The old saying is “that which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” This year I saw a t-shirt with that old phrase on it, but with this addition: “except bears, bears will kill you.” I thought it was so funny I bought a few and sent them to friends. In my case, I’m allergic to bees, so even bees can kill me!
Central to our faith is the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. The season of Lent which begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday focuses us on the sacrifice Jesus made for us and our salvation. Our Lord and Savior did not shy from challenge or hardship but was obedient to his high calling. He faced head-on the demonic powers of this world, and it cost him his life. No power was more evil, destructive and dominating in that day than the Roman cross. The Roman empire used the death sentence and public execution to cause immense suffering to the condemned, to strike fear in the general public and maintain control over the land. Historians say that Rome used crucifixion on tens of thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) of people over a 500 year period.
We know from Scripture that God in Christ suffered and died. Ours is a suffering Messiah. “We preach Christ crucified.” That is not a popular message today…nor back then. I image a PR firm warning “the cross will never sell. Stick with resurrection and ignore the pain so you’ll have more followers. No one wants to suffer.” While we all want Easter’s joy, victory, new life and triumph, the gospel message is that such good news of hope and life comes only after embracing with courage the path of faith. That was true for Jesus and it remains true for us.
With our faith in Christ, we are invited to see suffering not as “God’s punishment for our sin.” Rather we see hardship and difficulty, opposition and insult as a necessary part of following Jesus. With eyes on the cross, we embrace the truth that there is no shortcut to glory and victory. We also know that in hardship God is “one” with us.
By means of daily sacrifice and love for others, God invites us to give up and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. Our giving (of money, time, and talents) is a sacrifice. So are our Lenten disciplines. We deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ knowing the disciple’s path will not come to a disappointing or empty end, but to a joyful, bountiful and glorious one. Live, therefore, with faith, hope and love.