“Oh, my soul, behold Jesus, your life! Behold, Him who is life itself and has given Himself to death for your sake. Behold Jesus, your health, how He is in distress and agony for your sake! Behold Jesus, the King of Glory, who willingly allows Himself to be tormented with scorn, with wounds, and with bitter death.”
This week, with Christians around the globe, I have been meditating on the suffering and death of Jesus. With the culture wars raging I am especially meditating upon the Way of the cross, Christ’s love for his enemies displayed, his silence under unjust persecution, and his role as the reconciler. Christians are a people formed by the cross both personally and corporately. There is a lot to say about the social and ethical implications of this, but that is not the point of this post.
Before the cross forms a way of life it must first be for us the Way to Life. For it to become that for us we must allow ourselves to look at Christ on the cross, to Behold the Lamb of God, to contemplate deeply the historical reality of the crucifixion. How easily we can think of “The Cross” in abstract terms, as a category or a system, and forget that it actually occurred, that Jesus the Son of God was really mocked and spat upon and beaten. If it remains an abstract concept for us, we may think rightly, but we will not follow closely. And so, we must look upon the cross.
“Draw night and behold closely and diligently, how He allows Himself to be brought to the slaughter, to shed all His blood. Behold His hear oppressed by nameless pain and woe as He goes forth with sigh upon sigh with sorrow”
But when we look at the cross what do we see? Perhaps there are many things to see, but as I have reflected over the past couple of days, I see the love of God and the horror of my sin.
The cross is an ugly thing to behold. We cannot look closely with some repulsion. The ugliness of the cross is sin. But whose sin? Certainly not that of the sinless Jesus! Is it the sin of the world? Yes, but I must go deeper still. It is my sin. If I look at the cross and think, first, how awful is the world, then I have not come to grips with my own sin. I must first think, “Oh what a wretched man that I am!” It is my sin being punished in the person of Jesus.
A young man asked me a few weeks ago, “Why did Jesus die on the cross? If he had stayed alive he could have kept going around healing people.” He died because we have a deeper issue than physical illness and death. We are spiritually sick and we need a doctor. Indeed we are dead and we need The Resurrection and the Life.
Why did Jesus die on the cross? To display his love? Yes, but more than that. He died to pay the penalty for our sin. It is easy to trivialize our own sin – until we behold the cross and see our sin exposed, as deserving of punishment and retribution. How horrific is my sin, is my rebellion against the Creator of the universe? It’s horrific enough to put Jesus on the cross.
I also see love – the incredible, historical, personal, sacrificial love of God. Again, this is not love as abstract, but love displayed in flesh and blood.
The cross is a beautiful thing to behold when we see it through eyes of faith. When we do so we declare triumphantly, “God is Love!” Oh, that God would send his only Son. Oh, that the Shepherd would willingly lay down his life for his sheep.
The more I see my sin, the more God’s love is magnified. The more I see God’s love, the more I recognize the awfulness of my sin, the more incongruous and cruelly ironic it becomes that we have put to death the Author of Life.
When we see the sin it is always wise to keep our eyes on our own sin first but when we see God’s love we must as quickly as possible see how that love extends in ever expanding circles to the ends of the earth, to those near and to those far.
And then we will begin to be transformed. In our own lives, already having been crucified with Christ we will turn with enmity upon our own sin and slave-master and we will “crucify our flesh with its desires and passions.” And towards others we will extend the love of God, personally and sacrificially, towards our spouses, our brothers and sisters in Christ, toward the world, and toward our enemies.
It is good to spend some time thinking on the cross but we are not called to dwell there for long. When we see the cross we also see victory. We see victory because the cross was Christ’s fatal blow to Satan and we see victory because of the resurrection. Easter has come. Death has been swallowed up in victory. This is not an abstract concept but a historical reality which grants for us a flesh and blood hope.