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The Cross

The season of Lent, in the history of the Church, has long been a time of deeper reflection, of intentional prayer, of a renewed gaze. And when looking at the root of all the season means, it can be one of the most misunderstood. It is a time in which are called to partake in the suffering of Christ, it is a time of seeing, knowing, touching His wounds, and becoming acquainted with the purpose of His will. It's not self-focused but completely devoted to self-denial. It is to make the frame of the cross your new frame of mind. It is to duck under the blood and step into the threshold that was torn open for us, and into the dominion of a self-sacrificing King. His death and resurrection, our origin.

There's a quote from the Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried where Tim O'Brien notes what it feels like to survive day to day in a war-torn, bloody world:

"At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness...all around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self-your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it."

Life- a potent substance that upon really, truly experiencing it sends adrenaline throughout your body, setting you into motion, sending your heart thrumming. And that type of living cannot occur without proximity to death- without proximity to the cross. Calvary is the pinnacle of the war of the ages, the war of wars- it is the ultimate climax to every trivial or massive conflict we have daily, it is a death that stands as the beginning of a new, drastically different, life.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father." - John 10:10–18

Are you tracking with the paradigm Jesus is introducing?

Life Himself laid down His life so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Thus, for the Creator of all things to die would completely and utterly change and reorder what life truly means. And surely upon receiving the abundant life He promised at the foot of the cross would begin in you a wellspring of the aliveness that makes you tremble, a wellspring that springs up from eternity. Because standing in proximity to the death of Life will inevitably draw us closer to the heart of His victory three days later.

And even before the resurrection (which I will detail in a later post), Paul establishes in his letters that it is the cross that triumphs, and is our greatest boast:

"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." - Colossians 2:15

But what does this abundant life look like? We know that it looks like the denial of our flesh, taking up our own cross, and following after Him. Because remember, proximity to death is proximity to Life.

But I want to go deeper. Because in John 10, the passage above, Jesus goes from describing the state of the war we're living in (the thief's motive to steal, kill, and destroy), into His plan for victory (to lay down His life for His people and thus securing them with freedom and safety in His presence and the defeat of that enemy), but then. Then He begins to introduce what abundant life looks like.

"I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." - John 10:14–16

The enemy's motive is to steal, kill, and destroy your soul because he does not care about you. But the motive of God is to not merely care about you with a distant, detached, wistful caring, but to know you. The motive of Jesus is for you to enter into the same relationship as He has with His Father- the same knowing, the same loving, the same will and purpose and understanding.

Matthew 12:18 quotes the prophecy of Isaiah when saying, "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased." The Hebrew term for "well pleased" here means to delight in. Jesus walked the earth knowing His Father and knowing He was delighted in by His Father. Every inch of His heart was known, and loved because it was known. And if there was ever a bit of doubt, the voice of God would assure Him that He was beloved.

Stop and consider just for a moment the depth of the intimacy between Christ and the Father, the personal knowing that enabled His lips to utter "Abba". That is the abundant life that He gives to us. Nothing more and nothing less, Life is to know Jesus, an inheritance afforded to us by the cross, which broke down any dividing walls of hostility. The invitation to come and see God in full measure is a miracle, but now by His Spirit, we can come and know. To know the sound of His voice, the pitch and tenor, and for our entire soul to feel the reverberation of it until our lives are outwardly changed, too. Because abundant life is kingdom life, and it pervades everything.

Lastly, how do we live out life abundant, which cost our God His life? How do we live in such a way worthy of that? First off, we can give Him everything, and nothing more. Meaning, we cannot live constantly focused on what we cannot give because we do not have. He is worthy of a perfect sacrifice- I am not that. And thank God, we don't need to be because that's the beauty of the freedom of the cross. I can give Him everything, and that is enough because the blood He shed speaks louder than our short-fallenness. Because in proximity to His death, my everything seems cheap (even though it is often hard, tiring, exhausting, and all-too-easy to slip into the complacency of a quarter of everything).

I want to end this little writing on the cross with the joy that Jesus had set before Him as He endured it- He saw the future of His Bride, His flock of sheep who know Him and love Him and follow the sound of His voice all the days of their lives. He is coming soon, and the Bride must be united and awake, ready and living in anticipation, and the sheep that do not yet know Him must be brought in, and we as a church must do our part in welcoming them. We are of the same Body. To live in the life that Jesus extends to us is to live for life beyond, for eternity, for when He comes.

So to this, I say to everyone- stay awake to the voice of the Shepherd.

And for the days that are long, hard, grueling, daunting, and evil, know that the key to staying awake, staying alert, staying alive, is to remain in close proximity to the cross. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Our reminder and our hope that resurrection is coming.


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