Let us pray: Dear Savior, all of us get weary and dragged down by the sin that affects us and by our flesh which gives in to it. All of us want glory now. We want heaven now. We’re sick and tired of slogging through life. Today we ask You to strengthen our resolve not to give in to our weariness. Recharge and re-energize us to buck up and grow up when it comes to our faith. Yes, make your cross the very center of our lives so that we can reap the strength that it always brings. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, AS WE LIVE UNDER HIS CROSS
TEXT: Philippians 3: 12-21
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Frank wasn’t feeling good. After putting it off for months, he finally went to the doctor. After a battery of tests it was discovered he had cancer. It was treatable, but it would be a long haul. Frank was discouraged. He wanted to just pack it in and give up. But then, his Christian wife reminded him that she needed him, the kids needed him, and most of all: God had led him to this spiritual crossroad and wanted him to be mature about his decision and not childishly selfish. After two years of treatment, Frank was cured of cancer and his faith, though sorely tested, was strengthened and life was new and exciting.
All of us, sitting and standing here today are in a battle far worse than a cancer verdict. Although we’re Christians, who profess our allegiance to Christ and pray regularly to Him, we’re also tired of living under His cross. We’re tired to suffering both physically and emotionally in this life. And because of that a part of us wants to withdraw from life, curl up in our own little shell, and let our anger over our problems fester. Yes, we usually vent our inner anger and frustration with life at those closest to us. But in reality, we’re disappointed and angry with God for allowing us to fall into our hole of inner depression. Down deep, we blame Him for having to carry our cross. And so, we begin to view His cross as a huge burden we must bear instead of a blessing with which to show His love. And we do this because we love our pride more than we love acceptance of Him.
Often we think we’re alone when it comes to bearing up under such inner turmoil. We forget that everyone else who’s a believer also has their own inner battles, and the vast majority of them put their “me-ism” in their pocket, rise above their anger towards God, and eventually come out of their depression a winner—all by the grace of God! So, today let’s address this issue by considering:
CROSS SICKNESS: THE CAUSE AND CURE
In today’s Gospel from Matthew 21 Jesus lays out a parable of a vineyard, owned by a rich man who rents it out to tenants. Those tenants are ingrates. They forget that they work for the owner. When the harvest comes due and he sends servants to collect the rent, the tenants beat them, stone them, and mock them. “It’s ours! We did all the work!” Finally, he sends his son to collect the rent thinking: “They will respect him.” They don’t. Instead, they kill him, with the rationale: “Now with the heir gone, it’s all ours!” Finally, the landowner has had enough. He sends soldiers in to reclaim his investment and punish those awful ingrates. Our O.T. lesson from Isaiah 5 is an O.T. parallel to this parable. And there, God makes it clear that the vineyard is the visible church, Israel, the tenants are the visible members of Israel, the servants are prophets and pastors, and the ultimate heir, the Son, is Christ. The problem addressed is spiritual anger over God’s ownership of the vineyard by those who labor in the fields of life. The problem is they are angry over having to sweat through their lives, while chaffing under God’s guidance. Yes, the problem is: cross sickness.
In our lesson, St. Paul addresses all this. In the verses preceding our text he talks about people who are sick and tired of not having glory on earth. He talks about those who base their faith on their achievements and personal pride. He talks of those who want to hold up their lives to God as the reason they should be rewarded with heaven. Basically, he talks about the type of church-goers who are unwilling to place themselves under Christ’s cross with no strings attached. Every one of us mimics that description. All of us have a little Pharisee in us. All of us either expect God to honor us because we’ve been model believers in our actions, or we simply think that by going through the motions of Christianity life should be hunky-dory. And when things don’t turn out that way, we get upset, angry, and frustrated with Him. We begin to pray less, to attend church less, to blame our spouse for our own short-comings, to take it out on our kids, and the down-ward spiral just gets worse and worse.
Cross-bearing means acceptance of God’s will and God’s way in all things. It means inner and sometimes outer suffering for our allegiance to Jesus. It means clinging to His guidance, His commandments, and most of all His forgiveness and love—even when nothing seems to go right. As the Bible says of the faithful believer: “We walk through life by faith and not by sight.” Do you have cross sickness? Do you blame others for your inner pain, or do you blame yourself? Are you angry with God? Lest you think no one else has ever felt the same way, listen to Paul: “Not that I have already obtained all this (glory in life), or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Paul, the great apostle, goes on to say: “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Being immature, especially when it comes to your relationship with God, is not something to celebrate. Immature believers run away from their problems. Immature believers blame others. Immature believers forget that the cross of Christ is ladened with comfort because through it forgiveness, help, patience, and strength come. Immature believers take a short view of life, get depressed by the daily grind, and forget that in Christ problems are but challenges. God employs them to make us even stronger. Immature believers set their minds on “earthly things: forgetting that our true “citizenship is in heaven.”
The cure for cross sickness and spiritual immaturity is: focusing on Christ. It is focusing your attention on something outside of you and bigger than you and eternally lasting. It is focusing on the fact that Christ’s cross, and not your own, is the source of heavenly forgiveness and never-ending love from God Himself. It is acceptance of His commands to worship and love Him in good times and bad, and to practice neighborly love as well. It is acceptance and joy over the fact that His Son, His Heir’s heavenly inheritance has already been transferred to us and sealed by His blood. It is acceptance that He knows exactly what it takes to refine and purify our faith, to allow earthly crosses to come our way, so that we can use them to respect and honor Him all the more.
Because we’re mortals, sinners, our cross bearing is heavy, hard, long, and arduous. We can live in fantasy land, like those vineyard tenants, who disliked their lot in life, and make believe our fantasy is better than God’s reality. Or, we can be mature and accepting of our lot in life by clinging to the knowledge that God never gives us more than we can bear and will always bring comfort when we need it the most. Paul throws his lot in with the later: “And we eagerly await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” The choice is yours. But remember: Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us because Calvary’s cross brings internal forgiveness and eternal peace! So, focus on that fact, immerse yourself in Christ and His Word of truth, and healing will follow. Amen