For years I have worn a cross around my neck. It’s unique and is key to my personality. The meaning behind the cross is more important than that. The cross reminds me, reminds us all, what was sacrificed for me – what was sacrificed for all of us.
Over the past few years though, something has really bothered me. The first church I went to focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection and understandably so. His death is a big deal in the Christian church and it should be. God sacrificed Jesus on the cross for our sins. As we travel through this Lenten Season, we will be reminded of the journey that Jesus took as He walked to the cross. It started this past Ash Wednesday, the Christian day of repentance, 46 days before Easter.
In the church we focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection but I don’t remember there being much focus on Jesus’ life and ministry. As I imagine many other western Christian churches did, we were so incredibly focused on Jesus’ death, it seemed like we rushed through His life. If I am measuring it correctly, about 40% of each Gospel focuses on the last week of Jesus’ life. 40%. What about the other 60%?
There is a phrase I have to remind myself on occasion, “Jesus lived before he died.” 60% of each gospel reminds me of that very truth. It should remind us all. I’ve met many people who are so focused on eternal life, they forget about what happens before. So many Christians are focused on getting into heaven, they forget what is happening here on earth. They forget that Jesus taught us how to live before He died. They forget that Jesus taught us to pray and pray with the following words in mind, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
For some time, I’ve been pulled in the direction of trees. They are beautiful. They are outstanding. Trees range from dainty fresh newborns to extraordinarily large statues that have been growing for hundreds of years. When you stand next to them and look up, you can’t see where it ends. Trees are incredible living sculptures and they remind me of life. They remind me of my role as a follower of Christ.
Just like a house built on rock is stronger than on the sand, a tree gains strength as its roots dig deep into the ground. The roots are the foundation on which a tree grows. The trunk is her base and the branches reach out to the world and light, with incredible force and beautiful truth. Those branches bear fruit and leaves. Through scripture, community, worship, ministry, service and focus on what we are commanded to do, our roots dig deeper, our trunks become stronger and our branches and leaves develop into a fuller and exceptional life.
For many trees, there is a change with each season. I believe that should be true for Christians as well. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and hearts. As we focus on Advent and on Lent. As we hear the Sermon on the Mount, read the Greatest Commandment and live out our lives with every person we meet, we will change. We will grow, develop and reach higher and wider than the season before.
If a tree doesn’t take in water and sunshine; if it doesn’t bear the leaves and fruit needed to reach out; if it doesn’t change with the changing seasons while still maintaining the roots, it won’t be a tree for very long. It will wither and die. As Christians, as Followers of Christ, if we only focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection instead of focusing first on his life and teaching, we will wither and die too.
I wear a tree around my neck now. It reminds me of who I am and who I will become. Before Jesus died, He lived and commanded us to do the same. As you focus on the cross during this Lenten season, don’t forget that the cross was made of wood. Where did that wood come from? A tree.
I wonder how strong that tree had to be before it could hold up the life and death of Jesus Christ.