The Road to the Cross

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Holy Week. The week before Easter. The week when Jesus knew that “the time had come for him to leave this world” (John 13:1), and that the road ahead – the road to the cross – would be filled with unspeakable pain. What was he thinking?

Do you ever wonder about that?

I do.

Being fully God, Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. He’d be insulted, rejected, and abandoned – both by the Jewish leaders (many of whom believed in him but who were too scared to admit it, since they “loved praise from men more than praise from God”) and by his closest friends. (John 12:42)

He would suffer indescribable torment. The press of the thorns…the sting of the whip…the pain of the nails…the struggle to breathe.

And he would know the heartache of watching his mother watch him die – and of being unable, in that moment, to wipe the tears from her eyes.

So what was he thinking, on the road to the cross?

I can’t begin to imagine, but Scripture gives us some clues. Jesus says that his heart is “troubled” and that the idea of backing out has at least presented itself. He confides in his friends, telling them that he is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And he prays, asking God if there is any way to take a pass…but then, ultimately, choosing God’s will over his own. (John 12:27, Matthew 26:38, Matthew 26:39)

Clearly, the road wasn’t easy. It was agonizing. So how did he do it? How did he – being fully man – get past the fear and the worry and the sorrow that stood in his path?

Here again, the Bible offers some answers. Reading through the gospels and Paul’s letters, we see a man inspired by obedience, trust, humility, and love. And, in addition to these internal motivators, Hebrews 12:2 reveals an external driver: Future joy. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” the writer says, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” 

Future joy.

I’ve combed through the commentaries looking to flesh out, exactly, what that joy was. It seems like, for Jesus, the joy came in three parts:

The first is the idea of a mission accomplished. His teaching was revolutionary and his miracles amazing, but Jesus knew that the whole point of his life was the cross (“It was,” he says in John 12:27, “for this reason I came to this hour”). Fulfilling his purpose – the job that aligned with God’s master plan – gave him joy.

The second reason was the resurrection. Jesus knew (because he was God, and because of prophecies like the one in Psalm 16:9-11) that he would come out of the tomb alive, and that his experience would open the door to the everlasting joy of God’s presence – not just for himself, but for all who would call on his name.

And the third reason? The third reason is the one that makes me cry. The third reason Jesus stayed on the road to the cross (the main reason, in fact) is us. He did it for us. He did it, the Bible says, to keep us from falling and to present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy. (Jude 24)

Jesus wanted to be able to bring us to God. We are the reason he endured the cross. We are, I believe, what he was thinking about, as he made his way up that hill.

And this Holy Week, this Easter, I want us to think about that, too. Because we are God’s beloved – not just in the future, but right here and right now.

We are – you are – his joy.

 

 

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The Road to Victory

I love college sports. I’m partial to U.Va., of course (and how about that Anthony Gill, praying for Coach Bennett on the sidelines last weekend?), but I’ll watch almost any team, particularly if a big game is on the line.

But there’s one part I definitely don’t love. Even if the whoopsie is on the part of the “bad guys,” I really hate it when a contest comes down to the wire and the guy on the free throw line misses his shot. Or the goalie lets a zinger rip past his shoulder in lacrosse’s “sudden death” overtime. Or (and this is probably the worst) when it’s up to the kicker, and he misses the last-second field goal. Even just writing about it, my stomach hurts.

It’s not that I hate the thought of losing. It’s more that I hate the thought that (as one of our football-playing friends put it), “First you’re the hero, and then you’re the zero.”

FullSizeRenderWhich is, when you think about it, kind of what happened to Jesus in the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. At first, the crowds are lining the streets, spreading their coats on the ground for his donkey and waving palm branches while they shout cheers like, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed!”

But then the mood shifts, and some of these same people are turning their backs on him. Pretending they don’t even know him. Spitting on Jesus, even. And shouting, “Crucify!”

And he took it.

Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus “made himself nothing.” He emptied himself of all the glory that was rightfully his and, voluntarily, became the biggest zero the world has ever seen.

To most people, it looked like Game Over. But it wasn’t. And I know we’ve still got a few days before the stone gets rolled away, but honestly? Easter is the best come-from-behind, bust-all-the-brackets, zero-to-hero story that has ever been told.

And I love it. I love it because Jesus didn’t just win one for himself; he won it all of us. “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

And I love it because he didn’t just triumph over death so that we could go to heaven when we die. He did it so that we could be on the winning team now, so that we could play with confidence and joy, even when the game doesn’t seem to be going our way.

I don’t know where you are, spiritually, or what you’re dealing with this Easter season. But I can tell you this: God is all about the zero-to-hero thing. To him, it doesn’t matter how badly we’ve messed up our marriages, our parenting, our jobs, our whatever. He knows all of that, and he still wants us to play for him. He wants to take all the zeroes of our lives and turn them into a win.

If you’ve never made a decision to trust God – to just hand him your life, cuz he’s already given his for your sake – I want to encourage you to do that this Easter. Being a Christ-follower doesn’t mean you’ll never get fouled, or that you’ll never get a bad call. You will. But you’ll be playing for a Coach who is crazy about you, who has a wonderful game plan for your life, and who has already won the victory.

And March Madness doesn’t get any better that that.

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