Note: This is the first of a six-part series on the “The Glory and Power of the Cross.” The articles will cover 1) the glory of the cross; 2) the stumbling block of the cross; 3) carrying the cross; 4) embracing the cross; 5) the power of the cross to destroy strongholds; and 6) applying the power of the cross. The articles will also include discussion questions to allow them to be used to deepen your understanding of the glory and power of the cross through Lenten discussion groups.
As we continue our season of Lent, let’s look ahead to Good Friday, the event that the whole of Lent points us toward. Let’s go to Calvary and look closely at the cross of Christ.
This cross is far more than two beams of wood pieced together. It’s far more than the piece of jewelry that so many people wear today. This cross is big enough and important enough to encompass the whole of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. It is the central point, in fact, of our whole Christian life. So during this season of rebirth and renewal, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and his cross.
We are not alone in this devotion and attention to the cross. St. Paul himself considered it to be the most important part of his faith. “May I never boast,” he said, “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). By boasting in the cross, Paul meant taking pride in it, finding in it the reason for his joy and fulfillment, and placing great value in it. When Paul wrote these words, he was both boasting in the cross and rejecting the thought of boasting, or finding great value, in his own ability.
When Paul gloried in the cross, he was placing his own achievements—and they were plentiful—on a lower, secondary level. He was saying that the glory of the cross supercedes everything. He could make this claim because he saw how this event—Jesus’ death on a cross—saved us from eternal death and brought us everlasting life.
Seeing a Greater Good
When something good comes along, we tend to appreciate it to the degree that we understand how good it is. The larger the positive impact, the more we talk about it and, essentially, “glory” in it.
St. Paul could have gloried in any number of things—and especially in any number of his own gifts, talents, and attributes. He could have boasted about his exciting conversion and the way the Lord chose him for a particularly high-profile ministry. He could have boasted about his education or his dedication as a Pharisee. He could have boasted about the way he built so many churches during his missionary journeys or about the way he trained servants of the Lord like Timothy, Silas, Lydia, and Luke. Instead, he chose to boast about the glory of the cross because he saw it as a far greater thing than anything he could accomplish.
The cross stands at the heart of our faith and as our highest boast because we believe that we are all sinners who cannot save ourselves. We believe that sin separated all of us from God. And we believe that God sent his Son into the world to do what we could not do. Without the cross, there would be no resurrection. Without the cross, there would be no salvation. And without the cross, there would be no hope for eternal life.
The Paradox of the Cross
Jesus’ cross is one of the great paradoxes of all time. His death has brought us life. His crown of thorns has become our crown of glory. His pierced heart has given us a new heart. His abject humiliation has brought us unimaginable dignity. To the unbelieving eye, the cross appears to be nothing more than a foolish exercise in suffering. But to those who believe, the cross is worthy of all honor because it is the instrument of salvation, nothing less than the very “power of God” for our lives (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Contemplating the cross moves us to see two truths. First, we can see how God did not want to be divided from his beloved people, but that injustice could not coexist with perfect justice. Our sin was offensive to God, and it separated us from him. Only Jesus’ death could reconcile us fully. And this leads to our second truth: Our sin, our separation from God, was not trivial. The stain of original sin wasn’t something that could be overcome with just a minor remedy. It required nothing short of the death of the Son of God.
These two truths tell us that the cross was at the center of God’s plan for all of humanity. It wasn’t just a fluke of history or the case of a bad thing happening to a good person. Jesus himself told his disciples that he had to suffer, be put to death, and then rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21). He knew that he had to embrace this suffering, humiliation, and death because nothing else was sufficient to wipe away sin and disarm the devil. Because of his love for his Father—and his love for us—Jesus freely accepted the cross.
If we want to draw closer to Jesus during this season of Lent, we need to understand this important point: Jesus had to die for our sake. What Peter eventually came to understand we also must come to understand: Jesus Christ “bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). By his death, Jesus set us free from our disobedience, our pride, our angers, and our self-centeredness. His death on the cross brought us victory over our sins—every one of them.
(Joe Difato is the publisher of The Word Among Us devotional magazine. Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/ ) for allowing us to use his articles from their 2009 Lenten Issue. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion
- These words of St. Paul are quoted in the article: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). What do these words mean to you and what impact, if any, should/do they have on how you live your life? Why should we also “boast” in the cross?
- The article goes on to say that “When Paul gloried in the cross, he was placing his own achievements—and they were plentiful—on a lower, secondary level. He was saying that the glory of the cross supercedes everything. He could make this claim because he saw how this event—Jesus’ death on a cross—saved us from eternal death and brought us everlasting life.” What steps can you take to “glory” in the cross this Lent?
- The article states that “Jesus’ cross is one of the great paradoxes of all time.” How would you describe this paradox?
- The last paragraph of this article begins with “If we want to draw closer to Jesus during this season of Lent, we need to understand this important point: Jesus had to die for our sake.” What steps can you take to understand this point more deeply and allow it to draw you closer to Jesus?