Around Easter, especially during lent, I try to spend daily time meditating on the person of Jesus and on the consequences of the cross. You won't find pretty, ornate crosses in my house because I try to see the cross for what it was - an instrument of death and torture. Particularly in America, it seems that we are often in a hurry to jump to Easter, the 'happy ending' as it were, and skip over the anguished death of Jesus and the hope of the world dashed to pieces. I don't know how I can truly say God's grace to me was not without effect(1 Corinthians 15:10) unless I am willing to descend into the depths of hell with Him when he bore the sins of the world for the sake of the glory of God. The cross isn't just about nails and pain and the price for MY sin... the cross is so much greater than that. You know that song, the one about how 'He took the nails for me' - that is so far from the whole truth about Jesus. To get to the heart of the cross, we have to get to the heart of God - primarily the deep love of God to manifest His glory among the nations.
Even in the Old Testament, God chose to use individuals, but it was for the greater purpose of manifesting His glory to the watching world, both in righteous anger and awesome acts of mercy. He didn't take the nails for me, for you, or for Christianity. Jesus chose to endure suffering death on the cross so that all men could come to God and God would be made glorious. Somewhere along the way the message of Easter became personal salvation rather than the great mercy of the Father toward his children for all eternity. He is made great, not me.
The recent martyrdom of Jeremiah Small hit me very hard - not because we were close, but because it woke me up. Having lived in the very city he was living in, among the very people whom he loved and gave his life for... it reminded me what is real. Jeremiah was not controlled by the world, but by the love and will of God - that is what led him to Iraq several years ago. When we decided to move overseas it was because we wanted to be obedient and felt compelled to respond to the love of God. But, my experience there and since returning to the States has taught me that living a life controlled by the love and will of God has much more to do with what is inside your heart than your physical, geographical location. I have been a fairly ineffective vessel of God in that I have allowed myself to be controlled by many things and Jesus said it best when he said that "You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other." Matthew 6:24, Luke 6:13 Jesus didn't give us a lot of room here to love him and love everything else too. In fact, he was very black and white about it being love and hate. I don't think this means we hate in the sense that we express hatred toward everything worldly, that is surely not how Jesus lived on the earth. I think it means we hold in our hearts a single, all consuming passion for only one thing.... and whatever we choose will be the thing through which we filter everything else. If we choose Jesus, than it will be Jesus who inspires us to love those around us, Jesus who inspires us to appreciate the beauty and joy to be had in the world, Jesus who brings us to submission out of his overwhelming kindness towards us.
Jesus died. Jeremiah died. I don't want my life to be unaffected by either of these things. The story of the cross is full of torment and I think it should be. It is good for my soul to meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and in turn respond with overflowing gratitude for all that was purchased on my behalf. Easter is certainly a celebration, without Easter there would be no Christmas. I've always loved the verse where Paul says "And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world." 1 Corinthians 15:19. Jesus made a way, through the cross for us to have a lasting hope - a hope for all eternity. I pray God's grace in my life will continue to be 'not without effect"