If you were Jesus’ campaign manager what advice would you give? After all, things were going really well! You had expertly choreographed his entrance into Jerusalem surrounded by the pilgrim crowds of Passover. News of his healings and prophetic words had spread like wildfire so that people were spreading their cloaks like a red carpet, tearing palms off the trees, waving them feverishly at him while yelling Hosanna in the highest! His poll numbers were in the Obamasphere. I mean the yahoo and msn homepages and the Jerusalem Times all carried a version of the headline: COULD THIS MAN BE THE KING OF THE JEWS?! The historical memory of the event in Matthew 21:10 records the whole city was in an uproar.
How would you have advised Jesus to ride this wave? (You certainly wouldn’t
have advised him to make waves, right?) You might have staged his ride on the donkey up to the temple and then to ride the shoulders of the pilgrims up the steps for a rally? (He went to the temple alright, but instead of whipping up the crowd, he carried a whip.) Or would you have scheduled a photo op of Jesus feeding the poor who came out in droves to get handouts from thousands of festivalgoers? (Jesus didn’t feed the poor, he got fed to the rich—Jewish leaders, Pilate and Caesar.) If Jesus had only listened to you, he might have been elected president of the Sanhedrin.
However you would have advised him, this is what he did: Jesus made a whip out
of cords, ran into the temple courts and like a maniac drove out the animals, and scattered the coins of the moneychangers while shouting, My house shall be… Why screw things up like that? Short answer: Because Jesus was headed toward the cross.
This is especially mystifying because we live in a cross-avoiding culture. Most of
us do whatever we can to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. In other words, to not face the pain of a cross. Let me give several examples of cross-avoidance:
What do these two powerful men have in common? As of this week it seems that both thought themselves so invincible that they ignored the sexual self-discipline of the cross.
Our typical cross orientation is more like the student who says, I don’t want to take so many honors courses because I want to have more fun! Or, Coach, can I skip practice and just play the games? I enjoy that more. That’s avoiding the pain of gain, the cross.
Or we say: I’ll start that diet tomorrow–the chocolate cake looks too good today!
We avoid the cross of confronting our friend who drinks too much to stay friends.
We leaders avoid the cross whenever we put off unpopular choices. Sometimes we hide behind the term consensus builder so that we can stay liked. I’m guilty here.
I am lined up to do a tough funeral for the consummate cross-avoider in my family, Aunt Tress. Usually in a funeral you magnify even the smallest accomplish-ments, but in my aunt’s 94.5 years, she has none: Never worked (mouched off her parents and then mine), never married, never listened to challenges to get off her duff (she’d do this). I don’t know what I’ll say when the day arrives—that Aunt Tressa was nice? I remember her typewriter sitting on her kitchen table for months because she was practicing so that someday she’d get a job. Well, someday never came. What will I say?
Thank God Jesus faced the cross! He understood the most famous first line in a Christian book in my lifetime. We’ve studied it here. It’s M. Scott Peck’s first line in his bestseller, The Road Less Traveled. It’s simply: Life is difficult. And then Peck went on for the rest of the book to tell us how when we avoid the lessons of pain we cause ourselves more. Jesus expected to go to the cross… and so Jesus, not surprisingly, exper-ienced the cross. Because of that you and I can be saved, and helped to face our crosses.
How do we move from cross-avoiding to cross-facing? Don’t try to jump from a sunny Palm Sunday to a fragrant Easter. Follow Jesus to the cross. You can do that with your church family through the Maundy Thursday service, Good Friday fast, Good Friday Cross Processional, Good Friday Cantata. And you can do that alone by reading about Jesus’ last days from Matthew 22 through 27 in your daily devotions. Either or both; just go with Jesus to his cross and your own. Face it. Feel it. Find life through it.
The McKelveys are a wonderful NBRC example of facing their cross. 40 year-old Jim has not been able to work for a couple of years because of MS. Now Jim has a tumor in his brain that is 50% operable. He’s undergoing chemo. Matthew and Jason want Daddy to get down on the floor and wrestle with them again. Jim strains to walk to the bathroom. Yet through all of this, and through a lot of prayer, they maintain as normal of a family life as possible, and as positive of an attitude as possible. Jesus helps them face their cross. If Jesus helps them face theirs, Jesus will help you face yours.