I’m about to tell you what is very unusual for a Lutheran pastor to say: “I love the new Pope!”
Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn Catholic! But I can’t help but love how he’s not all about fancy vestments, posh palaces, and living like a king. He is using himself and his position to show Christ to the world.
He’s washed the feet of inmates in a juvenile detention center…
He welcomed and embraced a small boy as he preached to a crowd of thousands…
And most recently, he blessed a man with a severe skin disfigurement…
It’s so refreshing to see Christians and Christianity making the news because the Pope is truly embodying the compassion and love of Jesus Christ—instead of Christians making the news for hatred, bigotry, and clerical abuse.
Both Christian and atheist alike find this pope to be easy to accept and easy to love.
But do we always find God to be so easy to love and accept?
Perhaps we would if God never allowed bad things to happen to good people; if God didn’t allow wars and shootings, mental illnesses and diseases, super typhoons, tornados, or famines… But that, of course, is not reality—and trusting in God is always a struggle…
And at the same time, can we accept and love a Savior who was crucified and died?
How is it that God would become human and then allow himself to suffer and die?
Is he the Savior that humanity desperately needs?
“Save yourself, since you are the King of the Jews; save yourself, since you are the Messiah!” they shouted. These aren’t outrageous statements. Wouldn’t we expect Jesus to do the very same? After all, he has the power!
From the time of his arrest, through his trial, and as he hung from the cross, Jesus has the power to save himself; he has the power to destroy his persecutors. But notice what he does instead: he asks God to forgive his executioners as they mock and hurl insults at him. Then, he uses his power to welcome a condemned criminal into paradise.
Jesus cannot be known apart from his cross—because the cross reveals the truth about who Jesus is to us: Jesus does not exist above the realities of our human existence; Jesus exists within it. Jesus chooses to suffer and die because we suffer and die. He subjects himself to suffer death and evil at their worst—so to pave the way for their defeat.
You see, the cross is the power of God to take away the sin of the world. And the cross is the first step on the way to the empty tomb, where death is destroyed and resurrection begins.
Therefore, when it’s us hanging on a cross, Jesus is right there beside us just the same.
So often, when difficult circumstances go from bad to worse; our strength fails us; and we reach our breaking point, we will feel no power from on high. And the devil’s going to be there, just like the soldiers were, hurling insults at us and at our God. Trusting in God to be our Savior will be hard—because we can’t see God’s power at work.
And on our cross, there will always be temptations:
Pride will tell us that we’re strong enough to save ourselves—or that we don’t need any saving at all. Pride will tempt us to deny our need for Christ’s power.
Then there’s the temptation to worry! Worry tells you that your cross will destroy you. It backs you into a corner, where all you know is fear, and God becomes hidden behind your fears. No one will be more frustrated by the truth that God’s power is made perfect in weakness than the worrier—because it is so difficult for the worrier to trust in a power they cannot see or control…
But salvation is trusting in the promise of God even when dying on the cross. This is what we are witnessing in today’s Gospel. The criminal knows he can’t save himself. He knows his only hope is the man dying on a cross right next to him. His words are a beautiful act of surrender—and that is when the power of God takes hold.
When we are powerless and give up trying to save ourselves; when we accept that our only hope is to trust in a power we cannot see, the power of God’s salvation begins. At your cross, you will know God’s mercy and grace—just like the criminal. You’ll be set free from your past sins and mistakes. You’ll be set free from the power that evildoers had over you. You’ll be set free from the frustrations and anguish over your weakness and helplessness.
It’s all about surrender: we surrender because our troubles are bigger than us, to be saved by a God who’s bigger than our troubles.
Jesus meets us at our cross—and we receive his power at our cross. In love for you, your Savior chooses to be born, to live, to minister, and even to die with us amid the tragic realities of human existence. The cross is where resurrection begins. So prepare for the birth of the baby Jesus by hearing and believing his words:
“You belong to me. My body and blood I give to you. Your sins are forgiven. I will remember you in mu kingdom. You will be with me in paradise. And until then, I will pour my power and love upon you to get you there.
Where there is brokenness, evil, and death, there will always be resurrection. God’s love will get you through.