“Tell me in the light of the Cross, isn’t it a scandal that you and I live today as we do?” – Alan Redpath
Many are the benefits of believing! We can and should declare “all his benefits.” There is nothing in this life more rewarding than knowing and serving God, and worshiping Him. We must tell everyone,
He forgives all my sins.
He heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death.
He crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! [i]
However, we must also declare the high cost of true discipleship. This same Jesus who said, “Come unto me … and I will give you rest” also said, “You shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” The cost of discipleship is a cross. Genuine, authentic faith that leads to spiritual and physical wholeness begins with carrying a cross. In Matthew 16:24-25 Jesus says,
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
Jesus is telling his followers there is a price to pay to follow him. Forgiveness is free, but following him and becoming his disciple is costly. Of all New Testament texts, here is the crux of Christian living—for there can be no “Christian living” until there is Christian dying.
A.W. Tozer, in his book The Radical Cross: Living the Passion of Christ, says, “You never can exaggerate the power of the cross.” [ii] It is the Cross of Christ which remains unavoidably (eternally!) at the center of Christianity; the Resurrection has relevance because there was first a death and a burial. The New Testament compels us to embrace both sides of Calvary: the cross and the resurrection. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross took care of our sin problem; and the resurrection made the gift of the Holy Ghost a reality so we could live a new life.
Before Calvary, Jesus said,
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” (John 7:38-39)
After Calvary, Peter said,
“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
Because of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, we can experience Pentecost. The fire of Pentecost fueled the flames of revival in the early church and gave them their sending (i.e. apostolic – from apostéllō, “to commission, send forth”) power. Oh, how we need Pentecost! J. I. Brice once said, “The Church has halted somewhere between Calvary and Pentecost.” [iii] We need the cleansing power of his Blood, but we also need the sending power of his Spirit.
Paul had a deep understanding of the essentiality of both in his life. When addressing the Corinthian saints, he emphatically declared, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He understood that the apostolic anointing he operated under must always be rooted and grounded in his solemn embrace of the Cross. The dynamic tension between death and life, suffering and victory, was ever-present in the life and ministry of Apostle Paul. He said,
“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil 3:10-11).
Can we say that we truly “KNOW HIM” if we rejoice in his resurrection power, shout and sing in the Holy Ghost, offer up some good ole’ fashioned praise once or twice a week… and yet never participate in his sufferings? Paul also said,
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil 4:11-12).
What kind of revival might we see if more Jesus-name people would be consumed with a revelation concerning sacrifice and suffering? The dynamic power and demonstration of the Spirit in the Book of Acts often, if not always, occurred within the realities of sacrifice and suffering. The early church was thrust into explosive growth whenever and wherever it experienced suffering. [iv]
Robert L. Plummer, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, locates the church’s missionary function in the suffering experienced by Paul and the early Church. The sufferings of the early Church are in fact reproductions of the sufferings of Christ, which he experienced while fulfilling his mission:
“The consistent pattern of suffering that we find in the early church (which parallels the suffering of the apostles) is a powerful argument for the church’s missionary nature. The unwavering hostility of the outside world towards early Christians demonstrates that the dynamic (and offensive) gospel was progressing effectively through its adherents.” [v]
Sacrifice and suffering as a way of life is unheard of outside the realm of some religious contexts and perhaps athletics and military programs (although an entirely different context). Professional athletes have understood the essentiality of sacrifice. Fighting men and women know that sacrifice is the means to genuine effectiveness in the heat of battle. Without committed men and women who learned sacrifice, there would be no such thing as the United States of America. Sacrifice and suffering in this context seems to be synonymous with commitment.
Such a commitment must be voluntary; for the Christian it is always voluntary. “In the kingdom of God no one ever stumbled onto a cross,” remarks Tozer.[vi] Sacrifice is never imposed on us; it has always been a commitment made by the individual… a choice. Even Jesus explained “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” Jesus offers us the same opportunity to choose the way of the cross.
Long-term commitment seems more like a fuzzy, abstract concept today. Culture teaches it is okay to jump from relationship to relationship, from school to school, or move from town to town … whatever makes you “happy.” In the church too, there is a diluting of the message of the cross (i.e. commitment and all that comes with the commitment). As long as youth and adults are “faithful” to church events and do not “go out into the world,” we are content. That is about the level of commitment many strive for today. We set the bar so low, hoping to have as many as possible “make it.” Doesn’t the life Jesus lived go much deeper than this? Tozer warned against a shallow and worldly modification of the cross that seeks to “please the entertainment-mad saintlings who will have their fun even within the very sanctuary.” [vii]
In this “age of accumulation” people are building monuments to self. Perhaps renting more storage space for our stuff is a way to hold on to some part of our selves. We can feel like we are increasing and growing, all while living vicariously “among the stuff.” Is sacrifice something we can even talk about today? Could it be that our avoidance of a cross and our constant pursuit of “stuff” has led to our fragmented, broken sense of self?
Jesus instructs us to teach all nations “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” … it starts with the message of the Cross.
As stated at the beginning, genuine, authentic faith that leads to spiritual and physical wholeness begins with carrying a cross. There could be no resurrection for the Lord until he was willing to endure the Cross. There was no glory fulfilled until he suffered willingly, accepting the plan God had prepared for him. This message still levels all injustices down to nothing. It upsets all philosophical constructs of human being and reduces all political power structures to a house of cards.
The Cross is the centerpiece of human reconciliation with God. Being crucified with Christ crushes all spiritual barriers existing between us and God; we start back at zero.
The Cross is the operating table of the broken self, placing us back into the hands of one who says, “I am the Resurrection and the life.”
The Cross destroys inhumane ideologies, eradicates prejudice … levels the playing field … so we can live together in the earth as God designed us to be.
We must preach the Cross!
[i] Psalm 103:3-5 NLT
[ii] A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross: Living the Passion of Christ (Camp Hill: Wing Spread Publishers, 2009), 7.
[iii] J. I. Brice, in Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 1987), 70.
[iv] Compare the historical accounts of persecution among the early Church recorded in Acts. Peter and the other apostles Acts 5:17-32; 40-42; Stephen 6:8-13; 7:54-60; Philip and others 8:1-5; Saul/Paul 9:1-3, 23-24; scattered believers 11:19; James and Peter 12:1-4; Paul and Barnabas 13:50; 14:5, 19, 22; Paul and Silas 16:19-24; Jason and other brethren 17:5-9; Paul 18:12; Gaius and Aristarchus 19:28-29; Paul 20:22-23; 21:27-36; 22:22-25; 23:2, 12-13; 24:27.
[v] Robert. L. Plummer, “The Role of Suffering in the Mission of Paul and the Mission of the Church,” Journal of Theology SBJT 17/4 (2013). 23 March 2016. Online: http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journal-of-theology/sbjt-174-winter-2013/the-role-of-suffering-in-the-mission-of-paul-and-the-mission-of-the-church/.
[vi] A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross: Living the Passion of Christ (Camp Hill: Wing Spread Publishers, 2009), 36.
[vii] Tozer, The Radical Cross, 4.