This is what Christianity is all about. The real heart and soul of the matter is the Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, handed over by His Father to His innocent suffering and death, to the voluntary shedding of His holy, precious Blood for your Salvation.
This is therefore also what defines and shapes your Christian faith and life. This is how you are to live as a disciple of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself the sins of the world, bears them in His Body to the Cross, and lays down His life to atone for all the children of men.
This is what Christianity is all about, never mind what pundits and politicians may presume and pontificate in the public square. No doubt you are aware of many alternative views on what it is and means to be a Christian, as popular opinion would reduce it to being “nice” and tolerant to a fault. Your own sinful heart likewise has its own erroneous ideas and opinions, all of which come down to whatever is most pleasing and acceptable to your flesh. And there are plenty of would-be preachers who prey on those desires, peddling a feel-good religion of peace and prosperity.
On the one hand, the Son of God prays in the Garden that His Father’s will be done, even though that necessarily means He must suffer great agony and anguish of body and soul, unto His death on the Cross. On the other hand, you tend to pray that the Lord would help you accomplish your own willful pursuits and achieve your own selfish purposes, as though He were your Lackey.
But getting what you want and doing whatever you feel like is not the Christian faith and life. It is surely not what Christ, the Son of God, has given, done, and suffered for you and for all people.
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is centered in the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus, in His willing Sacrifice for sinners. With St. Paul, therefore, the Christian Church knows nothing but Christ the Crucified. This is what the Church is all about, and what she is to be about, because this is most truly who God is, and what the one true God is like, the One who lays down His life in love for His wayward creatures, though they have been embittered and hostile to Him.
It is certainly not that God has some masochistic fascination with suffering and death. He does not willingly afflict the children of men. He created you, as He created Adam & Eve, not for death but for life and joy and peace with Himself forever. It is your sin that has brought suffering and death upon your body and life. You suffer and die with Adam, yes, but your own sin condemns you.
Yet, Jesus willingly suffers and dies, not for His own sins but for yours. He dies in your stead, for the sake of His divine and holy love, in order to save you. Even though you have brought suffering and death upon yourself by your sins and unbelief, by your rebellion and disobedience, in pure, unselfish love He gives Himself entirely for you. He pays the wages of your sin with His death.
And it is there in His innocent and voluntary suffering and death, in His holy Cross and Passion, that God reveals Himself most clearly as He is, and He opens His great heart of Love to you most fully and faithfully. He thereby identifies Himself with His fallen and sinful creatures, in order to give Himself for them, and to give Himself to them, that they should have life with Him forever.
So that is where and how your Lord Jesus reigns over you in love as your King: from His Cross.
So, then, what does it mean for you to be a Christian? What does it mean, and what does it look like in real time, in daily life, for you to be a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ, this holy, righteous, and innocent Man, who humbles Himself and becomes obedient even unto death on the Cross?
If you hail Him as your King, and if you would live with Him in His Kingdom, in what does your citizenship in that Kingdom consist? How are you to live? How are you to act? And how shall you relate to your God and Father in heaven, and to your brothers and sisters in Christ on earth?
If you are to live in Him who gave Himself for you and all the world, and if you are to abide in His presence forever, then how shall you conduct yourself already here and now under the Cross?
If you share the life of God in Christ Jesus — if you are to have the same heart, mind, and attitude in yourself as there is in Christ Jesus — then where and how shall you humble yourself in this body and life? In what callings and stations will you become obedient to your God and Father, even unto death? Where and how are you given to serve your neighbor, and to suffer with and for your neighbor, in self-sacrificing love — not for your own fame and fortune, but for the glory of the Lord your God? Where and how are you taught to pray, “Abba! Father! Thy Will be done,” in the face of the Cross that He lays upon you? With what sort of love shall you gladly do good to your neighbor, though he or she smites and reviles you, and beats you, and puts you to death?
Of course, you dare not compare even your best and brightest righteousness to that of Christ Jesus. Of yourself, you cannot even begin. But do not presume to compare your righteousness to that of your neighbor, either, no matter whether you proudly suppose that you are doing better or sadly perceive that you are falling short. You are not measured by your neighbor (nor he by you), but by the Word of God in Christ Jesus. Not that you compare yourself to Christ, as though to achieve for yourself what He has done and accomplished for you; but that you live by faith in Him.
What, then, is your hope? Where, then, is your life? It is and remains, always and only, in Christ Jesus, in His Crucifixion, in His humility, in His obedience, in His suffering, in His servanthood.
You will never become your own savior. You will not fully attain the heart, mind, and attitude of Christ until He has raised you perfectly in the Resurrection. Your life always depends upon Him. And though you sin every day and surely deserve nothing else but punishment, He loves you still. And He remains among you as One who continues to serve. For He comes as a Beast of Burden, Himself, riding the “donkey” of His Word and Sacrament in order to save you now by His grace.
It is by His sacrifice and humble service, it is by and from His Cross — by the ways and means of His Holy Cross in the Ministry of His Holy Gospel — that you are raised up in faith and love, day after day, in and with Him. Not with any righteousness of yours, but with His own righteousness. For you are cleansed and forgiven by His Blood; you are forgiven by His Word of the Gospel.
It is by the preaching and catechesis of His Word of the Cross, and by your Holy Baptism in His Name, into His Cross and Resurrection, that He puts you to death in order to raise you to new life.
It is by His Law and His Gospel — by way of repentance, confession, and forgiveness of sins — that He wounds you, in order to heal you; that He crushes you, in order to gather you together in His Body, in order to raise you up from the death of your sin to the life of faith and love in Him.
Like the grain that is borne from the death of a single seed — grain that is harvested and gathered, crushed and ground into flour, and baked into bread — so are you gathered and baked into the one Body of Christ Jesus, even as you eat of that Bread which is His Body given for you. And like the grapes that are grown and gathered on a thousand hills — grapes that are squeezed and crushed into wine, poured out for the many — so are you gathered from the four winds into the Marriage of Christ and His Church, to drink from His Chalice in joy, and to be poured out with Him in love.
It is with the Fruits of His Cross and Passion, with His holy Body and His precious Blood, that He forgives you all your sins, cleanses you of all unrighteousness, gives to you His life in both body and soul, and seats you at His Table in His Kingdom. It is here at His Altar, at His Table on earth as it is in heaven, that He bids you to recline and take your rest while He who is your Lord and Master girds Himself to serve you. And here, indeed, His great heart of love is still opened wide to you, as it ever shall be open to you, in His grace, mercy, and peace, unto the Life everlasting.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.