Offense to the Establishments

I just finished reading through a great little book by Donald MacLeod  titled From Glory to Golgotha: Controversial Issues in the Life of Christ.  Something that he said in the chapter on “The Crucified God” really stuck out to me. MacLeod breaks down the different implications of Mark 8:34, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” The subheading to this section is convicting already: “The cross the test of our lifestyle.” The author reminds the reader that the cross that we bear cannot be the same cross as Christ’s on one hand, and that it is not the mere annoyances and trials that every person faces on the other. But even before this, he makes important point about how we must be willing to be nothing:
For the church, this means an end to all imperialism. The moments when the world shouts Hosannas and scatters palm branches in the path of the people of God (John 12:13) are to be rare and exceptional: and dubious.  The normal attitude will be hatred, contempt, and persecution. When the church finds herself sitting at the top table with the politicians, academics, the sportsmen and the pop-stars, it is virtually certain that she has abandoned the way of the cross. (99)
Of course, it is easy for me at this point to begin pointing fingers and calling for us all to have a little more sense in discerning which Christian leaders we listen to. And this is important and true. But it is a sobering reminder for each and every one of us. After all, we are called to evangelize the nations, having faith that God will add to our number as we fellowship together and devote ourselves to the preached Word and the sacraments (Acts 2:42). While Christ is indeed expanding his kingdom, it is not in a way that we would like to imagine. We are still living in between the ages, in the theology of the cross. We should certainly rejoice whenever anyone becomes a new creation in Christ. And we would like to think how beneficial it would be to the church and the world when someone influential like a celebrity or a politician’s eyes are opened to the truth. The Lord sees fit to do that on occasion. But this is not the way his kingdom will expand. This is not the kind of influence that he has in mind. No, he calls the outcasts and the strangers into his family, and makes them his bride. He doesn’t summon us to build an empire, to change the education system while convincing the world of his sovereignty, and to clean out the music industry for his glory. He calls us to worship and he calls us to serve. As we love our neighbor, we are not to even let our left hand know what our right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3-4), knowing he will reward us in the new age.  We do our good deeds as a response to who we are. We are Christ’s. And so we are to empty ourselves. This is easy to say, but hard for my ears to hear. And yet I know what it does to me when I look for the praise of man, when I think I can earn a place at the world’s table and be well-liked. MacLeod’s warning about these moments being dubious is wise. We pray for revival, and we imagine that will mean the spread of Christian thinking in our communities. We envision the popularizers to get on board and promote the good news. What if it means that Christ’s people hold fast to their confession of hope without compromising, no matter what the worldly circumstances are? What if it means we are bold to stand on every bit of his gospel truth, even when it comes with rejection from other professing believers?
We have to keep reminding ourselves that the church is in the community not to lord it over but to serve it: and if the community fails to appreciate us, that is no sign that we are living in a particularly cloudy and dark day. It is only a sign that after the heady days of the 19th century, with their Hosannas! And palm branches, things are now very much back to normal---back to what Christ meant them to be. (101)
And this is where Christ meets us---as the outcasts, the strangers to society. He stripped himself of all the glories of his divinity, and took that place for us. No, praise God that we do not have to take up his cross. But think about how this very cross that we could never bear, a propitiation that we could never accomplish, is how Christ is most glorified. He endured for the joy set before him in glory with the Father. And what he has earned through obedience, he has given to his people. So his pilgrims and his outcasts are actually lights in the world, even though much of the world prefers darkness.