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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Joy of the Cross

“Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” The book of Hebrews makes it sound easy. We just lay aside our sins and run the race set before. We [big shoulder shrug] live the Christian life. Just stop sinning and move ahead, walking with Jesus.

It’s not that easy!

I have heard the sin compared to an addiction. At AA meetings participants, stand, announce their name, and name the problem. All present affirm the truth of what speaker said. “Hello, I am Rob. And I am addicted to sin.” Everyone says, “Hello Rob.” No, we can’t simply lay it aside. I’ve tried.

I’ve tried not to commit the sin of impatience with my children. I’ve tried not to sin by taking my wife for granted. I’ve tried to exercise emotional intelligence and avoid sins that come when anger grips me and rage controls the words of my mouth. I’ve tried to not be gluttonous. I want to commit to Holy behavior and to stop committing sins of omission. I won’t recite a list of my personal failings. But if I did, it would be ample testimony that one cannot by simply choosing to lay aside sin.

Leon Morris, in his commentary, points out that Christians needs to unload weights. We’re called to a life, and the life lived following Christ is a life on the move. Jesus is leading us somewhere. What in our lives is slowing us down, making the task of following Jesus a burden because of what we carry as we try to follow? Now, this might not be sin, but it is a load that makes life heavy.

An extra commitment? A hobby that takes up enormous time and costs a lot of money? A job that pays well but makes it all but impossible to give much of ourselves to ministry and to the relationship with God?

The weight is what demands our priority our spiritual energy – energy that would be better spent in following Jesus into worship, into sharing the faith, into helping people. The sin corrupts our character. When we sin reject God. We declare that God does not know what’s best, we do, and we’ll do it (life) our way, not His. Morris the Bible scholar says the weight, whatever it is, hinders us. The sin entangles. We have to lay all that hinder and entangles to the side.

“Hello, I am Rob, and I am addicted to sin.” “Hello Rob.”

Hebrews knows we can’t do what we’ve been told we must do. Verse 2 – “Look to Jesus.”

I was amazed by what verse 2 says about Jesus. He’s the son of God, God in human flesh, the Savior of humanity, earning our salvation through his death on the cross and his resurrection.

Verse 2 doesn’t say all that. I speak those words about Jesus to establish who He is in our understanding. That’s the basic core truth. Jesus is Lord.Verse 2 says Jesus, who we look to because we cannot on our own lay sin aside, is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. A pioneer charges into the untamed wilderness with his machete, his hunting rifle, his canteen, and maybe a compass. He goes where no one has gone and brings order and civilization to the wilds. In Genesis 1, God told the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (v.28). Nothing is more untamed that the wilderness of mistakes, misunderstanding, misdeeds, misspoken words, and spiritual clutter than a sinner’s soul. Only one pioneer can bring order to that chaos. Jesus. And, he does it.

But, he’s not just a pioneer. He’s the perfecter of our faith. When I began to try to write about this, I was searching for examples, but all that I came up with was improvement. Ideas of how Jesus improves us as Christians, as disciples kept flowing through my mind. Hebrews does not call Jesus the improver, but the perfecter. Yes our understanding of scripture, our wisdom in caring for one another, our capacity for compassion, our effectiveness in evangelism, and our responsiveness to the Holy Spirit will get better. More than that, though, we will, with Jesus at work in us, be complete and completed. We will have freedom from worry and peace inside, even when turmoil surrounds us as we know it will.

We look to Jesus the pioneer who makes us new and Jesus the perfecter who puts His joy in us and makes us complete.

Here’s something to ponder as HillSongChurch and each of us as individuals go through Lent, journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday in 2012. What is Jesus, right now, as we go, pioneering in me? What new places inside of me (or in you, in the deepest parts) is Jesus going? What is Jesus pioneering? And what in our lives is Jesus perfecting? It would be wonderful to spend the next 40 days pursuing these questions.

What is Jesus pioneering in my life? What new thing does he bring? What new places is he taking me?

What is Jesus perfecting in my life? Where have I given complete control over to Him? What have I seen Him do once I surrendered?

When we read the impossible in Hebrews 12:1 – lay aside sin, we must go to verse 2. Keep looking to Jesus.

The reason we say all this and the reason we observe spiritual disciplines in the season we call Lent and the reason we believe Jesus went to the trouble of dying for the sins of the world is joy. The end of verse 2 – “For the sake of joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross.” Nothing could be further from joy than the Roman cross. The agony of it physically was matched by the embarrassment of it, the shame. Not only did the person on the cross die an extremely slow, painful death. It happened out in public, with the one on the cross hanging naked. No joy there. I have not been crucified, but I am confident that if I went through it, I wouldn’t be thinking “joy.”

What is joyful to God is when someone who has been completely cut off from him is born again into faith in Jesus. Jesus’ death accomplished salvation for all who put their faith in Him. That’s what it is to be saved. In Luke 15 we learn that angels in heaven rejoice over the redemption of a lost sinner. Without God, we are all lost sinners. When we turn to Jesus, we are saved.

As awful as the cross was for him, Jesus knew it led to the joy of salvation. So he did it. He suffered and died for the sake of celebrating life with you and me, our sins covered by his act of love. We have life with him so, during Lent, we refocus. We reevaluate our approach to life. We’re saved by what Jesus did. Because of what he did, we live as sons and daughters of God. What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God? It means many things, including living in faithfulness.

In Lent, we turn our attention, with great intensity, to Jesus. Because we are called to lay sin and can’t, we look to Jesus who can handle things. Because he has won the victory, he and we have joy. Because of his love, shared through suffering on our behalf, we are God’s children and committed to living in obedience to God. All this truth comes to us even as we live in a fallen world and even as we still have traces of the fall in us.

Discipleship involves concentrated effort. Sin – ours and definitely the unbound sin of the world around us – will derail us in our movement to walk with Jesus. Sin will knock us right off the path. Hebrews 12 thus gives instructions.

Endure trials.
Pursue peace.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.
How complicated are these imperatives from the Bible right to our lives? We don’t know what trials will come. For someone hear the trial will be real suffering – health, economic, relational. We’ll be tempted to pick up sin and turn away from God and the temptation will come through pain. Someone else will be tempted just as strongly, but the temptation will come through desire. Something attractive – sexual attraction, materialistic attraction, or some other – will draw us away from God’s path. O, doesn’t this look more appealing than the faith life I’ve been called to? These and countless other trials hits us from all directions and we have to endure.

Peace is elusive especially when we find people in our lives who want power or want things from us or want to fight with one another and put us in the middle. Pursuing peace is tricky. We do it even when we don’t have willing partners. Even when our neighbor would rather build animosity we pursue peace for the sake of Jesus. We pursue peace because God in His words commands us to.

The most complicated of all actions for the disciple in response to the goodness of salvation we have in Jesus is in Hebrews 15. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” I think the writer here is talking about protecting those in the church from falling away from faith but I would also extend this to sharing the Gospel with our friends and neighbors who have not heard or who have definitely heard but had not yet turned to Jesus. We are responsible for one another’s spiritual well-being and for being witnesses who not only testify to what Jesus has done but who invite people to come to him.

Endure. Pursue Peace. Witness. It’s all for the joy of the cross, the joy that begins in sin, suffers with Christ in his agony, and rejoices with him when we come in faith and then follow his lead in our lives and walk with him in love and intimacy. We, HillSong church, are invited to the joy of the cross.

We want everyone to pray tonight about how God is going to be at work in us through lent in 2012.

What is Jesus pioneering in my life? What is Jesus perfecting in my life?

We have four prayer stations. Tonight, you’ll choose one and go. This is a time of self-directed prayer. Go to the table of your choosing, pick up a prayer guide, and then spend time committing yourself completely to God for the next 40 days. With the guide in hand, lift your prayers to heaven.

One way to begin the journey to the cross is to commit to evangelism. Go to the evangelism table. Begin praying – is there anything in me that poses an obstacle to sharing the good news? And follow that guide.

A second beginning on the journey is purity, and so you would go to the purity table. What would change inside me if I know God was giving me a pure heart?

A third starting point for moving toward Jesus in lent is Compassion. What if I believe God was continually looking at me with love and mercy?

The fourth table picks up on the theme our church has spent time in over the last four weeks. Maybe you need to continue exploring Sabbath. And at the Sabbath table you come and pray, what would feel or be different inside of me if I fully understood and practiced Sabbath?

Evangelism, purity, compassion, Sabbath. Go to one of these four tables now, for a time of prayer. If One of these four do not identify where you need to begin your journey to the cross, then come to the steps and look up at the cross. As Jesus to begin pioneering or perfecting something in you.

After you have had time to pray, return to your seat. When everyone is done, I’ll close us in prayer.

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