The journey is long, and the way is hard, because it is the way of the Cross. And the provisions of the Lord are boring and bitter to your taste; they seem so meager, and you are so beleaguered.
There are times when you would rather die than carry on like this; although dying is the very thing you fear and dread the most, which you are most desperate to avoid. So then, you are anxious and restless and afraid, and you grumble and complain, and you blame God for your troubles while despairing of His help.
But why would you prefer to die without Him, instead of living with Him by His grace?
And why are you so sure that He is out to kill you, when His whole desire is to give you life?
Look. Here stands the font before your eyes, the Red Sea by which the Lord your God has brought you out of slavery into freedom, out of death into life, from sin into righteousness, from unbelief to the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth.
The Altar, too, proclaims the sacrifice of God the Lord for you; that He is the Passover Lamb, given for you upon the Cross, now given and poured out for you in this Feast.
To crave another food and drink than this, is to worship another god: a false god who will not save you. It is to long for the flesh of Egypt instead of looking forward to the milk and honey of the Promised Land.
But why would you do that? Why would you trade your divine inheritance for a mess of pottage?
It is idolatry: pride and despair all rolled together into one. It is selfishness and greed, and lust and envy. It is covetous desire for that which is not god and does not last. It is the foolishness by which you think yourself wise, and the weakness by which you think yourself strong.
And you do not even know how wrong and lost you are, because you do not see Jesus.
Or, rather, you refuse to recognize your King, your Savior and your God, in Christ Jesus, the Crucified One. Because you do not like what you see.
Endless miles of desert wilderness stretched out in front of you, with bread and water to sustain you. Enemies to confront or avoid, but nary a friend in sight. And the only trees on the horizon are gallows poles and crosses. It is a death march through death valley.
And this is freedom? This is life?
Because of Christ, it is; else there would be no hope, nor any help for you anywhere.
The journey is long, and the way is hard, because it is the way of the Cross. And the Lord’s provisions are the fruits of that same tree: the water that flows from the riven side of Christ; the Bread of Life, His flesh. Royal food and drink indeed!
But why must it be so hard, and how can such a Cross, and suffering and death, be of any help?
Know this: It is not the Lord who has chosen death, but He is the One who has dealt with it. He has not skirted that last great enemy, but He has mercifully chosen to meet it head-on. He has confronted bitter death and defeated it. He has gotten for Himself the victory; not as though He were in danger or needed to save Himself, but because it is the Glory of God to save sinners by His grace and to give life to His own creation.
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous; even as it is mysterious.
He has become the very thing that hunts you and haunts you and puts you to death. He has become the fiery serpent that bites you and kills you, and then by His own death He has crushed the serpent’s head under His heel. He has become sin’s undoing, by taking sin upon Himself and into His own flesh, and suffering its deadly sting, its curse and awful consequence, and thereby reconciling sinners to God the Father by His own righteousness and faithful obedience, even unto death upon the Cross.
He has emptied death of its terrible power by dying in the foolish weakness of faith. For in thus clinging to the one true God, who loves sinners, He treads under foot all the false gods of sinful men. And in this, the Father glorifies Himself in His beloved Son, for the salvation of all men. That is why the One who dies, not only rises, but bears much fruit — also in you — the Tree of the Cross bearing fruit after its own kind.
It is by the Cross that He calls you and draws you to Himself, to the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit; because He would have you truly live by faith in Him. Not as though faith were a precondition or a token work on your part, but because it is the way of life: to fear, love and trust in God above all things.
So the Cross of Christ — which has redeemed you from sin and death, and reconciled you to God — by which you are righteous in His sight — is also the means by which you are now crucified and called to repentance.
The Cross puts sin to death in you, and puts you to death in this world, in order to bring you to life in the Kingdom of your God and Father.
It crucifies your pride and your despair alike. It puts to death your covetous lust and sinful desires. It kills you, in order to make you alive; it wounds in order to heal. It lays you low, in order to lift you up in mercy and forgiveness, unto faith and life with God in Christ.
It is for that purpose of repentance, for that discipline of faith, that the Lord your God sends the fiery serpents to bite you. That your eyes would be lifted up to the One who is lifted up for you on the pole of the Cross; and that your heart would be lifted up to Him in loving trust.
Thus, the sign that you are given is the sign of the Cross.
And the wisdom that you are granted is the righteousness which is by faith in Christ the Crucified.
The Holy Cross of Christ Jesus is your strength and your new song; for it is your life and your salvation.
Would you see His salvation and sing His song?
Would you see this Jesus; and follow Him; and live with Him, where He is, with the Father in heaven?
If so, then listen to the Voice of the Father, which He speaks to you from heaven in the Person of His Son: in His own flesh and blood, in His Church on earth.
This Voice sounds forth, not for His sake, but for your sake.
It sounds forth in this preaching, in the forgiveness of all your sins. For God has judged the world in Christ; the Lord has cast out the devil with all his wicked temptations and vile accusations; and the Father glorifies Himself in His Son by raising Him from the dead, the firstborn of many brethren, the first-fruits of all who believe in His Name. His Cross is your justification, and His Resurrection is your righteousness.
Look to Him, therefore. You shall not die, but live.
Nor shall you go hungry, but taste and see that the Lord is good.
Follow this Lord Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One, and you shall be with Him. The journey is long and the way is hard, but as the Father honors His Christ and glorifies His Name, so shall He honor you; for He has signed you with His Cross, anointed you with His Spirit, and named you with His Name.
And now the Hour has come. Even though you die, yet shall you live. The very Cross that kills you also feeds you with the fruits of salvation. For the One who is lifted up, here calls you to Himself, to come up and worship at His Feast.
And worthy is that Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, to receive all power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. To Him who reigns in triumph from the Tree of the Cross, be all worship and praise and thanksgiving, forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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