Without a lot of forethought, I drove my midsize SUV down past the dock and pulled off on the side of the road leading down to the Kuskokwim River in Alaska. As I slipped the gear lever into “Park” and sat there looking out over the expanse of white, I wondered whether insanity only blossomed after moving up there, or whether I had been this crazy all along. Either way, whether I actually drove my car out on that frozen river or not, just seriously contemplating it would have been enough for my friends back home to suggest having me committed.
After reflecting for a couple of minutes on how they might tell this story at my funeral, I dropped the lever into Drive and headed out. After a few nervous minutes of creeping along and confessing every sin I could think of just in case I fell through, it sort of got to be fun. Running 70 to 80 mph on packed snow and ice, then hitting the brakes to see what kind of weird maneuvers might unfold was quite an adrenaline rush — definitely something I could never duplicate back home. And in support of my wife’s reputation for better than average judgment, I should mention that she was not in town at the time and did not participate in my impromptu vehicular “ice capades.” Otherwise, the river might not have represented the only potential threat to my wellbeing.
Warning Signs Posted ~
Every Spring in that region, they publish warnings as the temperatures begin to rise, because what can be fun can under some conditions can become deadly in others. But in spite of the warnings, tragedy strikes again and again. Someone decides to try just one more run, and the road that was once their frozen friend suddenly becomes an icy tomb. The warning that was posted to protect them has nothing left to offer once they head out onto the river. Warnings are peculiar that way.
Advance notice of danger can represent a powerful deterrent to disaster, but its protective power is conditional and the context of its message is prophetic. Applying it in retrospect is impossible without a time machine. All those warnings have to offer those who ignore them is another sad tale of pain and loss. It’s worth mentioning, too, that warnings aren’t equipped to repel threats or rescue those who disregard them. Warnings to stay off the river when the Spring thaw begins offer no floatation equipment or survival suits for those who decide not to heed them.
Jesus Was Warned ~
Jesus was familiar with warnings. Isaiah prophesied that grief and sorrow lay ahead for Him long before He was ever born (Isaiah 53:1-12) — and when John the Baptist declared that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b), everybody knew that sacrificial lambs don’t walk away from the altar alive. He might well have held up a banner that said, “Warning… Cross Ahead.”
Jesus understood what was coming and repeatedly announced it to His disciples. On one occasion He said to them,
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. Matthew 20:17-19 (NKJV)
The dreadful reality of the cross became crystal clear in the darkness of Gethsemane and though He agonized over what lay ahead, He refused to avert it. He suffered every indignity, endured every fiery pain, and absorbed the awful weight of condemnation for sins He did not commit. Finally, He felt the abandonment of the Father He had loved and served all His life. The warnings had been clear. The cross demanded everything.
A “Cross” Ahead for Us? ~
Here’s a sobering question. What if, like Jesus, we came into the world facing a sign that said, “Warning… Cross Ahead”? What if the cross waiting for us followed a trial that was fair and a condemnation that was just? What if the God whose love we had flippantly rejected, whose protective boundaries we arrogantly transgressed, whose authority we often mocked, whose will we replaced with our own selfish preferences, and whose nature and very existence we questioned finally called us to account — and we had no defense? Suppose that “cross” was locked into our future and no human effort could take it away.
Now picture being isolated in some dark, lonely place consumed by the terrorizing image of what’s coming, knowing that time has run out and there’s no one to help. It’s not hard to visualize convulsing in fear and desperately crying out to God, “Father, please, if there’s any other way…” Then try to imagine what it would feel like if we could hear the voice of God say, “Well … there is one other option.” Do you think we’d be interested? Warnings about an impending cross would affect us differently if we recognized that was profoundly personal.
Only One Cross Really Matters ~
There have been many blood-stained crosses over the years, but only one holds vital significance to God. There have been many nails affixing the sins of many to crosses over the years, but the one that holds vital significance to each of us is the one that has our own sins impaled on it. God has determined that judgment awaits every one of us, a “cross,” if you will. The question is not whether our sins will be condemned–they already are. The only question remaining is which cross will they be nailed to?
God has given notice, a warning, to a fallen, sin-cursed race, that judgment is coming. Our challenge is to decide what to do about it. People ignore warnings for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they simply don’t believe them. Some, they think, they don’t apply to them. Or, maybe they’ve slipped by before and think they can make it one more time. Others believe they’re clever enough to avoid the consequences or tough enough to survive them.
Whose Will It Be? ~
But there’s another category. In rare instances, love will move someone to abandon their own safe place, disregard the warning and sacrifice themselves in order to save someone else. Jesus saw the warning but endured the cross so that God could invade our Gethsemane with hope and say, “There’s another way.” The sign’s been posted, “Warning … Cross Ahead.” Whose will it be — yours or His?
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© 2018 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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So brilliantly written, Ron! I choose the cross of Jesus, every time.
It’s really the classic “no-brainer” when we look at the reality of it, isn’t it, Martha? It’s so tragic to see so many who don’t believe their day of accountability is coming–sure got our work cut out for us. Thanks again for your encouraging comments.