The Cross of Life

Rev. Dr. Jack J. Lolla, Jr.

 Text:  John 11:25-26

Old Testament: Psalm 130

New Testament: John 11:1-45


                Life’s filled with contradictions.

                Living with contradictions is a great challenge of faith.

                We believe God wants justice.  Yet the sun shines equally on the just and unjust.   We yearn for peace.  But we revolution and war are needed for it.  Babies bring happiness.  But a baby’s delivery is painful. 

                We want joy.  But joy comes with a cost.  Some of us want joy without cost.  We’re going to be disappointed.  No one rises to the top of life’s mountain without overcoming obstacles and difficulties on the way up.  No one moves mountains without filling valleys and streams.

                Everyone wants freedom.  But one person’s freedom is another’s prison.  Freedom comes with responsibility.  Responsibility brings accountability.  Accountability relies on compassion that limits freedom.

                There are many Christians who want God to satisfy wants and desires without there being a price.  It’s unrealistic.  Believing in a God who overcomes transgressions without cost is delusional.  Thinking God created us without sin and we live without sinning is contradicted by the real world.  The television and internet are living proof humans are filled with sin.

Only God was created without transgression and lives without sin.  God is righteous and holy.  He is pure and without sin. 

                Who among us can claim to be God?

                And so there is a cost for sin.  Lent is the season for us to admit we aren’t God.  More importantly, Lent is the time to face God has endorsed the Cross to give us life beyond sin.  It’s a contradiction.  But it’s also true. 

                Each rough place in life is a time we face the Cross.  The Cross stands wherever life is overwhelming and difficult.  But the Cross is also how we receive new life.  The Cross gives the gift of life.

                Mary and Martha are like so many people.  They wanted God to heal their brother Lazarus so he wouldn’t die.  They believed Jesus was a special miracle worker who could do remarkable things.  They knew Jesus could save Lazarus from his illness.  They wanted to avoid death.

                But their faith in Jesus wasn’t in the real life, the beautiful life, the good life.  Their faith in Jesus was built around God satisfying their limited view of life.  They wanted Jesus to work now, at their immediate call to avoid death.  They wanted Lazarus and themselves to avoid the Cross all of us experience when we face death.

                They didn’t understand the Cross as a life-giving experience.  Life isn’t about avoiding the Cross.   Life can’t avoid the Cross.  Life is received from the Cross.   Mary and Martha sought Jesus’ healing to avoid losing their brother Lazarus- to avoid the consequence of the Cross.  What they learned was the One who was destined for the Cross would give life through it.

                Remember, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it.  Whoever is willing to lose his life for my name’s sake will gain life.  Take up my cross and follow me.”

                Jesus intuitively understood the motive behind Mary and Martha’s request.  He knew Lazarus’ condition.  He also understood the limits of Mary and Martha’s faith.  They wanted life without death.  What God meant to give the world wasn’t a gift without a price.  There was a price.  There is a cost for Lazarus to receive the gift of life.

                And so, Jesus delayed coming to Mary and Martha.  He waited until Lazarus passed away before He came to their home.  They had to face the Cross at life’s end before they would understand the blessing of life God was giving them through Jesus.

                Life – eternal life – life without pain and suffering – can’t be seen without the Cross.  Joy – eternal joy – wonderful joy – can’t be seen without the Cross.  Love – eternal love – merciful love – can’t be seen without the Cross.  Mary and Martha had to see the Cross before they were ready to receive God’s gift of life.

                It took Lazarus’ death for Mary and Martha to consider the promise of the resurrection.  Only after Lazarus’ death was the resurrection revealed for Mary and Martha.  It took Lazarus’ death for Mary and Martha to comprehend the real gift of life God was giving them through Jesus’ resurrection.   It would take Good Friday before the world received the gift of life on Easter morning.

                “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, though he shall die, yet shall he live.  And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die at all.”  Jesus is the resurrection and the life. 

                Seeing Jesus and His Cross is seeing life – the life gift given in the resurrection.  Jesus raised Lazarus from death to life.  Mary and Martha had to experience Lazarus’ loss to comprehend the magnificent joy of Jesus raising the dead.  Then they knew the gift of life was given by Jesus through the experience of the Cross.

                Without Lazarus being dead for four days, Mary and Martha would not have grasped Jesus’ authority over life.   Jesus’ delay in answering their request showed them far more about who He was, and the resurrection power the Father had given Him, than if Jesus had immediately arrived and prevented Lazarus from dying.  Jesus’ delay gave them the contradiction of the Cross.  It took Lazarus’ death for them to see Jesus as the giver of life.

                Like so much about the Bible, this story about Lazarus faces life’s contradictions head on.   Life isn’t easy.  We climb one mountain to see a great chasm beyond.  We forge one stream only to confront an ocean.  But when Jesus is with us, God’s power lifts us beyond the challenge before us to see life beyond death.  When we rely on Jesus’ power to save us, we can look through the Cross’ darkness to see the life that is to come.

                Ralph was a construction foreman who went to church throughout his life.  Like many Christians he went to Easter, but wasn’t there for Good Friday’s Tenebrae service.  As he grew older, his wife went to church but he gave up on it.  Too busy tending to his farm and his construction jobs.

                Until one spring day when he received a phone call at night about his son, Christopher.  Christopher was a high school senior who sang in the choir at his high school.  But that night he would join a new, heavenly choir.

                His car couldn’t make it around a tight corner on a rainy Saturday night.  Ralph and his wife couldn’t understand why Christopher was taken from them.  The memorial service was packed.  The high school choir came to the service and cried its way through a Christian anthem to remember their classmate.

                Ralph’s wife began coming to church in earnest to discover how God’s love in Jesus could help her cope with her grief.  Ralph went farther away from faith in God.

                Until the morning a year later.  It had been raining and Ralph was in a six foot deep ditch putting in a sewer line without a steel box to protect him.  The walls of the ditch collapsed on him.  And Ralph met His maker.

                Or so he thought as the dark, damp earth covered him.  He was under the soil twenty minutes before he was uncovered by his men.  He was life-lighted to Presbyterian hospital.  I saw him the next day.  His eyes were bloodshot from the compression of the soil.   The nurses still hadn’t been able to get all the dirt off him.  But Ralph was alive.

He told me what had happened.  Then he told me about losing consciousness and seeing the light with Jesus beckoning him to follow him upward.  He saw the beauty of the Kingdom of God before earthly air was breathed into his lungs.  And he committed himself to serving Jesus.

He said Christopher’s loss had overcome him with grief.  But now he knew that Christopher was there, with Jesus.  He would dedicate the rest of his life to serving Jesus and use his talents to show how a house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens is the gift of life that overcomes death.

                The Cross of Life is a gate through which we’re must walk.  We can’t pass to the other side of living without passing through its portal.  Every loss we face in this life is another Cross through which to pass.  But when we trust in Jesus’ power to give us the resurrection life, we won’t need to wait until we arrive on the other side of the Cross’ gate to experience joy.

                Joy is God’s gift when we know what Jesus has done for you and me.  Joy’s an outlook that bursts forth in the darkness of the Cross from our trust in Jesus’ power to save us.  His delay in answering our prayers deepens our joy in Him.  His arrival comes in His time so we will appreciate the gift of life in Him.  Yet, we don’t need to wait until His arrival to experience joy.

                Joy is lived before the Cross from the expectation of the resurrected life in Christ.  Joy comes from gratitude for God’s solidarity with us before the Cross, through which we experience the resurrection life.

                The contradiction in life – the ultimate contradiction in life – is God the Father possesses all the power and authority over life and death so as to create life without death.  Still, He created death so He could become one of us to show us that He’s giving us life beyond death’s Cross.

                Jesus’ raising of Lazarus not only revealed the joy of Jesus’ true identity as God.  It’s also one of the reasons the Sanhedrin condemned Him to death.  The very showing of Jesus power to give life, led to Jesus’ Cross.  I

                There’s a price for us to find life’s joy before the Cross.  There’s a Son who’s willing to climb the Cross for us – so that we might live!  Embrace Him with all of your life!     Amen.