What's That You're Carrying?
It's Thursday night. Darker than usual. Jesus has just finished the Passover dinner. Washed His disciples feet. Taken the cup. Watched Judas walk out. The end has come.
The unsuspecting eleven follow Him through the quiet city streets. Flying high on the heels of the triumphal entry, they are giddy with what-might-be. The conquering Son of David soon to sit on His rightful throne. Somewhere a candle flickers. Then another. They descend the Hill of the City of David and Jesus approaches the Brook Kidron. Higher on the hill above them, the clear spring bubbles up out of the earth, circulates through the grounds of the temple, and fills the ceremonial cleansing pools. From there it washes out the blood of the morning and evening sacrifices, then it descends the hill.
When it rolls beneath their feet, it smells of death.
Jesus stands on the stone bridge that crosses the brook. Glancing over His shoulder. The smell fills His nostrils. Fitting. He enters the Garden. Gethsemane. This is the place where the olives are crushed. Where the oil is poured out. This too is fitting…
Back up a thousand years. Absalom, King David's son -- his own flesh and blood -- betrayed him. Turned on him. David is forced to flee the city. “All the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people crossed over the Brook Kidron...toward the way of the wilderness.” Seven verses later, it reads, "So David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up; and he had his head covered and went barefoot. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up weeping..." (2 Sam 15:23-30)
One of the things I love about scripture is that nothing, and I do mean nothing, is wasted. David did what Jesus is doing.
When David fled from Absalom, he wrote, “But you, O Lord, are a shield for me, My Glory, and the one who lifts up my head." (Ps 3) Did Jesus whisper this to himself as He crossed the Brook? I can't prove it but I like to think so. I'm also pretty sure He was thinking about Psalm 22. Why? Because as we will see, He lives it. Line by line.
Jesus enters the garden with the eleven. Stomachs full of food and wine. “Sit here while I go there and pray.” (Mt 26:36) He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me.” (26:38) Despite His pleas, they sleep. Snoring. Smiling smugly. Remembering how all the city laid down their cloaks, and sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of The Lord.” (Mt 21:9) A song so loud that had they been silent, “even the rocks would cry out.” (Lk 19:40) The eleven are dreaming of their conquering King. A political solution. But their dreams will not come true.
Jesus separates Himself. Prays. He knows the end from the beginning. He is in agony. Listen to King David again. And let me say this -- I don't understand it but the reason I add this is because I believe King David, supernaturally through the Holy Spirit, spoke the words and cries of Jesus a thousand years before Jesus felt them: “O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.” (Ps 22:2) Jesus returns to His friends only to find them crashed out. Oblivious. Drool running out the corners of their mouths. He shakes their shoulders. “Oh...So sorry, Lord. You were saying…” He returns to His prayers. Behind Him, they to their snoring. Face to the ground, Jesus' blood vessels burst and He sweats blood. His heart knows, before His ears can hear them. “Be not far from Me, For trouble is near; for there is none to help.” (Ps 22:11) In the distance, the air is filled with the sound of soldiers. “Rise, let us be going. My betrayer is at hand.“ (26:46) The stone bridge carries the echoes of swords and shields and whispers. Judas, thirty pieces of silver richer, emerges, smirking. He slithers forward. Grabs the Master, and then presses his lips to the face of Jesus.
The seal of betrayal. Of the King of the Universe. Of “The Heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds...the brightness of His Glory, the express image of His person, and the one who upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Heb 1:2-3) Don't miss this, that very same Jesus -- the Ancient of Days -- who fashioned Judas out of the dust of the earth and then pressed His lips to Judas' face and breathed in the breath of life -- the 'Ruach' -- has just allowed the created to betray the Creator.
What Kind of a King does this?
The prophets had said this was coming. None better than Isaiah: “ Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.  He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.  He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.  And they made His grave with the wicked- But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.  Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.  Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:1-10,12)
We talk alot about The Cross. Wear it around our necks. Print it on our letterhead. Chisel it in stone. Genuflect. It's THE symbol of Christ. But what's it mean? I mean, really. When we wear it, what are we saying? What are we agreeing with?
To understand The Cross, we need to backup 4000 years. To Abraham. 2000 BC. Long story short -- when Abraham was 75, God promised him a son. Abraham scratches his head cause Sarah is post-menopausal. “Um...Lord.” Eleven years pass and nothing. So, Sarah, tired of waiting and feeling like a failure as a wife, pushes him toward Hagar. Nothing wrong with that, except God said Sarah. Not Hagar. Ishmael is born. The son of his flesh. Fourteen years later, when Abraham is 100, Isaac is born. The son of his love. Twenty-five years after the promise. Years pass. Scripture doesn't say how many. I think Isaac was a teenager but that's just a guess. Let's pick up the story there: “ Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'  Then He said, 'Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering [Holocaust] on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.'  So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.  Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.  And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.'  So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.  But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father!' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.' Then he said, 'Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?'  And Abraham said, 'My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.' So the two of them went together...” (Gen 22:1-8)
Notice a couple of things: Abraham made a decision of his will not his emotions. He did not feel like killing his son. In spite of this, scripture records, “He rose early.” (22:3) Let that sink in. Would I have 'risen early'? Slept in? Taried a couple of weeks? Years? In that pre-dawn light, “Abraham believed God and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6)
Let that picture focus. There's Isaac. Broad-Shouldered. Bright-eyed. Carrying the wood -- and his own life. Everything before him. There's Abraham. Heavy-hearted and carrying the knife. Death before him. He'd made sure the knife was sharp. So it would be quick. Less suffering. In his other hand, he carried the fire -- for the holocaust.
Isaac bounds up the trail. Abraham drags his heels.
The story continues: “ Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.  And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” (22:9)
Scripture records these events in less than two sentences, but back up. Look closer. There's a 'binding.' Abraham wrestles his son to the ground and forcibly ties him. Imagine Isaac's surprise. His dismay. Utter unbelief. Can you hear his cries, “But Abba, what!? What are you…?” Can you see Abraham's tears? See his hands fumbling to tie the rope? See the snot rolling down his face? He is losing it. He is near to losing his mind. The same mind that right this second is firing a thousand questions such as: How is he going to explain this to Sarah and will his son suffer. And somewhere in that moment, he raises the knife -- above Isaac's screams. “No, Abba!”
Isaac's eyes are wide. Frantic. Searching. Abraham's hand is shaking uncontrollably. His knees are buckling. He has lost it. His heart is already broken. Rent down the middle. “11] But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' So he said, 'Here I am.'  And He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.'  Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.  And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, 'In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.'  Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven,  and said: 'By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son-  blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.'  So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.” (Genesis 22:11-19)
Walk with Abraham and Isaac down the mountain. See Abraham's hand resting on Isaac's shoulder. Listen to their voices. I'd like to know what that conversation sounded like.
Now turn the camera. Change the perspective. From up top. Looking down. Jesus / God the Father / The Holy Spirit are staring down from the top of Mt. Moriah. Watching Abraham and Isaac descend. I'd really like to know what their conversation sounded like?
Note : What I'm about to suggest is not in scripture, but this is what I imagine the rest of this story looked like:
Jesus, with grin on His face, says, “Wow! You see that, Abba?”
The Father nods. “He really loves us...” A long pause follows as the three of them look out across time. Out to you and me. The Father continues, “Son, there's going to come a time when He needs us. When his sons and daughters don't love us the way he does, when they bow down to other Gods and sell themselves into slavery and our enemy puts them in prisons of their own building. Shackles them. he won't sell them cheap. Matter of fact, only one thing will buy them back.”
Jesus thinks about this a long time. Isaac is hugging his dad as they near the bottom of the hill. Arms around his waist. They are laughing. Abraham's cheeks have almost dried. Jesus turns to His Father, nodding. “I know.” A tear trails down His cheek. Jesus is weeping. The Father thumbs it away. Jesus whispers, “It's okay, I'll buy them back.”
Abba raises an eyebrow. “With what?”
Jesus tilts his head. Staring past Abraham. Past Isaac. Past you and me. “With all that I have.”
Seven hundred and forty years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah said it this way: “ And in this mountain The LORD of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, A feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, Of well-refined wines on the lees.  And He will destroy on this mountain The surface of the covering cast over all people, And the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken.” (Is 25:6-8)
Jump forward 2000 years. Back to the garden where that same Jesus is making good on His promise. Over the course of his three-and-a-half-year public ministry, scripture records that Jesus said “Follow Me” over twenty times. We know we're supposed to follow Him. He's our shepherd. We're His sheep. But WHERE are we going? Where EXACTLY is He asking us to follow Him?
All roads only lead to one place. The Cross.
If that’s the case, do I, do you, eally understand what we're saying when we hang that thing around our neck and sign our name on the dotted line to 'follow Jesus'? Where did the road to the cross take Jesus? What'd it cost Him?
Luke, the physician, an eyewitness in the Garden, described it this way: “and being in agony He (Jesus) was praying very fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Lk 22:44) I've heard this described as one of the more painful experiences a human being can undergo. Where inner turmoil and anguish actually burst blood vessels allowing the blood to exit the body via the sweat pores.
From the garden, Jesus is arrested and brought to the court of Annanias, the high priest. Matthew, another eye witness, says this: “They spat in His face, and beat him with their fists and others slapped him.” (Matt 26:67) The thought of someone actually clenching their fist and striking My King in the face, busting his lip...something in me wants to look away. Psalm 22 says it this way: “Many bulls have encircled Me. They gape at me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion.” (22:12-13)
The prophet Micah, some 800 years before it happened foretold this: “With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.” (5:1) Isaiah said this: “I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out my beard.” (Is 50:6)
How'd they punch Him? Haymaker? Jab? Superman? Elbow strike?
Unable to decide what to do with Jesus, they bring Him before Pilate who orders Him flogged and scourged. (Mt 27:26) We've seen this on TV. The movies. Problem is this is not a cow whip. Not Indiana Jones. The Roman scourge was a tasseled whip studded with metal, glass or bone. Whatever was available. The whip didn't so much slap the skin, or even cut it, as sink into it. The tassels wrapped around the back, chest, neck and face -- embedding into it. Buried. When removed, it peeled chunks of skin and flesh -- with it. It carved away tissue. Divinely inspired, Isaiah described Jesus this way: “His appearance was marred more than any man. And his form more than the sons of men.” (Is 52:14) Another translation says, “He was unrecognizable as a man." Did that word catch your eye? Unrecognizable. That means all those pretty and priceless paintings depicting the loving savior staring down upon the world could not be further from the truth.
By that time, Jesus has been shredded.
Following the scourging, they crowned Him, “King of the Jews.” Only this crown was a little different. If you've ever traveled the Rift Valley you know that most every bush or tree there has a thorn on it. And these aren't uncomfortable little stickers that hinder your meander through the blueberries. Bigger than sewing needles, these are one to three inch long stilettos -- often used as darts in blow guns. They will punch through leather, tennis shoes and rubber tires. “And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on his head…(30) and they spat on him and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head.” (Matt 27:29-30) Can you see the rods beating His head? Driving the thorns in deeper? Back to Psalm 22: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax, It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.“ (22:14-15)
With thorns pressing into His skull, the soldiers drop a cross on His fleshless back and point outside the gate to the top of the hill. "Walk!" By then, having lost a lot of blood, His blood pressure dangerously low, Jesus began trudging up the hill. Painting a trail behind Him. Taking too long, the guards spot a healthy by-stander. Minding-his-own-business. Simon of Syrene. "You! Carry that!" Simon shoulders the Cross and then hooks one hand under Jesus armpit to help him stand. It is there, in my mind, that Jesus clings to Simon's sleeve, lifts himself and looks into Simon's eyes. Scripture is silent on this too but I'd like to know what He said. I'd like to know what Simon knew in that moment.
Add in a hostile crowd, ill-tempered soldiers and a host of salivating spiritual forces of wickedness and I think that walk took a while.
Reaching the top of the hill, Simon drops the cross and steps aside. Pause right here. That splintered thing on the ground? That tree? That method of execution? That death sentence? Today, it's a shiny piece of jewelry. A fashion statement. Something rocks stars and movie stars and pro athletes and guys like me are so eager to hang around our necks, and wear outside our clothes. But, what part of this are we identifying with when we do that?
The next step is so understated. So without comment. Very simply it reads, “They crucified Him.” (Matt 27:35) Let the reader understand. Scripture is silent on the single most important event in the history of mankind. On the sound of the hammer hitting the spike head. Or,the echo off the stone city walls? And the blood-curdling screams of Jesus as they crossed His feet and drove rusty spikes through each.
He stepped off His throne for this.
No matter how hard I try, how many times I read this, or try to write it somehow better, I can not wrap my mind around this. I shake my head. Stare at the Heavens. “Really?!” This wrecks me. I'm totally undone. Unworthy.
Having skewered Him, they dropped the cross into its hole, jolting the rag-doll body of Jesus. Suspended between heaven and earth -- between throne and grave -- there hangs Jesus. “For dogs have surrounded me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” (Ps 22:16-18)
Another myth that needs exposing are all those paintings of Jesus wearing a loin cloth. Covering His privates. I wish it were so, but it wasn't. Jesus had been stripped and hung naked. Fully exposed. This is why Scripture reads, “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar.” (Mt 27:55)
If you live with shame because of your sin, if you think to yourself, “Jesus can't possibly know the depth of my embarrassment and depravity,” it is here that Jesus wore it for you. “But I am a worm and not a man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, "He trusted in The Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him since He delights in Him.” (22:6-8)
In a crucifixion, there is a constant struggle between your chest and your legs while your lungs combat your writhing body for air. During this, fluids build up in your chest cavity. Filling your lungs. Producing a slow drowning.
The Carpenter lasted three hours.
During these three hours, God the Father laid on Jesus every sin of mankind. One by one. Yours and mine. All of it. Piled on. Not one was left out. God The Father clothed His Son in the sin of mankind. Wrapped it around him like a blanket. Or shroud. And while I think the weight of that was killing Jesus, I don't think it was the final straw. I think the killing blow -- what broke the spirit of Jesus -- was rejection. When God saw the sum of that sin, He turned. And Jesus, able to see into this world and the world to come, saw it. He saw His Father, His Abba, turn. That's why He asked Him, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) And when He did, every Jewish man and boy in the crowd would have known the reference and could have finished it for Him: “Why are you so far from helping me? And from the words of My groaning?” (Ps 22:1)
I believe that's the moment that killed Jesus. Because it was there that He knew the rejection of His Father. I want to pause here and speak to all of you who were put up for adoption, or who have suffered an equally great rejection, who have known loneliness of the soul -- you are not alone. What you feel in your gut, what you sense in your DNA, the absence, the void, Jesus felt first. Here on The Cross, He knew your rejection.
“But You O Lord, be not far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog, Save me from the lion's mouth, and from the horns of the wild oxen. You have answered me.” (Ps 22:19-21) Think about it. The Father's answer is a dead Jesus.
What were Jesus last words? “It is Finished.” And the last words of Psalm 22? “He has done this.” Jesus spoke an entire Psalm with just a few words.
Dead on the cross, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately, there came out blood and water.“ (John 19:34) If you doubt that Jesus drowned, here speaks evidence to the contrary. Again Isaiah, “He poured out his soul unto death.” (Is 53:12) The Hebrew for “flesh” is soul. Jesus poured out His flesh.
Payment made in full.
Here's the nugget and this is what gets muddled. This is the part that Satan has and is actively working to draw your attention away from. He wants you to miss this. To water this down: The cross is a crucifixion, an execution. Something and someone is being put to death.
Those blows Jesus took, the thorns that pierced His head, that scourging, that flesh removed in chunks, those nails, that spear in His side, that shame, that rejection, that death -- that should be you and me -- that's the cross we deserve. Instead, He gave us what we did not deserve and withheld from us what we did. When Jesus walked with his disciples He was and is speaking to us: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23)
But here's the crux of the matter -- You can't pick up your cross if you're carrying your Isaac.
One more time -- You can't pick up your cross if you're carrying your Isaac.
So, what's your Isaac? What is that thing that prevents you from denying, taking up, following, daily? If you're going to keep reading, walk out the rest of this, it will help you (and me) to approach this whole conversation with some gut-level honesty. Real Truth. Revealing all. Even the stuff you want to keep hidden.
The rest of this will require that you and I admit our own sin?
Want some help? Ask for the “Spirit of truth.” Jesus says, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (Jn 16:13)
If you and I are to survive the rest of this, we need truthfulness -- the same spirit of truthfulness the Israelites needed when they had to look upon the bronze serpent lifted high on a pole in the wilderness. Their healing required an honest and public admission of their guilt. Same goes for us. (Num 21:9)
Let me encourage you -- You can't tell Jesus anything He doesn't already know. You're not telling Him for His benefit. You're telling Him for yours.
So, be gut-level honest about your sin. No pretending. No blue sky. Isaiah says, “My righteousness is filthy rags.” The words he uses describe a woman in her customary impurity. That means the best we have to offer of our own accord is of no more value than a bunch of bloody maxi-pads. Paul recognizes his own unworthiness when he says this: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim 1:15) If we're honest, “we all have gone astray, each his own way...”
Some of your minds are starting to wander. To your Isaac. Your stronghold. The sin you just can't let go. Some of you are starting to think, “Okay, Charles, I'm with you. I need to clean house a bit. Sweep out a few closets. Smoke out the cockroaches, so I'll offer up these three. Possibly four.” You sacrifice the easily expendable. That which you can possibly live without. But then there's the secret hold in your basement. The bar across the door. The triple locks. Your eye wanders there. You shake your head, “Nope. Not going to happen.” For some of you, “That” is sexual sin. And don't think you get off the hook if you're not physically touching someone else. John on the island of Patmos, writing his Revelation about the judgment and outcome at the end of the age, says – “ Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,  with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.’" (Revelation 17:1)
The Greek word for, "Committed fornication" is "Porneuo" -- porn-yoo-oh. From it we get pornopraphic and pornography. It means to engage in illicit sexual intercourse, be unfaithful, play the harlot, prostitute ones self. The word is used literally and metaphorically to describe spiritual fornication, that is idolatry. One of the biggest idols of the men reading this is "porn-yoo-oh."
Am I trying to shame you? Guilt you? No. I am speaking light into dark places, because if we, don't we are just like those hypocrites who punched Jesus in the teeth. And believe me, I'm hypocritical enough without adding to it. Over the last couple of years, as The Lord has revealed The Cross to me and what His blood accomplished, I've been trying to ask myself some real honest questions: What, or who, do I lean on other than Him?
Note: This has not been a fun process, and it will lick the red off your lollipop, but it has been freeing. And Freedom is better than slavery. And no matter how I try to weasel my may out, I have found that only one thing will cut you free. It's not mercy. Not good intentions. Not warm fuzzy positive feelings sent some place safe. “You shall know The Truth and The Truth shall make you free.” (Jn 8:32) The truth frees us. The kind that comes out of our gut. That's His promise. So welcome the Truth. Don't fear it.
Here's some of what I looked at:
Alcohol -- I want to know if this is an idol. And you don't have to be a drunk or an alcoholic for it to be an idol. You may brush me off but don't drink it for a week or two or three and then honestly ask your response to its absence. How's the craving? Where do your thoughts go? When you see it advertised or see others drinking it, do you think 'good time?' And what else causes you to think 'good time' with the same excitement? Do you escape into it? Just something to take the edge off? Medicate your pain with it? Admittedly, I have. Jesus drank wine when here, and He's already said He's drinking it when He returns. Alcohol is not bad in and of itself. It's what it becomes in our lives.
Food – For me, it can be. Are you not so sure? How grumpy do you get when you don't get what you want when you want? If you really want to know to what extent food is an idol, just fast a day or two or three. Won't take long to find out.
Caffeine -- Definitely. For some of you this might not be an issue. For me, it is.
Money -- And you don't have to have a lot of it for it to be an idol. If you want to know if this is an idol, ask yourself -- do you lean on it to provide your comfort, to bail you out... Is it your go-to? How tightly do you control it? How much time do you spend thinking about it? Do you spend more time in the Wall Street Journal or your monthly statements than The Word? When you think about that sum sitting wherever it sits, do you think 'safety?' 'Provision?' Want to go deeper -- Ask yourself, honestly, do you think your money somehow makes you better than the guy sitting next to you? Does it elevate you? You may answer, 'No,' and I might have once said the same but I travel to Nicaragua once or twice a year and everytime I step foot off the plane, I am pierced with the knowingness that I am guilty of all of this.
Your Children -- this is a biggie and we're all guilty. We, all of us, attempt to control every circumstance of their lives so they don't suffer what we've suffered. Or, because we're fearful that they'll get hurt, or not make the right choice, or...name your own fear. One of the reasons The Lord gives us children is to allow us to KNOW the love of a father for a son or the love of a mother for a daughter. We better KNOW His heart through interacting with our kids. The enemy knows this and hates it so he uses this relationship, or relationships, to cause us to distrust our Father. He twists it. Whispering lies. Doubt. His attacks usually start with the same phrase he spoke to Eve in the Garden, Did God say? We take over from there. It is no exaggeration to say that God requires us to lay our kids down at His feet in the same way that Abraham laid down Isaac.
Sports / Football -- This was a biggie for me. If you need more on this read, "A Life Intercepted." And don't think I'm only talking to athletes. What do your weekends look like? Do you raise your hands in triumph when your fantasy football star scores but keep your hands in your pockets in church? I've spent some time studying worship in the Bible and I can find no place where worship does not include some motion or action of the body. Whether hands raised, head bowed, dancing, or body lying prostate on the ground, worship is an act of the body. Problem is, I often see more 'worship' at a football game than church.
Writing -- Yes. It could be. I had to and continue to have to check this. Asking, Lord, have I made this more important than you? Do I like being called a, 'NYT Bestselling writer,' more than I desire being called, 'Your child?' Or, even more, 'Bondservant of Jesus Christ'? Have I found my identity in the pen, or The Cross? Could I walk away from writing if you called me? Just being honest, this is a toughy.
Hear me when I say this -- I'm not telling you that all these things are evil. Certainly, our kids are not evil. Football is a great game, scripture says wine is good for the heart and The Lord made me a writer in the same way He made Abraham a father. I'm asking you to examine whether or not you've made these things an idol and are they're preventing you from picking up your cross. Daily.
I was talking to a guy some time ago. He was in a tough spot. He'd been fired, and it was not entirely his own doing. You know what he was worried about? He was worried how his kids would react when they saw him without a company car, without a laptop, without a suit and tie, an expense report. Here's my take on that -- if The Lord was to address his idol of false identity, or offer to take it from him, what's one real obvious way for The Lord to do that? There are a lot of guys reading this that need to sacrifice that same idol of identity.
Here's the truth -- Your idols are what you run to when you are afraid or you need comfort? What you hide behind. When you want to be made to feel the way that you want you to feel. Read that again. Your idols are what you turn to when you want to be made to feel the way you want you to feel.
Let me ask it this way: What in your life you hold closer to your chest than Him? Will you let Him show you? Long cut Skoal? Chardonnay? Single malt? Vodka? Those pictures on your hard drive? The power of your Amex Card? Three squares a day of meat and potatoes and just the right type of desert? The comfort you find in the balance in your account? Put this down, grab a notecard, go for a walk and get real honest. Spend an hour. Maybe two. Write down what comes to mind. Be honest -- what are the 'things' that have your attention? That have captured your heart. Where do you not trust Him? What have you hidden in your basement? Come back when you've thrown open the cellar door and clicked on the light.
If you were honest, chances are real good your Isaacs are now written on the card in your pocket. For lots of reasons, I've had some rather truthful and intimate conversations with different groups of men from all over. Hundreds of men. Times of conversation where we've gotten past the walls and broken through the pretensions and the lies we project and masks we hide behind. Throughout those conversations of more than a decade, I've kept a running tally of the words on our cards. That list reads something like this:
Our idols are:
• my pride
• my fear
• my girlfriend…the one my wife doesn't know about
• the substance I'm addicted to
• my sex addiction
• my deviant sexual practices
• my porn addiction
• my porn addiction
• my porn addiction -- yes, I've listed this three times
• my anger
• my depression
• my pain
• my money
• my money
• my money
• my success
• my accomplishments
• my wall of plaques
• my position
• my career -- and the power I can and do exercise because of it
• my bitterness
• my inadequacies
• my prescription meds
• my lies
• my shame
• my gambling
• my secrets -- those I'm taking to the grave
• my guilt -- the skeletons in my closet
• my habits that my wife doesn't know about -- and the lies I keep from her
• my hopelessness
• my rejection
• my abandonment
• my self-sufficiency -- the idea that if it is to be, it's up to me
• my false identity
• my false self
• my kids
• my wife
• my performance meter
• my measuring stick with which I measure myself and beat down others, my frustration
• my failure -- failure as a father
• my fear of failure
• my Vodka
• my DUI
• my drugs
• my anxiety
• my food
• my broken heart
• my Plan A
• my Plan B
• my I-want-to-do-what-I-want-to-do-when-I-want-to-do-it-just-cause-I-want-to-do-it
• my hatred
• my pissedoffness
• my racism
• my unbelief
• my fear of being found out
• my doubt
• my unworthiness
• my what I thought I should have been, could have been, would have been
• my reasoning
• my intellect
• my soul wound
• my unforgiveness
• my unforgiveness
• my unforgiveness -- yes, I said this one three times, too.
When Peter says, "For we have spent enough of our past lifetimes doing the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries,” he was talking about us in these places of our lives. (1 Pet 4:3)
Whatever you're holding onto, whatever you're afraid to let go of, whatever you're taking to the grave...That's your Isaac.
Jesus' question for you is this: Will you lay down your Isaac and pick up your cross?
Like Abraham, like Jesus, This is a decision of your will, not your emotions. Will you sacrifice what you love for The One who loves you more? When Paul says in Romans, “Present yourselves a living sacrifice” -- I think he's talking about this process right here. Abraham “rose early.” I'm not asking you to want to. I'm asking you to choose to. When you walk back down this mountain what is the Son saying to the father about you?
2600 years ago, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah about us. He's talking about you and me. “ My people have created two great evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water and they have hewn for themselves broken cisterns that hold no water. What's your broken cistern?” Most of us are holding spaghetti colanders. Paddling 'Titanics'.
Paul put it this way to the church in Ephesus: “ And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,  in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,  among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. ....  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:1-13)
I love that, “Brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Then to the church in Colossus: “13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Col 2:13-15)
Let those two sink in. Don't skim them cause they're long. Read them slowly. They are two of my favorites. As is this one: God The Father spoke this through Moses some sixteen hundred years before Christ.—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Lev 17:11)
The most powerful weapon in the universe is not a gun, or a bomb or a president with his finger on a button. It's one drop of Jesus's blood. “We overcome him by the blood the lamb and the word of our testimony.” (Rev 12:11)
I'm betting my life on His Blood and what you're reading is my testimony.
Jesus again: “He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:38) I desperately want to be worthy of Him. But here's the tricky part. Jesus will not take from you and me what we do not offer. That's right. He won't take what you don't give Him.
Some of you are feeling weighted down. Your list is long. Your Isaac is...precious to you. Maybe you need some encouragement. The writer of Hebrews knew this: “ Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and 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, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) You're not alone. There's a Host cheering you on. And they are raucous.
I'm not saying it's easy. But it is simple. Here's what's involved. “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Try this. Hold out both your hands. In one, you hold your idol. Your Isaac. Or, Isaacs. In the other, Jesus. Now extend your arms. Hold them both up to the light. Which do you want more? Your money or Him? Those glossy pictures or Him? The touch of a girlfriend your wife doens't know about, or Him? Your power? Your identity? Your career? Want me to keep going?
And don't accuse me of telling you that this whole exercise is a function of good works and working your way to Jesus and you're somehow saved by your own bootstraps. That I'm one more Bible-thumper giving you one more list of things to do, one more set of boxes to check, en route to righteousness. Stop. That's boloney. I am telling you to walk up to the throne of God, lift your hand up, uncurl your fingers and give Him the opportunity either to take it or give it back. But give the taking and the giving to Him. Your job is obedience, lifted hand and open fingers. It's an offering. That's it. You let Him decide whether you keep it or it dies. We carry the wood and our life. He carries the knife and the fire.
Want to call yourself a Christian? Follow Jesus? Hang that thing around your neck? Then there is a cross in your future. In mine. The road we're on will take us there. What hangs on your cross is up to you but something and someone is going to be put to death. Your choice. But take heart. Jesus has been here before us. It's the very same choice He faced in the garden: Deny. Take up. Daily. Follow.
This a decision of your will. Not your emotions. You won't 'feel like' doing this. Will you 'rise early?' Will I?
One last thing. Mt. Moriah? The hill where Abraham raised the knife above Isaac? It has an historic past. It's the same hill:
1. where King David built an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite
2. where Solomon built the temple
3. and it's also called "Calvary" -- where Jesus poured out his blood.
I want to make sure you get that: The hill where Abraham offered his son, is the same geographic hill where God the Father offered His Son two thousand years later.
God wastes nothing.
I quoted this before. It's Isaiah. 700 years before Christ. See if it means more the second time around: “And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all people on this mountain, a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined aged wine, And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations, He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And he will remove the reproach, of His people from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Is 25:6-8)
Psalm 22 one last time: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the Kingdom is the Lord's, and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship; all those who go down to the dust shall bow before Him.” (22:27-29)
“Shall remember...shall turn...shall worship...shall bow...” Each of us is headed to the foot of the throne. No escaping that. Like it or not, we will all fall at the very real and very resurrected feet of Jesus -- the first born among the dead. Seated at the right hand of God Most High. So, you can either extend your arms and uncurl your fingers now, at a date and time of your choosing, or you can do it later at a date and time of His choosing.
This is a surrendering. A giving up. A throwing away. A yielding to. A coming under. When I do this, because it humbles and shreds me, I get on my knees. Literally. Sometimes I sink to my face. Then I raise my hands. I offer it. Push it away from me and toward Him. Then I say, or scream, something like this. Feel free to join me and make it your own:
Lord, here. Take it. I don't want it anymore. I want to give you my Isaac. It's separating me from You. Killing me slowly. Forgive me. Please. I am so sorry for putting it between us. For preferring it over You. For running to it rather than You. For clinging to it, and not You. For trusting in it and not you. For wrapping myself in these chains. Lord, I run to You. Cling to You. Trust You. When I hang this shiny thing around my neck I want to be identified with You, not my Isaac. I bow down to You, not it. I worship You, not it. I deny myself. Right now. This very second. And every second to come. And I want to pick up my cross and follow you. To lay it across my shoulders and walk like Simon. Not out of obligation or guilt or duty or shame but because I love you. I desire to be like You. Walk with You. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life. Because one day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. Because You're my Glory, my Shield and The One who lifts up my head. Because I'd be lost without you. Because I'm no longer a slave. But a son and if a son, an heir. Because I don't want to ever do anything that diminishes the truth about Your blood and what it accomplished for me. Because I don't know how else to say, 'thank you' for dying my death so that I might share in Your life. Because I just can't get the past that You, Perfect and Sinless, went through all that You went through for a wicked, black-hearted sinner like me.
Sometimes I say it two, or three, or ten times. Usually, when I do, tears follow.
Note: Don't beat yourself up if you wake tomorrow and find your hands and heart clutched around something that is not splintered wood and you've got to come back here and offer it up again. These things can have deep roots. Sometimes they come up all at once in one big clump and sometimes it takes a while to uproot them. We have a tendency to take back what we've offered up. That's why Jesus said, "Daily." But don't lose heart. Remember, God blessed Abraham after he offered up Isaac – and when He did, the blessing stretched beyond his wildest imagination.
If you're having trouble, invite a friend. Two lights in the basement are better than one. Don't be ashamed. Satan is using that against you. On purpose. For those of you that are married, invite your wife or husband. I know, it's painful. But, the Lord will honor and bless that. Grab her hand. Grab his. Hit your knees. Spill the truth from your gut.
Last thought -- when Simon shouldered the Cross and Jesus looked into Simon's eyes. That look pierced eternity. Jesus was looking through Simon, all the way to you and me, here and now. His last step onto that Cross purchased your and my eternal, irrevocable Redemption. There will come a time, when our time here ends, and each of us will look into those same eyes. And this is the crux of the matter, this is The question -- the hinge pin -- when that time comes, and you stare into those eyes, what will He find on your shoulder?
What's that you're carrying?
Welcome to The Cross.