Powdered Christian. You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip with my American friend , I saw powdered milk. What is it , I asked. My friend explained, “You just add water, and you get milk.” I was amazed. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice! And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, you add water and get a ready made baby!! “What a country!" So many Christian denominations claim that they can make powdered Christians. They preach: “Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, surrender your life to him and confess your sins to him. You are saved.“ Once saved, you are always saved. Just add water and disciples are born not made. Unfortunately, there is no such powder, and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. We must understand what it really means to be a Christian disciple from the mouth of Jesus. He proclaimed in Mathew 16: 24, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16: 24).It means that a truly practicing Christian must be a self denying and cross carrying Christian who obeys the teachings of Jesus. That is why we ask the question on Good Friday: what is the real message of the cross?
Life messages :
Message of the cross: The poet gets the message of the love of God from the cross. The business man views the cross as a ransom, a redemption price. The lawyers and judges prefer to remember the message of the cross as an expression of the justice of God for the wages of man's sin. The converted Jews prefer to compare the cross to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. For the martyrs and saints the cross of Christ gives meaning to our pains and suffering.
1) Message of sacrificial Divine love: To the poets and philosophers among us the cross of Christ represents the love of God as manifested to the whole world. That is why the apostle John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16). Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, "Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8).The cross truly does demonstrate and reveal the love of God the Father who sacrificed His only Son for us. God showed us what real love is by giving his Son and made it possible for us to share and experience that love: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). St. John continues: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). In the cross God did something more than tell us he loved us. His love was expressed in action. The cross is also a symbol of the sacrificial love of God the Son and the renewing love of God the Holy Spirit. Good Friday is the day to assess how we return that love by loving God living in our fellow human beings. It is the day to remember the new commandment of love Jesus gave us after instituting the great sacrament of love, the holy Eucharist: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
2) The message of redemption from our sins and salvation. For the business people among us the cross tells of a terrible price that Jesus had to pay as the horrible cost for our sin. That is why the Bible describes Christ’s cross in terms of a price that was paid. Jesus said, "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45). Peter explains, "You know that you were ransomed...with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" Paul tells the Corinthians, "Do you not know that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price." (1 Cor. 6: 20). “You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” We were purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28). The cross shows us exactly that we are--sinners. The prophet Isaiah explains it: "Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whol;, by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Isa. 53:4-6). Our freedom was obtained by the price that Jesus paid for us on the cross.
Hence the cross of Calvary challenges us today to remember the gravity of our sins and the need to repent and return to God. Although it is not pleasant to have our sins and faults pointed out to us, the cross does this. When Peter preached his great sermon on the first day of Pentecost, he laid responsibility for the death of Jesus at the feet of his listeners and they were "pricked in their hearts" or "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). But we are living in a world which has lost the sense of sin and which ignores the price Jesus paid for it. The prophet Jeremiah lamented on this sad situation centuries ago, “No one repents of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done!’” On this Good Friday let us show the good will and generosity to ask God’s forgiveness for our sins along with the psalmist, “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight.” (Ps 51: 3-6)
3) The message of justice and atonement: For lawyers and judges who are always concerned about the law and justice, the cross demonstrates that man has broken the law of God and hence deserved punishment for sin. Jesus took that punishment for us by dying our death thus fulfilling the demands of justice for us. Paul wrote, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23). We were the guilty parties while Jesus was innocent, yet God laid our sin upon him that he might receive our punishment. Paul explains it: "For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul reminds the Hebrew Christians that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22). Good Friday challenges us to make reparation for our sins by reflecting on the sufferings of Christ and to share in his atonement by actively doing good to others.
4) The message of eternal sacrifice: For Jewish Christians, the death of Jesus is the sacrifice of one life for another as animals were sacrificed in the Old Testament Period for sinful people as atonement for their sins. It is the blood of one for another. But the offering of a blood sacrifice of animals was not able to bring about man's salvation. Hence the scriptures teach that the death of Jesus redeems not only those under the New Testament but those under the Law of Moses (Heb. 9:15). You may have heard the story of soldiers who were prisoners of war on the River Kwai. At the end of a hard days work, a Japanese guard insisted that a shovel was missing. He ranted and raved, but no guilty party stepped forward. Finally in his anger he shouted, "All die! All die!" He raised his gun and prepared to start shooting. Suddenly a Scotsman stepped forward and said, "I did it." One guard kicked him. Then they hit him. They bashed his head with their rifles. Soon he was dead. The other prisoners picked up his bruised body to bury it. The shovels were counted and none was missing. The Scotsman, innocent of the accusation against him, had given his life as a sacrifice. You all know how the polish priest St. Maxmian Kolbe offered his life in the gas chamber to save another man. In the same way, the cross of Christ challenges us to do sacrificial service for others prompted by agape love.
5) The message of heroic suffering: Crucifixion was used early in history by the Phoenicians, then the Greeks and the Romans as a feared way of subduing conquered territories. The cross was the crudest instrument of torture used by the Romans to punish rebels and criminals, and the slow death by hanging on the cross was the most excruciating experience of pain in the world. But Jesus knew beforehand every detail of his cruel suffering, humiliation, rejection and death and welcomed it all wholeheartedly according to the eternal plan of God his Father. The challenge from the cross for us is to accept our unavoidable share of pain and suffering in this life, deriving strength and inspiration from the suffering of Christ and to offer it for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of the world. Jesus proved that voluntary acceptance of suffering has salvific value. It was in fact a condition for his disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 24, Mark 8: 34, Luke 9: 23).
But carrying one’s crosses does not imply the pre-eminence of mortification and denial. It does not refer primarily to the need to endure patiently the great and small tribulations of life, or, even less, to the exaltation of pain as a means of pleasing God. It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love. That is how the martyrs and saints understood it and that is how we have to accept our crosses and carry them. Carrying Christ’s cross is suffering for others by sharing our blessings sacrificially with others. It is accepting the pain involved in controlling our evil tendencies in order to allow God and His love to become the real Center of our lives. It is the pain involved in standing with Jesus and gladly following him even if that means scorn and humiliation from the rest of the world. Hence let us learn to love the cross of Christ, venerate it and draw daily inspiration from it for our Christian life. “We adore you Christ and bless you, because it is by your holy cross that you redeemed the world.”
1) “But you wear a cross.” On her first night there, the head counselor said that three of the boys had asked to escort her to dinner. Alone! How would she handle it if all three decided to act out at once? She swallowed hard. She desperately needed this job so she fought back the panic and walked with her charges to the dining hall. They passed through the cafeteria line as tantrums and fights erupted around them. Fortunately none of her boys exhibited any kind of behavioral outburst. They made their way to a table in the center of the busy cafeteria and the boys took their seats. Margaret picked up her fork and was about to take the first bite when she noticed that all three boys were staring at her. "What's the matter?" she asked. Aren't you going to ask a blessing?" asked eight-year-old Peter. "I didn't think I was supposed to," she responded. "This is a state school, isn't it?" "Yes," said David, his blue eyes brimming, "but you wear a cross." Her grandmother's words surged to the surface of her memory. "Never forget what this cross means," her grandmother said. "We thought that meant something," said Roman, clearly disappointed. "It does. Thank you for reminding me," Margaret said, as she bowed her head, no longer afraid. (CATHOLIC DIGEST, Feb. 92, p. 64) Margaret learned something about sainthood that day. Saints trust in God and God alone for their ultimate security. Saints submit their will to the will of God. Saints stand firm and witness to their faith.
2) What’s that plus sign doing up here? A young Jewish girl visiting a Catholic church for the first time, was puzzled at the cross on the altar. She asked her Catholic friend, “Marie, Why do you keep that plus sign on the altar? That’s one wrong understanding – the cross as a plus sign. It is an equally distasteful idea that the cross is the I, the capital “I” crossed out. The truth is that cross is “I” stretched out - reaching down into the ground of being, up in the infinity of becoming, and out toward as many others as it can touch. With the Cross as a plus sign shaping our lives, we can live while we wait, knowing that a) renewal comes through rejoicing; b) grace is communication by gentleness; c) peace comes through prayer; and d) attitudes produce action.
3) You took my parking space at church: One day, a man went to visit a church; He got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near the driver got out and said, “I always park there! You took my place!"
The visitor went inside for Sunday school, found an empty seat and sat down A young lady from the church approached him and stated, "That’s my seat! You took my place!" The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday school, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, “That’s where I always sit! You took my place!" The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still He said nothing. Later as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, "What happened to you?" The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, "I took your place.”