By Joel A. Hess –
I love Luke’s account of the two disciples walking out of church. They had been disciples of Jesus for some time. They were excited about the building project, mission vision statements, and miracles. They thought for sure that they had joined the right church. This Jesus was going to take them to the top of the world. He was going to rescue Israel! He was going to heal everyone’s diseases. He was going to make the world better and get rid of those bad guys. They felt empowered! They were going to be superstars. Everything was going to get fixed!
Screeeeeeech! The great motivational speaker/spiritual guru/multisite administrator pastor hero was killed! Their world was flipped upside down. Everything became so strange. God on a cross? The bad guys win? They never expected this as they tried to shake the image of their hero’s beaten, bloodied body hanging limp between two criminals. He became a stranger to them. They left church that day, and they didn’t plan on returning. They heard about a possible resurrection, but it didn’t matter. The cross was so strange to them. They couldn’t get over the damn cross! God had become a stranger to them.
There are people who leave church today. Often, they leave because they were never told about the cross. They come hoping to have their lives fixed. They hope that God will give their kids victories at hockey games and on test scores, or at least keep them off drugs and out of the back seat of a car. Some even hope that they would become better people (as they defined it). The sign at the entrance promises “your best life now.” The preacher mentions Jesus and sometimes the cross, but he spends all his time talking about the sanctified life and giving God the glory. Victory is promised.
But then their house burns down. They struggle with porn. Their spouse has a heart attack. God (and the godly life) becomes strange to them. The God that the preacher talked about doesn’t match the God of reality. They walk back to their life. It was easier not to care about what God thought, as before.
Ironically, Jesus joined the two backsliders in Luke 24 as a stranger. He kept them from recognizing him, although it wouldn’t have mattered. They needed to learn the central teaching of Scripture concerning the Messiah. Without knowing this teaching, God would forever remain a stranger to them. Before they could see the nail marks in Jesus’ resurrected hands, they needed to see the nails in His dead hands. They needed to learn about the cross!
The cross is what stops God from being a stranger. On the cross, God became the greatest of friends—the Savior. On the cross, Jesus paid our debt. Like the perfect neighbor, He put out our fire, grabbed us from the cliff, and stole us away from the devil. Paradoxically, the cross is where we meet God for the first time, broken, weak, and humiliated for us.
Understanding the cross makes God much less of a stranger, though it is definitely strange that He would forgive and love people like us. More than that, as we live in the shadow of the Christ’s cross, we see our own crosses. Suffering no longer seems strange and inconsistent as we follow the One who carried our cross. We are able to rejoice in our suffering knowing that we are forgiven and will rise again. Suffering becomes beneficial and faith-strengthening. While the rest of the world is confused and shocked, pain and loss find meaning and purpose for those who know the cross.
Do you know someone who is walking away from the Church? Don’t be a stranger as they walk away from a strange God. I’ll bet they never had the cross explained to them. Go to them. Walk beside them. Open up the Scriptures and teach them about the cross, grace, and suffering—about God!