And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25 RSV)
We'd like to have a "Tinkerbelle Jesus" — a Jesus who can fix all our problems in our personal lives, then when we die at a ripe old age in our sleep, can sprinkle a little fairy dust on us so we can fly home to God and receive our eternal reward.
Now we really don't like to admit this truth, of course, at least not in those unvarnished and raw of terms. However, if we get really honest with our expectations, that's what we really want. We don't want to have to grow up and find a faith that sustains us through hard times because we live in a broken world where sin mars and bad things happen to perfectly good people. We love that Jesus is our Savior, Redeemer and Friend — and he is each of these and more! We just have a hard time with that "Jesus is Lord" part where the Cross became his destination and might possibly become our own!
We're not alone. Even Jesus' closest followers in the days of his earthly ministry, wouldn't hear his message of the cross before it happened. Even though Jesus warned them three times in clear language, most didn't get it. Sure, some were fearful at what awaited in Jerusalem that final trip. Some even realized that danger and death might be lurking. Something tells us, however, that they really didn't believe Jesus would let that happen.
As Jesus moved ever closer to entering the Holy City for that last time, they jockeyed for position. Some wanted to be on his right hand and left hand when he seized power. The crowds, who welcomed him with palm branches and shouts of triumph, were expecting the Kingdom of God to break forth at any moment. Jesus seemed to have even stoked the fires of anticipation and conflict as he entered the Temple, ran out the moneychangers, took on the religion scholars, and made his presence boldly known.
None of Jesus' followers anticipated that the crowds' shouts of triumph would turn into calls for his crucifixion by week's end. None expected that one of Jesus' closest followers would betray or that his most vocal follower would deny, with cursing, that he ever knew Jesus. None expected the rest to run away and hide in the room where they had just had the Last Supper with their Lord whom they believed to be the Messiah of Israel.
So it is not surprising to me today when folks want to hear the voice of the "Tinkerbelle Jesus" preachers who promise everything good and nothing bad. It's a watered-down Christianity without the Cross, an empty Easter without the Passion, and the promise of a Savior without the need to follow the Lord.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's reminder of Jesus' words and Jesus' model sacrifice seem as drowned out today as they were in his own day — when the Nazi boot descended upon Germany and many of the religious leaders capitulated to Hitler's plans. Bonhoeffer said, "When Jesus calls a man, he calls a man to come and die." Ouch! Not a popular message in any era. Bonhoeffer's words were more than words: he proved he heard that call of the Cross in many ways, including his own martyrdom at the Nazi's hands.
So as we journey to the joy, the victory and the assurance of this coming Sunday, let's not skip over the Cross which makes the resurrection so powerful, startling, and life-changing. As Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ so visually reminded us, there was an awful price paid by God to redeem us and bring us to glorious hope. As Jesus' words to his followers remind us, there is no shortcut for us around the Cross and there is no room for Christians who refuse to grow up, who want to cling to a Tinkerbelle Jesus instead of the Lamb who was slain, who is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
More than anything, the Western church needs to remember that shadow of the Cross calls us to the life of Jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the integrity to stand up for those everyone else ignores ... no matter the cost to us personally. Only then will Resurrection Sunday dawn with hope for changing the world by the power of God's grace and Jesus' love.
Do you think most Western Christians really only want a "Tinkerbelle Jesus" or is that too harsh an indictment?
Do you think we really "get" the meaning of the Cross?
Do you think we really only want the Savior side of Jesus and not the Lord side of Jesus who calls us to follow him no matter the cost?
I'd love to hear your take on this on my blog: