In Paul’s time, the Greeks saw the whole story of a Savior dying on a cross as “foolishness.” (See. 1 Cor. 1:23) And things haven’t changed much over the centuries. Others have turned the cross into church decorations, necklaces and bracelet trinkets, wholly ignoring the terrible instrument of death that the cross represents. Still others question why Christ’s crucifixion is seen as a “sacrifice .” In the early 19th Century, John Bowring clearly had a different attitude when he wrote the hymn, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” The fact that it sounds strange to modern ears demonstrates the change in the spiritual landscape of our world in the last 200 years. Here are the words:
When the woes of life o’ertake me,
Hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
Never shall the cross forsake me,
Lo! it glows with peace and joy.
When the sun of bliss is beaming
Light and love upon my way,
From the cross the radiance streaming
Adds more luster to the day.
The title and first line seems to be based on the words of Paul in Gal. 6:14, which the KJV translates as “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
So why would Paul “glory/rejoice/boast’ in the cross of Christ, with the cross being the most ignominious death of the time? After all, most of the world saw only curses in the cross. Let’s examine this question together.
The hymn writer notes that
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
All Scripture centers around the cross of Christ. This is so if we recognize that the slain lamb of the ancient sacrifices typified the death of Christ on the cross. Christ was the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev 13:8), and John the Baptist recognized Him as the fulfillment of the whole sacrificial system when he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) The eternal Son knew before He became incarnate the ungratefulness and suffering He would meet, but He also knew that many would receive Him as Savior. And that is why He came to this planet to die on man’s behalf and thus reveal the love of God for humanity.
In the patriarchal age we read of one dramatic examples of the substitutionary role of “the lamb.” When Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, He was ready to obey, reasoning that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill the promise to Abraham. But God sent an angel to stop him in the act and show him a lamb to sacrifice instead. It helped him understand the great sacrifice the Father would make for him and all humanity when the Messiah should come into this world to suffer and die.
Another example etched into the minds of the Hebrew people was the blood of the lamb painted on the door post of houses in their last night in Egypt – blood that caused the “angel of death” to “pass over” their houses and keep safe all those inside, whether born Hebrew or Egyptian. This event was memorialized in the Passover festival which was to take place at a specific time each year. Christ was the fulfillment of this Passover lamb which died instead of the firstborn sheltered in the house with blood on the door posts. Christ died at the exact time the priest was about to slay the Passover lamb in the temple. As the priest stared in terror at the magnificent curtain between the Holy and Most Holy Place being ripped by an unseen hand, the Passover lamb escaped. [See The Story of Daniel the Prophet, p. 130 ]
Thus Christ’s crucifixion was the exact anti-type of the death of the Passover lamb. As the lamb died instead of the firstborn sheltered in the homes of the Hebrews, so Christ died instead of sinners deserving death but choosing Him as Savior. This is often called a “vicarious death,” meaning “death in place of” another.
Unfortunately, Israel, God’s representatives on this planet, had largely lost sight of the meaning of the sanctuary services.
The truth of God had been hidden beneath a mass of tradition and error. The sacrificial offerings which had been instituted to teach men concerning the vicarious atonement of Christ, to teach them that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, had become to them a stumbling-block. All that was spiritual and holy was perverted to their darkened understanding.
[Ellen White in Review and Herald, November 1, 1892]
Christ came to brush away the mass of tradition and error that hid the meaning of the sanctuary services. His death on the cross revealed the character of God which had been misrepresented even by those who considered themselves His people. The cross demonstrated that God, though being the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, was willing to abase Himself to the very lowest depth of this world so that He might save those among rebellious humans who were willing to be saved. His act of self-abasement stood in contrast to the self-seeking promoted by the god of this world. [Phil. 2:5-8] Ellen White writes that
Our little world is the lesson book of the universe. God’s wonderful purpose of grace, the mystery of redeeming love, is the theme into which “angels desire to look,” and it will be their study throughout endless ages. Both the redeemed and the unfallen beings will find in the cross of Christ their science and their song. It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self-sacrificing love. In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which “seeketh not her own” has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.” The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White, pp. 19,20
Indeed, we have nothing in ourselves to boast of. But we may revel in the love of Christ as demonstrated at the cross.
- The cross demonstrated the self-renouncing love of God who risked all to save inhabitants of a rebellious planet.
- The cross proved that God takes a personal interest in me.
- The cross of Christ reminds me that He died that I might live eternally.
- The cross forever removed any sympathy for Lucifer from the minds of other inhabitants of the universe.
- The cross demonstrates that the Law of God is unchangeable, but the love of God is great enough to save fallen sinners.
- The cross reminds us that we are sinners in need of saving.
- The cross demonstrates that sin is costly.
- The cross of Christ restored all that was lost in Adam.
- The cross assures us of eternal life.
- The cross reminds me that salvation is found in self-renunciation (crucifixion), not in seeking the highest place for ourselves.
- The cross demonstrates that God is both just and merciful.
- The glory of the character of God shines out from the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
The list could go on. What can you add to this list?