Summary: We not only find joy in the cross of Christ, but also in the cross God calls us each to carry. Find out why.
We’re smackdab in the middle of another Alberta summer. There isn’t anywhere else I’ve lived that serves up summer as well as this part of the world does. We have long hours of sunshine that stretch well into the evening letting you get more done outside. Even when temperatures reach the upper 20’s Celsius (hot by Alberta standards!), the air usually remains dry and cool. So you won’t overheat if you keep to the shade. I’m savoring every minute of this weather before I trade it for the hot, humid environs of Antigua.
What part of the world and what season of the year brings you joy? Perhaps you prefer the beauty of an autumn in eastern Canada with its flashes of red, orange, and yellow leaves? Or maybe you love the early flowers and peach blossoms of a British Columbia spring? And who doesn’t dream of getting away to a warm beach in the dead of winter? Things that bring us joy usually make us feel good. That’s why the sermon I have to share with you today is, well, strange. We’re going to learn how the Lutheran/Biblical mind finds joy in the cross—an instrument of torture. Listen to our text from Job 19.
When I said that a Lutheran/Biblical mind finds joy in the cross, I doubt I shocked many of you. Of course we find joy in the cross of Christ. For it is through that instrument of torture that God exacted payment for our sin. The cross is like one of those old credit card machines, the one that would take an imprint of your card by pressing it hard against a piece of carbon paper. So Jesus was pressed hard against the cross to leave an imprint of his sinless identity while absorbing the ink of our sins which were charged to his account. Through faith in Jesus we have forgiveness and the promise of an eternal life of happiness—just as trusting that the company’s platinum credit card will give you access to a stay in a five-star hotel that you would otherwise never be able to afford. Of course we find joy in the cross of Christ. It means our salvation.
But it’s not just the cross of Christ that brings us joy. The Lutheran/Biblical mind finds joy in the cross that God calls each believer to carry. Jesus once said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)
Jesus said that we each must carry a cross in his name. This cross doesn’t of course earn forgiveness. It’s not the cause of our salvation, but it is a necessary consequence (Daniel Deutschlander). Why is it necessary to carry a cross if through faith in Jesus I’ve already been promised the ultimate prize: eternal life in heaven? Because even though I’ve been promised the prize, I don’t actually hold it in my hand yet. It’s like being given the key to a brand new car, which is still at the dealer’s. Even though you hold the key to that new car, until you can put the key into the ignition you can’t enjoy what that car has to offer. So through faith in Jesus heaven is ours, but we’re not there yet to enjoy it.
To keep us from throwing away the key to heaven or from losing it, God fits each of us with a cross to carry. The Apostle Paul explains why when he wrote: “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:2-5a). The cross that each believer must bear keeps the individual grounded and focused. It drives us to despair of ourselves and continually seek comfort in God and his promises, rather than in any so-called treasure this world may offer.
Our sermon text about Job confirms this truth. Job probably lived about the time as Abraham, some 4500 years ago. He was rich and a believer in the true God. Then one day Satan came into God’s presence and God brought Job to his attention. God “boasted” about what a faithful believer Job was. To which Satan snarled, “The only reason he loves you, God, is because you spoil him. Take away his toys. Take away his health. And he will surely curse you to your face.” “Very well then,” God replied. “Have your way with Job, only don’t kill him.”