“He knew where he was going!” A Devotion for Palm Sunday

“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” —Mark 10:32-34 Continue reading

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“I Crucified Thee!” A Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

Crucifixion(As we prepare for Holy Week I offer this sermon of mine from 2004, my last year (as it turned out) as pastor at First Church in Pittsfield. Mel Gibson’s controversial film Passion of the Christ had brought the issues of the cross into the public view, and provided an opportunity to address this (quite literally) “crucial” subject.)

“This year  more than other years, there has been interest in the meaning of the passion of Christ because of the new Mel Gibson movie. I am not going to talk about the movie very much since I haven’t seen it. Seth Rogovoy from the Berkshire Eagle asked me to see it and be on a panel, but I said I wasn’t going to see it. But I had read the book!

I haven’t seen it for two reasons. The first is the same reason I have never seen Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan. I’m a wimp. I experience film as a powerful medium, and I am emotionally effected by movie violence. Somehow I can deal with battles between hobbits and orcs, but the depiction of historical violence I find very disturbing.

The second reason I haven’t seen it is subtler, and perhaps harder to understand. It is my feeling that there are some things that shouldn’t be put on film, and I personally feel that the death of Jesus is one of them. That may seem hypocritical since I have a reproduction of Matthias Grünwald’s Crucifixion on the wall of my study. Artists have always depicted biblical events. Why not film artists? For me, it is the appearance of reality about film, that “You Were There” quality that makes it so powerful.

I know people who have loved this movie and people who have hated it, people who have felt their life changed by it and people who have walked out of it. I have spoken to people who felt the movie was anti-Semitic and people who didn’t. It seems the movie for some people has served as a kind of cinematic Rorschach test for beliefs people already hold.

However accurate the film is, there is at least one sense in which the movie is not quite biblical, and that is in its detailed depiction of the event. None of the Gospels really describe the crucifixion. There is a restraint about the Gospel accounts, a kind of modesty before the obscenity and horror of the event. Of course, the harsh truth is that none of the Evangelists needed to be told what a crucifixion was like. Whether they wanted to or not most of them had seen crucified slaves along the roads. Tens of thousands of the enemies of Rome, real or perceived, were crucified in the first century AD, so Jesus’ crucifixion was just another one of those.

When the movie came out the cover of Newsweek asked in boldface type: “Who really killed Jesus?” That question arises out of a long and shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism. The foundation of this anti-Semitism has been the attempt to attach historical blame for the crucifixion to the Jews. For centuries in Christian Europe violence toward Jews frequently took place on Good Friday.

We must acknowledge the sad truth that for Jews the cross has been an emblem of persecution just as for Islam it has been an emblem of the Crusades. To admit this is not to apologize for the cross, but it is to apologize for the reprehensible acts that have been done in its name.

The truth is that the responsibility for Jesus’ death lies at the feet of all humankind. That the characters in the Gospel accounts of the Passion were Romans or Jews is incidental to the significance of the cross. We must never forget that Jesus and all his followers were Jewish. Let us remember, too, that “Second Temple Judaism” was not monolithic, but had parties and factions, and some of them were hostile to Jesus.

We do know that crucifixion was never a Jewish method of execution; that would have been death by stoning. A cross was a Roman device, and his executioners were Roman soldiers. So from a strictly historical point of view it must be said that Jesus was the victim of a Roman state execution.

But to the question, “Who killed Jesus? The better answer must be, “I didYou didWe did.”  Which is to say that it was human sin that killed Jesus. He not only died for our sins, he died because of our sins. That is expressed in the second verse of the hymn “Ah, holy Jesus,” which asks:

“Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!

Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.”

And the second station of the cross in the Roman Catholic Church prays: “My Jesus, this cross should be mine, not Thine; my sins crucified Thee.”

How can this be? How can a man who died two thousand years ago in Jerusalem have anything to do with me? How can I be guilty? In much the same way church members have sometimes told me that they don’t feel like the confession of sin in our service relates to them. They don’t feel as if they have done any of the things we confess, such as being unjust to their neighbors, or fouling the environment, or what have you.

I try to explain to them that a general confession is just that, general. The prayer speaks for a broader constituency that any of us, or even all of us within the congregation. For when we come before God we don’t come merely as individuals, we come as part of the human family. And as part of the human family we participate in vast social, political and economic networks, many of them unjust and even evil.

Which is to say, that to some extent, we all have blood on our hands, although none of us likes to think about it. In Dostoevsky’s profound novel The Brothers Karamazov, he tells the story of “The Grand Inquisitor.” Christ comes back again to earth, and who he is and what he stands for are too threatening to the status quo for him to be allowed to live. The question is asked, “If Christ walked among us again, would we kill him again?”

John Thomas has written, “Our fingerprints on the nails are easy to overlook, but they are there. Holy Week presses us to see that we too, are violators. Some years ago,” he writes, “I watched a documentary on the Holocaust, titled “Shoah,” which included expected scenes of horror. But for me, the most disturbing portrait of evil was the benign face of an elderly man who had worked for the German state railroad. His job was to issue tickets to Jews forced into cattle cars for transport to the gas chambers. This bewildered-looking man couldn’t comprehend that his bureaucratic job had anything to do with the horror of the Holocaust. He didn’t shoot Jews or toss them in the ovens. He just issued tickets.”  Thomas concludes, “You and I don’t flay the skin off Jesus. But we do issue tickets. Our complicity in evil is real and often profoundly undramatic. Until we face that reality, the Passion is little more than a tragic movie, and we will miss the truth of our own profound need for the redemption of Easter.” (United Church News, April 2004)

But at the foot of the cross we can be set free to recognize ourselves among the guilty. We can identify ourselves among the crowd, both on Palm Sunday when they cried, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and on Good Friday, when they shouted “Crucify him.” A disappointed angry mob is dangerous, probably not all that different from the crowd that mutilated the bodies of the slain American workers in Fallujah in Iraq this week. Such shameful acts of violence and horror take place all the time, not just in the past, not just “in history.” At the foot of the cross can we acknowledge that even the very best of us bears some resemblance to the worst of us? Can we recognize ourselves as sinners in need of redemption?

Can we put aside the tendency to blame “the other” for human sin and evil? Can we leave behind the need to point an accusing finger at those who are not like us, whether they are poor, or black, or Muslim or Jewish, so that we don’t have to confront our own sin?

This sounds like a grim exercise, but it is a necessary one. Because the Gospel is often bad news before it is able to be Good News. God’s judgment and mercy are two sides of the same coin. And so when we admit our sin, and the sin of the human family of which we are a part, we can then receive the forgiveness God wants for us. At the foot of the cross we can see that Jesus died not only because of our sins, but also for our sins, to take them away and free us for new life with him and for each other.

And this is only possible because Jesus’ death is not just any death. No, the incredible claim we make is that “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” If Jesus had been just another man, even a very good man, then he is, at best, an example to us of the power of sacrifice, and, at worst, just another martyr to human violence. Then his death is merely a tragedy. Because suffering is never, in and of itself, redemptive. Just ask anyone who suffers. To believe otherwise is masochism.

But why is his death redemptive? Why is Jesus’ death different from all the other tragic deaths in history? Why is his death different from all the other men who ended up on Roman crosses? The answer is not that he suffered more. Others have suffered more, even at the hand of Christians.

So what is it that makes his death different, and makes his cross not a symbol of shame, but a symbol of faith? The full story will be told next Sunday on Easter. It is the resurrection that makes the difference. It is the resurrection that transforms the cross from an emblem of horror into an emblem of God’s wondrous love.

To the eyes of Easter faith the bitter cross is viewed as an act of Israel’s God, consistent with who God had been in the past, a God who rescues and saves, who liberates and reconciles. So the cross is transformed into an atoning, redeeming, reconciling divine act of grace. God in Jesus Christ gives up his life in humble obedience. He takes our sin and the judgment that goes with it and puts it to death on the cross with himself. That is how the cross becomes the symbol of Christian faith, not as a way to blame others for sin, but to admit our own sin and marvel at the lengths that God will go to take it away.

If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus, and him crucified! There you will see the very nature of God. As C. S. Dinsmore once wrote, “There was a cross in the heart of God before there was one planted on the green hill outside Jerusalem.”

The cross tells us that God’s grace is bigger than our sin. The extent of that love should humble us. As Isaac Watts penned, “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain, I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

That is what the cross stands for, the vast love of God, and our humble contrition before it when we consider the weight of our now-forgiven sins. To turn the cross into a symbol of Christian triumphalism, or of a Crusade, or of persecution is to betray its meaning. To make the cross an emblem of hate like the twisted crosses of Nazism or the Ku Klux Klan is to crucify Christ all over again.

But to admit “I crucified Thee” is not an empty pious gesture. Nor is it mere breast-beating. It is an honest admission of our need to have our sins forgiven, and not only ours but the sins of the whole world, our need to be reconciled to God and to our neighbors. The Good News that we preach is that God has already accomplished this for us through the cross. We need only take what he gives us, and we will find that when we turn to him, he is already coming to meet us.

So let us come to his table today in humility and contrition as those who need forgiveness, as those who need God’s grace.  And let us find in him, whose body was broken for us, and whose blood was shed for us, both bread for the journey and food for eternal life.  Amen.

(I preached this sermon on Palm/Passion Sunday, April 4, 2004 at First Church of Christ, Congregational in Pittsfield, Massachusetts)

(Painting: “Crucifixion” by Matthias Grunewald)

“The Stones Would Cry Out!” Palm Sunday Ruminations on the Cradle and the Cross

 

At which end of Jesus’ life should we look for the reason we call him “Lord and Savior?” My friends in the Mercersburg Society put heavy stress on the Incarnation.  Others, such as P. T. Forsyth, insist that we only can understand the Incarnation backwards in time, from the perspective of Christ’s death and resurrection. (See, for example, on this point, a great quote from Forsyth here.)

From my teacher and friend Gabriel Fackre, one of the early and still best narrative theologians, I have learned to be careful not to take any episode of the story to represent the whole.

But I must confess I do agree here with Forsyth, though he has sometimes been criticized as being so focused on the cross that he neglects other parts of Jesus’ life and work.

So what is the relationship between the cradle and the cross?  If one were to only read Marks’s Gospel, the answer is simple, since he has no infancy narratives at all and begins with Jesus’s adutlt ministry.

But for many of us, this is the year of Luke in our lectionaries, and it is well to remember that of all the Evangelists, it is Luke who includes the most infancy material: “the Annunciation,” “the Visitation,”  shepherds and heavenly choirs, etc.  It is no accident we all read Luke at our services on Christmas Eve.  If we read Mark, we’d get home much earlier.

I heard somewhere, I can’t recall where, that “the wood of the cradle is the same wood as the wood of the cross.”  There is much theological truth in that.

So once again I turn to a poet to express deep truths that may elude the prose of the theologians.

Richard Wilbur (1921-) is one of my favorite poets (I have many), and although I have never met him, is my Berkshire County neighbor and a sometimes worshipper at the congregation where I now mostly worship.

A two time Pulitzer Prize winning poet and former Laureate, Wilbur has made a startling but brilliant connection between Christ’s Incarnation and Cross in his poem A Christmas Hymn.

It is often sung to one of several musical settings at Christmas, but the refrain is right from Luke’s Palm Sunday story, and the concluding verse reminds us of the reason for Christ’s vocation that led to Good Friday.  Such a good reminder to keep the whole arc of the story in view when looking at the any of the parts:

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

(A Christmas Hymnby Richard Wilbur, New and Collected Poems, 1988, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1988.)

They’ll Know Him in his Cross A sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday on Ephesians 2:5-11

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday many who looked to him to overthrow the Roman oppressor. His entry not on a charger but on a donkey was a living parable that here was a different kind of power. And those who shouted “Hosanna!” on Sunday were quick to shout “Crucify him!” on Good Friday when he didn’t show the kind of power that the world understands all too well.

Christ’s cross confronts us still as the place where divine power and human sin collide. He took our sin to that cross, and it died there along with him. It is no accident that the cross is the symbol of our faith. Paul tells the Philippians:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11. NRSV)

Let us be very clear what is claimed here: that it is the fact of Jesus’s death as a slave that makes him Lord, his death as a nobody that makes him exalted at the right hand of God. And if God, the Father Almighty, who created the heavens and the earth, and Jesus, the man of Nazareth, share a divine identity, what does the cross tell us of the identity of God?

It tells us first of all that what the world values is not what God values. The Roman Empire that crucified Jesus was constructed on power, violence, and might, all delivered with ruthless efficiency, and the cross was the supreme instrument of Roman values. The cross was a slave’s death, designed to dispose of the nobodies of the world, and put fear into the hearts of other nobodies so they wouldn’t challenge Rome’s power.

But the crucifixion puts God squarely on the side of the nobodies. The cross condemns the brutal social arrangements then and now that trample the poor, that put the concerns of the powerful ahead of the nobodies of the world. The cross condemns every injustice that treats people as expendable; every cynical deal that seeks gain at the expense of others.

The cross says God has different values, seeks a different way, a way of servanthood and humility, a way that seeks the good of others, a way that rejects violence and injustice, a way in which everybody is somebody. In God’s values there aren’t any nobodies, for God’s own son was once regarded as a nobody and died a nobody’s death, forgiving those who killed him even as he cried out in utter forsakenness.

This is the Christian God, the crucified God, who turns the world’s values upside down. If you want to know about this God take a good look at Jesus. Notice how he befriends the poor, touches lepers, eats with sinners. There weren’t any nobodies in Jesus’s book.  Only sinners to be saved, broken people to be made whole, dying people to be given new life,  sorrowful people to be made glad, remorseful people to be forgiven.

Look to Jesus: that is where the Christian finds identity and purpose, from Jesus Christ and him crucified. And not just for our personal spiritual life, but for the whole world. For his cross redeems our sins, but also our politics, our marriages and families, our business practices, our churches and everything else about our world. George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, once wrote,

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . .at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died.  And that is what he died about.

People have asked me why my theology is so centered on the cross of Jesus. Why should somebody as generally cheerful as I am want to focus on such a gloomy subject? The story of my coming to the cross is a story of coming to know God in a whole new way. Although I was raised in the church as a child, I decided to be a Christian as an adult, because the cross of Christ rang true for me, as an answer equal to the world’s harsh truths. My mother died when I was eighteen, and my sunny childhood faith was tested and found wanting. We live in a world where people we love can get sick and die, where injustice is often done, where bad things happen to good people as well as bad, but in my young life I had never known this and I had a lot of trouble accepting it. At this vulnerable time in my life, the time when I was leaving home, my world was turned upside down, and I found myself in a darkness I had never known.

Some of you, probably most of you, have known such darkness, because the world brings it to us in time.  There is, in such times, no light, no hope, no word of comfort. Nicholas Wolterstorff, who teaches theology at Yale, writes about such a time, when  his son died suddenly at the age of twenty-five.  Wolterstorff write this about his time of darkness:

I am at an impasse, and you, O God, have brought me here. From my earliest days I heard of you. From my earliest days I believed in you. I shared in the life of your people: in their prayers, in their work, in their songs, in their listening for your speech and in their watching for your presence. For me your yoke was easy. On me your presence smiled.

Noon has darkened. As fast as she could say, “He’s dead,” the light dimmed. And where are you in the darkness? I learned to spy you in the light. Here in this darkness I cannot find you. If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence. Or is it not your absence but your elusive troubling presence?

Will my eyes adjust to this darkness? Will I find you in the dark—not in the streaks of light which remain, but in the darkness? Has anyone ever found you there? Did they love what they saw? Did they see love? And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim? The songs I learned were all of praise and thanksgiving and repentance. Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?” (Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, Eerdmans, 1987)

Wolterstorff asks whether anyone has anyone ever found God in the darkness? I did. It took time, and not a little waiting in silence. But as I look back at it I would say that it wasn’t me that found God so much as God who found me. Found me in the darkness! And the God who found me was not a stranger to darkness. Here was a God who knew what I knew, who experienced what I had experienced. Who knew sorrow and was acquainted with grief.

And in this solidarity of suffering I recognized something I had never expected to know in the dark. I knew I was loved, loved by the crucified God, the God who,by some mystery, fully and passionately entered into human life to redeem and transfigure it. And not human life at its best, but human life at its very worst, at a state execution, where a man was beaten half to death and nailed to a tree to die a slow humiliating and painful death. “It was now about noon,” Luke writes of the crucifixion, “and darkness came over the land.”

In my time of darkness I finally realized that I didn’t have the resources to fix the world, much less my own life. I couldn’t even heal the deep grief and loss I felt. But I knew, believed, trusted, the presence of God in all my troubles and trials. Knew and believed in God’s power to transform renew, heal and restore the broken suffering world.

And forty years later I still believe it. And when I look at the world today, in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, or even on North Street in Pittsfield, I see a world that cannot save itself and needs the redemptive power of God which is demonstrated in the cross.

And I try never to forget what I know, that the Risen Christ of Easter is the crucified Jesus of Good Friday. The Risen Christ of Easter still bears the marks of the nails that killed him. Because when I am happy and healthy and well fed, I want a God without a cross, a God who will prop up my life and maintain the things I want, and not cause me too much a trouble, a nice God who dwells in sunlight and doesn’t trouble my conscience or demand too much of me. No elusive troubling presence, thank you, just God in his place.

And God’s place, it is sad to say, is often the church, for even the church tries to domesticate God. Even the church tries to sell God like so much snake oil as a nostrum for being healthy and happy, but, if the truth be told, faith should come with a warning label. Maybe that is what the cross is, a warning label! Because those who look to Jesus Christ and his cross for their identity will find that they will invariably  share his passion for this world, and his vocation to be the love of God for a fallen world, and like him go out to embody God whatever the cost. “Take up  your cross,” he says, “and follow me!”

That doesn’t make life easy, but it makes it interesting, and in the end deeply satisfying in a way that others can not know. For by some strange Gospel equation only the empty know what it is like to be filled, only the humble know what it is to be exalted, only those who have wept can know what real joy is, and only those who in some very real way have lost their lives will find the true life that comes from God. The Christian may start out as a consumer of religion, but will soon be called to be a servant, “just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus gave up the form of God to take the form of a slave, even unto a slave’s death on a cross. But now the slave is master, whom we call Lord! Now the humbled one is the exalted One who sits at the right hand of God the Father!  Now by his cross we, nobodies in the eyes of the world and, too often in our own eyes as well, are raised up to new life in him and with him.

And someday, in the fullness of time, in God’s good hour, the whole world will see and know Jesus as he is, no longer in darkness but in unspeakable light! They’ll no longer view him as an executed slave, a loser and a nobody, dead on a cross, but as the Lord of time and eternity; the Lord before whom every knee should bend, and every tongue confess that he is Lord. And when they do they’ll see that the risen Christ is still the crucified Christ, that the glorified Lord still bears the visible wounds on his hands and feet and side. Because the only way to really know Jesus, is to know him in his cross!

He died upon the lonely tree
forsaken by his God.
and yet his death means all to me
and saves me by his blood.

The world will never know his worth
the wise will never see,
But those forsaken, broken, bowed,
will recognize that tree.

And know that there God’s love does reign
and conquers sin and death;
Thwarts hate and evil, comforts pain,
gives hope while there is breath.

The nations grasp at wealth and power
while wars like tempests toss,
But finally in God’s good hour,
they’ll know him in his cross

Then wars will cease and weapons fall,
and fear will melt away.
For Christ will be their all in all,
from day to endless day.
© 2001  Richard L. Floyd

( I preached this sermon at The First Church of Christ in Pittsfield.  It was included in the Festscrift for my teacher and friend Gabriel Fackre, Story Lines. Edited by Skye Fackre Gibson. Eerdmans, 2002.  The concluding poem is a hymn text I wrote in 2001.  The picture is John The Baptist pointing to the Crucified Jesus from the Isenheim altarpeice by Matthias Gruenwald.)

Where I Ruminate on the Perils of a Palm Sunday Faith in a Good Friday World

There is a kind of decaffeinated Christianity that wants to quickly slide by Good Friday and get right to Easter, as if Good Friday is a morbid and somewhat unfortunate episode that is dwelt upon only by the morbid and masochistic. Or to put it another way, we are tempted to have a Palm Sunday faith, a faith based on a misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

Like the crowd at the first Palm Sunday we are tempted to see Jesus not as he is, but as a projection of our own hopes and desires. We can do this in a number of ways. We can turn Jesus into the supporter of our personal goals, or the upholder of our national ambitions, or our politics, or other ways where he becomes who we want him to be instead of who he really is. “Palm Sunday faith” is when we want a Jesus without a cross so we can have a faith without a cross, a faith without challenge or sacrifice, a faith without testing or struggle. When we do that we turn God into a kind of talisman or lucky charm to bless our projects and our aspirations, when in fact the God of the Bible is a God with his own sovereign purposes.

The problem with a Palm Sunday faith is that we live in a Good Friday world.I believe that Christian faith is essentially a joyful enterprise, but it is a joyful enterprise that doesn’t turn or flinch from the hard truths of the world’s harsh brutalities. So Christian faith without a cross does not show God’s full power to deal with human sin and death. And a faith without a cross will be found feeble and wimpy when the chips are really down.

What do I mean when I say it is a Good Friday world? There is a certain heartbreaking aspect of living that comes to us all. Often we only see it from a distance, as in the war in Iraq, where we have seen pictures both of dead and injured civilians and dead servicemen and women. But to the families of those individuals that heartbreak has come “up close and personal.” And some heartbreak comes to every human life sooner or later.

It is not just in wartime that the powers of sin and death do their heartbreaking work. Which is why there is so much comfort for us in worshipping a God who himself “became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

And that is exactly it. Our God knows the whole truth about human life. Knows not just the Sunday veneer and the masks of propriety but the dark and sad parts of it all. Knows that life is not a bowl of cherries. And this God not only knows the worst the world has to offer, but he has done something about it. His love is not sentimental love; it is holy love, a love that moves and acts to deal with love’s enemies.

A God who merely comforted the afflicted and bound up the wounded would not be a God who takes on the power of sin and death and evil. That is what the cross of Jesus is all about. God himself confronting human life at is very worst, at its most irredeemable, at a pitiful state execution, where the most powerful forces in the world humiliated and destroyed this humble innocent man.

He took it all on himself, the whole weight of the world’s hate and violence, its guilt and shame, all of it there on the hill at Golgotha. For us: you and me, and not just for us, but for everyone, across the ages. And not just for humans, but for himself, because his own holiness could not tolerate the world’s sin without atonement. And so he made it, not with the blood of rams at the temple, but making the sacrifice himself, spilling his own life out.

And why? Because that is what love does. By its very nature love spills itself out. In the letter to the Philippians Paul says that Jesus even gave up his own rightful claim to divinity, emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, for the cross was a slave’s death.And because of this humble obedience the Father has highly exalted him, and has given him God’s own name. Because “Lord” is the name Israel gave to their God, and to no one else.

But now Jesus is called “Lord.”When we call Jesus “Lord” and take the full measure of his love we will be moving toward a faith that can meet life’s darkest hours and toughest spots. A faith that is able to stand at the foot of the cross. And the world desperately needs people like that with faith like that: faith in Jesus, and in the power of his cross.