The Paradise of the Cross

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35

Everything that is important in the life of an Orthodox Christian can be learned from the Crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The Cross is the great curriculum and eternal lesson for Orthodox Christians.  The Cross teaches us everything that is worthwhile and its lessons never end.  It is the fruit that never goes bad, the salt that never loses its flavor, the light that never burns out.

The Cross can teach us everything because it directs our eyes and our minds to the image of the God Man Jesus Christ.  We find petty things to complain about daily.  We grumble about the way that we are treated when in fact we are generally treated quite well.  It is not enough that Our Lord had to flee from His own people as an infant.  This madness would continue even when the Lord was a grown man.  It was not enough that He taught the people the ways of the kingdom.  It was not enough that He preached and forgave their sins.  It was not enough that He healed their blind or raised the dead back to life.  What was His thanks?  What did the people offer to the Lord for all His gracious acts?  How would they show their gratitude to the One who had shown them the Way?  The Jews thanked the Lord was with the Cross.

They offered it as punishment but the Lord returned this to us as a free gift!  It reminds us that in the Garden of Eden, Satan offered the fruit as a free gift but upon tasting the fruit Adam and Eve found it to be punishment.  The tree in the garden led to death, while the tree on Golgotha led to life.  God warned Adam and Eve to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it would lead to death.  Yet even today God compels us to draw near to the tree of the Cross, the fountain of life.  Where God had warned our ancestors not to taste the fruit of the tree, He begs us to taste the cup of salvation offered by His Son on the Cross.

Adam was offered beauty, but Christ was offered a terrible cup.  Satan offered a beautiful lie to Adam and Eve.  He promised them the world if they would simply disobey God.  When Adam and Eve disobeyed God they realized that they were left desolate and empty handed.  Yet the Lord offers us something that at first glance is not beautiful at all.  The prophet Isaiah writes “he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:13b-14).  That is a fancy way of saying that the Lord on the Cross was a difficult sight to behold.  God offers us His Son who bore the stripes and wounds of our sins.  In His desolation on the Cross, the Lord offers us the chance to return as children of the Most High God.

If we step back and examine our own lives we find that we often run towards sin and run away from the crosses.  We have been like Adam the disobedient and faithless son of God.  The Lord Jesus says “Be imitators of Me.”  He is the obedient and faithful Son who ran in the direction of the Cross when everyone else would naturally run in the other direction.  Where Adam ran towards what was best for himself, the Lord Jesus ran towards the thing that would be worst of all.  Where Adam ran and cursed mankind, the Lord Jesus ran towards the cross with each of us in mind.  That is the love that God has for mankind.  In the various religions of the world, sacrifices are brought to appease the gods.  In Christ crucified we see the final and perfect sacrifice offered by God Himself in behalf of all and for all.  The instrument of death becoming the ladder to eternal life.

In the Garden, Adam by his rebellion, spread disease and sickness over all of creation.  By the Cross, Christ through His faithfulness, heals and restores the order of the universe.  After the fall, Adam will labor to earn his food for the rest of his life.  By the Cross, Christ works so that we may enter into His labor by grace.

In the Garden, Adam was cursed through his selfish act.  On the Cross, Christ became a curse to remove the curse of Adam from us.  In the Garden, Adam tasted the bitterness of death.  By the Cross, Christ made death itself taste bitterness.

Today and the rest of our lives we are given a choice.  Do we imitate the first Adam or the second Adam, Jesus Christ?  Do we continue to be children of the flesh who rebel against God or do we become children of the Spirit and part of the family of God?  Do allow our pride to divide us from one another or do we humbly submit to one another as Our Lord has done for us?

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”  His Cross is an eternal sign of power in humility, healing within weakness, mercy within oppression, freedom within bondage, life within death, and love in the midst of hatred.  May we run to His Cross daily and receive power, healing, mercy, freedom, life and love from the One who is love.  May we run to the Cross and find the true paradise.  Glory be to God Forever AMEN.

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