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  March 16, 2008
Lent 6

Pastor Brian Shimer

"The Cross"
Isaiah 53: 1-12; 1 Peter 2: 18-25

  1. Six weeks ago we handed out a "nail" which Avery Burke called his "key" upon which was printed this thought: "Christ has wiped out the damning evidence which hung over our heads by nailing it over his own." That is a thought taken from Colossians chapter 2. On the reverse side of this "nail" was printed: "LENT: a time to ponder your nail, your sin, your cross, your Savior."

    I thought 4 year old Avery had a good idea in viewing this as a "key" - for to truly understand and receive what God has done through Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection is the key to life, in the most real sense.

    I attached this little nail, this key, to my key ring and have encountered it frequently over these weeks - sometimes with no great impact and other times, I have truly stopped and pondered and thought about the great work of Jesus for me, even me. I have thought about my sins, all my sins, my propensity to sin in life and how all of this was taken by Jesus-he bore my sins in his body on the tree - St Peter reminds me.


    We have spent many weeks looking at aspects of what the early church taught disciples. In this time we have referred to the cross frequently - we can hardly discuss Jesus without the cross. It was after all for this purpose of facing death and defeating death that Jesus came in the first place.

    It was through the cross that our sin was taken to death, that the judgment of sin was completed, that death itself was defeated, that the works of satan were destroyed; and it was through the cross that Jesus began a new humanity-one we enter through the new birth when we receive and believe in Him. It is no wonder the apostle Paul could resolve to know nothing other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified in his whole Corinthian ministry. To ponder the cross is not a dismal but a life-giving reality-it is to ponder not martyrdom, but a great triumph.

    Devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, while pondering the cross of Christ wrote: "The cross was a superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken. There is nothing more certain in Time or Eternity than what Jesus Christ did on the Cross: he switched the whole of the human race back into a right relationship with God." (My Utmost for His Highest, Apr 6, c. '35/63 by Oswald Chambers Publ assn, ltd.)

    It was a 16th century Anglican priest, Thomas Traherne, who in his reflections upon the cross of Jesus wrote:

    "The Cross is the abyss of wonders, the centre of desires, the school of virtues, the house of Wisdom, the throne of love, the theatre of joys and the place of sorrow; It is the root of happiness and the Gate of heaven" ("schole of virtue" "hous of wisdom" Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations).

    In his meditation he found in the crucifixion of Jesus everything of wisdom, and love and joy. It was in the cross that he found the school of virtue, all right action made possible because of the cross.

    He was correct in this, for if we truly have died to sin by being made like Jesus in his death and raised to life in his resurrection as both Paul and Peter have spoken about, then we WILL rightly walk with the Lord. Thomas found sorrow in the cross but also the root of happiness and the gate of heaven! What a powerful description!

    So today, look again with me at this gift, this provision of God's through the cross of Jesus - not only in light of the eternal benefit of trusting the saving grace expressed through the cross, but also to see the practical outworking of our trust in Christ in our daily lives because of His death on the cross.


  2. As we focus upon the cross for these moments, the children in the back room are discussing the cross from another perspective and another character. Today they are encountering the story of Abraham and his willingness to offer his son, his only son, Isaac, to God. That is a story that foreshadows the real event. What Abraham and Isaac did was the dress rehearsal for the real event of what God did through the cross as the Father was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). As the children will hear, Abraham tells his boy as they make that impossibly long trek up Mt Moriah that "God himself will provide the lamb" and God did.

    What happened was this: God spoke to Abraham one day and told him to take his son, his only son, Isaac and offer him up to God as a sacrifice on the mountain that "I will show you," God said. Abraham did not argue or plead with God- after a half of century following God, he instead, got up, took his son, firewood and the knife and two servants and began the three day journey to the place of the sacrifice - to Mt Moriah, to the very place where Jesus would later be crucified.

    On the third day they saw the mountain in the distance and there Abraham says to his servants: "Stay here with the donkey, while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you" (Ge 22:5).

    Even here you hear the faith of Abraham that both he and his boy will return to the servants. "We will come back to you," he said. But at this point he had no assurance of that but went by faith, that God if necessary would even raise his beloved son from the dead, as the author of the book of Hebrews reflects.

    It was four years ago that I got to play the role of the old patriarch, and hiked up the hill with Ryan Hayden playing the part of Isaac. When I recall this great story I remember that trek with my Isaac up that hill. It felt impossibly long. The weight of the loss pressed upon my soul. The reality that God had asked me to sacrifice my son, my only son and then Isaac said:

    "Father, here is the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" And I replied as the Old Testament story declares: "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

    And it was not until I had raised the knife above my boy's prostrate form that the Angel of the Lord called out to me, "Abraham, Abraham."

    "Here I am" I said as the old man.

    "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (22:12).

    What relief flooded my heart as I heard those words-and I was just playing the part. How much more marvelous to Abraham the Patriarch who knew that God would provide a lamb, which turned out to be a ram caught in the thicket instead of his son Isaac.

    However, Abraham named that place "The LORD will provide." And we read in the Genesis passage that "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided."


  3. If the early church knew anything, they knew this was true by dynamic experience that "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided" - that God had provided and that the provision found in Jesus was not only something to benefit the future but the present as well.

    What God had provided on the "mountain of the Lord" changed life- so Peter is teaching his listeners how to walk in that changed life. To appropriate the truth of the cross into life is the key to life, remember, and thus it changes life.

    Notice in the passage we read from 1 Peter he is addressing the slaves - he has already addressed the attitude of the people toward governing authorities based upon the cross, having told them to live as servants of God, and will address wives and husbands and the whole community with their need to live in harmony with one another based upon the example and death of Jesus, but here he addresses slaves.

    Peter tells slaves to submit to their masters, even to those masters who are harsh. If you suffer for doing what is right, Peter writes, and endure it, this is commendable before God - it will become a place for God to work in your life. For it is to this that you were called, "because Christ suffered for you leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (v. 21).

    Beginning with the 22nd verse, Peter pulls in Isaiah chapter 53 to illustrate what God did in Christ - how Jesus had not sinned nor spoken deceitfully, did not retaliate and made no threats when he suffered. But instead, he did what Peter wants his listeners to do, Jesus entrusted himself to God. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree," with this in mind, for this purpose, "so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds you have been healed."

    Herein is the great provision - that we have been healed, by the defeat of sins, we have been freed to live for righteousness - and what is it to "live for righteousness"? It is to live in daily relationship with the living God - allowing His life to flow through our own.

    We are to live "entrusting ourselves to God" like Jesus did; enduring hardships while fellowshipping with the living God - for there is no hardship in which we are separated from God, but God dwells with us and is in us. (John 14:23)


  4. Hence we hold onto this "key to life" - for by His wounds we have been freed into a new kind of living, a new humanity. As Isaiah had said before, so Peter repeats that once we were like sheep who had gone astray, but now we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Jesus is that great shepherd of the sheep. Jesus is the bishop of our souls. And there is no one better to care for our souls that Jesus.

    So in the present tense realities we encounter in our lives we too can entrust ourselves to God's care, we too can submit to the circumstances we find ourselves in and thus continue on in relationship to this God.
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Banks, Oregon 97106