Today, we sit here in this church and we are saddened. Saddened by our Savior being put to death. Crucified on a tree. A cross at Calvary. By Him hanging on the Cross, He gave up everything. Everything. While we are sad, we also need to realize that it is a gift. The gift of Christ crucified on the Cross is a gift because He died on the Cross for our sins. Your sins, Father Stan’s sins, my sins, everybody’s sins! Why? So that we may have life. An “Everlasting Life.” “The Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15).
Why, then, did he die? The Gospel of John states: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). God gave us His only son – “The God-Man” – who died on the Cross. St. Paul’s in Galatians says: He “loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The cross brings us face to face with Jesus’ suffering. He was alone – all his disciples had deserted him except for his mother and three women along with John, the beloved disciple. His death was agonizing and humiliating. Normally a crucified man could last for several days on a cross. Jesus’ had already been scourged, beaten with rods, and a crown of thorns pressed into his skull. It is no wonder that he died mid-afternoon. Pilate publicly heralded Jesus “The King of the Jews” as he died upon the cross, no doubt to irritate and annoy the chief priests and Pharisees (John 19:19).
As Christians, followers of the innocent God-man who ended his life in suffering and humiliation for the sake of others, why would we expect less suffering in this life than in any other? Seriously. The central act of our savior was his death. The symbol of our religion is the Cross – an instrument of execution.
Christ loved us so much that He died on the cross for us. Christ suffered willingly for us. He sympathized with our weaknesses, but gave us an example. Are we able to look beyond appearances to the face of Christ within others? We need to ask ourselves, who are the ones that bear the marks of affliction in today’s world? Who are the ones with no stately bearing, unattractive, avoided by people, infirm, and spurned? What part do we play in crushing their self-esteem, their personhood?
Look around at the ones who bear in their bodies the marks of the Lord’s suffering. Let us ponder the plight of the elderly, especially those who are homeless due to mental illness or living isolated or abandoned in nursing homes. How can Christ use our lives to bring redemption to these situations? How are we helping them to carry their cross?
While Jesus did tell his disciples, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light,” and although his final words to them commissioned them to go out and joyfully announce the kingdom, we cannot forget the foundation for their evangelism; “the Cross” (+). Jesus is the Good Shepherd that laid down his life for the sheep and called his disciples to do the same. He tells them, “My cup you will indeed drink,” and “ you will be hated by all because of my name.” Jesus sent the disciples out to do extraordinary and fulfilling work.
Sometimes we forget that taking up our own crosses daily is central to living as a follower of Jesus. It means that his cross does not have its full effect unless it becomes the cross of the Christian. It means what Jesus declared: “If anyone wants to come after me [wants to become my disciple], let him deny himself [stop being self-centered], take up his cross each day, and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Christ calls us today to continue in that ministry, but at the core of who we are – we preach Christ crucified.
I am going to tell you a story. Once there were three trees on a hill in the woods. They were discussing their hopes and dreams, when the first tree said, “Someday I hope to be a treasure chest. I could be filled with gold, silver, and precious gems. I could be decorated with intricate carving and everyone would see the beauty in me.
The second tree said, “Someday I will be a mighty ship. I will take kings and queens across the water and sail to the corners of the world. Everyone will feel safe in me because of the strength of my hull.”
Finally, the third tree said, “I want to grow to be the tallest and straightest tree in the forest. People will see me on top of the hill and look up to my branches, and think of the heavens and God and how close to them I am reaching. I will be the greatest tree of all time and people will always remember me.”
After a few years of praying that there dreams would come true, a group of woodsmen came upon the trees. When one came to the first tree he said, “This looks like a strong tree. I think I should be able to sell the wood to a carpenter,” and he began cutting it down. The tree was happy, because he knew that the carpenter would make him into a treasure chest.
At the second tree, a woodsmen said, “This looks like a strong tree. I should be able to sell it to the shipyard.” The second tree was happy because he knew he was on his way to becoming a mighty ship.
When the woodsmen came upon the third tree, the tree was frightened because he knew that if they cut him down his dreams would not come true. One of the woodsmen said, “I don’t need anything special from this tree, so I’ll take it,” and he cut it down.
When the first tree arrived at the carpenters, he was made into a feed box for animals. He was then placed in a stable and filled with hay. This was not at all what he had prayed for. The second tree was cut and made into a small fishing boat. His dreams of being a mighty ship and carrying kings had come to an end. The third tree was cut into large pieces and left alone in the dark.
The years went by and the trees forgot about their dreams. Then one day, a man and a woman came into the stable. She gave birth and they placed the baby in the hay in the feed box that was made from the first tree. The man wished that he could have made a crib for the baby, but this manger would have to do. The tree could feel the importance of this event and knew that it had held the greatest treasure of all time.
Years later, a group of men got into the fishing boat made from the second tree. One of them was tired and went to sleep. While they were out on the water, a great storm arose and the tree didn’t think it was strong enough to keep the men safe. The men woke the sleeping man, he stood and said, “Peace”, and the storm stopped. At this time the second tree knew that it had carried the King of Kings in its boat.
Finally, someone came and got the third tree. It was carried through the streets as the people mocked the man who was carrying it. When they came to a stop, the man who was carrying it was nailed to the tree and raised in the air to die at the top of a hill.
When Sunday came, the tree came to realize that it was strong enough to stand at the top of the hill and be as close to God as possible, because Jesus had been crucified on it.
The moral of the story is that when things don’t seem to be going your way, always know that God has a plan for you just like He did with Christ. If you place your trust in Him, He has great gifts for you. Each of the trees got what they wanted, just not in the way they had imagined. We don’t always know what God’s plan is for us. But, we know that His ways are not our ways, but His ways are always best. What we do know is that Christ died on the Cross for us: So that we may have eternal life…