By Mike Atnip
On the market these days is advertised a “special”. BUY ONE STYROFOAM CROSS AND GET A STYROFOAM STONE FREE!! Looking at the promoter of this “special” you will notice that if you are interested you should contact someone at “Discount City Church of God”.
Some years ago a picture appeared in the news of a man in Canada carrying a cross across that broad nation. In an attempt to stir people’s hearts to turn to Christ, this man made himself a large wooden cross and took off dragging it along. After a day or two, he had to make a minor adjustment. The thing dragging along in the dirt was to difficult for him. So he inserted a little wheel on the tail end, and took off again. Someone snapped his picture and it appeared in the news-wheel and all.
A similar situation was recounted to me. Only this time it was in the USA. Someone else had the idea to travel around carrying a cross to provoke others to think of the message of Jesus. But the same problem was encountered. A big old wooden cross is a pretty heavy thing to carry around. So this particular man thought the solution to this problem might be to cut a cross out of Styrofoam. Then he could go!
What these two men encountered was the common dilemma of us all. Jesus’ words to “take up your cross daily, and follow me” are sweet in our mouth. But when they hit the belly they suddenly turn very sour. I mean, a big old wooden cross is a hindrance to the normal daily routine of any man or woman on planet earth. If we could only carry it for an hour a day, we could probably make it. But to take it up from our waking moments? To pick it up immediately means no lazing in bed when there is prayer to be made. At 6:00 in the morning an old splintery cross is a hard thing to pick up. And then, of all things, we are called to take it with us all day long.
In practical terms, the cross means the end of everything in a person’s life that springs out from the first Adam. We need the cross with us every day, all day long, because he constantly calls out for a bit of pity, a bit of mercy for yourself. It does not seem fair, and of course not natural, to be a gazing-stock to the society around us all day long. “Can you not for at least a bit fit in?” Adam pleadingly asks. And if we have dropped our cross somewhere he will not only ask, but demand. And if we have no cross for him to be put on, he will be lord. His commands and desires will be done.
This constant denial and battle is heavy and hard at times. And like the two men mentioned above, we will often try to find some way to escape. Perhaps a wheel, perhaps a piece of Styrofoam.
Styrofoam crosses are pretty nice. They weigh only a fraction of a wooden ones. The nails can easily be pulled in and out. There are no splinters. And further more, they are a whole lot cheaper. “Discount City Church of God” offers them at wholesale price on easily affordable terms. But best of all, they come with a little insertable platform that one can stand on when erected. You do not actually have to die, but you can stand there, and perhaps even have a bit of enjoyment from it. The scenery is often nicer at higher elevations.
The Styrofoam Stone
And the stone. It is described by Mark as being “very great”; so large that three old-time women (tough as they probably were) were questioning among themselves how they could get the thing moved to anoint the body of Jesus. If three women could not move it, could one man, having hung on a cross until blood and water came out just three days before, move it by himself?
This last question is an important one. That “very great” stone represented something. It represented an obstacle to someone claiming the power to resurrect from the dead. If He could rise again, what was a “very great” stone to him. Nothing, of course. And He did prove his power by rising up and walking out, without any human aid. It was a supernatural event.
And so it is in our life. We can claim to be “born again”. “Converted”. “Saved”. “A new creature”. But there is the stone of “human weakness”. Our words do not mean a lot if we are stuck in the tomb. We claim to be risen with Christ, walking in his power, but we cannot seem to get past human weakness? Is there really divine life flowing in our veins? Or, have we really just revived from the life we had previously? Had the stone not been rolled away, and Jesus had been left inside hollering to the groundskeeper, “Help, let me out of here!”, the world could say he had not really died- he just revived from the old life. But the stone was supernaturally rolled away. The power that raised him up was also powerful enough to do what a man could not naturally do by himself. The rolled-back stone is proof.
The merchandisers of Styrofoam crosses have a problem. Styrofoam crosses do not provide the power to move “very great” stones. The natural man cannot do supernatural deeds. So along with the “easy to carry” crosses comes an “easy to move stone”.
Blowing away all my analogies, what do I mean? Just this-
Nobody has to teach a child to sin. Lying, stealing, fighting, whining; all are as natural to a human as it is to a fish to swim. Now, tell a fish to stop swimming. And tell a human to stop sinning. And see which happens first.
For a human to stop sinning, his ego (self-centeredness) has to die. To deny the eyes their desire for beauty does not happen by accident. The lust of the eye keeps us slaving away. “Give me something nice to look at!” he cries. And a man will spend $100 for a snazzy pair of cowboy boots. The desire of the flesh demands, “Give me a good sensation!” And an already over-weight woman buys a 12 pack of Pepsi. “Give me some attention!” says the pride of life. And a grown man makes some silly little comment to draw a laugh. And so we spend our lives for what the Apostle John called “the world”.
Jesus used the metaphor of the cross to explain to us that if we are going to be his disciple, these type of things have to be put out of our life. They will not fall by the wayside by themselves. There has to be a willful decision on our part to say “no” to the natural desire for pretty things, good sensations, and respect. And since these temptations will be with us until we die physically, we need a cross with us all the time. When revenge (the pride of life-someone wounded our reputation) tries to rise up, we need the cross. When boredom tempts us to seek a “good time”, we need a cross.
The Styrofoam cross lets a man have some “good things” and “innocent pleasures” in this life. It tells the young man that having a volleyball game with the prayer meeting does not hurt anything. After all, it is better than smoking marijuana. To the young lady, it says a little outward adornment on her dress does not hurt anybody, just do not be a full-fledged Jezebel. To the robbed man it says, do not demand the fullest penalty, but at least get your stuff back. To the person gossiped about it says do not sue, but at least set the record straight.
We know what Jesus said to all the above. One simple word: DIE! Die to selfish ambition, to pride, to pleasure, to attention, to vain desires; to everything and anything not eternal and spiritual.
Now, tell a man to live his life in this manner here in this world. And tell a fish to stop swimming.
But the cross is not the end. It is a means to something further on. It is the way to a resurrection. Trying to resurrect without going to the cross first is like trying to fill a jar full of dirt with pure water. The dirt has to be put out before the water can stay clean. But emptying the jar of the dirt does not fill it with water. And telling our natural desires “No” does not fill us with good fruits.
And so we need to pass from the cross to the tomb. And from the tomb, we need to get past the “very great” stone of human weakness; the inability to love with a supernatural love. It stands in our way like it is; a cold, heartless, and unhearing barrier to fulfill the will of God. Shout at it we may, command it we may try. But “very great” stones do not move by our good intentions. Grace has to come to our aid.
To refrain from killing our enemies, we need a cross. We can stop the deed, perhaps, by this. But to rise up and truly love them we have to get past the “very great” stone. The young man that has received a smirk for denying himself the adrenaline rush of a ballgame (spending his time in something eternally valuable instead) still has to get past the “very great” stone. He has to love and treat with respect his smirker. For the young lady that has been snickered at for wearing plain dresses and not wearing alluring perfumes, to resurrect means to love and pray for her “moderate” friends, with a humility that smells of myrrh, cinnamon, sweet calamus, cassia, and olive oil (EX 30:23-25). For the robbed man, he needs to forgive and love his neighbor thief, turning the other cheek with meekness. To the one wounded by gossip, getting past the “very great” stone means speaking well of, and to, the gossiper.
In reality, getting past the “very great” stone testifies to the world more than hanging on the cross does. Thousands of people were hung on crosses in Jesus’ day. Only one walked past the “very great” stone. This does not deny the cross. You cannot get past the “very great” stone without first hanging from the cross. You cannot experience the first resurrection without first hanging naked, in open view to all the world, on Mount Calvary. But do not stop at Calvary. And you ask how this “stopping” is done?
In the following centuries after the birth of the New Testament Church, some people went on a course of extreme self-denial. They moved to the desert regions and lived on meager diets of bread and water. On man lived on a pillar for years. They slept on hard beds and denied themselves of many things. They crucified their natural desires. And I admire them for it. It was a good step. But…
The “very great” stone did not move for them. It seems they did not get past the stone. What good fruit did this produce, in terms of “others”? The killing of the natural man is only so the spiritual man can rise again. Putting away evil is so that good may come. Denying myself an ice cream cone is so the next man can have a piece of bread (or, that he can have it instead of me).
Boiled down, the baptism of the Holy Ghost, walking in daily communion with our God, and overflowing with a supernatural love is the end. The cross is a means. An indispensable means. Do not stop until you have walked out of the tomb past the “very great” stone.
Back to the Styrofoam stone. It pushes aside with incredible ease. Anybody can move it. Even just one modern-day woman can move it without taking off her high heels or messing up her long, polished nails. It’s demands are “peanuts” compared to the old heavy ones! With these Styrofoam crosses and stones you can carry the name of Jesus and claim a resurrection with such incredible ease! No need for a young man to put away childish pleasures. No need for a woman to deny her eyes what they want. No need to feel guilty to prosecute a thief. No need to put up with gossip any longer- set the record straight if you want.
“Of course, do not go to extremes in this. But wooden crosses with clenched nails and huge splinters are not in mode. You can carry a Styrofoam cross all day, and not even get tired. And with the accompanying lightweight stone, a “born again” experience is unbelievably easy.” So preaches the “Discount City Church of God”. And then she lifts her voice and sings her siren song:
On a hill far away, stands a Styrofoam cross.
The emblem of a sensible way.
On this cross you may live, and you don’t have to die,
it’s the “new and improved” Christian way.
So I’ll cherish my Styrofoam cross.
It does not tire nor hurt me all day.
I will cling to my Styrofoam cross,
and exchange it for a wooden, no way!
The First Resurrection
Do you really want a new life? Do you really want the grace to get past human weakness, the inability to live the sermon on the mount? Friend, the Styrofoam cross and stone will not get you there. The old, heavy, ugly, wooden cross that Jesus died on is the only way to get past the “very great” stone. Take up this cross. Let society and church say what they may. You will be scorned. No matter where you live on planet earth, the wooden cross of Jesus is a reproach to bear. Most times even your church friends will despise you. Carrying a wooden, full-size cross never has been in style. And it never will be.
But if you will use it according to the instruction manual, you will never regret it. It is a means to move “very great” stones. Jesus could not have walked out of Joseph’s tomb had he not died on Calvary. And once you have burst past the “very great” stone to begin living a truly resurrected life here on planet earth, your only regret will be that you did not take your cross sooner. The resurrection is worth the cross. And instead of singing the ode to the Styrofoam cross you can sing with Henry Lyte and the rest who have walked out of the tomb:
Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken- Thou from hence my all shalt be.
Perish ev’ry fond ambition, all I’ve sought and hoped and known!
Yet how rich is my condition- God and heav’n are still my own!
Let the world despise and leave me, they have left my Saviour too;
Human hearts and looks deceive me- Thou art not, like man, untrue.
And while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of Wisdom, love and might,
Foes may hate, and friends may shun me- show Thy face, and all is bright!
Man may trouble and distress me, ’twill but drive me to Thy breast;
Life with trials hard may press me- heav’n will bring me sweeter rest.
O ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;
O ’twere not in joy to charm me were that joy unmixed with Thee!
Haste thee on from grace to glory, armed by faith and winged by prayer;
Heav’ns eternal day’s before thee- God’s own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission, Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days;
Hope shall change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise!
After singing this song with the understanding, you will then be able to open your Bible to Galations 2:20 and rejoicingly read, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live”. After a few heartfelt hallelujahs roll out you will then be able to continue, “yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Will you take your cross and follow Him?