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By way of the cross

It seems just a few weeks ago we were celebrating Jesus as a baby. Now, we are preparing to see the man on the cross who dies for the sins of the world—yours and mine as well. What took him from the manger to the cross? Barbara Sampson continues our journey through Lent.

Day one - Taking up the cross: Matthew 10:38

‘Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’

This is the first mention of the cross in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus clearly has a sense of carrying a cross—a burden, a heavy load—as he lives out the commission he has been given, ‘to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4:18,19). Jesus now passes on that same commission to his chosen disciples as he prepares to send them out to minister in his name.

What does ‘taking up your cross and following Jesus’ mean to you in your life right now? Is this one momentous decision, or more of a daily practice?

Pocket prayer: Lord, I choose to set my heart on pilgrimage, following the way of the cross this season of Lent.

Day two - Facing the cross: Luke 9:51

‘As the time approached for him to be taken to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’

Jesus ministered in all the regions of Galilee yet his eyes were constantly set on Jerusalem, the Holy City, and his ultimate destiny there. He did not seem to show any desire to avoid the cross. He gave no hint of wanting to run and hide as Elijah and Jonah had done.

Jesus faced Jerusalem and all that it would mean, knowing he carried the purposes of God in his heart and would one day bear the sins of the world on his shoulders. How was he so sure of his calling? How did he remain so resolute in the face of suffering?

What do you think sustained Jesus on his journey? What people or practices sustain you on your chosen way?

Pocket prayer: Lord, help me walk this day in the certainty of your love and grace.

Day three - The looming cross: Matthew 26:38

‘[Jesus] took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me”.’

We walk reverently into this stark scene at Gethsemane. Jesus, Lamb of God, knows that he is about to suffer on the cross. The beloved Son who has never been out of communion with the Father is about to suffer the abandonment of God for the sake of the world (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Who would not flinch under such a dreadful prospect? Jesus asks his closest friends to keep watch with him and pray him through this time. But they, exhausted, fall asleep. How human they are!

Would you have been any different? How can you ‘watch and pray’ with Jesus in these days? On whose behalf does Jesus call you to pour out your heart and soul?

Pocket prayer: Lord, help me not forget all you suffered and carried for me.

Day four - Carrying the Cross: Mark 15:21–24

‘A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.’

On the way to Calvary, Jesus collapses under the weight of the cross. A man who happened to be passing by—maybe going in the opposite direction, head down, minding his own business—is suddenly pressed into service and forced to carry the cross. What happens for Simon as he does so? Simon has no choice in this matter, but as he looks into the bloodied face of Jesus, what does he see? Pain—for sure. Pity—maybe. A plea—for what?

Matthew, the author, seems to know Simon’s sons. How do you think Simon’s life was changed forever that day?

Imagine being Simon … What would your reaction be? What would you see in the face of Jesus as you walk this sorrowful way with him? How can you help Jesus carry his cross today?

Pocket prayer: Lord, let me have a Simon heart today, prepared to do whatever you ask.

Day five -Near the cross: Matthew 27:55–56

‘Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.’

There was quite a crowd gathered at Calvary that day. Pilate’s soldiers were the ones in charge of the crucifixion. Gruesome task as it was, these were hardened men and this was just another day’s work. Once the crucifixion was done they threw dice for Jesus’ clothing, then sat close by to watch him die. Chief priests, teachers of the law, elders—the whole religious spectrum was there.

Alongside Jesus, on crosses of their own, were two robbers: one spitting venom, the other more aware of who Jesus was. Passers-by hurled their own insults. Standing not far away was a group of women—including Jesus’ mother—watching, waiting, weeping.

What do you think it was like to be an onlooker? If you had been there that day, where would you have been standing? What would have been your stance, your attitude?

Pocket prayer: Jesus, keep me near the cross, hoping, trusting, loving, praying.

by Barbara Sampson (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 24 February 2018, pp20-21
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.