Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him. What precisely is that cross for us in 21st century America? (See Matthew 16:24) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I have been reading a wonderful book by John Bright entitled THE KINGDOM OF GOD, in which he details from Old Testament through New Testament the meaning of God’s Kingdom. In his book he writes about the cross and what it means to take up that cross today. “This, then, is our cross: that we lay down our unrighteousness, and that easy righteousness which is our deepest sin, that the righteousness of God may rule in us; … it means total surrender in faith to the Kingdom of God. It is also our victory for the cross and the victory are one. (Page 271 of The Kingdom of God).
All that we desire for ourselves must be relinquished in order that we say to God as Jesus did, THY WILL BE DONE. Those words do not come to us with unhindered ease if they are to mean anything at all. And so we in our most humble way let God know that our desire is for his Kingdom and that we are willing to take up the cross to live in that Kingdom. I think of the thief on the cross, next to Jesus, who said, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ That is a cry that we can only make from the place of the cross in our lives.
We want peace. We want comfort. We want love. We want life. But Jesus tells us to seek more than anything else God’s rule, God’s governance, which includes the loving providence of God in all things. (See Matthew 6:33) Jesus follows that statement by one of profound significance. And everything you need shall be given to you. 33 Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. (New Century Version) The ‘other needs’ is reference to that about which we are so anxious. Think of a place where you have had to give up your own will, willingly or not and that will be a place of the cross for you. It will mean both death and life. And the only way we will know it is true is to place our confidence in Jesus who has told us that the way to life is through death knowing that the victory has been promised to us.
Remember that Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. And none but God’s Spirit can truly confirm this in us. And all of this should happen within the context of the fellowship of believers who know God’s word and God’s love. Today such an opportunity may come to you. Pray to receive it in Christ.
Romans 8:21 ‘that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ ESV
Here’s my take on what Paul is writing in these verses. Yes, creation is groaning. The world is groaning but one day it will experience the same freedom and new life that the children of God are experiencing today.
This is the reality of the Kingdom of God. The creation will take its cue from those who enter the Kingdom of God right now. Jesus said that the truth will set us free if we stay connected to him and to his word.(John 8) It is the only way to be free of the shackles with which this world wants to imprison us. In John 16 Jesus tells his disciples that while in the world there will be tribulation we don’t have to be afraid because Jesus has overcome the world. Overcome in the sense that darkness and death do not have the final world. Fear is not the final word. The word of God in Jesus is the final word. The Kingdom of God is the final word. Resurrection is the final word. LIFE is the final word.
Jesus said to a hurting world that he had come to give life abundant (John 10) which means that we are fully embraced into the love of God by the words and works of Jesus.
We are free. Really. No matter what scene the cosmic powers of darkness may put before you eyes, God places the life and light of Jesus before us so that as we look into him we may experience the glory, the radiance of our God. And as Paul will later write, ‘if God is for us who can be against us.’ So, children of God, let’s set a good example to help free this creation from its bondage to decay.
That’s like a New Year’s resolution- if you are into that sort of thing. My life will not be darkened by the world but will rather be that light set on a hill, light that comes from the glory of God.
Matthew 5:6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied fully.’
Back in 1968 the Rev. Martin Luther King spoke these words about the Kingdom of God and justice: It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do. (from the Mountain Top speech)
Righteousness and Justice is not only for getting saved and getting into heaven. It is for now and for here. Of course Christ is our righteousness but he is also our Lord for our day-to-day life. People in Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to bring justice to their land. Jesus says that it happens in the Kingdom of God. Jesus made it very clear to his followers that they were to love each other in deeds done out of mercy. They were to be concerned for their neighbor, which basically meant anyone in need. They were to care for the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned and well, really, anyone. So those who want to see things get right will indeed meet a friend in Jesus and Kingdom life will include right living, right believing, and right doing.
I often like to say that with Jesus’ entry into the world, ‘a new sheriff has come to town.’
Imagine for a moment that Jesus is speaking to a group of people on a hillside. He is offering them the Kingdom of God. He is the presence of the Kingdom of God and he is making his life, God’s life, available to anyone who wants to place his or her confidence in him. He is not challenging them to be a certain kind of character. He is addressing their character as they are and saying that in God’s Kingdom they are welcomed and they are blessed, favored as it were, by God. He has already addressed those who are poor and now as he looks around he issues an invitation to another group of people who well may include those who are impoverished in spirit or material goods. Here’s what he says:
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. These are the people who hurt. Some of them may think they deserved their lot. They hurt for themselves and perhaps for others. Their pain is deep and they see no relief. It may be thought that blessings come in the form of wellness and being pain-free but Jesus says that those who place their confidence in him, again the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, will experience the comfort of the Kingdom of God. Like the Psalmist they will say, ‘your love is better than life’(Psalm 63). And the comfort that these mourners will experience may come as a surprise to them in some form that brings happiness to their souls.
Jesus knows full well that the Kingdom has been mainly shut to such people as he addresses but he welcomes them, blesses them and will eventually call some of them to follow him. This is indeed the good news that was issued to shepherds, to Mary and to many who were waiting for the Messiah of God’s Kingdom. Let us, particularly we who hurt right now see our place in the embrace of God’s comfort.