It feels an appropriate time to republish my blog “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” as we approach Ash Wednesday. I encourage you to consider what living beneath the cross of Jesus means in your own walk with Christ especially during this reflective season of Lent. God’s blessings, +GOB
You may or may not be familiar with the old hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (you can listen to it here). As Christians, we all live beneath the cross of Christ. But what does that mean? I believe it means that the cross influences our lives in profound ways, ways that distinguish us from those who do not yet follow him, ways that make us the “peculiar people” to which scripture refers (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). Let’s look at our place beneath the cross to find out what it is and how it changes us.
A Place of Humility
Beneath the cross is, first, a certain place of humility. You cannot be under the cross of Christ and still have any sense at all that you are getting things done by your own might. A part of the story we see in the cross is God’s judgment against sin (the extent to which he loves us) and therefore the humility into which he invites us.
Once we are under the cross, in fact, we can do nothing less than serve a savior who so profoundly humbled himself that he would subject himself to such an extraordinarily horrific and torturous death, all on our behalf. No wonder that Paul writes in Ephesians that outside of Christ, we were “dead through the trespasses and sins in which [we] once lived” (Eph. 2:1a).
Now, that’s a pretty tough statement. Most of us would like to say, “Yes, but” to a statement like that: “Yeah, but I’m a really nice person.” And other things like that that would somehow qualify the finality of what Paul describes. But those who live under the cross of Christ would say, “Yes, and thank God that he did something about it in sending Jesus.”
When we live under the cross, there’s no quibbling that outside of the grace and power of Christ, we have nothing to offer, and that even our best efforts to try to do something only get reflected on our own self-will. It is an act of dead self-exaltation to try to stand in a place of power under the cross of Christ. We should instead say, “Yes, who was I? Outside of Jesus, I’d be dead in my trespasses and sins, but thank God, he made me alive, he is making us alive, and therefore all of the life and the power and the gratitude that flows out of us is in fact the fruit of his work within us for which we are extraordinarily grateful.”
That never changes. And because that’s the case, when you come into a church, a group of people who live under the cross, you should recognize it as a place of humility, too. A humility that produces the kind of kindness, the kind of hospitality, the kind of gentleness, that says, “Yeah, we’re not one of those places where we like to look down on other people, ’cause we know better. We know who we are. Therefore, everybody’s welcome here. We’re not in the midst of proving ourselves or caring about our social status. That’s the old put-on-airs stuff that we know happens in some congregations. We’ve been on the receiving end of some of that.
“But here, we’re a place that welcomes people, because we know that being underneath the cross of Christ is a great leveler, that no one is any better than anyone else. We understand that beneath the cross, all of us were dead in our trespasses and sins, and that Christ by his sacrifice is—thanks be to God—making us alive, raising us up, giving us a level of dignity and grace and power that we never could have had for ourselves.”
A Place of Authority
But living beneath the cross also puts us in an extraordinary place of authority. Not authority to do whatever we want, but in fact the authority to serve, and primarily through prayer.
“But I don’t know how to pray!” we are tempted to say. But this lovely line from Luke’s gospel reminds us of the truth: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
So in the midst of the generosity of God, each of us can say, “Oh, Lord, I need the work of your Holy Spirit to give me what I need, because I don’t know how to pray. The invitation to ask is very wide, but I want to ask what is in accordance with your purposes. Holy Spirit, teach me how to pray about whatever it is that concerns me.”
A part of what it means to be an intercessor before the cross, in fact, is to both know the glorious love that continues to say, “Come on, talk to me. I’m listening. I care. What happens in your life absolutely matters” as well as to understand that God wants to use us to make a difference in the lives of other people. He will, in fact, teach us how to pray for one another and, just as importantly, for the communities in which we live.
We live in an era that, if marked by anything, is marked by fear and uncertainty, a not knowing which way to go. And it is a tragedy that both of our presidential candidates, each in his and her own way, have tried to take on an almost messianic pretention, as if to say, “I am the answer to your fears.”
We know that’s not true. To go beneath the cross is to say there’s only one who is, in fact, the answer to our fears. And therefore as the politicians pursue the kind of agenda that is, in fact, at cross-purposes with the authority and power of Christ, we choose to enter in more deeply into this calling of prayer and service, asking God to help us to be salt and light in the community to which God has placed us. We ask him to make us available for him to use us, even when we walk down the street. To pray for that person that catches our eye, to allow that leaven and that life to flow into this community through the praying, compassionate life of a church that lives under the shadow of the very cross of Christ.
“My Glory All the Cross”
That’s who God wants us to be, and who he will help us to be as we live beneath his cross. So let us ask God to work these things into our lives. That God would continue to work in us a greater and greater sense of humility, a generosity, and a kindness toward others. And that we would ask God to teach us to plumb the depths of what it means to be called to intercessory prayer, to serve one another in love no matter who we are, where we’ve been, or where we come from, because all of us are humbled before the cross of Christ. As the hymn writer put it, “My sinful self my only shame/my glory all the cross.”
It’s an enormous charge. The only right answer is “I will, with God’s help.” But God will give it. He will give the Holy Spirit to all who ask, and provide for you and for all of us, all that we need to serve him in a way that causes people to glorify Christ because of who we are and what we are doing.
What does living beneath the cross of Jesus mean to you? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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