That wondrous and glorious cross. The symbol of death that we Christians hang around our necks and arms and in our homes. The glorious act that we sing about in joyous hope and delight.
Have you ever considered the wonder of it? The details of what was actually accomplished by Jesus on the cross? Books upon books are written on this subject, and I think our hearts will be richly refreshed and gripped by the great love of God upon digging deeper into the intricacy of the cross.
This week, we have the reminder of Palm Sunday and of Easter to keep the cross in view. Though in reality, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus should be foremost in the life of the Christian, many of us spend our days considering lesser things that leave us hopeless, anxious, restless, and in despair.
What a gift this season is! By God’s grace, we have the opportunity to realign and reorient our hearts upon the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done. I pray that our study of the cross causes us to live our lives all year round shaped by deep understanding and our subsequent worship of our Lord and Savior, Redeemer, Victor, Sacrificial Lamb, and Friend.
By God’s grace, I have had the opportunity to take a course and a half in Theology with Dr. John Hammett, and it will constitute the basis for this mini-series on the cross. He graciously challenged his students to share with others what we have learned. I am by no means an expert, nor do I have decades of understanding and knowledge to offer you. But in obedience to the Lord, I want to share with you the fruit of my intimate study of the wonder of the cross. And honestly, my prayer is that I would be shaped and changed by deeper study and writing on the cross even more than those of you who read.
Dr. Hammett poses the question, "What other religion celebrates and studies in detail the death of its founder? The explanation is that this death is like no other death in history. In Christ, the eternal immortal God, the source of all life, tasted death. And if that is so, then it is not surprising that His death carries enormous, eternal consequences" (Hammett, Theology II class lecture notes, 59).
Let’s endeavor this week to consider the cross and how it might impact our hearts, our worship, our allegiances, and our lives.
Jesus had the cross in view.
We find this true in the beginning of His ministry – His baptism. In His baptism, Jesus chose to identify with those for whom He would die - the ones who needed Him to take the penalty of death for our sin so that we may once again live. He chose to limit Himself to His rights as God and willingly lay down His life to save His creatures. This identification entails the beauty of His coming, living, and dying on behalf of humanity. At His baptism, the Father declared that Jesus was God’s Son, whom He loved and with whom He was well pleased.
But God’s Son would not fit into the valiant warrior-king persona that the Jews had long been awaiting in His first coming. God’s perfect plan from before the beginning of the ages included that God – Jesus, the Son – would become human – His very own creation, in order to redeem those who would in time rebel against their Creator. This Son would live and walk the humble road to the cross. His way of salvation and fulfillment of all righteousness would come through Jesus’ gracious humility to identify totally with humanity, apart from sin. Thus from the very entrance of His ministry, Jesus had the cross in mind.
Jesus lived His life here on earth with the cross in view. Jesus came from heaven, from complete intimacy and everlasting gladness in union with the Father and the Spirit. That He left this glorious state, in of itself, means Jesus came with purpose. He chose to come and live with intentionality and to fulfill the will of the One who sent Him. That will included a life of obedience, a life directed toward the cross.
In every healing, He pointed to the work to be done on the cross to bring the healing necessary for God to be in union with His people again. In every teaching, He revealed the true nature of how life was intended to be lived, a life that would be possible for those who would trust in His redeeming work on the cross and receive the Holy Spirit. In every act and in every word, Jesus revealed more of who He was – the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant – come to redeem His people by His own suffering, His own sin-bearing of humanity, and His own blood-shedding to satisfy the wrath of God. Read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), with this thought in mind, and you will be amazed! In everything, Jesus revealed the purpose for which He came. Jesus was faithful and chose to be obedient to death, and that death on a cross (Philippians 2). It is by His perfect, sinless life of obedience that He was able to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus kept the cross in view, and because of His faithfulness in life and death and because of His subsequent resurrection, we are able to receive salvation and righteousness by grace through faith. THIS is the gospel.
If Jesus lived and acted with the cross in view, I find it necessary that we must do the same. We must cling to it as the crux of salvation – believing in His life, death, and resurrection to be the only means of salvation. Believing this keeps us from “working” to earn our salvation or any favor from God. Do you know that there is nothing we could ever do to be good enough before God? We can’t make up even one sin by our own efforts. Sin is “missing the mark,” falling short of perfection, betraying a covenant. Our sin merits death and separation from God as its consequences.
Do you know that this is why Christ came?
Oh friend, be not convinced by the pattern of this world to be a good person or better than the next guy or girl. Let not your way of life be one of measuring yourself to some standards of goodness or good-enoughness that always leave you guessing and exhausted and insecure. Trust in the saving work of Jesus on the cross! Though our sin was like scarlet, He has washed them white as snow by His own blood. When we trust in His once for all sacrifice, we turn from our own efforts to attain salvation. In doing so, we get the joy and freedom of trusting in His finished work to save us from our sin and for Himself.
The security of this beautiful gospel breeds LIFE. Life as it was meant to be lived. Life as Jesus lived – in complete union and dependence on the Father, by the power of the Spirit. This way of life is now possible for those who believe! We live with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). We live relishing in the gladness of being children of God! We have not only been cleansed of our sin, but we have been adopted into His family - we belong! We live life by the Spirit - depending on His strength, following His leading, resting in His fruit-bearing, singing and teaching and cherishing the Word.
We live with hearts of joy and gratitude because though we did nothing to deserve it, our wonderful Savior gave us His perfect righteousness that we might have eternal life. We live knowing that our God is One who came to save us, to take on our sufferings, to endure our shame for us. We live trusting that we can go to Him and receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). We live with the cross in view, magnifying Jesus in every thing we do, no matter how small. We choose to identify with our Savior in humility and servanthood and in sacrificial loving, living and giving. Because this way of life – with the cross shaping every part of our view – points others to the cross.
And this is but a tiny snapshot of the beautiful, wondrous, overwhelming cross.
Tell me, how do you live with the cross in view? I want to know and grow and be encouraged by my brothers and sisters!
Grace & peace,