Under the Cross: Pushing Back with Compassion

By Harrison Goodman

We Christians are often frustrated because we expect the God who is all-powerful to hold a tighter grip on creation. So much of what matters to us is fragile. So much can destroy the body and everything it holds dear. It's easy to say God is in control when everything works out in the end, like in our favorite movies or books.. It's harder to say it when life is a slow-motion train wreck. Sometimes, it feels like God spun up the world then stepped back. At best, when Christians try to describe a God in control, it feels like He does nothing more than occasionally giving things a little push here or there. You can tell this by how often the descriptions of God's control involve the words "at least." At least I didn't die. At least he only lost one arm. It wasn't even the one he writes with. You'll be hated by all for My Name's sake, but at least the one who endures to the end will be saved. You'll be persecuted in one town, but at least you can flee to the next. So. . .yay?

It's so frustrating that we usually lose sight of the fact that this is exactly the world God intended to send missionaries to. He sent them out into a world full of "at leasts." Into a world full of dangers, bearing a truth that would turn families against each other and invite persecution on the ones who speak it.

Failing by the World's Standards

A disciple is not above his teacher. If they call Jesus the servant of evil, how much more will they call you bigots, enemies, and small-minded idiots? It is enough for the servant to be like his master, and Jesus came into the world to die, so what does that leave for us who follow Him? This was the pep talk Jesus gave the disciples before sending them out. Jesus is a terrible motivational speaker. There's no way to dress this up. He intended them to fail by the world's standards.

Jesus didn't promise them people would hang on their every word. He didn't promise them power. He didn't even promise the Church would grow. It's something we need to come to terms with. The Church was never called to growth--just faithfulness. God promised to handle the rest as He wills. You. Go and speak the truth. Don't hold back a word. I'll take care of the rest in My time and on My terms. Don't worry about how it looks. Just cling to the truth. It's freeing, even if it's terrifying. Jesus sent us out into this world to cling to the truth, and even though it should have failed, we're here. We didn't do that; God did. He's still working, even if it looks like the world is falling apart.

Christianity will not conquer the world. It's not supposed to. There have been a few times we've tried and maybe even come pretty close, but if we ever do, whatever that is, it isn't witness. To aim after what the world calls success is to aim away from the failures Jesus points us toward. To aim after glory is to aim away from the Cross.

Compassion, Not Control

See it embodied in Jesus. He entered into creation not for what the world calls success. Not for the power by which success is measured. He came into our world to fail by those standards. Jesus came into the world to allow all those things to overwhelm Him as He died on the Cross to save sinners who didn't have enough control to save themselves. He came to save you, not by strength, but by weakness. He would not call down fire or angelic armies. His divinity was not measured in control, but rather in compassion. He came to be given over unto death, and after dying, to rise again to life, that we would have hope even if we don't have control. It turns everything on its head. How do you see failure? Suffering? Humiliation? Are these the things you flee from, or the marks of the Cross our Lord bore for you, the promise of victory? If you measure God's love by the control He gives you, you'll miss it. What He tells you in the dark, say in the light. You are loved in the way of the Cross.

That's the great difference between the religions the world puts together and the ideals the Church so often steals from them. To the world, it's all about control. To Jesus, it's all compassion. He has compassion enough to sacrifice control in order to save you. Hear it in what would otherwise sound like a threat: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). The world can't destroy your soul. Even the devil can't do that.The only One who can destroy both your body and soul in hell is God. Recognize that if this is about control, you don't have it. You can't do enough to fulfill the Law. You sin and fall short of its demands. Those weaknesses you flee from are evidence even apart from the Ten Commandments. Fear God. Recognize that you can't control Him. Then recognize you don't need to. If God is the lion, He may not be tame, but He is good.

God is Close in Weakness

Look at the weaknesses you try hardest to escape and recognize that when God tells you that even the hairs on your head are numbered, it isn't His telling you how to keep from going bald. It's His telling you He loves you in such a way that He knows all you are going through and joins you there. He enters into weakness. Failure. Humiliation. Weakness isn't proof God is far away. It's proof He is near. Look to the Cross where He is made weak with you and for you. He bleeds and dies for you so  you can know that no failure will keep Jesus in the tomb, and so no weakness can harm you, either. Do not be afraid of what can destroy the body. Jesus will raise it. You are of more value than sparrows. You are of more value than the things that fall apart. You are worth what was paid for you. Not gold or silver, but the death and resurrection of God. You are worth God's mercy and compassion.

See God in terms of His goodness, not in terms of whether or not you can make Him do what you want. Let go of control. Know that some things break and can't be fixed this side of glory. Know that the universe is very big and you are very small. Know that's exactly the world Jesus establishes His Church in. Know the odds are against us, and always have been. Push back anyway. Disturb the universe. Rejoice in the Gospel. Watch a world focused on control push back harder than you ever could, and then rejoice. Jesus didn't conquer the world either. He didn't need to. He conquered death. This is why there's a Church. To give mercy to those God has compassion on. To give life to the dying. To give hope to you. To be a source of goodness and truth and beauty in a world so bent on success.

It isn't about winning. It isn't about control. It's about compassion, so that when we confront the world we live in we can acknowledge something about who we share it with. There are people here loved by God. You are loved by God. Acknowledge it before men, even though they'll mock it. You wear the robes of resurrection even now in your Baptism. These robes can't be stained. They can't be sullied. They can't be torn. They are proof that the Son sees you as His brothers and sisters. They are proof that God's goodness is for you. They are proof that the things in this world you can't control won't destroy you because the One in charge of your soul has promised you salvation and life everlasting.

Rev. Harrison Goodman is the associate pastor at Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.

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