You know, I wonder what kinds of thoughts float through the competitors’ minds during that race. Can you just imagine the mental strength needed to press on? You will get tired when swimming. The brain will try to convince you that if you are tired now (so early on), you will never complete the race. So, just quit. Your energy will drain as you bike. Halfway through your 112-mile bike ride, the brain will argue that the race too difficult; you just are not equipped to finish. Your legs will be beat exhausted as you run. The brain will praise you for the race you have run and will tell you that an unfinished race is just as good as completing the race.
I’m not sure what is more difficult about the Ironman Triathlon: actually competing or overcoming your doubts. The race is grueling, but surrendering forfeits victory. Push through the pain and the mental agony you can boast in complete victory.
Your Christian life may sometimes feel like you are competing in something more grueling than an ironman. You experience wonderful blessings with God, but the suffering in your Christian life grinds you down. Your mind may even tempt you to wonder if suffering is really worth continuing your race of faith.
This morning God encourages you to Rejoice under the Cross! God’s grace does not fail you and so You persevere to your eternal hope.
This morning we are discussing the Christian cross. You might have heard someone say once before: “Well, that’s my cross to bear in life.” Yet, let’s take a moment and define what the “cross” is. The Christian cross is all suffering that comes because you follow Jesus— because you listen to him, because you obey his Word.
So, the “cross” may be (1) the suffering which comes because you believe in Jesus. You become a target for those who reject Jesus. Politicians label your beliefs as “dangerous,” “narrow-minded,” and “outdated”— and your reputation suffers from ridicule. Friends call your God a ‘mythical-fairytale”— and you hurt because someone mocks the God you love. Your own child, who was raised to know Jesus, may admit that he “just does not believe that stuff anymore”— and you ache watching a child reject his need for a Savior. You agonize under the insults, the shame, the ridicule, the laughter others heap on you all because you follow Jesus.
The “cross” may be (2) suffering from a personal affliction. Your health is failing and despite your many prayers for healing, you just do not get better. You lose a loved one unexpectedly. He was so young, so healthy, so needed. You trip, fall, and break a bone. The timing of this particular accident makes no sense. Now you are confined to a house, tied up with restrictions and can do very little and travel nowhere. When your body hurts, when you suffer unexplainable tragedy, you still trust God, but you also feel the push to give up on him because you do not receive the answers you want.
The Christian cross is all suffering that comes because you follow Jesus. It might be others harming you for your beliefs; it may be you trusting God, but also wanting to let go of God.
When a cross presses down on you, it becomes easy to lose sight of who you suffer for. When a cross presses down, your (and my) eyes want to look down at yourself. When that happens, you begin trying to determine if (1) you have earned this suffering or (2) if you are worthy of this suffering. You look at cancer, puzzled. “I exercised. I ate well. I am a moral person. Why is this happening to me? I committed no wrong to deserve this.” A loved one leaves life too early. You begin reflecting on their life. She was an excellent [grand]mother, making each of her [grand]children feel uniquely special. He had friends and always helped out, everyone loved him. They committed no crime; they did not anger dangerous thugs— and yet they still died. Why? You love God and therefore obey him; you live an honest, patient, humble, life of service. Yet, your neighbor still laughs at your beliefs, shaking his head because he pities you. Professors not only reject God, but even call you “dumb” for believing in the unexplainable. You are left looking at yourself, wondering why you suffer for living the way God wants.
If your (and my) eyes are locked on yourself, then you will determine that you have done nothing to deserve this suffering. Instead, you discover that much of life’s unpleasantries come because you are connected to God. The easiest way to end personal suffering is to end your connection to God. If you stop clinging to a Savior, then no one will insult your beliefs. If you stop trusting the promises of God, then you no longer have to wait for him to act (or try to make sense of trouble). Throw down the cross, quit the faith, leave Jesus, end the race, and life appears to be better.
That’s true— kind of. Throw down your cross and you may have pleasant days on earth, but throw down your cross and you will suffer forever.
My friends, the Christian cross does not come because of who you are, but rather because of who you are connected to! When you hold to God’s promises, your (and my) sinful nature tells you to quit following Jesus. The godless world insults you so that you may quit following Jesus. The devil pokes your pain so that you quit following Jesus. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature try to drive a wedge in between you and God in order to split you from him forever.
And so, when the Christian cross presses into you and the temptation remains to fixate on yourself, God lifts your (and my) eyes up to the cross of Jesus. Why do we focus on Jesus’ suffering instead of ours? Because God is telling something very important: we have been justified through faith.
“Justified,” means to “declare someone ‘not guilty.’” God sets you free from suffering his anger and wrath. Yes, you heard that right; you (and I) do deserve God’s anger. Your (and my) very nature is ungodly. You are sinful from birth, sinful from the time your mother conceived you (Psalm 51:5). You are born dead in sin— not able to bring yourself to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1). You are an enemy of God— someone who fights against him, behaving the exact opposite of what he commands (Romans 8:7). You (and I) once stood completely helpless to change that status.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When you (and I) suffer, God points you to Jesus’ cross. Why does Jesus suffer? Why is he rejected, crucified, and killed? Jesus suffers because he would not forsake God. Jesus suffers because you (and I) have forsaken God by our disobedience. Jesus suffers your (and my) sentence for that crime. Christ died for us.
By his suffering on a cross, you (and I) have the guarantee of glory. You see, if Jesus had never suffered the cross, you (and I) would still be accountable for your guilt. Since Jesus suffered the cross, you hold the certainty that you also will share in his glory.
When the cross presses into you, lift your eyes and rejoice! Rejoice that you are not suffering because of who you are, your reputation or behavior. Rejoice that you suffer because you believe in a God who wipes away sin and gives you eternal life.
A personal cross may try to blind you from seeing God’s grace. You may be tempted to despair. So, God strengthens you to press on through your earthly race.
Look again at verse 1: we have been justified. “We”— that is personal, that means you (and me), the work of Jesus is done for your benefit! Neither does not say: “We have justified ourselves,” rather, we have been justified. Someone else did all the work and it all depends on what that person has done. The moment Jesus cried out on the cross: “It is finished!” God slammed down his gavel and declared you: “Not guilty!”—once and for all time.
Now you live reconcile to him through the death of his Son. “Reconcile”— you know what that word means, right? Reconciling is bringing two opposing parties together as friends. Your status was once that of “enemy,” but now Jesus has changed it to that of “friend.” Since you are reconciled to God, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only did Jesus cancel out the debt of your sin, but he will bring you into heaven; it is impossible to think otherwise! That is “grace,” God’s undeserved love.
The Christian cross make tempt you to believe that God does not love you. Yet, God’s grace does not fail you. He demonstrates his love by sending Jesus to make your eternity secure. With God continually pointing you to Jesus in order to remind you of his love, you persevere to enter your eternal hope.
Be sure, the devil will try to convince to quit running your race. Yet, you may also rejoice in [y]our afflictions. That sounds odd. Why Rejoice under the Cross? Rejoicing does not mean you walk around with a great big smile plastered on your face under the cross. It does not mean you must force yourself to be happy at a funeral. It does not mean you must smile when hearing tragic news. It does not mean you skip and jump for joy when some insults your faith. Rejoicing means you can take pride in your suffering. You can take pride because you know where to turn in suffering; you turn to Jesus. (1) You know God loved you to wipe away your sin. (2) You know God has opened heaven. (3) You know you may run to your Father for strength, comfort, and peace. This the how suffering produces perseverance. You persevere through troubles to enter your eternal hope.
As a result, your character grows. Have you ever faced a stressful situation that you never knew how you could conquer? Yet, when you finish the test, you recognize that you have grown. You are capable of managing your time better, you can learn many facts, or you increase personal strength to push through recovery. As you persevere through affliction, your Christian character grows. You stop relying on yourself and rely on the promises of God more. You pray more, bringing your stress and anxiety to God. You lift up your eyes to your heavenly hope, knowing this is the end-goal of your faith—this is what life is all about. And— like you heard last week, your perspective on life is properly adjusted.
Some of you are carrying a cross right now, and it feels excruciatingly heavy. You still feel raw after a funeral. You grieve over the fact life will not be as it once was. You struggle to come to grips with illness. You wonder if you can remain Christian in a society growing “Christ”-less. Yet, you are looking at the cross. You daily remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending a Savior. You remember eternity is set. You press on through challenges with God at your side, strengthening you, comforting you, and still blessing you. You persevere to reach your eternal hope.
I’m not sure what is more difficult about the Ironman Triathlon: actually competing or overcoming your doubts. Your Christian life may sometimes feel like you are competing in something more grueling than an ironman. You experience wonderful blessings with God, but the suffering that comes as a Christians grinds you down. Your mind may even tempt you to wonder if suffering is really worth continuing your race of faith.
When the cross presses into you, look up at the cross. There see the One who suffered shame but now sits in glory. See the One who suffered for you so that you may join him in unending glory. This is the reason you may Rejoice under the Cross! God’s grace does not fail you. Persevere to enter your eternal hope.