Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-11
I don’t really understand the cross. Oh, I know that in order for me to have a relationship with God, blood must be shed to atone for my sin. I understand that in all of my efforts, I will never be able to earn or achieve a relationship with God. I sin. I am far from perfect. But a cross? The supreme method of torture that Rome invented to quell rebellions in its vast domain. Why did it have to be a cross?
As a little person, my vivid imagination could not reconcile the horror of the cross. Many an Easter pageant would find me all fine and good until the portrayal of the Last Supper appeared. From then until the music changed to announce the dramatization of the Lord’s resurrection, my head would be bowed, eyes shut as tight as possible with my fingers jammed in my ears attempting to tune out the horror of the cross. And this wasn’t like the real thing at all. The cross speaks of suffering, of torture, of shed blood, unbearable pain, of death.
But Christmas points to the cross. God in his love and mercy never turned His back on His creation. Oh His frustration with His people existed. Many times it seems as if God’s plan for a relationship with His created ones would be thwarted. Something would get in the way and His plan would never come to fruition. However, God was holding the trump card – He would send His Son. The One who would not sin, the One who would restore the unity between God and man, the One who would give His life. He would not be spared the temptations we face. He would walk through intense loneliness and rejection. He would develop dear friends and then would lose them in an instant when the true rubber hit the road. Jesus would be God in human flesh feeling what we do, experiencing it all, never claiming His royal status, but living the life of an ordinary person.
Yet, He would be far from ordinary. His touch would heal the many sick and wounded who came to Him. With power and a word from His mouth, He would remind nature that He was its ultimate ruler. He would be the teacher who would instruct thousands with authority, but He would also humbly reduce Himself to the place and position of a servant. He would wash feet. He would die. This was no ordinary death but one accompanied by intense verbal and physical abuse and pain of separation from God because He bore the sins of the world.
But there is beauty here. The cross would pay the penalty of my sin. All would be paid for. The debt erased. And Jesus would rise again. He rose in power over death, reducing its hold on us all because there is life forever to be found in a relationship with Jesus. And God has given Him the seat of power that He so rightly deserves. His name is one to be held in high regard – there is no higher name. His name causes a response. Some in their anger reduce His name to a curse while others in the deepest awe and reverence utter His name in worship and prayer. Some day, every one of us will acknowledge it. We will all fall on bended knee because of His name. The cross affords me a relationship with the God who made me, the Father who loves me more than I can ever understand, the One who has given it all for me. As Brian Zahnd states, “The cross is the beauty of Christianity because it is at the cross that we encounter co-suffering love and costly forgiveness in its most beautiful form.”
In this season of Advent, I choose to remember that Jesus came in obedience knowing the cross was before Him. May I live my life in the shadow of the cross, living in gratitude and service to the One who gave His life that I may find forgiveness and a relationship with the Father.
Zahnd, B. (2012). Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the Allure & Mystery of Christianity. Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House.