Dirt: Beginning the Journey to the Cross

Here is the text of my message from our service last night at Eastbrook Church, beginning our Crossroads journey through Lent. I hope it is an encouragement to you as we begin the journey with Jesus to the Cross.


In the book of Genesis, we are told that God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Human beings were created by God from the dust of the earth. This is of course why one phrase from an old funeral prayer says: “Ashes to ashes – dust to dust”

The story of Genesis continues with the turn of human beings from God in disobedience, the entrance of sin into the world and human experience. The curse of sin touches upon the life and existence of men and women, and the Bible says that even “the ground is cursed because of” sin (3:9).

Jesus steps into the cursed dirt of humanity. He does this by taking on flesh and bone in the incarnation.

But He also steps into the dirt by inhabiting our sinful context. The same beautiful world that is also the weary world in which we live – Jesus steps into it. He experiences the goodness and the evil, the kindness and the injustice, the gentleness and the violence. Jesus steps inside that dirty context.

Even more, Jesus runs face to face into the full power of the dirt of sin. In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

In this conflicted place, Jesus named evil, sin, and wrong. He confronted it and defeated it. One of the most vivid pictures of that in the Bible is Jesus’ journey into the wilderness for 40 days of temptation. He waits, seeks God, fasts, and encounters the powers of evil. He steps into the dirt.

Lent is a journey like that into the dirt of the cosmos; into the dust of humanity. During Lent, we journey with Jesus through the messy spaces of human experience to the Cross.

  • We watch Jesus name sickness and bring healing
  • We watch Jesus name oppression and bring freedom
  • We watch Jesus name injustice and bring the favorable year of the Lord
  • We watch Jesus name offense against God and bring forgiveness
  • We watch Jesus journey to the Cross

Lent is a journey with Jesus into the dirt. With Lent, Jesus reminds us that something needs to die in order for something to live.

We see that truth as Jesus spends time with His disciples. Hel tells them the real life comes when we turn from ourselves and turn to God. There’s a word for that – an unpopular word – but an important one: repentance.

Jesus describes the discipleship journey as a fundamental turning from ourselves to God in this way: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)

In our lives, there are things that need to be named as dirt:

  • Sin – our offenses against God – need to be named as dirt
  • Brokenness – our twisted inner lives and the twisting we do to others – needs to be named as dirt
  • Evil – the ways in which we speak or act wrong – needs to be named as dirt

Those things need to die so that something can live in us. We need to get rid of the dirt in our lives. And Lent is a great time to do that. To join in with Jesus in naming things as dirt, getting rid of them, putting them to death, so that God’s life can spring up in our lives.

But it’s not only true that something needs to die in order for something to live…actually, someone needs to die in order for someone to live.

When Jesus ministry turns from Galilee toward Jerusalem, three times He tells His disciples that suffering and death are coming next:

  1. Luke 9:21-22 – “21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’”
  2. Luke 9:43-44 – “While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples,44 ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.’”
  3. Luke 18:31-34 – “31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

Every time, we are told that “the disciples did not understand” what Jesus was talking about. It was too overwhelming for them to truly consider that the Messiah – the promised One of God – would suffer and die.

Even if they understood that He had come to enter into the dirt of human experience, the leap from incarnation to crucifixion was almost too big to understand. Someone had to die in order for someone – “someones” – to live.

Jesus was the Messiah, but a Messiah who would suffer. The cross is the centerpoint of the life and ministry of Jesus. He would suffer. He would die. He would become like dust and dirt, so that the things humanity called ‘life’ could be shown for the dust and dirt they were. He would enter into death, and bring life up from the soil of death. At the Cross, Jesus would open wide the pathway to life through the dirt and dust of human sin, evil, and death. Someone has to die for someone to live.

The cross is the centerpoint of the life and ministry of Jesus, and it is the centerpoint of our own lives. At the Cross, Jesus takes our dusty, dirty selves into His hands and transforms us. He sets us free from the power of evil, bringing us out of the realm of darkness and into the realm of God’s glorious light. At the Cross, Jesus liberates us from the power of death, triumphing over it in the resurrection so that He is now alive and we have hope of eternal life in Him. At the Cross, Jesus opens the channel of forgiveness and grace, restoring our broken relationship through reconciliation with the Father.

Something has to die for something to live.

Tonight we will respond to the journey of Jesus with two actions intended to express our recognition of the gift of Christ.

Dirt – The first of these is that we will take a cup of dirt and pour it into the staged areas. This is a sign of us naming our sin, evil, and brokenness as the dirt that it is. This is a sign of us repenting. This is a sign of us getting rid of our dirt in order for Christ’s life to spring up in us. It is a symbolic way that we take up your cross. Jesus said:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Communion – After doing that we will participate in communion. [read 1 Cor 11] Communion is our remembrance and encounter with Jesus’ journey to the crossroads. We reflect with sobriety and celebrate with gratitude the gift given in Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Let God speak death to things in our lives that are not life-giving so that the resurrection power might take root in our lives in new ways. It’s about refining and purging for life to grow, all in conformity to Christ and not just our own efforts.

Jesus’ death was the way to life and our own death to self with Jesus is a pathway to life.

Someone has died that we might live. Let us draw near to celebrate.

 

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