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‘In the cross of Christ I glory.’ I’m quite sure that no one who had ever witnessed a crucifixion would have spoken of the GLORY of the cross. The cross was a terrible instrument of torture and execution invented by the Persians and developed to cruel excess by the Romans to inflict the maximum suffering over the longest period of time. Cicero called it, ‘the supreme capital penalty.’ When the Jews said that anyone hung on a tree had to be cursed by God, they were referring to death by crucifixion.
Yet we sing ‘In The Cross of Christ I GLORY.’ And even stranger, when Jesus talks about His rendezvous with the cross in the same way. ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ ‘Father, glorify your name.’
Parents ‘glorify’ their children by bragging about their great accomplishments and how successful they are. And as they ‘glorify’ their children they ‘glorify’ themselves. What son would ever think that he ‘glorifies’ his father by being nailed to this object of suffering and shame?
But we sing, ‘In the cross of Christ I GLORY.’ What FOLLY to the person who sees nothing more than what the eyes can see. But what WISDOM to the person who puts his ears before his eyes and believes the Word of God that proclaims God has used this piece of wood which men made their instrument of punishment, pain and death to be His instrument of reconciliation, peace and life.
We need to be sure to get one thing straight before we go any further. We do not worship a piece of wood. We are no more saved by a piece of wood than we are by the discovery of the cross on which Christ was crucified. In the year 64AD, the Persians captured the city of Jerusalem and confiscated the cross of Christ. 15 years later, the Roman Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians and returned it to Jerusalem, not out of piety or faith, but because he believed that possession of the cross would bring good luck and military success to whom ever possessed it. That is pure idolatry.
For a long time, the church had been preaching and teaching that eternal punishments for sins were removed by visiting holy relics such as the cross of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. That is pure idolatry too.
Luther attempts to set the record straight and in accord with the Scriptures writing, ‘We think about the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, true enough. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place by the Word. So then, if I now seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ in knowledge and remembrance, for I will not find it given there either. But I will find in the sacrament and the gospel, the Word that distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross.’ (LW 40:213-214).
When we sing, ‘In the cross of Christ I glory,’ we are simply using the ‘cross’ as a shorthand way of talking about ALL that God has done for us through His only-begotten Son and Him crucified. ‘The word of the cross,’ that St. Paul refers to includes not only all of our Lord’s suffering and death as the full atonement for all of our sins, but also His resurrection on the 3rd day as the final and complete victory over death and the grave and Satan.
In fact, when we sing and talk about the ‘cross of Christ,’ we also mean to include all of the places in the Old Testament where God foreshadows what He will accomplish in Christ crucified.
A. Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac
Remember Isaac. Isaac was the son that God promised to Abraham in Abraham’s old age. God told Abraham to ‘take your son, your only son, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…’ (Genesis 22:2) As father and son hike up the mountain together, it’s Isaac, the son, who carries the wood for his own sacrifice on his own back. But Isaac is confused, ‘Father, here is the fire and the wood for the sacrifice, but where is the lamb for the offering’? He doesn’t know that he is the lamb that is to be slain.
But he willingly, without any resistance, allows his father to bind him to the wood. And then, just as Abraham is about to plunge the knife into his son, his only son, whom he loves, the angel of the Lord intervenes and commands the father to put down the knife. He shall not kill his son.
Rather, there is a ram nearby; with its head caught in a tangle of thorns and the briars. It will be the substitute sacrifice for Isaac.
It is not by accident or mere coincidence that Jesus carries the wood for His offering on his back to the place of sacrifice. He is the son, the only son, loved by His Father, whose head is caught in a tangle of thorns and who is laid on the wood, without resistance, to be the substitute for us all.
The cross of Christ is the altar upon which the offering that atones for the sin of world is sacrificed. Never has there been an altar that has held a more costly and precious offering than the cross. And so we sing, ‘In the cross of Christ I glory.’
Remember Israel in Egypt? They were slaves. They lived under the oppressive rule of Pharaoh? Recall that fateful night when God’s angel of death was sent on a mission to strike down dead all of the firstborn sons in Egypt. Moses preached a very strange sermon the week before. He told the people to take a lamb and slaughter it and mark the wood of the doorframes of their homes with the blood of that lamb. And they must remain in their houses, that is, under that wood that was marked with the blood of the lamb. Only there would they be safe and saved from death. ‘The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.’
The cross of Christ is the wooden doorframe that is stained with the blood of the Lamb of God. All who would be saved must live by faith under the cross, for God’s promise is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, ‘when I see the blood, I will pass over you.’
Never has there been such a glorious doorpost as the cross of Christ. And so we sing, ‘In the cross of Christ, I glory.’
C. The Snake on the Pole
Remember Israel in the desert? As Moses led them to the Promised Land, they grew impatient and they complained against Moses. And because Moses was God’s chosen servant, it was the same as complaining against God.
In the gospels, we hear that Jesus could call summon the fish in the Sea of Galilee to jump into the disciples’ net and they did. Likewise, God summoned the snakes in the desert to report to the place where Israel was camped. The snakes bit the people and the people were dying left and right.
God told Moses to make a snake that looked just like the ones that were biting them, and put it on a pole and raise the pole up high so that everyone could see it. ‘Everyone is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’
How strange is that? The REMEDY looked just like the CAUSE. But sure enough, when people looked at the snake on the pole they were healed and did not die. The very thing that was killing them now saved them.
The Son of God was mounted on the pole of the cross for all to see. And everyone who has ever been bitten by sin, and the sting of sin is death, is directed to look and see Christ crucified.
And what do we see when we look to the cross? We see the very thing that kills us ‘ our sin. The REMEDY looks just like the CAUSE. ‘For our sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Cor. 5:21). God made Christ to be the sin that kills us all. Your sin and mine was nailed to the cross. Look at it. See it. That which kills you has been put to death in Christ crucified.
Never has there been a more glorious pole as the cross of Christ. For never has any pole held a more salutary figure as this one. And so we sing, ‘In the cross of Christ I glory.’
D. The Tree of Life
Lets go all the way back to the beginning. In the Garden of Eden, ‘God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground ‘ trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.’ (Gen. 2:9). In the middle of the garden were two special trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The man and the woman had God’s permission to eat from the ‘Tree of Life.’ Its name describes what it does. It bears ‘life-giving fruit.’ They were forbidden to eat from the tree of ‘the Knowledge of Good and Evil.’ ‘For the day that you eat of it, you shall surely DIE.’
They ate the fruit that hung from the TREE OF DEATH. They tasted death and it was bitter, and brought tears to their eyes, and suffering and pain to their life and they were evicted from the land of the living.
The cross of Christ is the true ‘tree of life’ that the tree in the Garden of Eden pointed to. The fruit that gives and sustains life, even eternal life, hangs from the cross. Echoing the Word to Adam in the beginning, Jesus points to Himself saying, ‘take and eat, take and drink.’ ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.’ (John 6:54). This divine fruit that hangs from the cross gives life, even to those who have tasted death. It removes the bitterness of death by its sweetness and dries up every tear with the sure and certain promise of the eternal return to the Garden of Eden.
Never has there been a tree bear such glorious fruit as the tree of the cross has borne. ‘In the cross of Christ I Glory.’
Today, on this 10th anniversary of September 11th, 2001, we remember the loss of life, the suffering and pain inflicted upon so many by the forces of evil. 10 years ago, the question that so many were asking was, ‘where was God in all of this’? 10 years later, it is a question that many are still asking. It is a question that no one but the Christian is able to answer with certainty. For only the Christian has the answer from God Himself, recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
God was on the cross, reconciling the world to Himself, atoning for the sin of the world, overcoming our death with His death, raising the dead in Christ to eternal life, working all things for good in the lives of those who love Him, delivering us from all evil. The Son was glorifying the Father and the Father was glorified by His Son, so that all who put what they hear before what the see may be glorified.
This is pure folly to those who seek wisdom according to the wisdom of this age. And to those who demand that God show us some sign that He is still in control of this world and knows what He’s doing, the message of the cross of Christ is a real stumbling block.
But to all who are being saved, the cross of Christ is the altar where the Lamb of God has been sacrificed as our substitute, it is the doorpost, stained by the blood of Christ under which believers live and are delivered from death, it is the pole that holds the remedy for our sin to all who will look to it, it is the tree of life that bears the life-giving fruit to all who will eat of it.
And so we sing, ‘In the cross of Christ I glory.’