“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (Jesus in John 12:23-26)
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Paul in Colossians 1:24-29)
When objecting to the cross Mormons sometimes tell me, “Would you wear the gun that killed your first-born son around your neck?” If Christ himself had been murdered with a handgun, I would still be glad to wear such a symbol around my neck and light it up behind the pulpit of my pastor. But this pales in comparison to the cross. Crucifixion is a far more gruesome and embarrassing way to die.
It is the paradox of shame and glory, death and life, and darkness and light that we find at the cross. We glory in the cross not to domesticate it, nor to make death or the instruments of death inherently beautiful. We glory in it because it is where divine glory has had the most the beautiful and striking and life-changing juxtapositional display in all of history.
In my own life, I have some sweet moments I look back to where God has shown himself. Many of these moments were non-suffering events for me: the birth of my adopted daughter, my wedding, experiencing the goodness of friends and family, listening to some special sermons in college, the enjoyment of nature, and some particularly precious moments of worship with other believers.
But other moments were moments of suffering. My wife almost died at the birth of my son. There was so much pain and so much joy at the same time. I remember waiting in a room with my weeping midwife and mother-in-law, holding my newborn son in my arms, and praying that my wife would make it through the surgery she was undergoing that very moment. I was so glad and so heartsick at the same time. Thank the Lord, my wife made it through. When she was being discharged from the hospital we let everyone leave her room, and we prayed together as we held our baby boy. One of God’s precious testimonies hidden in my heart came to my mind, and I said it out loud in our prayer:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
God showed his goodness to us then, even as our hearts were hurting. And he was working everything together for our good. Even though we can’t have any more biological children, today we have an adopted little girl that makes our hearts leap for joy.
Other moments of suffering have been moments of deep guilt and embarrassment. These moments were where the light of God’s glory shone on my sin and painfully exposed it for what it was. But it was there God’s grace covered me over and over, where I was lowest and most hurting for what I had done and what I had become. My God is a repeat-forgiver who loves to alarm our judicial sentiments by justifying ungodly people who should not be forgiven (Romans 4:4-8). Ungodly people, that is, like me. And he loves to amaze me by sending his only begotten son to fulfill the demands of justice in my place.
“This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26)
All these memories are, as I am sanctified, baptized into beautiful memories. Not because my sin was beautiful, and not because my suffering was inherently good, but because it was in those moments that God mysteriously chose to most display the goodness and power and grace of Christ to me. Now I can sing:
And I’m so glad
Glad to find the reason
That I’m happy-sad
That you’ve torn it all away
The way of the cross is the way of seeing God’s beauty and unmitigated goodness shown through suffering—in the darkest moments of our own lives, and most of all, in the darkest moment of Christ’s life. Why? Because the darkest moment of Christ’s life was also his brightest.
That is why we glory in the chief instrument of Christ’s torture and execution. Christ triumphing in his resurrection over death to reign as the “Lamb who was slain” doesn’t make us want to celebrate the cross less, it makes us want to exult in the cross even more. The cross of Christ has a strange, captivating glory that the saints (the redeemed ones) and the angels are drawn to, the kind that has caused men to give up everything they have for Jesus and serve him.
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-10)
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:9-14)
Will you join us in being captivated by this strange glory? Will you join us in directly worshiping the “Lamb who was slain”?
Grace and peace in Christ for those who glory in the cross with Paul (Galatians 6:14),