Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 27

cross

Saving Self.

Everyone loves a hero, don’t they? Heroes make us feel like there is hope for our species. Deep inside, we want to believe we are heroes just waiting for the opportunity to reveal our true selves—like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent—bursting from our commonplace garb, revealing our altruistic selves. But altruism, says psychology, is nothing more than one of three evolutionary survivals: survival of the fittest (meaning ‘oneself’), survival of the genes (meaning ‘one’s children or close relatives’), or survival of the species (meaning ‘humanity in general’). This cynical view strips humanity of its soul making us nothing more than animals at best and machines at worst. So we struggle, wondering whether there really are any heroes, whether there is any hope for our species.

The gospel writer, Matthew, brings us to Chapter 27, the second-to-last chapter in his biography of Jesus Christ. In the first 26 chapters he has recorded Jesus healing the sick, restoring the socially outcast, reviving the dead to life. Jesus has drawn from His limitless resources as Son of the All-Powerful One to bring healing and hope to those in His daily walk who, by faith, are willing to be healed. But an antagonism to Christ has been slowly revealing itself. There was the edict of Herod, upon hearing of the Bethlehemic birth of one “born king of the Jews”, to kill all infant boys in Bethlehem; there was Satan’s devilish oppression of Jesus during His forty-day fast in the desert; there were the religious leaders who attempted to put obstacles into Jesus’ path wherever He journeyed and who plotted his murder; and there was Judas Iscariot’s greed-inspired betrayal of his Lord bringing about Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

And as Jesus, naked, torn and bruised by the Roman soldiers’ merciless beatings and floggings, hung suspended on his cross, the cruelties took voice; the oppression culminated in the hated-filled accusations flung at him by other cross-hanging prisoners, by passersby and by the religious icons of His day.

“(S)ave yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’”

What was the crux of these angry and hateful charges? The general mob and the ruling social religionists were expressing a twisted ideology of heroism. Real heroes, they claimed, save themselves first. Real heroes always submit to the three evolutionary survivals, all of which are based on self-centred considerations. And real heroes conform to our ideas of what supernatural power should look like. In other words, if you really are God in human flesh, Jesus, you’d better behave they way we expect, or else leave our lives, our neighbourhood and our planet up to us.

What they never expected was that this Son of God was the embodiment of altruism itself. He was following God’s agenda, not mankind’s. He was saving us at the expense of His own life, taking on the full weight of God’s just wrath against a rebellious species. He was and is the Hero we all need more desperately than we often know.

But don’t think for a moment that Jesus was suffering from a psychosis of self-injurious behaviour. There was something in the horrific death that would benefit Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him…and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was that joy? It was the joy of enabling people like you and me to be back in right relationship with God; it was the joy of giving us a real choice of heaven over hell; it was the joy of filling eternity with eternal-living humans who finally realize their true potential as worshipers of the living God and as accomplishers of tasks more satisfying than our old cursed world could ever supply.

So let’s come to the cross of Jesus today. Let’s see Him as He truly is, the hero of our souls and rescuer of our lost humanity. Let’s invite His Spirit into our lives today; and let’s live out a continuation of His mission of loving God and loving others well. That’s what Jesus’ heroism is all about.

(Photo credit; By yorkshireman – http://pixabay.com/de/kreuz-gespeichert-strand-ring-631002/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39762052)

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ROMANS 14

Redningssvoemmere

Island Mentality vs. Continental Outlook:

Google ‘examples of heroism’ and prepare yourself to be enthralled. Story after story of human kindness describe a nobility of human character we often fail to see on a daily basis. It is heartwarming to hear them.

Where does heroism come from? What makes people step out of their own small worlds and risk life and limb for another? Merriam-Webster says heroism is, “heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end.” Another source says it is, “great bravery”. We all know it as a selfless act that puts the welfare of another being above one’s own interests. It is an involvement in the life of humankind that exceeds the common self-interested mentality of our usual daily lives.

Seventeenth century English poet John Donne wrote of the source of it in his “Meditation 17, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”. You may recognize more than one idiom in the text:

No man is an island, entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

The Apostle Paul goes even further. In the fourteenth chapter of Romans, Paul describes a crossroads that divides ‘island mentality’ from a ‘continental outlook’ not only in societal terms (between people) but also in spiritual terms (between people and God).

“For none of us lives to himself alone,” explains Paul. “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” That’s extreme. That kind of thinking could change the entire ebb and flow of a person’s life. We are not an island; we are not beings left adrift to sort life out on our own or to grasp at in self-absorbed obsession; nor are we even capable of wisely using this amazing gift of living. God is imminent; He desires to be intimately involved in our lives, empowering us to fulfill the high purpose and noble end He sees far better than we. And how would that look in everyday life?

“Let us therefore, “ Paul directs, “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” He’s talking about how we extend our connectedness with God into our connectedness with others, primarily with other believers but also with all of humankind. We are not to live as islands. We are not to see ourselves as separate entities, each on our own earth-fixed heaven-bound path. And we are not to pass judgment on one another regarding issues that are not core to our beliefs. The church has had enough bad press regarding historical issues of divisiveness. Jesus Christ, our Head, modeled heroism by coming like a knight in shining armour to our rescue, bearing the brunt and full weight of our predicament. Making a way for us to come back home to the God and Father of our souls was an act of heroic proportions on Jesus’ part. He calls us to allow His outlook on life to flood through our being. Living and belonging to God means turning away from island mentality. It means drawing from the strength of the Rock of Ages and making every possible effort to build up others, bringing them to participate in the great Continent of God’s love. That’s heroism on a daily, even minute-by-minute basis. That’s the crossroads Jesus calls us to walk through.

(Photo Credit: “Redningssvoemmere” by heb@Wikimedia Commons (mail) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Redningssvoemmere.jpg#/media/File:Redningssvoemmere.jpg)