Before launching into Chapter Eight of The Cross of Christ (entitled “The Revelation of God,” I think it is important to orient ourselves to where we are in the overall book.
John Stott says the “heart of the cross” is the fact that Jesus Christ substituted Himself for us on the cross. His self-sacrifice and His self-substitution made all the difference in the life of man, but what did He accomplish with this act?
In Chapter Seven I commented on one accomplishment: “The Salvation of Sinners.”
Now we turn to another accomplishment: He discloses Himself or reveals Himself [hence the title of Chapter Eight is “The Revelation”].
“Just as human beings disclose their character in their actions, so God has showed Himself to us in the death of His Son” [Stott, 200].
How hard could this be? Have we not already discussed this ad infinitum?
In some respects maybe some of us have looked at this sacrifice and we have drawn our conclusions. “Let’s move on” some might say. “I understand this already.”
But let’s dig a bit deeper at how Jesus came into this world and how He left it. That is the confusing part.
It is all about glory. Glory?
We gloss over that part because it is so hard to comprehend.
What is a definition of glory? Definitions are “high renown or honor won by notable achievement” or “magnificence or great beauty” or to “take great pride or pleasure in”.
As a “baby” born again Christian, I don’t know that I even wondered how a Divine infant born in a stable could constitute a “glorious” entrance into this world as a human being. I am not sure that I also considered a gruesome death on a cross as a glorious way to exit this earth. Like many, I focused on the active ministry of Christ and all the wonderful things He said and the miraculous things He did. At that time in my spiritual growth I sought consistency and I thought I found it. That was good enough for me.
Now I wonder if I really found answers in the “easy” information that I digested at that time.
As one really considers some of the messages of Jesus, they can be pretty confusing at times and in many respects, they seem to “turn this world upside down”. One can turn to the Sermon on the Mount and analyze His admonitions and be quite perplexed if you take them literally. The “poor in spirit” will experience the kingdom of heaven [what about all of us who are not downtrodden? Do we have a chance?]. The meek will inherit the earth. What about those of us who are not meek; after all, meekness is not valued in the world today is it? When others insult you, persecute you and say evil things about you, you will be blessed. In our world, insult is met with counterattack; to “turn the other cheek” is never encouraged as a strong move. Then I turn to the Apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians 12 when he says “But He [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
No piece of Scripture has meant more to me in recent years than Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians. For in those words, I began to understand the Divine concept of glory.
Jesus used the word glory several times on the brink of His crucifixion. When some Greeks asked to see Him in His last days He responded “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” When Judas left the last supper and went out into the night, Jesus said “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him.” When He began His prayer in the upper room with His disciples, He used the following words “Father the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify You” [John 12: 20-28].
What is God saying when He puts His only Son in this world to have Him suffer such an ignominious end? Stott feels that the message is this: to be a Christian, one must humble oneself. To be a Christian one must give of oneself. It was necessary for the Lamb of God to take the world’s sin on His shoulders. It was necessary for the Good Shepherd to lay down His life for His sheep.
Stott quotes John Calvin on this matter: “For in the cross of Christ, as in splendid theatre, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God is set before the whole world….If it be objected that nothing could be less glorious than Christ’s death…I reply that in that death we see a boundless glory which is concealed from the ungodly.”*
Still it is hard to understand how this crucifixion could be considered a glorious end to Jesus Christ’s life on earth
I return to the words quoted above from the Apostle Paul: “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Weakness is not a quality often desired in our world today yet when Jesus went to the cross, He did not strenuously object to the improper charges brought against Him. When He went to the cross, He did not ask for protection from an army of angels. How many times do you recall someone saying my goal in life is to be “weak”? If we take the world’s view, Jesus’ attitude is totally wrong. However, to be a believer is to not be part of this world. Again Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” [3: 20-21]. Then why weakness?
Countless times God shows His power through the use of the most unlikely people to do His work. Old Abraham becomes the father of Israel despite his advanced years. Arrogant Samson is given the Holy Spirit so much that he selflessly rains down destruction on himself and the evil Philistines. Moses is the coward and murderer who leads the Israelites through their most perilous times. Peter the impulsive Disciple becomes a bold leader for the early church. All these people have serious imperfections; serious weaknesses: yet God chose them for a reason.
God is sending a message to you and to me.
“Look what I can do. Look what can be done with the lowest people on the face of the earth.” When a person with weakness performs mighty deeds, one has to wonder where they get their strength, their wisdom, their perseverance.
The simple answer is, they get it from God.
God does not expect us to do great things alone. He expects us to turn to Him and ask for His help. If our reasons are pure and our acts further the work of His Kingdom, you can expect that He will help you. In fact, you can count on it.
I know a pastor who preached a powerful and inspirational sermon at her father’s funeral. As I heard her words, I kept asking myself how she could stand up at a moment like this, much less lead a church full of people to see Jesus Christ in her comments. After the service, I had a moment to ask her how she rose to the occasion and I will never forget her response. Like my understanding of Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians, her words helped me so much: “It was not me.”
I was thunderstruck but years later I still know this was a turning point in my understanding of God’s glory. Yes Jesus’ death was not “glorious” in a worldly sense. My pastor’s preaching was not “glorious” in a worldly sense.
It was the SOURCE OF POWER to do the undoable that was glorious. She could have said, “I am a wonderful writer of sermons, I am extremely strong because I work out all the time or I have a very stable emotional makeup but she didn’t. She said “It was not me.”
It was God almighty doing His work in this world.
Showing the power of humility and the power of selflessness.
Using my pastor…
*from John Calvin. Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John