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Worship Theme: Focused Living Endures Opposition to Christ as He Did

Sermon Theme: The Joy of the Cross

The reading from Hebrews 12:1-13 is a message of encouragement and hope because it’s a message that tells us about “The Joy of the Cross”—the joy of Jesus’ cross and the joy of our own. August 14, 2022.

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If everything happened exactly as you wanted, how bad would your life be? I’ll ask that again. If everything happened exactly as you wanted, how bad would your life be?

Now you might be thinking, “What do you mean? How could it be bad if things happened the way I wanted? The war would be over in Ukraine. State Fair would be a yearlong event and cream puffs wouldn’t affect my diet. Gas would be under $1/gallon, the stock market would be stable, Giannis would never miss a free throw, and Josh Hader would still be with the Brewers! How could that be bad?”

Maybe those are a bit extreme examples. But perhaps your vision of life might be something like this? You never have to worry about job security. You never have any awkward family reunions. Your entire family is blessed with healthy, long lives. Your children and grandchildren grow up to have blessed and successful lives and you are alive to see it. Violence, tragedy, and disaster stay far away from you, and some day you find yourself sipping a Mai Tai on the beach in retirement. All those things sound pretty nice, so you might still be thinking, “What could be bad about that?”

But you see, I know my heart, and I know the evil that lurks inside it. I know the selfishness, the greed, the pride. If everything happened the way I wanted it, I know how quickly I would make everything about me. Like Aladdin with a magic lamp, there would be riches and mansions and luxuries. Life would be comfy, cozy, and easy. Everything I would do and everything I would have would work toward creating some kind of heaven here on earth. And if I had heaven here on earth, what need would I have for God and his heaven? What would become of my life? What would become of my faith? What kind of person would I be? If everything happened the way I wanted, how bad would my life be—not from a worldly perspective, but spiritually speaking?

You see, this is the challenging position that we are stuck in as sinner/saints today. We are God’s holy people, redeemed children of God. But we also still daily battle a sinful nature down deep inside. And with such a sinner/saint battle raging, today is the kind of day that truly challenges us and pulls us in opposite directions.

On the one hand, we’ve come here to be fed by the Word. We’ve come to worship Jesus and to listen to Jesus. But on the other hand, I’m not so sure I like what God has to say today. In the first lesson we heard through Jeremiah about God exposing the lying, false prophets of the time and how his word is like fire, like a hammer that breaks rocks in pieces. I’m not so sure I want to engage in spiritual combat with the world wielding the hammer of the Word and creating spiritual enemies left and right. Then we heard Jesus say in the gospel today that indeed he didn’t come to bring worldly peace and paradise. He came to bring fire and division. And not just division with “those people” out there, but his Word and his truth will be so powerful that even families will be divided so that even father and son or mother and daughter will stand against each other on opposite sides of God’s truth.

We hear today this harsh reality that life as a Christian is not just cupcakes with frosting and smiley face emojis, and Jesus is not just our magic genie in a bottle. Rather, life as a Christian who follows Christ and his cross means that we will have crosses, too. There will be suffering and sickness in a sinful world. There will be enemies and evil to fight. There will be opposition, hatred, and division. And you know, I’m not so sure what to make of all this!

These are the kinds of things that make me frustrated. These are the kinds of troubles that bring questions and doubts to my mind. These are the kinds of problems that push me toward to despair and even have me teetering on the verge of unbelief. So, what do we do?

That’s where the second reading this morning comes into play. Whereas the first reading from Jeremiah and the words of Jesus in the gospel remind us of the crosses we bear and the opposition we will face, the second reading this morning stands in between them with a message of encouragement and hope because it’s a message that tells us about The Joy of the Cross—the joy of Jesus’ cross and the joy of our own.

That’s a phrase that makes no sense to human ears and sinful hearts. How do joy and cross go together? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, that’s total foolishness. But the foolishness of God is greater than man’s wisdom, because in the cross God’s wisdom is revealed. Listen to how the writer to the Hebrews talks about this. In verse two he points us to “Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” That’s phrase that means Jesus is the beginning and the end of our faith. The one who started it and the one who finished it. The one we stand on and put our hope in. Why is that? The writer continues, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

If you were Jesus, and you knew everything that was coming your way, how fast would you run in the other direction? How fast would you run from the suffering, the torture, the crown of thorns, the nails, the weight of the world’s sin, the agony of hell? How fast would you away run from the cross?

But look at Jesus who patiently endured the cross, who thought nothing of and scorned the shame of hanging on the cross and bearing sin. Look at Jesus who knew that his Father’s plan for salvation was better than any plan humans could devise. In perfect obedience, willingly, humbly Jesus did not run from the cross, but he ran to the cross. Why would he do such a thing that seems so foolish to human wisdom?

“For the joy set before him.” For you. For you Jesus obeyed his Father. For you Jesus carried out a plan of salvation that he knew was better. For you Jesus selflessly suffered to pay for selfish sin. For you Jesus scorned the shame of carrying sin and guilt and endured the agony of hell so that you never would. For the joy of buying you back from death and hell, for the joy of giving you life instead of death, for the joy of having you at his side in eternity, Jesus went to the cross. The cross is foolishness to the world, but it is wisdom to God. Because at the cross we see the joyful heart of our Father, giving his Son so that he could have other sons and daughters—us.

And just as Jesus found joy in the cross that he would bear, so can we find joy in the crosses that we bear. These words from Hebrews are almost a step-by-step guide of how to endure and find encouragement in trouble and suffering. So, let’s walk through these verses to understand better The Joy of the Cross.

Starting at verse 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” How silly would it be to run a marathon in a snow suit! How foolish would it be to run the 300-meter hurdles while looking at the fans in the stands! You would trip and fall and fail, and probably never cross the finish line.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. People mentioned in the previous chapter like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and so many more. These great men and women were heroes of faith. They certainly tripped up in sin along the way. But by faith they focused their lives on God and his promises. By faith they ran with perseverance under pressure and persecution and trusted in God’s plan for their lives.

We today walk in their footsteps by faith. So, let’s throw off and get rid of all the worldly things that hinder and distract us. Let’s turn away from the sin that entangles us. Instead, let’s run with perseverance by fixing our eyes on Jesus. The Joy of the Cross that Jesus had in winning us salvation gives us joy in the crosses we bear. Fixing our eyes on Jesus helps us to fix our eyes on the finish line. As the writer says in verse 3, Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus endured and overcame, and he will strengthen us to do the same.

Will it be difficult along the way? Absolutely. But this is where the writer again reminds us of The Joy of the Cross. He quotes a proverb that says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as a son.” So, he goes on to say in verse 7, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.”

This is another thing that seems like foolishness to the world. How could hardship be good? But by faith we know better. By faith we understand that the word discipline is a word that means teaching. By faith we know that just as good and loving parents discipline their children to teach them, so God teaches us through all the hardships of this life. The writer says in verse 10, “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

No hardship, no sickness, no suffering, no persecution, no opposition seems good at the time. It’s painful. Yet God works through all these things for our good according to his good purpose. He wants us to share in his holiness. He wants to produce a harvest of righteousness and peace in us. He wants us to be his people and to live with him now and forever. And sometimes through hardship we learn these things.

So, for example, do you know what date in recent American history is on record as having one of the highest church attendances? September 16, 2001—the first Sunday after 9/11. So many thousands tragically died because of evil and sin. Yet we must wonder how many tens of thousands or even millions heard the gospel because of it.

In fact, a member of my church in Florida named Artie became a Christian shortly after he found out his son and daughter-in-law were not in the twin towers that day like they were supposed to be.

I could tell you of little Kase who went to heaven at the age of four because of a cancerous brain tumor, but I could also tell you of the four families who came to church for the first time at his funeral and then joined our church shortly after. Or I could tell you of Sandy who has been weathered through six decades of difficulty in life, including the tragic death of her 26-year-old daughter, but Sandy runs with perseverance to church every Sunday without fail because she knows how desperately she needs to fix her eyes on Jesus.

What about you? What have you endured? What have you suffered? What opposition have you faced? What crosses do you bear? I would imagine none of those things are what you would have ever dreamed you would have to endure when you were younger.

But if everything happened exactly as you wanted, how bad would your life be? You see, through each thing we suffer, through each cross we bear, the Lord disciplines and teaches us. He teaches us to come back to him, to rely on him, to fix our eyes on Jesus, to put our hope in heaven and not here.

Thank God that, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” because his plans are better than our plans and his wisdom greater than our wisdom.

What a God we have, who can bring good out of evil and triumph out of tragedy and life out of death! Need evidence that God can and will do this for you? Look no further than Calvary. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and you will know God’s marvelous plan of salvation and The Joy of the Cross.   Amen.

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