The concept of living intentionally has been popularized in recent years, and I too want to live with awareness and purpose rather than just making it through. Like cycle class at the Y, for instance, where I could spin the flywheel on the bike all day long if I didn’t use resistance to challenge me. My legs would be moving with the pedals, but mostly because of momentum and not because of my effort or power. The instructor can coach me for 50 minutes, but I decide where to set my gears. More resistance makes me stronger. Do I enjoy a climb with heavy gears? No way. Even when (or especially when) I cycle outside, I’d prefer to go for a ride along the path of least resistance. But the instructor will often say (or shout) something to the class along the lines of “Remember why you came!” Being intentional is motivating.
During Holy Week, I think often about Jesus’ intentionality on the way to the cross. Even as the crowd praised Him as a King on Palm Sunday, He knew the reason He came. There would be a cross before a throne. It was the Father’s intention all along. We can see His purpose all the way back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15 when God spoke to the serpent – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This verse is called the “proto-evangelium” – or the “first Gospel.” Charles Spurgeon says, “This verse contains the whole gospel and the essence of the covenant of grace.” Although the enemy strikes God’s people, he is a conquered foe. There will be war, but Jesus will deal the crushing blow.
God’s story, as revealed throughout the Bible, is all about Calvary from the very beginning. People often think of Jesus’ death as an injustice, and He certainly did nothing to deserve death, but the Cross was in God’s plan all along. We see this in Luke 9 as Jesus foretold his death to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (verse 9).
Luke 9 also tells us that “when the days drew near for Him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” He knew that just outside Jerusalem’s gates was a rocky hill with the appearance of a skull – Golgotha. Our Lord was resolute. He knew that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint” (Isaiah 50: 6 – 7).
In John Piper’s Holy Week devotion, Love to the Uttermost, he writes of the intentionality of the Cross: “If we were to look at Jesus’ death merely as a result of a betrayer’s deceit and the Sanhedrin’s envy and Pilate’s spinelessness and the soldier’s nails and spear, it might seem very involuntary….Jesus was not accidentally entangled in a web of injustice. The saving benefits of His death were not an afterthought. God planned it all out of infinite love to sinners like us, and He appointed a time.”
This morning I read this devotion from The Wonder of the Cross by Chris Tiegreen: “The painful cost of redemption was not paid grudgingly, a reluctant last-ditch effort to salvage what He could of His broken creation. It was planned from the foundation of the world – with pleasure.”
With pleasure? The horrible agony of the cross? The Bible tells us in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.”
When Jesus set His face to the cross, He set His face toward joy. Jesus willingly, intentionally, and joyfully made the ultimate sacrifice in redeeming you and me.
Blessed Redeemer! Precious Redeemer!
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree;
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading,
Blind and unheeding—dying for me!
“Unheeding” means paying no attention, consideration, or regard. This makes me think of Philippians 2: 6 – 8 ~
“(Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
Jesus intentionally turned a blind eye to His own advantages and the pleasures of Heaven when He set His face upon you and me.
As Chris Tiegreen asks, “Do you realize that His love for you prompted Him to pay extraordinary costs to bring you into His fellowship and that he did it gladly? Most Christians know that intellectually but don’t believe it deep in their hearts. They see God as a reluctant, obligated lover. But that’s not how He portrays Himself. He’s delighted to sacrifice for your love.”
This is the heart of God. This is why we remember the Friday of Holy Week as “Good.”
The Cross was not plan B. God always has a plan and He brings it to pass. Just as He didn’t look at Adam and Eve’s sin and think “oops, now what?” He doesn’t look upon any circumstance in our lives and think “uh oh, what happens now?” No, He is already there. He has already been there, working according to His purposes and promises.
If Jesus was delighted to make a way for our greatest need – our salvation – we can trust Him to meet every other need. Calvary demonstrates that God is not reluctant to pour out His love and grace. Although circumstances didn’t look so good on “Good Friday,” in His heart and plan, it was good.
Luke 9 teaches me something else about intentionality. After foretelling his death, Jesus spoke these words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (verses 23 – 25).
It’s my turn to be intentional.
Taking up my cross means that I will be unheeding. I will turn a blind eye to whatever I might gain from the world and I will follow the Source of deepest joy. The Cross bids me die yet truly live.
Oh, Lord, let this be. And may my motivation spring not from duty but from a heart that delights in You. As you pour Your love into my life, let me offer it back to You. I realize that it’s an offering far too small, but take my love, my life, my all.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 2).
So many times my good intentions haven’t turn out as planned. I’ll fail again, many times in fact. I’ll ditch the climb and choose the easy gears. I’m not perfect, but I have a “perfecter of faith.” So I will follow my Savior in choosing the cross and the joy set before me. I hope you’ll join me, and let’s race together, fixing our eyes on Jesus and remembering why He came.
Charles Spurgeon – The Redeemer’s Face Set Like A Flint, sermon – August 4, 1901. http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols46-48/chs2738.pdf
Chris Tiegreen – The Wonder of the Cross Devotional. March 28 entry.
John Piper – Love to the Uttermost Devotion for Holy Week. Free PDF – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/love-to-the-uttermost