Thursday, April 1, 2010

Seven Lessons from the Cross (Part one)

Lesson 1: Forgive those who hurt you.

Two children were playing when one accidentally hit the other with a stick. That night the injured boy's mum said, "Son, you must forgive Harry before you go to sleep." Grudgingly he replied, "Okay, but unless I die before I wake up, he'd better watch out tomorrow morning!"

When people hurt us, it's hard to believe it could've been unintentional or done in ignorance. Yet amazingly, after being flogged, humiliated and nailed to the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing." Forgiving means refusing to remain a victim. By not holding grudges or retaliating you free yourself from the control of those who offend you. Jesus said, "Pray for anyone who mistreats you" (Matthew 5:44 CEV).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was persecuted by the Nazis, said, "God doesn't promise that when we bless our enemies they'll not despitefully use us. They will. But that can't hurt or overcome us, so long as we pray for them. By praying for them, we are doing for them what they can't do for themselves." Professor Tony Campolo routinely asks his secular college students what they know about the teachings of Jesus. The response is always the same: "Love your enemies." More than anything else this command stands out as the thing that differentiates Christians from non-Christians.

Jesus said, "Give as freely as you have received!" (Matthew 10:8 NLT). Practicing forgiveness stems from a deep gratitude to God for wiping out a debt so great, we could never have repaid it

Lesson 2:

Reach out to others. When Jesus was hanging on the cross the Bible says, "One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him… But the other… made him shut up: 'Have you no fear of God… We deserve this… He did nothing.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.' [Jesus] said… 'Today you will join Me in paradise'" (Luke 23:39-43 TM). While one man mocked, the other acknowledged his sins and received mercy. The truth is, as much as it galls judgmental people, God said, "If you confess and reject [your sin], you will receive mercy" (Proverbs 28:13 NCV).

And that promise is for the lost, the least, and the lowest among us.Jesus could have been so focused on His own pain that He failed to see the suffering of those around Him. But instead He reached out in love as a fellow-sufferer. In the depth of His own agony He not only promised the thief on the cross eternal life, He comforted him with these amazing words; "Today you will be with Me in Paradise!"

There's a lesson here for you - one that Job the patriarch learned. Job lost all his children and his fortune in a single day. Yet he found healing - and went on to greater things. How? Listen: "After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before… After this, Job… saw his children and their children to the fourth generation" (Job 42:10 &16 NIV). It's in reaching out to others, that we ourselves become whole.

Lesson 3:

Take care of the people who depend on you. In addition to losing her son, Mary was also losing His protective "covering" in a society where women were often treated as second-class citizens after the family males died. So as well as coping with her grief as a mother, Mary may have been wondering what the future held for her. Jesus recognized that. In the midst of the chaos, when He saw her and "the disciple He loved standing near… He said to His mother, 'Woman, here is your son.' Then to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'" When the other disciples fled in fear, John followed Jesus all the way to Calvary. Then he went even further.

The Bible tells us (and history confirms it) that once Jesus committed Mary to his care, John fulfilled that charge, and "From that moment… accepted her as his own mother" (John 19:27 TM).Here's what we learn from this. Never let your own suffering blind you to the needs of those who depend on you. When you're enmeshed in your own problems it's easy to assume that your loved ones automatically understand where you're coming from. Not necessarily. While it's okay to let them help, never "dump your stuff" on them, or expect them to suffer because you're suffering.

The Bible says, "Do not let selfishness… be your guide… give more honour to others than to yourselves. Do not be interested only in your own life, but… in the lives of others" (Philippians 2:3-4 NCV). Jesus was always more concerned with other people's needs than His own - and we should take our cue from Him.

We will look at the other four tomorrow. Blessings!