By Chad Beckman, Elder
We all like Easter! What isn’t to like: a risen Savior, new life, an empty grave, hope, bright happy pastel colors, hardboiled colored eggs, family gatherings and candy. The problem is we always jump straight to the joy of the resurrection and forget about the path to the cross.
The journey to the cross is about forcing ourselves to go through the dark days leading up to Easter. It is remembering the mess man made of the earth thousands of years ago but also remembering the promises of a faithful and loving God to make our mess right. It is remembering what Jesus gave up, what He took on and what kind of life He lived. It is about remembering and dwelling on the dark days of the last week of Jesus’ life and the ugly, gruesome cross that stood between Him and the people He loved so much.
The cross has become an all too familiar symbol today. We see it everywhere and because of that it has lost the shock factor that it should (and must) carry for believers. Death on a cross was an absolutely horrendous means of execution. Of all the periods in time Jesus could have come to earth, He chose when the Romans were in power and were wielding one of the worst means of execution ever. We have become unfamiliar with the path to the cross: the betrayal by one of his chosen men, the denial of his friend, the 39 lashes (one more was believed to cause death), the spitting, the thorns, the jeering, the jokes, the nails and the spear. We have forgotten about the agony of the King, the creator of the universe, who took the weight of all the world’s sin on His shoulders. This suffering was due you and me. We skip over all this because it makes us uncomfortable. It makes us realize that we caused this. It makes us realize just how undeserving we are of all that He went through.
Skip to Easter? No, we must not! We must force ourselves to walk the path with Jesus and remember the immense price he paid. We must remember the cost of the gift so that the gift means that much more.
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. Luke 9:51-55, ESV
Determined! From the time that we first see Jesus at the age of 12 until his very last day on earth, we see that Jesus was laser-focused on doing what He came to earth to do. His purpose was to “do the Father’s business,” which was to be the blessing to all nations that had been promised through Abraham many years earlier. He would do this by living a perfect life and ultimately “laying down his life as a ransom for many”.
As Jesus moves toward the goal of why He was on earth, we are given such incredible insight into the heart of God through Jesus’ interaction with the people. What Jesus says and does in response to the people’s questions and behavior speaks volumes about the great and powerful God in the Old Testament. Even more insightful is the running commentary we are given as Jesus spends time with the disciples. Jesus answers their questions and explains His ministry.
In this passage, we see Jesus determined to get to Jerusalem. Jesus could have gone straight to Jerusalem, walked into the chief priest’s court and said, “I am the son of God and I am the true king of the world.” His statement would have been true and it would have given the chief priest all he would have needed to kill Him with a lot less drama and scheming by the Pharisees. However, Jesus’ determination to do what He came to do, never took precedence over His concern and love for people.
In these verses, Jesus stopped in Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. Luke tells us that the people did not receive Him or listen to His message because “His face was set toward Jerusalem.” This doesn't mean that Jesus was not willing to spend time with the Samaritans or that He was short with them because He needed to get to Jerusalem. Rather, this is a statement about the people not taking interest in Jesus. We see the people with callous hearts. They did not want to hear the very message they needed to hear. As a result, Jesus got to Jerusalem sooner. If widespread repentance would have broken out it in Samaria, it would have only delayed Jesus getting to where he needed to be.
In verse 54, the disciples were clearly frustrated with the people. Maybe the disciples wanted to hurry things up and get to Jerusalem, too. I wonder if the Samaritans were being indignant or rude to Jesus. The disciples wanted to call down fire and destroy them. But what is Jesus’ response? He rebukes the disciples. Through this response to His disciples, we see evidence of the grace and long suffering nature of God. Jesus was holding back judgment. It was not the right time. His purpose was to be the sacrifice for these unruly and rude people and to teach the disciples about grace.
CHALLENGE & PRAYER
I challenge you this week to set your face in the direction of God’s call on your life and not be distracted by the cares of the world. Do what it takes to know God and the depth of His love by spending time with Him in His Word. Take time to stop and show grace and kindness to any lost people you know that are callous and even actively opposing Christ. Pray today that you will see the world as Jesus does and through his eyes of grace and compassion.
1 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. Mark 12:1-12, ESV
You have heard the saying, “the truth hurts.” You can tell from the response of the leaders (chief priests, elders and scribes) that this parable hits a nerve. The evil that was exposed in their hearts was great!
When my dad started farming in the late 1970’s, my family did not own much land so we ended up leasing around 600 acres of land. There were two different ways the land was leased: cash rent or a share of the crop. Sharecropping was always the better set up because it protected the farmer when there was a wet spring, summer drought or falling grain prices. Unfortunately, most of the land my dad rented was cash rent and I remember quite a few years where the farm lost money. It was amazing how spring floods would be followed by summer droughts and at the end of the year we owed $100 an acre regardless if the land produced 40 bushels of soybeans an acre or 10.
The vine growers in this parable have a pretty good setup — they are given free access to the owner’s land and vineyards as well as his facilities to make wine and protect themselves and their families. When we farmed, we provided the implements, the fuel, the seed, the herbicide and all the labor. The situation for the vine growers was very different. They had little to no risk or investment on their part, yet they had opportunity to make a profit. The owner did not even micro-manage them and tell them how to run the vineyard. What a set up! But their greed got the better of them and they wanted it all.
Like the vine growers in the parable, the nation of Israel had been given a lot. They were chosen by God to be His people, they were given a land and most importantly, they were given an inheritance — through them would come a descendent who would be a blessing to the whole world. David recognized what they had been given:
“But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. “For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.” 1 Chronicles 29:14-15, ESV
Somewhere along the way, the nation lost sight of the blessing. Now, it was time for the harvest and the promised Christ was coming to claim His portion but instead He was killed. Imagine the insult! This was the agreement (covenant) that Israel had entered. All they had to do was accept Him and His kingdom. He was not changing the requirements or asking for more than the people had already supposedly agreed to. They simply did not like the Christ because He was not who they expected and He was not offering them what they wanted — political freedom.
What is interesting about this parable is that even though the vine growers hurt or killed the servants, the owner continued to send more representatives. Why in the world would he do this? Why wouldn't he just call the authorities and have them arrested and thrown in jail? That is what I would do. But, thankfully, God is not like us. He is a God of grace and rather than judging and calling down fire to consume us, He shows us mercy and grace and continues to give us another chance. Oh, the long-suffering and patience of our God.
CHALLENGE & PRAYER
Let us not be like the vine growers! If you have accepted the gospel, you are no longer your own. You have a responsibility to care for the vineyard and to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed”. Like the son in the parable, Jesus is going to return and when He does, the vine growers won’t be able to kill Him. He will come and take control of the vineyard from the vine growers and will restore it to its perfect working condition as He intended it. How will you receive Him? If you know the gospel but have not put your complete faith and trust in God, then take this opportunity to do so. Pray that in your own way, even as a believer, that you will receive Jesus fully into your life and not reject him. Pray that others you know might also place their trust in Christ.
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose, I came to this hour. 28 “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. 31 “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. 34 The crowd then answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 “While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light. “These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. 37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. John 12:27-37, ESV
I have a confession to make that is hard for me to admit. When I was in the Army, I found myself in roles that required me to deploy for months at a time to fun places like Bosnia and Kuwait. In the weeks leading up to these deployments, I would be filled with extreme anxiety. I couldn't sleep, didn't want to eat and had an intense sense of dread weighing down on me. The unknown of what I was getting into, the responsibility of the soldiers under my charge and the thought of being apart from my newlywed wife were overwhelming. Even now, when I travel for work, I find myself in an airport and will sometimes have something remind me of a deployment and that same pit will form in my stomach.
Though it pales in comparison, when I look at what Jesus was going through in this passage, I think back to the dread I had and I feel I can understand on a very, very small level. He fully knew the rejection, suffering and torturous death He was going to endure. He knew that He was going to have to bear the full weight of our sin if there was going to be any hope for us. When I look back on my situation, none of the dread I experienced was because I knew I was going to die. That never crossed my mind. I can’t imagine leaving had I known for sure I would not make it back alive. I can’t imagine what I would have felt had I known that I would be rejected, tortured and face immense demonic opposition to everything I did to accomplish my mission. When I see passages like this, I am reminded how much I love Jesus! Look at what He says: “What shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?” But for this purpose, I came to this hour.” He looked at everything in store and weighed it against the hope He would provide to mankind and He chose death. It astounds me every time I think about it. My creator loves me that much that He would willingly take my sin and the sin of all mankind and be “lifted up” so that we could be drawn to Him. This is the most amazing news ever.
CHALLENGE & PRAYER
Thank God today that though facing immense pain at the cross, and though feeling great internal pressure to not fulfill his mission, Jesus followed through all the way to his death. He did this for you and me. Consider today that price and the difficult decision he made to follow through. Humble yourself before him and praise him for this great grace and love.
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26
The only easy day was yesterday! This SEAL team saying seems fitting for the Christian walk. We fail to realize that as Christians we are in an all-out war. We are daily engaging in battles over who we are going to serve and how we will resist the devil. Will we serve Christ or will we serve ourselves? Will we give in to temptation or will we value staying pure and worthy of the name, Christian? To become more like Christ, requires that we commit to work harder today than we did yesterday. As you grow in Christ, the battle for who you will serve intensifies. The more effective you become for Christ, the more you will undergo attacks and be tempted to be satisfied with mediocrity. All this makes yesterday look easy!
Why does growing in our faith require so much work? Because everything in our human nature is opposed to us growing in our faith. Our flesh is all about our own selfish desires and it is opposed to anything of God. We do not want to deny our own desires. We want what we want, whenever we want it and in the exact way we want it. But according to this passage, our instruction from Jesus is to deny ourselves and take up our cross in order to serve Him by serving others rather than ourselves. We aren't instructed to do this only when it is convenient or when things in our life are going well. Rather, we are instructed to do this every single day. Our flesh doesn't take a vacation. Just when you think you have control, some new temptation or circumstance arises that draws out the old self. The flesh is strong and it is surely persistent. There is no easy day because it takes hard work and a renewed commitment daily.
Jesus asks something of us. This is not a popular perspective today. We already have so many people and commitments vying for our time and attention, do we really have to also add Jesus to the list? It is so much easier to think of Jesus as a spiritual genie who can give you whatever you ask for. But therein lies the problem. Jesus isn’t asking you to add him to the list of things that you schedule. He is asking you to make Him “the” thing you follow after. This is the demand that the ‘real’ Jesus makes.
I love what N.T. Wright says:
The longer you look at Jesus, the more you will want to serve him in his world. That is, of course, if it’s the real Jesus you’re looking at. Plenty of people in the church and outside it have made up a ‘Jesus’ for themselves, and have found that this invented character makes few real demands on them. He makes them feel happy from time to time, but doesn’t challenge them, doesn’t suggest they get up and do something about the plight of the world. Which is, of course, what the real Jesus had an uncomfortable habit of doing.
Each day that we enjoy life and breath, we should look to the real Jesus. We need to spend time in His word, unwinding the bent the world has tried to twist us into. We need to remember all Jesus has accomplished for us and the demands He makes on those who follow Him. We are in a battle — a battle between our own desires and the desires of Jesus while the souls of men sit on the balance between spending an eternity with Christ or in Hell. Even the mention of Hell is inconsistent with the Jesus many have created. Jesus is too loving to allow people to go to hell, right?
CHALLENGE & PRAYER
Yesterday was easy because it is over. Today is hard because it will be filled with distractions, oppositions and possibly hardships. All these things will try to consume your time and attention but it is this mindset and attitude that we must take on. Romans 12:2 says we must renew our mind. We need to refocus and prioritize Jesus over ourselves, daily. If we ebb and flow, our fleshly desires will win. The souls of men and women are at stake. This is what is important to God, so it should be what is important to us. Pray that God would give you the strength to focus on him each and every day. Pray that you will never forget the gift of the cross by ignoring God’s presence in your life. Ask God to renew your heart for daily prayer, Bible reading and devotion to him.