Steps to the Cross

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 13, 2014)

Psalm 31:9-16 (TNIV)

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;
I am a dread to my friends–
those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering,
‘Terror on every side!’
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.

I know what some of you are thinking.

Way to go, such an uplifting way to start the service! Especially on Palm Sunday! Come on!

Before you start throwing things at us up here, let me try to explain a little. Next week is Easter, the biggest day of celebration in the Christian year. And often, on this Palm Sunday, we celebrate and praise too, remembering all of the “Hosannas” that were shouted when Jesus entered Jerusalem.

Several years ago I learned something that was new to me. Many churches historically called this “Passion” Sunday…not passion in the usual way we think of that word, but more in line with the Mel Gibson movie from a couple of years ago, “The Passion of the Christ”. Passion Sunday helps us enter into the passion, the emotion, the suffering, the love of Jesus willing to go through mocking and torture and death FOR US during Holy Week.

We often look for Sunday morning to encourage us, to “fill us up” for the struggle of the normal week ahead of us.

My experience as I’ve watched myself and others in the past is that simply trying to gloss over or deny the difficulty of life isn’t a long term encouragement. Trying to fire each other up emotionally doesn’t carry us through the long haul. And it doesn’t seem that Jesus demonstrates that either.

What I mean is, Palm Sunday was a wonderful celebration…but it wasn’t reality. People didn’t know what they were cheering for, or they were cheering for the wrong thing. Palm Sunday, in the scope of history, doesn’t really do much for us. But Good Friday and Easter changed the course of the cosmos!

Today will be a bit different.

We’ll look at four different parts of the bible, spread out at different times during the service. I’ll share a bit about each scripture, and we’ll have times of silence and reflection as well. The goal is to be real! Real with our struggles, real with our pain…and real with our trust, real with our hope, real with what God has done through Christ.

In Psalm 31, part of which Jeremy read just a moment ago, the Psalmist is completely open and honest about the distress and sorrow in life. I want to invite you to be just as honest with yourself this morning, and rather than ignore and deny the hard stuff, look it right in the eye. Where are the places where your “strength fails”, where you are “consumed by anguish”?

Psalm 31 doesn’t just wallow in the pain. It turns, turns to God. “I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’”

This reminds me of our look at Thomas a couple weeks ago. The journey entering Holy Week is to look at the struggle of life honestly and still say, “Lord, I’ll follow you. You’re the one I trust.”

Take a minute of two of silence to be honest. Face the hard stuff. Ask God for the courage to look at it, and to trust God as well.

Isaiah 50:4-9a (TNIV)

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who are my accusers?
Let them confront me!
It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.

Here’s why I’m pushing us on this journey today to look at the hard parts of Christ’s obedience.

When we are willing to look honestly at the hard places of our lives, it is precisely then that we can see the true wonder and beauty of God’s salvation through Jesus. God’s salvation comes through–not over, not around, not in spite of–through the suffering of the world.

Isaiah 50 is part of what are known as the servant songs of Isaiah. They are poetic pictures of, from the perspective of Isaiah, a future servant who will be God’s chosen one, who will obediently follow God and bring salvation. From the perspective of many Christians, we can see that Jesus lived as this suffering servant.

Look at Isaiah 50 with me in your bibles if you would like, at Isaiah 50:4. The first key is the way God’s servant, in response to God, “wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” Wide open ears of obedience are the key. This servant is not rebellious, has not turned away from God. Up to this point, one could picture a triumphant hero, whose obedience changes the world.

But then we quickly see triumph doesn’t immediately come.

“I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”

Jesus did this. But first, let Isaiah teach us. Let Isaiah lay out a model for us. Obedience to God begins with listening, opening our ears and eyes and minds to earnestly seek all God has to teach us. And obedience demonstrates a willingness, in that obedience, to not retaliate when others mock us or beat us.

This is the way God saved us through Christ! God didn’t paint over or white wash or stick his head in the sand about our pain and our sin, about our struggles and anxiety, trying to just drown it out with happy talk or denial. Jesus took the harder road of experiencing all suffering…and trusting God’s ability to rescue.

That’s the power and the beauty and the trust in the rest of Isaiah 50.

[READ 50:7-9a] Our hope is in God’s ultimate power and authority! And Jesus modeled that way of hope for us, that yielding, risky, rock-solid trust.

Through Lent this year, I’ve been working through some things.

God’s pushing me in some ways, pushing me to try to live and act differently. Over the last week I’ve been posting some of the things I’ve been trying, trying with God’s prompting and help. One of them was: “Choosing more and more to fight fear…fear of failure, and fear of rejection.”

When I look at Holy Week, it’s like the whole Christian life gets crammed together and summed up in one week. What Jesus does is like the sum total of what it means to be an obedient Christ-follower. I see all the incredibly painful things Jesus went through; I see how gracious he was, how patient, how trusting, how brave; and I get afraid. I get afraid of failing, afraid I won’t measure up. It’s like the anxiety of the SAT, that I’ll fail the test. But then I remember failure isn’t the end of the story.

Jeremy is going to read about two failures in Matthew 26, failures that are not the end of the story. One of the failures is Peter, someone with every good intention, but not the strength to follow through. Peter’s failure is not the end of the story, as he is offered forgiveness by Jesus and goes on to become the rock of the early church. The second failure is Judas, a failure of obedience, of giving up, and of betraying. It didn’t have to be the end of the story, either…but Judas took his own life before Jesus had the chance to offer him forgiveness.

Listen to these failures. When have you failed? Face those hard times, and remember that like Peter, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. We’ll have some silence after Jeremy reads.

Then one of the Twelve–the one called Judas Iscariot–went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over. Matthew 26: 14-16 (TNIV)

Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
‘ ‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. ‘
Peter replied,’ Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. ‘
‘ Truly I tell you, ‘Jesus answered,’ this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times. ‘
But Peter declared,’ Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you. ‘And all the other disciples said the same. Matthew 26: 31-35 (TNIV)

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death–
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11 (TNIV)

Isaiah showed the before picture…

…the suffering servant willing to obey no matter what the cost, trusting in God’s future vindication. Philippians in some ways is the triumphant after picture. It has, notice, the same call to obedience, the same call to service, the same humility and recognition that obedience can lead to death.

But now, rather than just a statement of trust that God WILL vindicate…now, after Easter, after the resurrection, after the wounded and scarred Jesus took breath again and showed himself to Thomas and disciples…now, after Easter, we have the sure fact to celebrate.

God has won! Jesus has won! Obedience, humility, service and suffering WIN! God’s loving power embraces it all, takes in all the pain and suffering and rejection, and transforms it, renews it, resurrects it…God gives us unending life.Vindication has come through the power of resurrection! And it is made available to us.

Follow him, friends!

Follow the obedient one, the suffering one. Take courage this week, as you remember Christ’s betrayal and agony and death, as you marvel at his patient obedience. Follow his lead, identify with Jesus just as he identifies with you. Join with him in the muck, with your eyes open and not in denial to the struggles you face.

And then join him in resurrection power! Experience the vindication, the exaltation, the celebration of renewal that comes only through God’s power. Only through God’s gift, received by our trust.

In this Holy Week, we have a beautiful chance. Not just for a nice experience this morning that might cover our pain for a little while and make us feel a little happier. We have the chance this week to join in the footsteps of the obedient, suffering Christ, knowing he did what he did out of love for us….knowing that God’s power of resurrection is coming…for Jesus, and for us!

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