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"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32).
A story is told of a medieval saint who asked his attendants to lift him from his death bed and place him on a cross. As he lay there and breathed out his life, he kept repeating with glowing eye and shining face the simple words, "It lifts me up, it lifts me up."
These words suggest the uplifting power of the cross of Jesus Christ. That which naturally suggests only suffering, ignominy and defeat has become the noblest sign of all that is lofty, heroic and glorious in the story of redemption and the experience of the Christian.
The Uplift of the Cross in the Experience of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself
Speaking of it He said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth." To Him it brought no sense of degradation or failure, but only a sense of glory and honor and victory. As He spoke of it to His disciples in advance it was always only as a stepping stone to the resurrection which was to follow. On the Mount of Transfiguration His heavenly visitors conversed of nothing else, but they spoke of it as "his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem," and the word decease expresses not so much the idea of death as of departure. It was but the beginning of a glorious ascension which was to lift Him up to higher honors and loftier ministries through the ages to come. The Apostle Paul, speaking of the cross, can only express himself in terms of the loftiest exultation, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." In the visions of the Apocalypse we find it occupying the place of highest honor in the heavenly world. It is the continual theme of the songs, both of the angels and the ransomed, and the highest distinction of Him who shares the Father's throne is the mark of the cross. He is described as the "Lamb that was slain."
The cross of Jesus Christ has exalted Christ Himself by giving to the universe a manifestation not only of the wisdom and love of God nowhere else found, but especially a manifestation of the self-sacrificing love of Christ Himself transcending all other revelations of His character and glory. In human history there is something higher than wealth, power, or brilliant gifts of intellect. Grecian history commemorates the heroes of Thermopylae above all the other records of their country. Rome gloried in the legend of Horatius far more than in the pomp and pageantry of Augustus and Hadrian. The fame of Lincoln and McKinley has been heightened by the tragic story of their martyrdom, And the annals of Christian biography are rich in the record of heroic sacrifice. But there is no heroism like the story of Calvary, and there is no glory which shall ever be laid at the feet of the Lamb of God to be compared with the crimson of the cross and the crown of thorns.
But the cross has brought to the Lord Jesus Christ a yet higher recompense in the approval of His Father and the love of His people. What human imagination can conceive the rapture of that hour, when at last He rested on His Father's bosom, after the anguish of the garden and the crucifixion, and the awful descent among the dead. Speaking of the Father's recompense the inspired apostle says, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). Almost as sweet to His heart is the devotion of His people and the love and gratitude of those for whom He died. How much a brave man will often dare for the object of his affection, and there is no reward so sweet to him as the thanks of some one dear to his heart whom he has been permitted to help or save. When we think of the myriads whom Jesus Christ has rescued from sin and despair, we can form some conception of the meaning of that promise, "She shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isa. 53:11). As we think of the beautiful lives that we have known, the Christians we have met, the saints we have seen pass through the gates with robes made white in the blood of the Lamb, doubtless we have often felt that for such it would not be too much even for us to die. This was "the joy that was set before him" for which H "endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). The day is coming which will make up for all His shame and sorrow, when He shall present to Himself His glorious bride, "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing," and He "shall be satisfied."
The cross has brought to Christ a glorious and everlasting kingdom. The throne which the Father hath prepared for Him as our Mediatorial King is a far more glorious throne than that of Deity. The kingdom which the coming ages is to bring is the recompense which He has won through the work of redemption; and the scepter, which He is to wield over the millennial world and the new heavens and earth, is one which He could never have possessed but for the sharpness of the cross and the humiliation of Bethlehem and Calvary. Therefore, it is indeed true the cross has lifted up the Con of man as well as all who follow Him in that pathway of suffering and glory.
The Uplift of the Cross in the Believer's Life
It lifts us up from hell to heaven, from the curse of the broken law to the acceptance of God and the justification, forgiveness and salvation which place us on a plane of loftier righteousness than even if we had never sinned.
It lifts us up from sin to righteousness, from the degradation and defilement of our natural condition to the image of Christ and the righteousness of God. "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" is the tribute which every saint has brought to the cross of Jesus Christ. Not only does it save, it also sanctifies. But it sanctifies in a way which lifts us higher than any holiness that Adam ever knew. It sanctifies by the process of crucifixion and resurrection. It puts not only our past sins, but our sinful nature on the cross with Jesus Christ, so that we pass out in our own sinfulness and are reckoned dead, and then in Christ Jesus we are resurrected and filled with His nature and spirit, so that we become partakers of His holiness and stand in the same place as Christ Himself in spotless holiness and blamelessness before the throne of God.
The cross lifts us above our sickness and infirmity and makes us partakers of the resurrection life and strength of the Lord Jesus even in our mortal frame, for "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" and "with his stripes we are healed." This is but the beginning of a physical immortality which is yet to transform us into the likeness of His glorified body and the possession of physical attributes and qualities infinitely grander than the race of Adam could ever have known, but for the work of redemption.
The cross lifts us up above the world's ambitions and sordid interests and makes us the citizens of heaven. This was the supreme reason why Paul gloried in the cross. "Whereby," he says, "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." By the cross of Christ we are the same as if we had died as citizens of this world, and had been sent back to it from heaven as divine messengers and missionaries in the very same sense as Christ Himself was sent. Its pleasures and pursuits, therefore, have no right to control us. We are not of it any more than He was of it, and we are in it as men who walk with our feet on earth and our hearts and heads in heaven.
It lifts us up above the power of Satan and makes us conquerors in the conflict with the powers of darkness. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 12:11). The cross was Satan's Waterloo. Not only was he beaten there, but he was captured and hung up on the cross as a scarecrow to show the children of God that the devil is a defeated foe and that we need no longer fear him or even fight him in our own name and strength, but we may hand him over to the Captain of our salvation who has conquered him for us and will conquer him in us when we fully trust Him. "Having spoiled principalities and power, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (the cross) (Col. 2:15).
The cross lifts us above the fear of death and gives to us the right to the resurrection and the life immortal. Indeed, it is our privilege to regard death as already behind us. Wit Him we have died on the cross and for us death never can be the same again. The form of death may come, but all that has death in it has already passed upon Him, and for us it is but a transition to the life beyond. "If a man keep my saying," He has told us, "he shall never see death" (John 8:51). All he shall see is the presence of the Lord encompassing him and hiding from him all other consciousness and every fear and every foe. From the standpoint of the cross we are not now looking into the grave but into the heavens "from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20,21).
The cross lifts us above the natural to the supernatural, from the human to the divine, from the Adamic race to the family of God where we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ and sons of God. Henceforth we live not according to the limitations of human nature, but "according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:20-22).
The cross lifts us up from law to grace, from trying to trusting, from having to, to loving to, from our deadly doing to His finished work, from Christian endeavor to divine achievement and victorious all sufficiency. Henceforth it is not what we are to do, but what we are to receive and let Him work in us "to will and to do of his good pleasure."
The cross lifts us up from the life of repression and depression to the life of inspiration, liberty, spontaneity and fullness. Henceforth we are not everlastingly dying, but we have died and are alive forevermore. The cross has taken us across the dark abyss of death and planted us forever on the shores of life for "Christ...hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10).
The cross lifts us up from a life of selfishness to a life of sacrifice and love. Its message is "the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14,15). No spirit that truly touches the cross can ever henceforth live for self alone. The law of the cross is the law of sacrifice. There is a school of religious teachers who hold and teach that the one meaning of the cross is simply a pattern of divine love given to us for our imitation. According to this view Christ died to lift men from ignoble selfishness to heroic sacrifice and holy service. They see no place for the doctrine of substitution and atonement for sin, but see only a splendid object lesson of benevolence and sacrifice. It must be said that oftentimes the lives of the men and women who hold this lower view of the cross are by no means inconsistent with their teaching and that they have given many beautiful examples of the loveliest virtues and the loftiest benevolence. Surely while we believe in the loftier conception of the cross of Jesus we should not leave out the lower, and our lives should show a still higher conformity to the Gospel we preach and be no less noble, self-denying and beneficent than the lives of men and women who have no such inspiration as comes to us from the Source of our redemption. Perhaps it may be said for them, that believing as they do not so much in grace as in gracious works on their own part, they make more strenuous efforts to live their religion, but surely love and gratitude should win from us a nobler response than mere self-righteousness from others. While we accept His grace and praise Him for His precious blood, oh, let us not forget to follow in His blood marked steps, and to live as well as sing,
"Cross of Christ lead onward
in this holy war:
In Thy name we conquer
now and ever more."
The Believer's Attitude toward the Cross
In conclusion, what is our attitude toward the cross of Christ? Near the cross? No, that will never do. At the cross? No, that is not yet near enough. On the cross? That is our true place. Our sins on the cross? No, our very selves upon the cross. But we must not linger on the cross forever. There is another stage. In the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, the apostle declared, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and ... was buried." Too often we forget this part. This is not on the cross, but beneath the cross and beyond the cross. Like Him we are to pass from the cross to the grave. Burial with Him in baptism is the Christian symbol of this glorious fact that the cross of Christ has finished for us the question of our death with Him and has brought us to the place of resurrection and life forevermore. Is that our place? Are we reckoning ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord?
Finally, let us not forget to take up our cross and follow Him, and inject the spirit of the cross, which is the spirit of sacrifice, of service and self forgetting love, into everything we think and say and do. "He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them, and rose again."