This week Christians all over the world celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. We collectively turn our eyes to Jesus, hanging on the cross, dying for our sins, raising from the dead to give us new life, and calling the world to put their faith in Him. The Cross is a brutal place where you come to the end of yourself, cease to trust in what this world has to offer, and recognize that you cannot save yourself. No one can. We are all undone by the holiness of God and we all fall short and earn death through our sins, which are great. But, at the Cross, the Son of God took our place, took our punishment, died in our stead, and shed His blood for our forgiveness. He did not stay dead, but rose on the Third Day to give us new life in Him – and that is why we celebrate His resurrection on Sunday.
Jesus is our Savior. Nothing else. No one else.
Jesus is our Hope. All other hopes come to their end at the Cross.
Jesus is our Peace. We are in turmoil without Him – “he is before all things and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17
Jesus is the Rock upon which we build our lives, our churches, and our future.
Our citizenship is in Heaven, not here. We are wanderers, aliens, and sojourners. Strangers in a strange land. This world is not our home.
Over the next few days, we turn our eyes collectively to Christ, the Author and Perfector of our Faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
The place of torture, shame, despising. rejection. The place where sinners were condemned to die for their sins. No holy man would be there. If he was there, he must be a sinner. He must be despised and rejected.
Yet, Jesus went there. He went there not because of His own sins, but because of ours. He went there not to pay for His sins, but to rescue us from our own sin and punishment and rejection and to restore us to God. He didn’t go there because He had to. He was compelled by the love of God and He went there in our place.
When Jesus was on trial, He did not defend Himself. He barely answered the Chief Priest, or Herod, or Pilate at all. He said very little. He could have called upon tens of thousands of angels to rescue Him. He could have astounded the crowd and defended Himself perfectly. He had every right to do so.
But, He was not there for Himself.
The Cross was about sacrificial love and dying for others and laying down His life so that others may live. In the Cross, we see the Wisdom of God – considered foolishness by the world and a stumbling block. We don’t get it. It bothers us. Or, we ignore it. Or redefine it.
What if we give up our rights and we get run over?
What if we are too weak?
Don’t we have the right to defend ourselves?
What will things be like if we don’t assert ourselves?
Jesus turned all of that upside down.
The first will be last and the last first. The best seat is at the end of the table. Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies . . . become like a little child . . . love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Go the extra mile. Give up your cloak. Show mercy. Do not judge. Forgive seventy times seven. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love means laying down your life for others. Who is my neighbor? The greatest is the one who serves. Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. We cannot serve two masters. Jesus’ words go on and on. And on.
Jesus is our Savior, not anything else. Or, anyone else.
Religious Liberty is a first principle of America. The right to believe as we wish and to hold our own religious convictions on matters public and private is enshrined in the Constitutions and our nation’s laws. It has provided a wonderful shelter for Americans to exercise their religion in freedom and we should all be thankful for it AND we should all affirm it as a very good thing that should be respected. The very principle of it comes from Scripture and is the result of Biblical and Christian influence in our land. I am so very grateful for it and want it to continue.
But, Religious Liberty is NOT our Savior. It does not provide for us what we need to follow God – only God Himself does that. If it is taken away tomorrow, then we will go on and continue to follow Christ and love and serve and lay our lives down for others, because that is what Jesus did for us. And, it is what He calls us to do Him and for others.
Lots of things happening in America today. Lots of voices sounding the alarm about the loss of Religious Liberty. And, lots of people are telling us that Religious Liberty has its limits and they are defining those for us. I get it. But, let our eyes turn back to the Cross over the next few days. Let us remember that our citizenship is in Heaven and while we are proud to be Americans, we understand that this world is not our home. Let us cling more to Christ and the Cross instead of looking to worldly power and influence – or even trusting in good things for protection.
This is not a call to retreat from the public square. Jesus was crucified in public and His death and resurrection shook the world. But, maybe we should reimagine how we engage in the public square. Instead of trying to arrange a secular society to fit our perspective or find our protection from even the freedoms that we hold dear, we should be asking how we can serve and lay down our lives and die to ourselves even if our freedoms are altered from what we have understood them to be. This is hard, I know. It is hard to see things this way. I cannot do it on my own. I want to win and to have things my way. I want to feel safe and protected. But, when I see Jesus hanging there . . . it changes the way that I see the world and I recognize that I often want the glory when Jesus chose the cross.
Jesus was condemned by the World System and sentenced to death, but He did not allow Himself to be judged by it. His confidence was in the Father. “This is my son in whom I am well pleased . . .” Jesus knew who He was. “I Am.” And, He knew why He was there. His liberty was found in His identity and call from the Father and the world’s judgments could not take that away from Him.
Whatever happens, our hope is in Christ. And, it is because of Christ that we can love those who hate us and serve those who abuse us and love those that we do not agree with. It is because of Christ that we do not need to look to Religious Liberty to save us. Religious Liberty was not beaten or mocked or abused for us. Religious Liberty did not shed blood for us. Religious Liberty is not our Savior. Only Jesus is, and whatever happens wherever, we look to the Cross of Christ and we worship Him.
And, then we love others sacrificially.