can and will use us in the power of His Spirit, to proclaim His glory throughout the earth.

Such is the gospel of the cross. Such is the very way of God in bringing us to salvation.

God loved Job and so allowed his affliction. May we also be so loved by God.

(November 23, 2009)


[1] After being whipped severely by seven soldiers, they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led toward the cross, he saluted it in these words: “I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.” He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he expired.
[2] The Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.
[3] John was later freed and returned to serve as Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle do die peacefully.
[4] The leader of the church in Jerusalem.
[5] Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26).
[6] Paul was called directly by the risen Jesus to be an apostle.
[7] Mark was not one of the twelve apostles, but is the John Mark who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey (Acts 12:25, 13:3), and was close to Peter (1 Pet 5:13).
[8] Luke was not one of the twelve apostles, but was the missionary companion of Paul.

 

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