Thanksgiving for the Cross 11-19-17


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Two real estate developers were walking around the Bear Creek area in Chapin.   They were in a cow pasture when all of a sudden a bull came charging at them. They started running for their lives.  One looked at the other and said, “Say a prayer- we need it!”  The other looked back and said, “I haven’t prayed in a long time.  What do I pray?”  The first man said, “Me either.  The only one I know is “Lord for what we are about to receive make us truly thankful.”
We count many blessings.  We usually count health, family, and adventures.  Others count a house, food, clothes.  But Christian thanksgiving is not limited to these- it is much deeper.  We do not simply give thanks when things go well and go into depression when things go poorly for us.  We have One above us who is always good.  The cross symbolizes God’s love.  The cross is transformed from a torture machine into a magnificent symbol.  The effects of the cross is never taken away no matter what happens to you here.    My hope today is that we will verbally say this Thanksgiving that we are thankful for the cross.
I. CROSS SHOWS LOVE- God so loves the world that He gave His one and only Son- that is the love of the cross. He cares about us- coming down in the person of Jesus Christ.  But more than that He came to die that we might live.  He is not apathetic toward us. He is not uncaring- ignoring our plight.  He is a good, good Father who cares and comes and sacrifices even Himself so that we might live.
Jesus said this much-quoted statement- “Greater love has no one than this- that they lay down their lives for their friends.”  Again He was speaking of the love shown on the cross.  Jesus shows His great love in laying down His life that we might live.  We are called by this same Jesus who loves us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
How do we know someone loves us? People show love by sacrifice- the worth of a diamond is it represents not just a lot of money- but a lot of sacrifice.   Time is one of the greatest gifts we can give people.  In our day there are so many trivial and entertainment demands on our time.  Most of us appreciate it when someone puts down their phone, stops texting, looks us in the eye and listens. When we lay down our lives for others- giving them our time, our best- it shows love.  The cross is God putting down everything to show us His love.  Jesus was naked on the cross.  I remember hearing Corrie Ten Boom speak in Columbia at Township Auditorium of how when she was arrested by the Nazis as a Christian harboring Jews, they stripped her.  Yet she was able to bear the shame because she thought about Jesus stripped on the cross.  She whispered to her sister,”They stripped Him too on the cross.”   Her sister said, “I never thanked Him for that.”
II. CROSS SHOWS GRACE- Grace is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.  It is God’s pouring out of His abundance to us.      “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich He became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich”(2 Cor. 8:9) .  He became poor- not just by being born in a manger, but His death on the cross is a part of His poverty and humiliation.  The cross is a symbol of God giving of Himself for us.  God didn’t just make us He gave Himself for us.  This is the good news.  We are not just grateful for creation.  Creation is amazing with its sunsets on Lake Murray, the beautiful water, the mountains and the beach.  We are blessed to see it.  But creation is hard to read.  There are not just sunsets, there are hurricanes.  Human beings are not just creatures of peace- they are creatures of anger and war.  Creation is nebulous- sending mixed messages- Jesus and the cross are not.  He is the Word made flesh- the Word is that God cares for us.  “For God so loved the world that He GAVE His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  It is in the giving of His Son that we experience grace and love.  He paid the penalty that is due us.  He paid our ticket.  We are called by this same Jesus who gave Himself to give of ourselves to Him- to be All In- as He is.  In the cross- He died for us before we were ever born, before we had a chance to say “yes.”  It is not that we were really good people and Jesus was so impressed He died for us.  He died for us before we could respond.
There was a sense among the pilgrims, puritans and pioneers that they were not just starting a colony for themselves- but they were founding a nation.  They were sacrificing not just for their children and grandchildren, but for generations to come.  In 1619 there was a huge famine and people were down to giving each other on three kernels of corn a day.  Despite the angry divisiveness going on, the Pilgrims were truly thankful for the native Americans who showed them how to survive.  The first Thanksgiving in 1621 had 90 Indians and 53 pilgrims taking part.  They were grateful not just for food, but for peace and being together.  I am amazed at how many families who differ from each other- who drive each other absolutely crazy still come together to give thanks at Thanksgiving.  On the cross, Jesus knew it was not just about his death.  He knew He was affecting generations to come.
III. CROSS POINTS TO THE REDEMPTIVE NATURE OF SUFFERING- Some religions say suffering is an illusion.  Karma says suffering is always fair.  Secularists make no sense of suffering.  But Christianity says suffering is real, not always fair, but it does make sense.  Certainly we know that without the cross there would be no resurrection.  But in our passage there are a lot of positive things that happened right when Jesus died that point to the redemptive nature of the cross- and even the redemptive nature of our own suffering.
1) The Curtain of the Temple was torn in two.  I don’t want to sound too esoteric here but this is not trivia.  The Temple was like a many concentric circle showing closeness to God.  You had the court of the Gentile, then the next inside level was the court of the women; then the next inside circle was the court of the men; then the next inside circle was the court of the priests. Then in the very center was the holy of holies- separated from the court of the priests by a curtain.  This symbolized the presence and power of God.  Inside the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant with the Ten Commandments, Moses’ staff, and a jar of Manna from their journey in the wilderness.  When the curtain was torn in two it meant God’s presence was let lose- on the priests, the men, the women, and the Gentiles.  The Good news of God was to go into all the world.   We could say that if the curtain was not torn into by the death of Christ on the cross, we would not be here today.  It is not trivia.  God is let loose on us. The door that was shut to God is open. He is loose.
2) Everything shook- a whole lot of shakin is going on.  Some others were raised from the dead.  Death was shaken, and life was given.  Christ came to keep us from getting in the rut of ordinary life- with no answered prayers, nothing unusual, no hope beyond the grave.  This is life let loose on us. By His death we have life.
3) The Roman officer in charge of the execution- the centurion said, “Surely this was the Son of God!”  The way Jesus died brought faith to people.  If you do more than just glance at the cross- there is a mystery there that points us to God.  This is faith let loose on us through the cross. The cross elicits faith- causes us to stop and give thanks.  Hope, life and faith are all seen in the cross of love and grace.
The Syrian city of Deir Ez Zor has been under siege by ISIS forces for three years.  The 93,000 people there were starving and sustained only by air drops.  Communications were poor and they did not know that ISIS had been defeated in every place but there and that a single strike by a cruise missile on September 4th of this year had opened a big gap.  They were about to be liberated but did not know it.  In this life we may feel like our crosses we bear are overwhelming.  We may feel that we are alone and under siege for our faith.  But the relief has been secured by the single strike of the cross and victory is coming- just hold on.
There are those who say that suffering should be avoided at all costs. But that is way too soft and too unrealistic way to look at life.  The cross teaches us that God can take our suffering and turn it into blessing.  “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  That is through the cross.
A Christian medical missionary went to a remote region of South America and started a clinic, healing many of blindness.  He left his extended family, his inheritance, all the comforts of home to work for them and live among them.  The local tribe didn’t have a word to say, “Thank you.”  Instead, they would tell everyone outside the tribe that they met- “I was blind but Dr. Joshua made me well.”  Maybe that is the best way.  We were blind but Jesus came lived among us and died for us on the cross.  Give thanks to Him.