Once again, the words of Russell Moore pierce my soul, resonating perfectly with what I’ve been learning over the past few days. In his latest blog post, he shares with us the message he preached at the SBTS Alumni Chapel. By way of introduction, he recalls a story of a woman who was caught in a storm and takes shelter inside a Catholic church. She saw the crucifixes and hated it. This wasn’t merely because she was a good Protestant, and disagreed with the representation of Christ still being on the cross. She didn’t object to the graphic nature of an image of a Man, our Lord, being crucified. She hated the crucifix because it reminded her of the physical suffering of Jesus. It hit too close to home. She wanted this Person who went through so much suffering to be nothing like her. She wanted a vapor.
I think we’re all a bit like Sarah, in this regard, because while Christ being like us is comforting (Heb. 4:15), it is also daunting. So daunting, in fact, that Christ himself tells us to “count the costs” before following Him (Luke 14:25-33). Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has heard that we are supposed to “bear our cross”, and it’s true, because Christ tells us to do so (Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34). But I feel that we have this twisted view of what that really means. Moore provides an example of a woman who feels that never getting her fake nails to stay on is “her cross.” As ridiculous as that sounds, many of us have cheapened what bearing our cross means to the same degree.
The physical body of Jesus reminds us of the true value, the true cost, of the cross. And we hate it. Sure, we love that Christ suffered the cross in place of our suffering God’s eternal wrath for our sin, but we deeply object to His being our example of how we are to live when it comes to bearing our cross. We can’t change that, though, so we somehow manage to relegate the experience of the cross to something more ethereal, to a vapor. We think only of the glorified Christ, risen from the dead, without really letting the spike-pierced, blood-soaked body of Jesus resonate within our souls. We don’t want this Example. But the gospel will always be God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, and self-crucifying.
When we consider who Jesus died for, it quickly becomes clear it wasn’t just for Himself. It was for the glory of the Father and the love of the elect, for the love of the church. Bearing our cross means that when Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ did the church (Eph. 5:25-26), that husbands should absorb the pains of this life so their wives don’t have to. Bearing our cross means that there will be dark moments in our lives, where we echo the feelings of Jesus when He cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as He quoted the Psalmist (Ps. 22:1). Bearing our cross means that we will be emotionally and spiritually exhausted from contending with the world around us and the sin within us, as Christ was emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted from the beatings He took before He set out on the road to Golgotha, gladly carrying the very instrument of His own execution, and of our redemption. Bearing our cross means that there will be times when we feel like we are gasping for air while choking on our own blood because we are carrying another person’s burdens. Bearing our cross means that there will absolutely be moments in our lives where we will wish we could cry out “It is finished!” and remove ourselves from this painful existence, and place ourselves in the presence of the eternal glory of God.
We can’t handle this. So, we try to escape. But that isn’t our example. That isn’t our calling. Christ could have at any moment called down legions of angels and decimated the Roman armies. He could have simply commanded the Jewish religious leaders to stop breathing, and they would have fallen down dead at His command. Christ, who had every right to hold on to His equality with the other members of the Trinity, every power to end His own suffering, pressed on through the pain. He did so, and we must do so, because He saw past Psalm 22:1 to the end of that Psalm.
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
Jesus understood, and we must understand, that God is sovereign over our suffering, and that our suffering only serves to glorify Him by making us more like Christ. Refining fire burns, but we can take comfort in knowing that even though we suffer, it is only by the will of a loving, good, and gracious God, who is working all things for His glory and our ultimate joy in Him. This is why Christ persevered through the cross. This is why we must desperately fall on God’s grace and strength to persevere as well.