Continued from last weeks devotional…
Ezra the prophet, writing four centuries before Christ, knew nothing, of course, of the Cross, but prayed, “Our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.” Nor can we. We have a far greater revelation, in the New Testament, of the enormity of our sin, and we know about the Cross. What shall we do about it?
Matthew and Mark tell us that the two criminals who hung on crosses beside Jesus heaped insults on Him at first. One of them said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other, with new insight, recognizing the justice of his own punishment and the innocence of Jesus, asked to be remembered in the kingdom. “Today,” Jesus said, “you will be with me in paradise.”
How shall we respond to this inconceivable sacrifice of love?
In 1949, when Jim Elliot was a senior in college, he wrote,
I set My love upon thee, child,
I knew thee far away.
I wept to see thee wandering wild,
I yearned till thou didst pray.
One of a rebel, hateful band,
Strong in thy lust for sin,
A furtive, fitful, fiery soul—
I loved, I called thee in.
I stripped thee of thy grimy pride,
Laid bare thy secret want—
Poor vagabond of empty ways!
I sent My Spirit to haunt.
Now, desert son, the choice is thine;
My love thou canst forget
And go to roaming wasteland paths.
Wilt, willful, wander yet?
Jesus asks us to take up the cross—to take it up daily. What does this mean? Surely it is the quiet acceptance of disappointments; the willing performance of some hard task we’d prefer to avoid, or of some small duty which is distasteful to us. It is forgiveness to that one who has deeply wronged us and has not apologized (the Lord tells us to forgive those who trespass, not only those who apologize!). The cross is offered to us every day in some form, at times comparatively trivial, at other times real suffering, but it is always something which slashes straight across our human nature, for the cross was an instrument of torture. Paul knew far more about crosses than most of us will ever know. In addition to the floggings, imprisonments, and shipwrecks, he mentioned, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth.” It was he who said, “I have been crucified with Christ… The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
At this season we are not only reminded of Him who took up gladly a real cross of real wood and real nails, “a worm, and not a man”—we are also bidden to sing of the Resurrection:
He closed the yawning gates of hell,Latin, 1675
The bars from Heaven’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise His triumph tell!
Lord! by the stripes which wounded Thee,
From death’s dread sting Thy servants free
That we may live and sing to Thee,
**Excerpt originally published in the March/April 1996 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.