-- C.J. Mahaney, in his sermon "Cross-Centered Worship"
What does it mean when Jesus says "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword"?
We can connect the Exodus event to the cross of Christ -- in the way that it literally and historically marks the intersection of God's wrath and his mercy, his judgment on sin and his redeeming his children from it -- and it is important, I think, to also connect the Lord's telling Moses and the children of Israel to remember this event (as a sign on their right arm and between their eyes) with our need to remember the cross of Christ in the same way.
Mere days after this enormous demonstration of God's awesome power, his proof that he is mighty to save, the children of Israel were complaining about food. This is why I think we need the Gospel every day. Because we are constantly, naturally, idolatrously choosing to forget the cross and look to God in a sort of "What have you done for me lately?" sort of attitude.
Modern sermons and teaching that do not center or focus on the cross only reinforce this for us. Without meaning to, the church itself can support our error of judging God's faithfulness to us based on our present circumstances, rather than on the great love he has shown to us in the past. Which is why we must always bring the glory of that past movement into our present worship and obedience. That's the need for the call to a cross-centered life.
When John the Baptist was languishing in prison, awaiting execution, perhaps he began to have doubts. At one time he was sure his cousin was the messiah, the king of the kingdom of God. But it's only natural that sitting in jail with death hanging over his head could have driven him to make doubly sure. He sent a message to Jesus asking if he was indeed "the one."
Jesus' response was peculiar, but heavy in its implications. It began thusly:
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
I can imagine John then thinking, "Well, awesome. But I'm in jail."
The second part of Jesus' reply message was not "As such, we are forming a posse, and we're coming to bust you out of prison." No, instead he said:
Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.
What does that mean? Why send that to John?
I think it is because Jesus obviously knew John was going to his death, and obviously Jesus did not mean to work to prevent that, but he nevertheless wanted to reaffirm that the call to follow Jesus is the call to die. Following Jesus means renouncing comfort, safety, and happiness in circumstances as the prime virtue of life.
That is the dividing line for many. That is the point of departure for us whenever we are tempted to think, based on discomfort or grief or stress, that God has forsaken us (something he promised he would never do). We are like the wayward children of Israel in the Exodus desert, faithful one moment, doubting like forgetful morons the next.
What does it mean to remember the cross of Christ as a sign upon our right hand, between our eyes, and in our mouth? It means that Jesus is our way, Jesus is our truth, and Jesus is our life, and when the way, the truth, and the life heads toward crucifixion, we don't part ways. We remember. We commemorate. We look to the cross like a pillar of cloud by day and to the empty tomb like a pillar of fire by night, the signs to follow. Where the world walks the wide path away from the point at which Christ defines his terms, the disciple continues on the narrow path into the way of the cross.