Summary: The cross hits us like a two-by-four to get our attention and remind us of our sin, teach us how God suffers for that sin, and show us how far He will go to call us back to Himself.
There is an old story -- so old, in fact, that I will not ask you to stop me if you’ve heard it before, because you have heard it before. But the story concerns a fellow riding on a cart, pulled by a stubborn old mule. It seems that this fellow liked to brag that he never had to whip the mule, he never had to kick it or goad it •• that the old mule would just respond to his voice commands immediately. No whip, no yelling, no jerking on the reins. Most of the time just a gentle word, he claimed, was all he needed to get the mule to do what he wanted.
However, someone noticed that every now and again the cart driver would reach back into the cart and bring up a piece of two-by-four lumber. And he would take this heavy piece of wood and suddenly swat the old mule on his head, just below the ear. The mule would bray loudly and pick up his step, complaining all the way. And so they asked, “Hey, you said you didn’t have to whip this animal. You said you could just guide him with a word. What about this two-by-four to the ears?"
"Wal," said the mule driver. “Yes, I can just guide him by a gentle word. But every now and then I have to get his attention."
Most of us are like that. Most of us need to have something slap us hard in order to get our attention. Sometimes it takes a serious illness before any of us will acknowledge that our bodies need to be taken care of; and that illness is like a two-by-four slapping you under the ear to get your attention.
Others of us go through life oblivious to the needs of our family and friends. We get so caught up in what we are doing, so impressed by our own importance, that we need something to get our attention and keep us from destroying the things that matter the most. I know a pastor who was so driven in his work, who pushed himself so hard to meet all the expectations that he thought his people laid on him, that he worked day after day and night after night. He never took a day off, he never took even a holiday. He totally neglected his family’s emotional needs. And so his wife began to spend money; she ran up credit card bills into the many thousands of dollars. She even cashed in her teachers retirement money and spent that. You could say that she was sick and out of control, and that is correct; but it is also true that all she was trying to do was to hit her husband up the side of his head with a two-by-four. She was trying to hurt him just enough to get his attention.
One way to see the cross of Christ is to see it as God using a two-by-four, trying to hurt us just enough to get our attention. That is not the only way to see the cross, but it is one way. The cross is God using a two-by-four, probing at us, pushing us, making us pay attention. The cross is God using a two-by-four, hurting us just enough to get our attention.
Jesus in Luke’s Gospel tells the parable of the tenants. According to his parable, someone planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants, with the understanding that a share of the vineyard’s produce was to come to the landlord. But the first year, when the landlord sent a servant, the tenants beat up on that servant and sent him away empty-handed.
And so the landlord sent another servant. This servant the tenants not only beat up on. This servant they beat up on and insulted, and sent him away empty-handed.
A third servant was sent. The third servant the tenants beat up on, they insulted him, and they even wounded him and threw him out. But still no produce, no grapes.
And so, in Jesus’ parable, the owner of the vineyard said, "These folks show no respect to my servants. Somehow they don’t take my servants seriously. So I will send my son to the field. Surely they will listen to my son."
But do you know what happened to the vineyard owner’s son? When the son came they beat on him, they insulted him, the wounded him and. threw him out … and at last they killed him. Astounding, isn’t it? These tenants were so arrogant, so disrespectful, so out of touch, that they actually killed the owner’s son, and. expected to get away with it.
And as the parable ends, the owner of the vineyard is saying, "I will come and judge these tenants. I will destroy them and punish them." And their answer is nothing more than a weak, insipid, "Heaven forbid! We didn’t do anything!”