(from our mid-week Lenten series)
A two-inch syringe-needle heading right for her leg. She squirms, kicks, screams. Yet, your hands hold her still the entire time. The needle pierces her leg. It stings. It hurts. It aches. Through it all you stand right with her.
Do you remember those trips to the doctor? Your child needs a shot and so you bring them. You know they will cry. You know the needle will sting. Yet, you still hold them.
Why? Because you hate your child? Because you want her to suffer so much? Because you get some sick joy from watching her cry? No! Of course not! You know your child needs this shot. Yes, the shot brings pain, but she will avoid the even greater pain of disease because of it. You know she will grow— even through this pain— and you stand beside her through it all.
As a parent, you know your actions pour out love— love for your child’s best interests. Yet, if you are that child, it can be difficult to see love in the pain of a shot or in the parent who seems to do nothing. And you, being God’s child, may feel God does nothing for you in life’s most difficult times. That is why your heavenly Father preaches and reveals the truth: You are Loved! The cross preaches this. The Savior professes this.
Do you see that? …in our reading? …in this image? … the sight of love? Our reading drops you right at the base of a cross. There it is, planted right into the ground. You stand so close that you could reach out and touch its rough, splintery surface.
Around the cross stands [Mary, Jesus’] mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. They lift up their eyes to see a man hanging there. Nails meant to join two pieces of wood together have been used to connect flesh to a cross. Thorns have been uprooted from a nearby forest, twisted into a ring, and now crown this man’s head. Sweat beads his entire body; blood from his head-wounds and from where the nails pierced his hands and feet mix into his sweat. He moans, not because the nails hurt, not because the thorns fester, but because he can only take half-breaths. No one has the power to help; they can only stand and watch.
It hurts. You want to help, but you cannot. You want help in this horrific sight, but no one answers. For Mary this terrifying sight feels like a sword piercing her soul (Luke 2:35). Yes, she is not dying on a cross; her body (for the moment) is wholly sound. Yet, she does not have to be on a cross to suffer. It feels like God is ripping Jesus away from her—and no one is there to calm her tears and still her fear. That pain feels like she is suffering on a cross.
We call this the “Christian cross” (or you might have heard: “It is my cross to bear…”). Understand what the Christian cross is. The Christian cross is everything you suffer for the sake of following Jesus.
So, you may not literally die on a cross, but you feel as though you are. A loved one suffers from cancer. Your hands cannot remove that tumorous growth. Your words cannot pour in physical strength. You plead with God in prayer: “Help my loved one! Heal them!” No matter what you do, you watch your loved one gradually grow weaker and weaker, and your fears of the future only grow more and more! You do not know if God will answer you.
You turn on FoxNews or CNN and watch streams of angry people chanting and protesting. Except you notice that the protesting has little to do with income; you witness morality decaying. Signs reveal the inner choices of a defiant society.“My body; my life! I will live however I want!” Flags pridefully brag about lifestyles God declares: “Wrong.” Educators force wayward beliefs on the young and impressionable. Your heart aches as you watch this. These wandering souls turn their back on their Creator! Not just that, but you wonder if those un-Christian agendas will limit your Bible-based beliefs. You know it will be difficult to obey everything God teaches if it means your life becomes less comfortable.
God blesses you with a family, but maybe “family” is a tender source of pain. Your children reject the God you brought them to learn and love. Siblings stop talking to each other; siblings suffer under their poor choices. You do not know if you can love your family the way God expects you.
When troubles pierce your soul and your eyes see no end in sight and your heart finds no relief, you may feel as though God has abandoned you. It feels as though God scurried into the remotest corner of heaven, hides his face, plugs his ears and turns his back to you! It leaves you feeling that God does not love you! If you think God does not love you, then you wonder if you should love him.
You are Loved! Discover love in the most unlikely of places: the cross. Your Jesus is not a helpless victim or someone caught in the “wrong place” at the “wrong time.” People hate his teachings and his beliefs so much that they literally end his life. If Jesus wanted to avoid the cross, all he has to do is curse God. Just give up his faith, stop clinging to his God in heaven, and simply stop believing.
Yet, he does not. Jesus has a perfect heart filled with love for God, and yet God still allows wicked men to crucify him. Of all the people who had a reason to accuse God of unfairness, it would be Jesus. Yet, he does not shake an angry fist. He does not shout at God. The reason? So that God would not abandon you forever.
Remember why Jesus is on the cross. He carries our sins— including the times frustration made us impatient with God’s timing. He suffers for the times we demanded God explain his ways. He loses life for the times we doubt God stands beside us. In selfless love Jesus suffers what you and I deserve so that we can spend eternity in heaven.
“Loved” is a word that gives you life. Because Jesus loves you, he dies so that you may receive a place in heaven. You are Loved. The cross proclaims this! The Savior profess this!
You see it in his actions. You hear it in his words. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” In just a few hours Mary will bury her son. Her feet will lead her into a house filled with memories. Life will be different.
Jesus still takes care of Mary’s needs— and does so in a perfect way. John is now her adopted son. She would live in his house. His money would provide for her food, clothing, heat, and housing. He would watch over her health. He would provide for any medical needs. He could assist with any struggles which came with old age. Even though Jesus is leaving her, he makes sure her needs are satisfied. She is Loved! The Savior professes this, just like he does for you.
Continue looking to the cross and be reminded of his love. If Jesus loved you so much that he gives you heaven, how much more he remains to protect you, to answer your prayers, and to deliver you! Yes, even though Jesus reigns in heaven, he still satisfies your needs.
He provides you with money. It may not mean that you become millionaires or even buy everything you want. Rather, he gives you enough to stock your cupboards and pantries, to fill your gas tanks, and to buy extra luxuries. With whatever amount you have, lift up your eyes and give thanks that he fills your bodily needs.
He places medical staff in your county. It may not mean that you never get sick again; it may not mean that medicine will grant instant and complete healing. Rather, thank God for healing through natural means. Continue trusting that God watches over body— even without doctors.
Yet, what about those times when challenges erupt and no solution is in sight? When health declines? When your beliefs are attacked? When your family fights? Are You still Loved?
Yes, even when times get tough and it looks like Jesus does not love you— he still remains with you. God works through troubles to (1) increase our trust in him. Recognize God’s ability to heal and deliver, to protect and provide. Trust that God’s timing is always more perfect than our timing. Trust that God’s answers are perfect— and that his answers are better than what we may have asked for.
Trust that God blesses even in ways we are unaware. A little girl receives her vaccine shot that she avoids the threat of disease. Shots hurt. She cries. Yet, when the pain subsides, she becomes stronger. As we journey through this life, troubles cause us to cling to God ever more tightly, to take him at his Word, and to confidently follow him. You are Loved! The Savior professes this!
As a child, it can be difficult to see love in the pain of a shot or in the parent who seems to do nothing. And you, being God’s child, may feel God does nothing for you in life’s most difficult times.
Yet, as a parent, you know your actions pour out love— love for your child’s best interests. God, being your heavenly Father, You are Loved! That is a word you have eternal life by. The cross preaches that Jesus died for your benefit. You are Loved! That is a word you get to live by. The Savior professes his love in his Word and actions. You get to live under this assurance always.