Luke 14:25-35: Contemplate the Cross

Often, people picture Jesus as a calm and non-threatening presence whose message uplifts and moves them forward. Oh, He’s the person who welcomes you when you first meet Him. Regardless of being shattered, beat, feeble, or thirsty, He pours drinks for the wounded and weary and offers food to the hungry.

Today, our Gospel text presents a different Jesus. Brave, bold, and fierce, He’s unafraid to stand apart from the crowd. No subdued, sweet friend is He but an unyielding, stern teacher, demanding His disciples to abandon the familiar and leave everything behind to follow Him.

No pleasure escape is this through the countryside, no wonderful amble over sunlit fields of clover and goldenrod. The path is hard, for one must be open to suffering and affliction. Not only do we walk with our Lord, but we journey behind Him, and this demands a sacrifice, a cost.

Yet, we wish to stride to the rhythm of our footfalls, not God’s, preferring the self-made music of our feet with their pounding pulse. Race, run, flutter, or stomp, we think we’re the masterful composer, the genius and supreme architects of our lives. Unaware are we of the bonds binding us, stretching across ancient reaches of time, causing our souls to bleed colors no words can paint.

In the beginning, life sang out an elegant song when God created Adam and Eve. In communion with Him, our destiny rang out with immortality. “Let us make,” God spoke forth, “man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). So, while they meandered the virgin soil as moving, breathing vessels, they, likewise, walked with God.

In perfect harmony, our first parents gazed into each other’s eyes, intertwining their souls. Such physical echoes of symmetry reverberated between them, and they sang and moved the cosmos. Each chorus, more graceful than the last; each verse, more majestic and moving. Unmatched in radiance, their love rang, pure toward each other and God, meant to echo forever through time, touching God’s creation with humanity.

Still, God didn’t create death, and He derives no joy when the living destroy themselves. Why He formed us to live evermore, in the image of His eternity (Wisdom 1:13, 2:23). The heavens declare God’s glory. The expanse of the heavens proclaims the work of His hands (Psalm 19:1). In Eden’s paradise, no sorrow or pain, fear or loneliness, yet reared their hideous faces, only love and contentment.

A rebellious angel slithers past, who stood sentinel upon mortal corners. Now, coiled by the tree, the air reeks of serpent sweetness. With an allure whispering on his tongue, he untwines before them, his sensuous and melodic words bespeaking more than they tell. Thus, we listened and learned the lyrics of his lies.

Too often, we feast on dignity and order where none exists, our minds in a collapse of chaos and confusion. In the gloom and darkness of night, we think ourselves brilliant and enlightened with our love entangled with created things. Too feeble to reclaim our promise, we follow the sparks of our desires, heedless of the burning.

These depraved loves and yearnings are the source of so many downfalls. Consider this from the Greek-language Old Testament, which exposes an eat, drink, and be merry approach, for tomorrow we may die.

Come! Let’s savor our pleasures now and, with youthful zest, enjoy creation to the fullest. Take our fill of the costliest wines and perfumes and let no springtime blossom escape us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let no meadow be free from our revelry, leaving traces of our wantonness everywhere, since this life is our part and lot. [Wisdom 2:6-9]

Full of love for self, we forget we once came with an inherent capacity to cherish God. Now, we, too often, conclude we no longer need Him. Hearken to this warning from Deuteronomy. “‘My ability and mighty hand earned this wealth for me.’ Remember, the Lord, your God, gives you the power to produce wealth, to fulfill the Covenant he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

Misguided attachments compromise our devotion to Jesus and His kingdom. Such a relentless and callous thief is this illusory love, stealing our attention and claiming dominion over ourselves until an obsession. Soon, we spy ourselves bent, dancing back and forth between the madness of infatuation and the passion of possession. In our delusion-filled world, we stray from what matters and forget the desires of the Almighty. Sometimes, we become deluded, thinking material items can fill the void in our hearts.

Such love brings death: “Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life, but he who despises God’s ways will die,” wise Solomon wrote (Proverbs 19:16). A fervor rejecting godly things is an existence, squandered and misdirected away from God. “For what will a man profit if he gains the entire world yet forfeits his soul” (Mark 8:36)?

For us, and where we lacked, Christ walked the way of the perfect disciple, doing the will and works of the Father (John 5:30, 36-37). Did He not enter towns and villages to heal those whom Satan reduced and rendered helpless (Acts 10:38)? Only He obeyed God’s Law and kept His commandments without flaw, loving goodness and virtue while spurning wickedness (1 Peter 2:22, Hebrews 1:9). In everything, Jesus pleased God (John 8:29).

Yes, Christ’s obedience descended to us in a living poem of love for God, whole and complete. Only He set aside His glorious crown to become for us the obedient Son (Philippians 2:6-8). In Him, we find a nobility of spirit, grace amid adversity, eternal hope, and a stream of faith that never runs dry. Courageous enough to rejoice in us despite our flaws, yet ample to carry our burdens.

Why? Incarnate Love Himself, Christ’s self-sacrifice, became the ultimate “leaving” of this world behind, following His Master, His heavenly Father. Oppressed and afflicted beyond human endurance, He prayed for His persecutors. Spiked to the wood, deep the pain and piercing wounds, so strange the act of passion He made toward His executioners. By such, Jesus turned a gruesome execution into a graceful and majestic march home to His Father.

In Baptism, God’s Spirit unites us with Jesus to walk the way of His death, filling us so we may walk in His newness of life (Romans 6:4-8). In those sacred waters, we “put on” Christ and so share in His nature and example (Romans 13:14).

Remember, baptism and teaching always go together. By taking in the truths He wants us to learn, we stir with the mind of Christ, thinking as He does. Changed within as the Spirit He sent works inside us, we start to view the world through His eyes and love as He loved. So transformed, our self-centered hearts emerge to pulsate with empathy, willing to forgive as Christ forgave us.

In the only Son who emptied Himself, we grow more able to empty ourselves. Astir with the same perspective as Jesus, we don’t savvy ourselves superior to others but choose to elevate them. For love is a verb, more than feelings, which sparks us toward righteous deeds for another’s sake (James 2:14-26).

So, we share in our Savior’s ways (1 Peter 2:21-25, John 14:6). In the story of the Good Samaritan, He comes along to rescue us, left for dead and broken beside the road of life. Only after, will we love our enemies as He does, within the mystery of loving another as yourself. Yes, Christ loved us while we still stank as sinners, which graces us to love other fallen beings.

The way of our Savior is a death-won freedom from—from our lusts and passions (Romans 6:12-14). Whenever angry, alive in our Redeemer, we crucify the sinful flesh, bespeaking to silence the temptations to speak ill of another (James 1:12-15). For us, His death bestirs with God’s power (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Not yet done, Christ frees us from more—our bondage to earthly trappings such as money, which can enslave and control us to our ruin. “Eager for money, some wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:10). Though being wealthy isn’t wrong, the love of money is—an entanglement that may keep us from doing what’s best, hoarding when we should be generous.

So, too, may our possession and treasure bind and entrap us. How much effort do you spend protecting your things? Are these vain efforts in forging your world? What if somebody came along and destroyed or damaged your belongings? The stuff you own can own you, instead of serving as tools to serve God through others as He intends (Mark 12:30-31).

Though the cross-filled course is, likewise, a freedom for something. Only when freed from, are we free to—love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. The baptized are free to live in thankfulness, no longer bound to offer our bodies as fuel for sin’s fire.

Why be irritable when we can “clothe ourselves in compassion” (Colossians 3:12)? Unfettered from serving money, we use our gifts and resources to help, as the incarnate Christ did (Luke 14:13). Though strange to our thinking, the cross liberates us from the tyranny of our ego. In Christ, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The heart of the crucifying crossbeam brings us to God, by which Jesus gives us life with the Father. Pierced for our defiance, He bled and died, so we might thrive in His forgiveness and live. Nailed to wood, Christ sank beneath the gravity of our sin. Why? So we can ascend with Him to life everlasting. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). O sinner, run to this refuge!

Every path goes somewhere, and each road reaches a destination. The rocky and steep way of Jesus’ cross leads to execution for Him, but a reprieve for us. How so? Joined to Christ’s death, so can we rise with Him to new life. Heavenward is our eternity in Jesus. Amen.

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