Posted on April 2, 2014
#48: The Beauty of a Cross
At a local jewelry store window, two young women were examining an Easter display of cross necklaces, discussing which was “prettiest.” The people of Jesus’ day would have thought it an odd conversation. To them, there was nothing pretty about a cross. Crosses were cruel, ugly instruments of death. The idea that a cross would be considered beautiful jewelry would be as strange to them as for us to hang a tiny gold guillotine or sterling silver electric chair from a delicate chain and call it “pretty.”
What transformed an ugly cross to a treasured thing of beauty? Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) and instantly a cross became a beautiful emblem of selfless saving sacrifice.
Pick up your Bible and read Mark 8:29-38, then re-read verses 32-38. (Parallel passages are in Matthew 16:15-27 and Luke 9:20-26.)
Peter had just boldly asserted, “You are the Christ” in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”—a powerful “Aha!” moment. Jesus used it as a launching point for new, stronger teaching about His future and theirs. Matthew wrote, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. . . .”
The disciples loved Jesus, and were disturbed by His predictions. Peter, whether on his own or as the voice of the Twelve, took action: he pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. If the matter hadn’t been so serious, the scene might have been funny—Peter schooling Jesus. But the fate that loomed ahead for Jesus was dreadful enough; He didn’t need those He loved most trying to dissuade Him.
Jesus put a swift and shocking end to Peter’s speech. He spoke to Peter while looking at all of the Twelve: “Out of my sight, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me. You’re not thinking like God, but like a human.” The one Peter had just identified as Messiah now tagged Peter as Satan. A pail of icy water in the face couldn’t have stunned Peter more.
Difficult, painful events with cosmic consequences were going to unfold in the coming months. The Twelve would need to be fully convinced about Jesus’ identity and purpose. They also had to be wholly committed to their role in the impending Kingdom. Anything less and they wouldn’t last.
Once He had their attention, Jesus gave a teaching that’s still a stirring challenge. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Jesus wasn’t promoting pointless masochistic self-denial, but purposeful God-empowering obedience—saying no to self for the sake of saying yes to God. The no to self is noble, but becomes totally transforming when coupled with a yes that bows to His right to determine my course. God does His best victorious work in me only after I’ve taken up my cross, saying “I want Your way more than I want my own. My will is crucified, dead; Your will be done.” I choose His way even when it’s not easy, and even when it’s not what I might want, trusting that in the end I will in no way be disappointed. This is the heart of faithful obedience—the kind that caused Jesus to pick up His cross and carry it to Calvary.
In Jesus, the offense of a cross is removed. Like Him, when we crucify our selfish will on a cross, we’re not conquered but conquerers! The ugly cross is made beautiful, transformed into a gift—His to us, and ours to Him.
© Diane McLoud 2014