For all who had gathered around the Cross at Gethsemane, this was not what they had been expecting. They wanted Jesus to miraculously come down from that Cross and claim His Kingship over Roman rule. But instead, He died like any other man would, leaving them stunned and confused. Raw emotions started spilling out of them. Sorrow in seeing their Lord die in such a horrible way. Despair in feeling abandoned and alone. Regret in following Jesus only to have this happen. As they turned their backs on the Cross and went away, all these emotions were compounded by fear…fear that the Roman Guard would be coming for them next. A song by Don Franciso starts with these words, “The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down, I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound, half in hopeless sorrow half in fear the day would find the soldiers crashing though to drag us all away…” As the COVID19 virus has us all hunkered down in our homes, admittedly, we are all dealing with these same types of emotions…sorrow, despair, regret, anger, and fear. But we must also remember what tomorrow is Resurrection Sunday, and with it comes hope…hope for tomorrow through our Lord Jesus!
It could have been me doubting the unbelievable story the women were recounting about the empty tomb, the angels, and their words – “He is Risen!” Now we usually just give the apostle Thomas the bad rap of doubting the resurrection…but in Luke 24: 9-11 it tells us that when the women came back from the empty tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others…but no one believed them, for their words seemed like nonsense. How many times had Jesus told the apostles about what was to happen? How He must suffer, die, and then be raised from the dead three days later. Still they did not believe it when it really happened. Yes, I could have easily been among those doubters when the words, “He is risen!” echoed across that room.
The Jewish leaders thought they had the upper hand…that they were in control of the situation. But little did they realize just who they were up against. And there were many times that angry crowds threatened to stone Jesus…but He slipped away from their grasp. (John 11:8, John 10:31, John 8:59) In the human mind, the Crucifixion was the Lord at His lowest point of defenselessness and helplessness…but it was quite the opposite. Jesus Christ came to earth with one mission…to atone for our sins on the Cross. And during those three years of His ministry…He was in complete control of every situation…every moment…for He was in control of time. Several times He told His disciples, “My time has not yet come.” But later, He told them, “My time has come.” Whatever you may be going through today, remember, Jesus is in complete control of the situation…including time.
Jesus never said was going to be easy to follow Him. By referencing the cross in this verse, Jesus not only implied how He would die, but he gave the crowd a vivid illustration of the personal cost there was to following Him. The Jews had been introduced to this horrific means of execution by the Romans, who used it as a very effective tool of humiliation and intimidation. This crowd had watched as criminals were paraded through the streets, carrying their own cross, to the place they would be crucified…their execution very public and meant to be totally demeaning. But now Jesus was telling them they’d have to deny themselves to the point of complete surrender and sacrifice just as the criminals they saw in order to walk with Him. Following Jesus will never be easy. It starts with the willingness to give up “self”…our selfish pride and ego as we learn to trust and obey Jesus. It means taking up our cross – our own personal journey – in order to have fellowship with Him. Finally, it means humbling ourselves to the point that when people look at us…they only see Jesus.
Without hesitation I know you’d answer a resounding “Yes!” to my question of whether you’d die for your spouse or children. But if we look closely at this verse, we’re not being asked to do that. Rather, we’re being directed to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians . OK wait, you want me to sacrifice for who? My family is one thing, but a neighbor or friend or somebody I hardly know at Church…I don’t know if I can do that. But when Jesus died on that Cross He didn’t pick and choose who He was dying for…He died for all. In John 10:11 it says, ” I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” To love one another with the Agape love that Christ first showed us is to be willing to be poured out like a drink offering for our brothers…regardless of who they are.
It was Roman custom to have the condemned person carry the cross on which he was to suffer through the streets as a means of spectacle, humiliation, and as a deterrent for others. But Jesus is calling us to follow Him…to purposely take up and bear that figure of shame. For on that cross our sins were brutally nailed…on that cross our redemption was sealed in blood. To the Romans, the cross was a symbol of shame…but to Believers, it’s a symbol of salvation.