Taking up our Cross

Israel Folau has again made news for expressing views on sexuality that go against the prevailing views of four culture. He dared to express that homosexuality was sinful, it would bring judgement, and salvation could be found in Christ. In other words, he dared to state what the Bible says, and what has been the view of Christians for 2000 years.

How should we as a church respond to this? We can recognise the hypocrisy of a culture that speaks so much about tolerance yet refuses to tolerate those with views that differ on sexuality to the cultural norm. We remember Jesus’ promise/warning that ‘if they persecuted me they will also persecute you’ (John 15:20).

And we also remember what Jesus calls us to do as his disciples. Just after Peter had identified him as the Christ, and then declared his mission (that he would suffer, die and then rise), he gave some of the most challenging words in the Bible.

‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:34-37).

Christ paid the ultimate price for our salvation. Folau is now paying the price for his refusal to go along with the world, and instead cling to God’s Word. What price are we willing to pay?

Are we willing to let people think we are strange because we keep speaking of Jesus? To be thought of as bigots? To be considered strange because we are willing to speak the truth and don’t hide behind lies?

Are we willing to suffer?

They mock

‘All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”’ (Psalm 22:7-8)

You can feel the heartache, the drowning despair, in these words. The loneliness in the sea of people, as they all turn on this person in mocking derision. The shame as he is attacked for his trust and loyalty to God.

These are the words of David, King of Israel. When did he feel this way? When did this event happen? It is hard to pinpoint exactly when anything like this happened in his lifetime. Was this when Saul was chasing him? When Ish-bosheth challenged him?

While David may have had moments where it felt like everyone was against him and mocking him, this Psalm is not about him (when did verses 16-18 happen to David?!). This Psalm describes the heart-wrenching pain of great David’s Greater Son. It is a prophecy about the King of God’s people who was willing to suffer to save his people.

What a Saviour we have. What a King! It has long been the pattern throughout biblical history that’s God’s people have suffered at the hands of their enemies – e.g. Abel, Joseph, Israel in Egypt. And Jesus not only followed the pattern – he was the reason for the pattern! He didn’t suffer to be like them; they suffered to be like him, to show what the Saviour-King would endure.

He endured the cross, depising the shame (Heb 12:2). He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:7). He set the pattern – shame now, glory later. That is a fundamental truth Easter teaches, and it’s a pattern we must follow ourselves. Are you ready to be mocked like Christ?

Trusting while hated

The world has always hated God’s people, because they have always hated God. That might sound overly brash but consider the words of Jesus: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you’ (John 15:18). Jesus is the showcase of the world’s hatred – he is the God-Man.

But hatred of God and his people didn’t begin with Jesus. There was a long pedigree of hatred. Jesus himself recognised this in the parable of the wicked tenants (Luke 20:9-18), and we can trace it back to God’s Word to the serpent in Gen 3:15 (‘I will put enmity between … [the serpent’s] offspring and [the woman’s] offspring.’)

Cain (of the serpent) killed Abel (of the woman). And on it goes through biblical history – Pharaoh and Israel, Goliath and David, Haman and Mordechai. The hatred the world shows towards God’s people is nothing new.

We shouldn’t be surprised when the world continues to show its hatred towards us and God. In some places and people it is easily recognisable. Violence, arrests, verbal abuse and blatant contempt are regular occurrences. In other places and people it is much more subtle. Hatred shows itself in polite rejection of the gospel and ‘logical’ arguments against God’s claims to decide morality (consider Rom 1:30).

This may feel overwhelming. How should we respond? We could point to any number of godly reactions, and condemn ungodly reactions. David points us to one godly reaction in Psalm 52:8. ‘I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.’

Will you continue to trust God when trouble from the world comes? He loves you and has shown that supremely at the cross. His love will never fail. Hold on to him.

God’s sure plan

‘And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ (Matthew 2:14-15)

Matthew’s Gospel has only just begun, and already God’s plan of salvation was under threat. Christ had been born, his mission was clear, the Gentiles had come; and when Herod discovered the Wise Men would not return to Jerusalem as Herod had asked, he would be enraged.

This hope of the nations was fragile, a delicate piece of china. One was coming who would want to throw it to the ground and crush it beneath his feet.

But God would not allow this to happen. God had determined mankind’s fall into sin even before he created the world, because he had planned to save mankind through his Son (Eph 1:4). So, God again sent an angel to Joseph, warning him and sending him to Egypt for safety. God’s plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2).

It is easy to look around at our society and fall into despair and fear at what is coming. Christianity is no longer seen as good for society, but harmful. Our views on the unique place of Christ as the only way to the Father are seen as disparaging to those of other or no faith. Our views on marriage, sexuality, gender and abortion are called hateful and bigoted. Religious freedoms are under attack.

These verses remind us that the evil one has always been against God and his people, but he is not threatened. Our hope is not in legal protections or stricter border security. Our hope is in the transformative gospel of Christ. We find salvation in him alone.