A Vision from the Foot of the Cross
The Apostle Paul was big on the cross of Jesus. He said, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). He told the Corinthians, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). He was a preacher of the cross making disciples for Christ whose basic commitment was to “deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow” Jesus (Luke 9:23). In preaching, teaching, and living, Paul was never far from the foot of the cross. We are likewise drawn to the foot of the cross. It is a place of intense clarity and overwhelming conviction. British Evangelist John Stott, who wrote and reflected on the cross, well said, “Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”
1. The foot of the cross is profoundly sobering! Indeed, it says a lot about a human race that would do such a thing to the God of Love and Life come near. It says a lot about me personally, for I myself am not innocent of His blood. Countless brothers and sisters confess with me being sinners in need of a Savior. This experience can be arresting, as it sinks in when standing at the foot of the Savior hanging on the cross in my behalf. I can read Psalm 51—the sinner’s prayer of David—with great relevance. I hear echoes of Paul’s claim in my heart when he said, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). The reflective old-age words of John Newton, writer of the song “Amazing Grace,” resonate with me: “My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” Stott again well observed: “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
2. The foot of the cross is cleansing and clarifying! The innocent blood of Jesus on my hands speaks of more than my guilt. It beckons me to receive the God-man Jesus as the sacrificial Mediator and Reconciler between the human race and the Infinite Personal God. The cleansing blood of Jesus washes white as snow and eats away the bondage of my idolatry/sin. I confess how my own attempts at self-salvation and self-justification would easily set themselves against salvation by Jesus and justification by the faithfulness of Christ. At the foot of the cross I see my own flim-flam-and-sham ways. Some are direct and shameless, such as outright denial that I sin and need a real Savior. Most are variations on the theme of self-deluded sufficiency—like I am or can be perfect in some area so much so that I don’t really need saving. So I make some test I think I can meet, a religious and holy one to be sure, like avoiding such and such a sin, or being totally honest in every interaction. I resort to the challenge of perfections, like being perfect in church attendance or, even better, being perfect in doctrine—getting it all just right! But at the foot of the cross, I see I have neither always nor often “gotten it all right.” I have significantly changed my mind, even though I was convinced at the time that “I was right and correct on the full range of important Bible doctrine.” To be sure, biblical teaching, doctrine, and the mind of Christ is important. But I am saved by the Savior. I am Christ-Justified by faith, not self-justified. It is not about my illusory perfections but rather the “Son made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:28). My righteousness is from Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1). I am not self-righteous but Christ-righteous.
3. The foot of the cross casts light that dissolves the shadows of “comparative-righteousness.” Oh to know the freedom and joy of Paul’s boasting in the cross of Jesus! And I sometimes hear friends, and some not so friendly, mouthing the very words I would say as I established myself in “perfect” comparative righteousness. Compared to this group here or that group there, I was “really righteous.” I could see all their mistakes, errors and doctrinal shortcomings, all the while “blissfully ignorant” of my own. I recall “progress” in my own contrived “comparative-righteousness” when I would grudgingly admit there were “second-class” Christians out there. They just had not yet arrived at the “pristine level of doctrinal comprehension” of me and my peers. My faith in the power of common sense rivaled my faith in the power of the Gospel unto salvation (Romans 1:16). I was convinced they would eventually “get there,” meaning I believed “good old common sense” would eventually lead them to doctrinal perfection.
Oh the startling and wonderful discoveries at the foot of the cross! Jesus has not stopped healing the blind. His blood rich cleansing brings intense clarity. I am free to see even the depth of my sin, from which my earlier “comparatively righteous” person could only hide. Jesus is Justification (see 1 Cor 1:30). The Lord is “just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness” (Rom 3:26, NET). The wondrous cross frees me from the tunnel vision and compulsive drive to be self-righteous or comparatively righteous. I am no longer “comparatively righteous,” I am “Christ-righteous!”
Jesus spoke of this contrast in His parable of Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18). Two very different worlds were reflected in two very different prayers. The Pharisee prayed as one comparatively righteous, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (18:11). On the other hand, the tax collector prayed, unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus says that the tax collector “went to his house justified rather than the other.” The tax collector, hanging out at the temple, really got it. He was wholly dependent on the sacrificial mercy of God. So are we all.
There is an anonymous saying that brings up an important point: “We are all equal at the foot of the cross.” There is no one without blood stained, guilty hands; truly, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” No one is a stranger to the power of sin, externally and internally. In spite of our best intentions we all have our thousand compromises. It is at the foot of the cross that this leveling effect occurs. It permits us to confess what English Reformer John Bradford said when he saw a fellow prisoner being led to execution and commented: “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
4. The foot of the cross casts light, but not everyone will see it or “get it.” Equality at the foot of the cross puts the human race on level ground, however, not everyone responds equally to the Christ. The blood-drenched crucified Christ reveals that all are “consigned to sin,” but our individual, subjective responses to this fact are not always the same. All along I have been talking about those at the foot of the cross who respond to Jesus with attention, adoration and allegiance. There were others mentioned on the day of His crucifixion who took a dimmer view. To the Roman soldiers gambling for Christ’s clothes, it was just “another day at the office.” To many religious leaders of the people, it was a time of relief and self-congratulations on an execution well done. People on the Jerusalem street no doubt continued mocking the one who had caused such a disturbance to their festival celebrations. And I can imagine that a Gentile tourist that day might have looked afar on the crucifixion of the King of the Jews and mused about when the Peace of Rome would let him express his heart for the divine by offering a pig on the altar.
There were always people who did not and would not “get it” then and also now. And some of these might even “talk the talk” and claim loudly that they “get it,” calling Jesus Lord but not doing what He says. Jesus says to these, “I never knew you, Away from me” (Matthew 7:23; Luke 6:46). Paul explains how the “god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He wanted believers to know that there are folks (including religious types) who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
At the foot of the cross I see that profound justice and deep love are important to God, all at the same time. I see that sacrifice is necessary for the Lord of Life to draw near to His creatures. I see the worst of times and the best of times pressing as nails holding the God-Man to a cross. I see the blood rich flow that runs off His feet that washes clean any willing to bathe in the crimson river of life. This is amazing grace.
5. At the foot of the cross, I am not alone! There are many others, just like me, transfixed on the God-man Jesus. We are gathered round in attention, adoration, and allegiance, calling on the name of the Lord. The crucified Christ is the center of our universe. Yet we are all so different from each other. And the group I grew up with is different from other groups there. Is Jesus lifted high enough that all take their bearings from Him? Looking about, I am tempted by old habits of “comparative righteousness” to grade everyone there on how doctrinally correct they are. Some others have their little tests too, like how much or what kind of social justice folks promote, or how much or what kind of prayer or liturgy or how emotional the singing, “hipster-cool” the preaching, or how important the small groups.
Time at the cross has immersed me in costly Christ-grace. And my world is shaken. I catch glimpses of seeing like Jesus sees and thinking like Jesus thinks. His words echo in my heart, and I recall among the last words which He prayed before betrayal: ” That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe you have sent me” (John 17:21). My old world avenues of “self-justification,” “comparative righteousness,” and perfectionism are gone from the grid. Those gathered round in adoration “get it.” I begin to sing songs of St. Francis of Assisi (a Catholic) and of Charles Wesley (an Anglican and leader of the Methodist Movement). They are different from me and “my group” but their songs are my songs. This is because their Savior is my Savior. I join with all the others in adoring the blessed Lord. How costly grace changes everything! While I continue (maybe even rightly) to hold some strong differences in doctrine and practice with some gathered around Jesus, I know that I am one of those changed. Even though others are not perfect according to my calculator, the Lord lets me see I am not perfect either, and yet am received in His grace. Stott’s wise insight rings true: “Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross.” Jesus is the “Pioneer and Perfector” (Hebrews 12:2), not me. It is “grace wherein we stand” (Romans 5:2), and I must pass it on.
This is what I see when Forest Home Church joins with St. Philip Catholic Church for our upcoming event. We are not coming together simply in a common cause, like could be done with even nonbelievers on certain matters. It is more than this. It is a common cause because we share a common Christ and call on the name of the very same King of King and Lord of Lords. We are washed in the blood that flows from the very same cross. We are born of the same imperishable seed that is the Word of God, confessing together “one baptism for remission of sins,” being raised together to walk in newness of life, confessing together Jesus Risen from the dead on the third day, living in the hope of the resurrection while partaking of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the One body of Christ. When Jesus said, “There will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16), He was thinking of us. So let us unite in common causes, and so much more. Let us enjoy and “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), that in all things Christ may be glorified in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
At the foot of the cross I am asking the Lord about this joining with our Catholic family in town. I raise a question: “How can this be Lord, for we are so different?” I hear His question in reply, “How can it not be, for you have so much in common?”
Lance H May 2013