Before us are two crosses: the cross of Jesus and the cross of discipleship.

Luke 13:31-35 This is a wonderful passage filled with possible trickery (does Herod really want to kill Jesus or are the Pharisees trying to get Jesus to leave?), Jesus’ resoluteness in fulfilling the task ahead of him, and a lament over the fact that though Jesus would gather them, the people will reject him.

I love the image of Jesus longing to gather them like a hen gathers her brood under her wing. This is a feminine analogy that is often missing from Christianity. With works like Lord, Almighty, Defender, Lord of Hosts, etc, we don’t often hear about God wanting to shield us, protect us, and calm us.

One could ask the Rowan Williams question: where am I in the text? Am I a part of this group of Pharisees who are both mystified and bothered by Jesus? Am I Herod, someone who is antagonistic but intrigued by spiritual talk? Am I Jerusalem, not realizing that the Savior is pleading with me?

Genesis 15:1-18 I have written about this vivid passage here.

Philippians 3:17-4:1 I will preach from this passage and will seek to show to implications of the cross.

Central to our faith is the cross – the death of Jesus – and a significant question is what is happening there? I believe a lot is happening on the cross and that there are multiple ways to understand the cross. Paul touches on two of them in this passage.

First, one cannot argue away the word “enemy.” Paul has labeled some within the church enemies of the cross. The Greek word means that someone is openly hostile, animated by hate with ill intent. One must remember that Paul is talking about Christians or people who heard the gospel and began following Jesus, only to take one of two other paths: law-keeping or licentiousness. Paul addresses both groups.

Law-Keeping

The Scriptures begin with Adam and Eve in a garden where they commune with God. They do not yield to the will of God for their life and thereby sin. They realize they are naked and ashamed. Their judgment is a curse and one of those curses is that thorns would choke out life. They were then evicted from the garden.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus went into the garden – Gethsemane – and he communed with God. Unlike Adam and though it was difficult, he yielded to God’s will for him. He was arrested and while detained the crown of the curse/thorns were put on his head. He was stripped naked, which would have been an act of shame. Jesus, through his obedience, bears the curse and condemnation of humanity. Through Adam came disobedience and death and through Jesus, there is obedience and life. Further, the curse for Adam and Eve was death, but Jesus was innocent, therefore death could not be his punishment, so through the resurrection, God vindicates Jesus’ innocence.

Paul says elsewhere that Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly and at the cross we see the forgiveness of God and the pathway to reconciliation. God has removed the curse, the guilt, and the shame from us and we do not live under that or the law anymore. We live under the cross. The law reveals our guilt and the cross reveals God’s grace. This is the message these folks have heard and they decide they still need to do the law-keeping. Paul, in the passage immediately prior, casts no hope in achievement, which he calls “the flesh.” He renders it useless for the law condemns and never grants us pardon – it is the law. Paul, instead of placing hopes in achievement, says he wants to be found in him (Jesus), not having a righteousness of my own that comes from observing the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.

Succinctly: if his audience says they have to do works-righteousness and that salvation is up to them, then they render the cross of Christ as redundant and useless. This would be open hostility to the message of grace alone. Thus, they are not friends of the cross, but enemies.

Licentiousness

Some responded to the message of grace alone by rejecting it in favor of works-righteousness, however, some responded with “I am therefore free to do what I want. There is no law for me.” They thought they had no moral obligations.

I link this group to verse 19, that they have their mind on earthly things and are driven, not by the Spirit, but by their appetites, which should be to their shame but is something they gloat in. This too is anti-cross, for if the cross doesn’t penetrate your heart and awake you up to the reality that within you is nefarious desires that you need to be freed from, then this too renders the cross needless, worthless, and useless.

The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel write about the future work of God: I will also sprinkle you with water and you will be clean. I will cleanse you . . I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and to carefully observe My ordinances.”

The work of God, the work of the Spirit, is within us. God works on our hearts, inside and then out. The preaching of the gospel gives us eyes to see when our desires are disordered, teaches us right from wrong, and assures our pardon when we repent. We are free AND we are bound to Christ, wherein we find true freedom.

If like this group, we just follow the desires of our appetites, then we are no more free than the person who is a slave to the law! Freedom implies the ability to resist and if we are pushed around and controlled by our appetites then we are slaves. The way of Christ is the way of freedom.

Then, as I’m working through this, I have this idea that there are simply two crosses that confront us: the cross of Jesus and the cross he calls us to carry. The cross of Jesus frees us from the cruelty and condemnation of the law and the cross he calls us to carry frees us from the cruelty and crippling effect of a life with no boundaries. To deny one puts you at odds with the other, for one ensures our justification and the other is part of our sanctification – the Holy Spirit’s continued work in us as “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. We press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

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