Blessings of the Cross

Blessings of the Cross As Seen Through Hebrews 12:1-2
A cross is beautiful and ornate as it hangs in the rectory or the chapel. It’s stunning and gorgeous when placed on a gold chain. With these remembrances, I find it difficult to envision the cross of Christianity as it began, two pieces of roughly hewn planks perpendicularly pounded together with a weight of about 110 pounds. It’s especially hard to see it as a place of excruciating pain and death. Why do I like other Christians have a positive image of such a morbid object? It’s because Christians see the cross as central to their joy and their blessings.

In Hebrews, the Christian writer says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Heb. 12:1-2).”

There are three parts of that verse that each point to the cross being central to the a life of blessing for the Christian: First Christians see the blessings of the cross as running with endurance or completing life well despite pain. Second, they focus their eyes on the one who blesses them, who writes up a great beginning and ending for their lives. And third, the ultimate blessing is the joy that comes with enduring the cross—life with Jesus in heaven.

While on earth, we all have bad days. The Christian sees the cross as the ultimate of bad days. We believe that navigating the “bad days” well, will lead us to personal growth. In other words, we can learn from our mistakes and grow through our trials with a final purpose in mind. This is the running with endurance described in Hebrews.

Matthew 5 lists several types of endurances we might face, that will result in blessings. Our endurance might include the death of a loved one. Christ says in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Christ blesses us with comfort as we experience the death of loved ones.

There will be times when our actions deserve justice, but He says if we navigate our lives well, supplying mercy as we go, He will give us mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7).”

Christ suggests a way to happiness during arguments and war. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Matt. 5:9).” When we endure life’s struggles like a little child who wants nothing but the arguing to stop and peace to pervade his home, God promises he will take us up in his arms and protect us like a father or mother would a small child.

In the painful circumstances of life, when we endure, we find blessings on the other side. Christ blesses those who set and reset their trajectory towards the cross.

For at the cross, we find Jesus, the one who helps us begin and end life well. A song, a race, a story, like life have both a start and a finish. Some things start, but end in destruction. But beauty comes when life, like an enduring song or classic story, is completed well.

For many, living life well means a life of affluence and power. That’s what the Jews expected of a Messiah. They expected a King. But Christ explains to us in Matthew 5:5 that living life well has nothing to do with power or money. Living life well means enduring life with the internal fortitude to give up something in you or something that is rightly yours for the sake of others. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5).”

We generally correlate meekness to weakness. Yet Christ, probably the most well known teacher and prophet in the world, describes himself as meek. When Christ could have taken retribution on those who sought to kill him, when He had the manpower and the swords to defend himself, he chose to give up his life for the sake of others by dying on the cross. The blessings of the cross, teaches us that the best way to live life is to endure the pain with meekness if the result means others will find their way to the blessings of the cross. An example of meekness is Christ on the cross with hands and feet bound and every breath drawing pain, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”

Being forgiving is a part of living life well. Forgiveness is setting aside our rights, our power, for the sake of another.

Jesus is the author, the one who helps us write the script of a life well lived, and the finisher, the one whose example of finishing well, by dying on the cross for my sins, by giving up his own life so that others can be blessed with the promise of life in heaven.

Jesus endured the cross, endured the pain, because after his death he knew resurrection joy would follow. The Bible says that Jesus died and three days later He arose. “He is risen,” the angels told the women who came to visit his grave. This word “risen” means literally “to wake up as from sleep, sickness or death.” Christians believe that just as Christ awoke from the grave, so will they wake up after death and go to be with Christ. The cross has become a symbol of ultimate blessing—a life with Jesus in heaven.

Jesus’ last words to the thief hanging on the cross next to him were “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:40-43, NCV).” These words exemplify the after death hopes of Christians.

So the beautiful crosses jewelry that many people wear isn’t so far from the picture of the cross that the Bible shows us. Yes, we will have bad days. Yes, there will be pain to endure. Yes, we might have to give up something to gain something better. But If we run the race well, blessings will follow. If we endure hardships and offer forgiveness for the sake of others, we will find personal fulfillment and spiritual blessings. If we bare the crosses of this world, the pain and the suffering that might come with following Christ, we will be with Christ in heaven, the ultimate blessing. The cross is central to our blessings.

Blessings of the Cross Portrayed in the Beatitudes and Jesus’ Last Words

Jesus recognized the realms of our pain when He taught the Beatitudes, a lesson on blessings. He taught out of the realm of His deepest pain when He said His last words on the cross. As a result of His pain, the cross has become a symbol of our ultimate blessing—a life with Jesus in heaven. It also carries the message of the blessings received when we traverse the hurts and trials that dust our path on this earthly terrain.

Like Christ, when we willingly crossover the divide of pain, we find blessings waiting on the other side. The cross is central to our blessing.

In Matthew 5:1-12, Christ blesses us as we experience the death of loved ones. He blesses us when our actions deserve justice. He suggests a way to happiness during arguments and war. When this world offers nothing that satisfies, He promises fulfillment. When this world entices and encompasses us with sin or when we feel defeated by our own moral choices, Christ blesses those who reset their trajectory towards the cross. Christ’s words on the cross spoken despite his pain, help us follow after Him full of mercy, humbleness, meekness, righteousness, peace, and love in our times of greatest sorrow and hurt. So that as verse 12 says, at the end of our lives, at the end of our pain, we will receive the final blessing, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is (our) reward in heaven.”

When Jesus taught the Beatitudes, He stood on the mountain and examined His small band of disciples who gave up everything to follow Him. Just as Jesus lived without a place to lay His head, they lived without the comforts of home. When the disciples made right choices, such as choosing love over hate, righteousness over sin, meekness over vindication, humbleness over pride, Jesus blessed them. He called them blessed for daily choosing to follow Him despite opposition and pain.

Jesus knew that in this life we’d all experience pain. Jesus desired that His disciples recognize that great pain, led to great blessing. He lived this lesson on the cross relating the pain of the cross to the pain of our lives and the blessings of the cross to the blessings our lives.

Blessed Are the Meek (Matthew 5:5)

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5, RSV).”

The world thinks that meekness is weakness. Yet Christ described himself meek. We know that as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, his meekness was not weakness. Jesus had the internal fortitude known as the power of the Holy Spirit that it takes to be meek. He was meek when His pride was on the line. He refused to answer the questions that would have vindicated Him of any crime. Instead He meekly bore the pain and humiliation we deserved to bare. He was meek when people mocked Him and spit upon Him. He was meek when they tore his clothes and laid his bare naked body on the cross. He was meek when he said his first words on the cross:

“When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34

When Christ could have taken retribution, when he could have thought of Himself, He thought instead of others. In pure, unadulterated meekness, Christ laid on the cross, hands and feet bound, and He breathed these Holy Spirit empowered words, “Father, forgive them.”

On the cross, He exemplified meekness even when taunted. “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Christ responded as only a King responsible for the sins of the world could respond. He said nothing. No words of defense. Simply silent, his non-action spoke meekness.

Humanity, including myself in that title, knows little of this style of power, the power of personal restraint bent on love. As a young journalist, I felt those in authority over me—my bosses had a lack of regard for my abilities. I’d defend myself, my choices. Defending me only increased their opposition as they defended their authority. The end result was the wagering of their power over my wages. I lost my job. Ousted! Single and out of work.

Humanity didn’t teach me meekness, it taught me the love of power and the ability to demand my own way. But Christ says, to inherit the world, become meek. How unique? From a human perspective, it seems literally insane. No one gets ahead without demanding and fighting their way to the top. But in Christ’s upside down world of life and influence, He says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

Christ could have inherited the world with one spoken word. He could have demanded His way to the top. He could have ruled. But He chose to rule by offering His life as a blessing to us.

Blessed Are the Merciful (Matt. 5:7)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7, RSV).”

The word mercy comes from the Latin words “miserum cor” meaning a sorrowful heart. Mercy is moved by a heart that is sorrowful over the lessened or dilapidated condition of a friend or an enemy. Jesus showers us with mercy. When we deserve death for our sins, He supplies mercy. As Jesus stood before Pilate on the day of He was accused, the Jews insisted that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas be released. Barabbas was imprisoned for his part in inciting a riot and for murder. When I consider the plight of Barabbas, I see myself. I see the sins of my thoughts, my words, and my actions that should sentence me to death. I then see a merciful Jesus measuring my humanity and the filth of my life. I see the merciful Jesus taking up the cross that should have been Barabbas’; I see Him reaching out and taking up the same cross that also should have been mine. The Bible explains that in Jesus’ death on the cross an exchange was made of a sin filled man for a sinless man. That one man, Barabbas that literally exchanged his life for Jesus, was symbolically the swap or the trade that Christ in His mercy made for me.

In just as great a show of mercy, Christ hung on the cross between two miserable men. One man in his misery acted like all of humanity. “Aren’t you the Christ? Then save yourself and us (Luke 23:39, NCV). Then the other criminal said:

“’You should fear God! You are getting the same punishment he is. We are punished justly, getting what we deserve for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:40-43, NCV).”

I hear myself in bitterness yelling to Christ like the first man on the cross. Why does my pain continue? Why haven’t you healed me? Why do I have to work hard to earn a living and never get ahead? Why can’t you just fix my finances? Aren’t you God? Aren’t you supposed to be the miracle worker?”

I’d rather hear myself in the pain of the second man. Who says simply, I’m a sinner. The consequences of my life are the result of my sin. I submit myself to you as the sovereign King of my life without complaint. But I still believe in your mercy. See me in my misery, and bless me with your presence despite myself.

Christ exchanges mercy for my pain. As I reach out to others, with words of mercy, He returns mercy. Today I ask God to replace my human heart and actions with mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7, KJV).

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart (Matt. 5:8)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8, RSV).”

If any person on this earth had a pure heart, it was Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was chosen for her innocence and her purity. The Son of God could only be born in purity. She was a virgin pregnant by the Holy Spirit, pure and innocent in not only her thoughts but sexual relations. Blessed is she among women.

In one of his last words, he lets us know that the pure in heart have a place in his heart.He said to his mother, “Woman behold your son, then he said to the disciple, son behold your mother (John 19:26-27).”

I’m thankful that my purity doesn’t rely on my own efforts. It was Christ’s dying on the cross that made me pure. I am washed by the blood of the Lamb. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament sacrificed lambs for the sins of people, Christ sacrificed himself willing on the cross. Just as the purity of Mary becomes covered by Christ’s forgiveness, in my humanity God forgives me.

Recently a Muslim man approached and questioned me in the aisle of the religious section of Barnes and Nobles. He insisted that it wasn’t right for the Creator to be born of the created Mary. It wasn’t right for the Creator to have basic needs as a baby met by the created Joseph. He was essentially saying, “I would have chosen to run this world in a different way. As a Muslim, this is not how I think the lost should be saved.”

But as he questioned the deity of Jesus, I responded with humbleness of Christ’s humanity. It was His choice to be born of the virgin Mary. It was his choice to walk the earth in contact daily with the filth of humanity. I’m thankful that He chose the humiliation of by being born of a human form and dying a death on the cross at the hands of wicked men; because by his death, I am made pure, and I have the Blessed Hope of seeing God.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit (Matt. 5:3)

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3, RSV).”

Jesus detached himself from wealth. He didn’t want people to mistake that blessings come only alongside wealth. Jesus was poor in every economic standing. The Bible says, he had no where to lay his head. From his presentation as a baby at the temple, we know that the gift given was one from a family with the lowest economic capabilities, two doves. Christ was poverty stricken when as He went to the cross, his friends denied Him. He walked the path to death alone.

And on the cross, He finds himself separated from his heavenly Father.

Perhaps it wasn’t all that hard to be economically poor, and despite the pain of loosing his friends, it wasn’t the end. But separated from God, his poverty suddenly became more than He could bear and he yelled in a loud voice.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   Mark 15:34

Because of Christ’s death on the cross, we are no longer spiritually poverty stricken. Christ paid it all on the cross.

But our poverty of Spirit that this verse speaks of is a willingness to give up all, to surrender what we see as powerful in the Spirit for the desires God has over our life, which may not seem so advantageous. But like everything in God, when we give up, God suddenly has opportunity to bless. So blessed are those whose spirit is willing to be made poor by this world’s standards, who is willing to give up their own spiritual desires for the Christ’s spiritual sovereignty.

When Christ gave up and surrendered all on the cross, we could agree that his surrender indicated a poverty of Spirit, but it led as Matthew 5:3 says, to the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessings happen at the cross.

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness (Matt. 5:6)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt. 5:6, RSV).”

Jesus understood thirst. He expressed it on the cross. When He said, “I thirst (John 19:28, NIV),” When he desired that his thirst be satisfied, the soldiers gave him bitter wine. At the cross, Christ lived our thirst.

When we say “I thirst,” God is much more generous. He pours out abundant blessings. Jesus explained to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water (John 4:10).”

Christ experienced our thirst on the cross. God wants to satisfy those who hunger and thirst with spiritual food and water.

A 17 year old monk in a country closed to the spreading of the words of Jesus, found Christ. On that first day, he didn’t leave the underground church sanctuary for four days. When asked how he could do this and why he would do it, he replied, as a I have spent 40 days regularly fasting and praying with no result. But when I came to Christ, he filled me in five minutes. I couldn’t leave. I wanted more and more. God promises that those who hunger and thirst for what He has to offer will receive the blessing of satisfaction.

Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matt. 5:9)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9, RSV).”

When Jesus had received the vinegar he said “It is finished (John 19:30).”

There’s orderliness in those words that lend themselves to peacefulness. Life begins and ends. That’s the way God made the world. Flowers grow, the petals fall to the ground, and then they die. Babies are born, grow to mature adults, and eventually die. Peacefully, Christ didn’t fight his death. He accepted the order or plan God the Father had made for His life. He was a child of God who accepted the will of his father.

The peacefulness of the Christian is quite different then the peace the world demands. Armies aggressively acquire peace, and it comes when one group wins dominance over another. Christ’s peace has nothing to do with dominance. It has everything to do with surrendering. As we surrender our will and our desires, we find internal peace in Christ. We become like the little child that can rest in the arms of the Father, because they believe Father knows best. Peace isn’t something to be acquired; it’s an internal rest that happens as we accept the role of child of God.

When Christ died on the cross, his bodily position suggests submissiveness. John says, “He bowed his head and gave up the spirit.” Christ had peace even unto death. Blessings come when we surrender our lives to Christ. After Christ’s death, the Christians greeted each other with the word “peace.”

“Grace be unto you and peace, from God (Phil. 1:2).”

“Now the God of peace be with you all (Romans 15:33).”

When Christ said, “It is finished,” He ushered a peace that transcends all of our understanding.

Christ said. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not at the world gives do I give to you (John 14:27).”

It is finished. May the blessing of the “God of peace be with you all (Romans 15:33).”

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Matt. 5:4)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:4, RSV).”

Jesus called forth Lazarus with the same voice and cry, according to the Greek language, as He cried to God when He died. I see the imprint of prophetic joy in these two instances, an immense balloon of blessing that rises above anything we could think or imagine. When Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come forth,” He called Lazarus from a death bed. The women of his household said he was dead long enough that he stunk. I see Jesus calling out to us in our deathbeds of sin. He’s calling to us that stink, so bad that we think we are completely and totally dead. But in our astounding sin, Jesus cries out, “Come forth, my child. Be born of the Spirit.”

When we mourn our sins, it’s called repentance. This too is a calling out to God. This too is rewarded with life.

When Christ died on the cross he commended his Spirit to God. He knew God had a plan of resurrection prepared. His cry may have been one of utter sorrow and seeming despair, but the prophetic knowledge is that it was a cry to the Father who would not let His Son see death, but rather life. God tells us that when we come to Him, we will not see death, but resurrection life.

Although there may be a time of mourning on this earth, we find comfort in Christ’s words, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” In our mourning, in our pain, in our sorrow, Jesus steps in with words of comfort. Blessed are they that mourn. For after the mourning, the comfort of the Holy Spirit will walk you through the journey to joy.

“Then Jesus crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ And having said this, he breathed his last (Luke 23:46, RSV).”

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Responses

  1. Thank you for your effort and pain in working so hard to communicate with us what God has given you. Love and Blessings on this work. In Jesus Name.


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