We might receive foot-washing and communion and yet still not grasp the cross. Perhaps our need for that cross is not yet clear. We may still believe in our own capacity to follow Him, the self-inspired power of allegiance to Jesus.
Peter the ‘Rock,’ full of bluster and unrefined zeal, helps us here. He believed himself to be among the most radical followers of Jesus. Pride came before his fall on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Until the midnight hour, Peter continued to be stumbled by the prospect of Christ’s humiliation.
He still did not grasp the cross. First he had to suffer the humiliation of his own infidelity.
How often have we seen this before? Many of us have followed Christian leaders whom we granted ‘Rock-like” status, only to be devastated when they fell. How could they? How could men or women espousing, say, ‘traditional values,’ prostitute themselves and so breach trust with us? (Not to mention with their families, their churches, and the greater Christian community?)
Easily. We can preach the cross and its merits for everyone else yet avoid it entirely when it comes to our own need for the cross. We can live in that divide as long as our weaknesses are kept in check. But seasons change, and under the stress of real life, weaknesses become wickedness.
God exposes us as the cross-‘dodgers’ that we are. Such exposure breaks ground in us for mercy.
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Maundy Thursday makes one thing perfectly clear. It is God’s faithfulness that makes us faithful. On this night of foot-washing and communion, we behold the full extent of God’s love toward us.
Mercy takes on new meaning as Jesus grants us tokens of the cross that awaits Him. He washes away our filth; He feeds us with bread from heaven. Foreseeing our departure from Him, He grants us powerful assistance for our return.
In His faithful love, we see our unfaithfulness. Here we have a choice. In that gap between perfect love, and our own, our hearts either tenderize or toughen. We can fall forward into His mercy or flee His presence altogether.
Peter did not bolt. But he remained a slow learner. Just before the Passover meal, according to John 13, Jesus began to reveal “the full extent of His love” (v.1) by washing the disciple’s feet. ‘Maundy’ Thursday is derived from the Latin “mandatum”, referring to Jesus’ mandate of the disciples to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14).
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In His mercy, Jesus redeems our suffering. Some of the sorrow we submit to Him is not of particularly noble origins—it may be, as we have seen, the bad fruit of our sin, or the normal wounds and losses we sustain this side of Heaven.
He loves us to the extent that He will take every opportunity to invite us to surrender our sins and wounds. He grants us ‘cross-time’: an opportunity to receive and extend mercy. He makes us that much more fruitful in love.
But suffering for what is right: that is the highest form of suffering, and one to which the Christian seeking mature identification with the Crucified must aspire.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: ‘The cross is suffering that comes only from our commitment to Jesus Christ…the cross is not the normal suffering tied to natural existence but the suffering tied to being Christian.’
That is what Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount when He spoke of persecution for the sake of righteousness. (Matt. 5:10)
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During Holy Week, we pause to consider Jesus’ cross and the smaller one He asks us to carry. The goal? To know Him more. Perhaps He will invite you in these days to ‘keep watch with Him’ in His suffering. We take another step toward Calvary by considering the ways we have been sinned against. He has not suffered only for our sins and foolishness; His cross-walk had as much to do with the gaps and gashes we bear due to others’ sins.
Isaiah 53:4, 5 says it best: ‘Surely He bore our grief, and carried our sorrows…and by His wounds, we are healed.’ He wants us to come to Him as readily with our wounds as with our sins. Why? Because He loves us; He wants what He has suffered to have its full effect—to alleviate our suffering.
He also knows that the wounded heart, unattended and seeking to heal itself, will naturally harden and defend itself against the damage done. We in our hurt become ugly; one infected wound can make us hateful and indiscriminate in transferring that hate onto innocent ones who represent our ‘wounders.’
Remember yesterday’s entry in which I recounted my slander of a colleague? The revelation of my sinful response to him began a long process of meeting with Jesus and a trusted brother. Behind the rage and self-vindication, I was hurt beyond words. Jesus was intent on laying claim to that wound as the basis for new life in me.
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A tendency of most Christians is to want to enter into relationship with Christ through His cross but to want to avoid that same cross in our own lives.
No-where is this more apparent than in how we deal with our personal sin.
We will go to great lengths to deny our sin, and the suffering that we cause ourselves and others due to our sin. It offends us.
We are in good company. I love how Peter, whom Jesus had just named as the Rock of the Church, refused the truth of the cross. Peter’s clear vision of Jesus as the Way did not yet include the truth that Jesus had to suffer and die. Jesus’ prophesied His crucifixion in Matt. 16: 21-23 and Peter cannot stand it. He blurts out: ‘Never Lord!’ Jesus’ response? ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’
God’s vision of what He must endure at Calvary, and what we must endure as well as we follow Him there, is different than our own. The cross offends us, particularly as it applies to owning the suffering caused by our sin.
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