The Power of the Cross: 23rd Edition, February 25, 2018

Mike Cleveland

Hello friend,


Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a short gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging.


This week’s teaching comes from one of our beloved mentors here at Setting Captives Free. She has written the following out of the overflow of the love that she has found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know you will be blessed in reading it as I was. Here it is:




A student wrote recently of their ways of coping with their struggles: “Yes, the other methods depended on me and involved a carrot and a stick and A LOT of failure.”


We have heard it said that the phrase “carrot and stick” is a metaphor for the use of both reward and punishment approaches for bringing about desired behaviors.


"It is based on the idea that a cart driver might activate a reluctant mule by dangling a carrot in front of it and smacking it on the rear with a stick." (Wikipedia)


When we look at ways in the world to overcome our struggles, we often see these three general approaches. First, we turn all our efforts to revolve even more around the orbit of ourselves: we push, shove, cajole and try better, harder and longer to improve ourselves. We attach ourselves to people, therapies and programs that match this approach. Or second, we fix our gaze on something to motivate us - a positive reinforcer like a retail therapy purchase, a progress certificate, or even a special food that would reward us with a temporary pleasure after a period of hard effort. These give us the illusion of making long lasting progress away from our struggles by fixing our eyes on a “carrot” reward dangling in front of us. Or third, we focus on our condemnation which we think we deserve and “beat ourselves over the head” with a proverbial stick with punishing feelings, words and actions in an attempt to scare or move ourselves into a better life!


We use praise and punishment focused on ourselves in so many parts of our lives to reinvent ourselves but we fail to see that the “better life” is what Jesus has already won for us who believe some 2000 years ago!


We thought we needed to focus on worldly temporary rewards to keep us motivated but we have been given, as believers, another type of joyful expectation of our future- the HOPE of Christ which is seen perfectly in the revelation of Jesus. We look to Jesus and not to a carrot!


"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 1:13 (ESV)


We thought that we need to punish ourselves to obtain a better life. Yes, we deserve the punishment and not the blessings for all our sins but God's only Son has taken the stick out of our hands and all our punishment we deserve was dealt with by His death and resurrection.


We thought He was our enemy as He preached a servant life, a non self-orbiting life that was foolishness to our ears. But He kept walking to the Cross in total obedience knowing that each of His steps was drawing us closer to knowing His extravagant love in our hearts. He kept His gaze on His Father and accepted the punishment for our sins, the beatings we give ourselves and others He bore in the bleeding strips of skin hanging from His precious body. Nails were pushed through His skin as streams of His blood covered our every sin and self-effort.


We perhaps could hear Him saying from the wooden tree: "Forgive them Father! I am doing the heavy lifting and labor for them to rest in My righteousness and they never self-effort or condemnation again. Every stain of their sins has been washed clean by My blood! Through My death My work here on earth is finished. These are Your children, Father! Receive them into Your holy presence! In Me, they are beloved, perfect and precious in Your sight!"


Throw your worldly carrots and sticks away and look to Jesus who has given us Himself. Our greatest reward is the gospel of grace flowing from the Cross of Jesus Christ.


"I am your exceeding great reward." Genesis 15:1


"In the Hebrew it is, "I am your superabundant, very exceeding much reward." In the text is a climax; it rises like the waters of the sanctuary, higher and higher—"I am your reward; your great reward; and your exceeding great reward." (from:



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Mike Cleveland

Volunteer for Setting Captives Free