Hurry to the Cross
Fred Craddock says that the key to an engaging sermon is movement. There must be a destination that the sermon is heading toward. It must be going somewhere. The same goes for stories. Good plots keep moving. They don't bog down and become boring. Action moves the story from one scene to the next. Since we've just begun a sermon series on the Gospel of Mark, here's a fun fact: The book of Mark moves. It moves fast.
In my Bible, I've circled every occurrence of the word "immediately" in Mark. I'm not a math major, but my best count is that "immediately is used 41 times in the book. To put that in perspective, it's used 59 times in the whole of the New Testament. Mark loves that word.
A further breakdown of Mark's use of "immediately" sheds light on the purpose of the book. Of the 41 times Mark uses the word, 33 of them are in the first 8 chapters. Mark is moving the action along because he is in a hurry to get to chapter 8.
So what's the big deal about chapter 8? Near the end of that chapter, Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ. Upon this confession, Jesus "began to teach [the disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly" (Mark 8:31-32) This is a message that Jesus will repeat in chapters 9 and 10 (9:31, 10:32) before making His death march into Jerusalem in chapter 11. From there, the final seven chapters focus on the last few days of Jesus' life. Of sixteen chapters in the book, eight of them are focused on Jesus predicting His death and then the events leading to it.
So what was Mark's big hurry in the early chapters? He was hurrying to get us to Christ's sufferings. He was hurrying to bring us to the cross. And herein lies a principle for you and me: Hurry to the cross. When you are hurting, hurry to the cross. When you are tempted, hurry to the cross. When you have sinned, hurry to the cross. When you have deep questions about God and life, hurry to the cross.
Anytime I talk about the cross like this, I'm reminded of something that happened in a former pastorate. During a sermon, I told the people to "look at the cross." A sweet lady came to me after the service and asked, "How can I look at the cross? You don't have any crosses in your sanctuary." I then explained to her that going to the cross, and looking at the cross, is something you do in your mind. This is what Isaac Watts is talking about when he says,
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Surveying the cross is taking the time to think deeply about what Jesus was doing on that cross. It's to think about the deep love He expressed there and the salvation He secured for us there.
Many times over the years I've had people say to me something like, "If God loves us so much, why does He allow such bad things to happen to me?" I always give the same answer to that question. It goes like this:
If you are considering God in the abstract, I understand your question. If you view God as a distant, ethereal, abstract Being, then I get the objection. But the gospel tells us that God came down out of the distant, ethereal, abstract realm to become a human being. And as a human being, He suffered greatly for you. You can say to the distant ethereal God, "the difficulty of my life makes me call your love into question." But can you look Jesus in the eye, as He hangs upon the cross, and say the same?
My life is hard, Jesus. This burden is heavy, Jesus. This hurts, Jesus. And He looks at you through His crimson mask and says, "I know. And I love you." And in that moment, you know it's true. That's why we hurry to the cross. I look forward to seeing you Sunday when we can all hurry to the cross together.