Glorify the Cross
April 1, 2012
Grace and peace to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we have before us the Passion of Jesus Christ – culminating in his death on the cross. Now even though its impact on us is huge, we still wonder what to make of it. Shall we, like some early Christians, “live as enemies of the cross” (Philippians 3:18)? – either, deplorably, by disdaining salvation by blood (Luke 18:9-12; Colossians 1:20), or simply, by lovingly wishing, that our Savior Jesus be spared all the shame and pain (Matthew 16:22)! Either way, should we take a stand against Christ’s horrible death? Or should we, with Martin Luther (1483-1546), the progenitor of our little corner of Christendom, exclaim instead with full hearts:
The cross was the altar on which [Christ], consumed by the fire of the boundless love which burned in His heart, presented the living and holy sacrifice of His body and blood to the Father with fervent intercession, loud cries, and hot, anxious tears (Hebrews 5:7). That is the true sacrifice. Once and for all it takes away the sins of all the world and brings an everlasting reconciliation …. It deserves to be praised to the utmost and to have every honor given to it …. What man can praise and exalt Him enough? …. Willingly … He has mediated between God’s wrath and our sin. By His blood and death He gave Himself as the sacrifice or ransom and thereby far outweighed both of them. No matter how great or burdensome sin, wrath, hell, and damnation may be, this holy sacrifice is far greater and higher! (Luther’s Works 13:319-320).
What Luther says here rings true with Galatians 6:14 – “far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Struggling to Say Amen
But can we follow suit? Can we glorify Christ’s gruesome, salutary crucifixion just like Luther does, or will we – and shamefully at that – become modern day enemies of the cross of Christ? Will we join the Muslims and follow their teachings (Qur’an 4:157), that Jesus didn’t die for us on the cross to save us from our sins [Louay Fatoohi, The Mystery of the Crucifixion (2008) pp. 133-134]? Joining Luther then, and saying Amen to Christ’s crucifixion, won’t at all be easy (Matthew 7:14). That’s because entrusting our lives to the glories of the cross, by faith in Christ – and exclaiming that the crucified One is God (Mark 15:39) – that is a fight (1 Timothy 6:12, 1:18, 4:10). It’s a war (Romans 7:23). It’s a battle (1 Corinthians 9:27; Philippians 2:12). To believe, then, is to “slug it out with death” (LW 17:389). And when we do, we
cling fast to celestial things and [are] carried away and … dwell in things that are invisible [Hebrews 11:1] [and so] the believer hangs between heaven and earth, … suspended in the air and crucified (LW 29:185).
That makes this battle very unconventional – hanging there, being crucified and all the rest! It turns the battle of faith into more than our effort, but a gift as well (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:24). And so in this battle, unlike almost every other altercation we will ever encounter in this life, we “fight most effectively when [we] fight the least” (LW 16:90)! Just think of it! And Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) does just that. This devout Lutheran author writes:
How true it is that the one who conquers himself is greater than someone who captures a city [Proverbs 16:32]. Greater than the one who sets everything in motion in order at least to do something himself is the one who, in relation to God and to receiving the forgiveness of sin, is able to become still [Psalm 46:10] in order devoutly to let God do everything, fully understanding that in this regard he himself is able to do nothing at all, and that everything, everything a person is able to do himself, be it even the most glorious, the most amazing, still in this regard is infinitely nothing (Kierkegaard’s Writings 18:157).
So there you have it – you fight the good fight of faith by being still in the presence of God, as he draws you to himself (John 6:44, 12:32)! No wonder then that it’s so hard for us to say Amen to what God does for us! And on this Kierkegaard helps again:
In praying aright it is difficult to be able to reach the Amen – for the one who has never prayed, it seems easy enough, easy to finish quickly, but for the one who felt the need to pray and began to pray, it surely happens that he continually seemed to have something more upon his heart, as if he could neither get everything said nor get it all said as he wished it said, and thus he does not reach the Amen (KW 18:169).
God Did It
What shall we then do? If we’re not able to follow through on God’s call to us to love and follow him, and in stillness say the Amen, are we forever lost? Are we left with nothing but the wrath of God weighing down heavily upon us (John 3:36)? What if we can’t stop fidgeting – spiritually – before God? What then? Well, with Kierkegaard, let us just listen to the Gospel (Romans 10:17):
Oh, but would that the Gospel, … might teach you, my listener, earnestness, and … to make you completely silent before God! Would that you in silence might forget yourself, what you yourself are called, your own name, the famous name, the wretched name, the insignificant name, in order in silence to pray to God: “Hallowed be your name!” Would that in silence you might forget yourself, your plans, the great, all-encompassing plans, or the limited plans for your life and its future, in order in silence to pray to God: “Your kingdom come!” …. Then nothing would be impossible for you …. [For] just as the fear of God … is the beginning of wisdom [Proverbs 1:7], so also is silence the beginning of the fear of God (KW 18:18-19).
So let’s give it a try, together, today, right now. Let’s listen, in silence, to Acts 2:23 – “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan” – definito consilio, in the old Latin Bible – “and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Now mull that over – definito consilio! Scared yet? Yes! for our Lord’s brutal crucifixion was then no accident – nor was it bad luck! Rather it was just what God wanted to have happen – lies, spitting, nails, and all! Why? Because it is only by Christ suffering and dying that sinners may have peace with our Holy, Just and Almighty God (Romans 5:2; Colossians 1:20). For according to our God, the forgiveness of sins requires his blood (Hebrews 9:18)! Definito consilio! Mull it over. Definito consilio! Let the fear of God well up in you. It was his plan to have his only begotten Son murdered, so that sinners might be saved. He loved you that much to sacrifice his Son (1 John 4:10)! And this is just the reversal we need – for as Luther famously instructs, “the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not – as in the case of the law – what we are to do and give to God.” And so in matters of salvation, God “disannuls the old testament. For the little word ‘new’ makes the testament of Moses obsolete and worthless, one that is no longer in effect” (LW 35:162, 84).
Lighten Your Load
So receive Christ today in the Lord’s Supper. For the one who died for you, has done more than that for you. He indeed has “lavished” his grace upon you (Ephesians 1:7-8). He has been raised from the death, and so “death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9)! And so he’s free – free to be with us in the Lord’s Supper today. So, as Kierkegaard, lovingly reminds us all:
Hear it aright, take it altogether literally, the forgiveness of sins. You will be able to go away from the Communion table as light of heart, divinely understood, as a newborn child, upon whom nothing, nothing weighs heavily, therefore even lighter of heart, insofar as much has weighed upon your heart. There is no one at the Communion table who retains against you even the least of your sins, no one – unless you yourself do it (KW 18:170).
And maybe you will. For no one leaves the Lord‘s Supper “completely unburdened.” But that shouldn’t ruin it! No, all it does is “make us as imperfect as we are,” says Kierkegaard, which keeps us from being, “intoxicated in dreams, [to] imagine that everything was decided by this one time, nor in quiet despondency, [to] give up because this time we did not succeed” (KW 18:170-171)! So come today, surely – but also all the remaining weeks in your life!
Sharing in Christ’s Sufferings
And finally, glorify the cross of Christ by sharing in his sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) – using this question by the great Isaac Watts (1674-1748) to guide you [Service Book and Hymnal (1958) Hymn 554]:
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas? Amen.