“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
This early Christian hymn summarizes the mystery of the cross. The first half of the hymn expresses the tragedy of the cross; the second half the triumph of the cross. The hymn was probably sung at Christian baptisms in which one went under the water to die with Christ and came out of the water to rise with him.
Though Jesus shared the very essence of God, he did not treat his equality with God as an occasion for self-exaltation. Rather, he displayed his divine nature through self-humiliation. He humbled himself in taking on a human nature, then he humbled himself further by accepting death. Finally it was in the manner of his death, death on a cross, that the rock bottom of humilation was reached. No experience could be more unspeakably horrible or loathsomely degrading than death on a cross.
Yet, because Jesus descended to the lowest depth, God exalted him to the highest summit. This great reversal of Christ’s humiliation supremely illustrates his own words: “All who humble themselves will be exalted.” The humble slave nailed to the cross has been given the name above all names, Jesus is Lord.
Paul urges his readers: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” When we have taken on the humility and the servant attitude of Christ, we are able to imitate him in our relationships with one another. The crucified Lord is the model for our lives. His saving act on the cross empowers us to live differently, as servants of one another and as people destined for eternal life with him.
At the pivotal point of Paul’s letter, he says that his greates desire is to know Christ. Knowing Christ, for Paul, means to experience Christ more personally and fully. Because in Christ is an inexhaustible fullness, there is always more to know of him. Paul realizes that the heart of knowing Christ is sharing the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering. The power of the resurrection is what gave Paul the strength and grace to carry on his remarkable ministry for Christ and what enables every believer to live a new kind of life. Paul’s sharing in Christ’s suffering is well documented in his letters, a sharing in the physical and emotional hardships of discipleship with the scars to prove it. Yet, the cross put all of Paul’s suffering in a different light. Christ’s sufferings enabled Paul to interpret his own, and his own sufferings enabled him to interpret Christ’s. Suffering, for Paul, was not a pointless struggle to be faced with gloomy stoicism and a stiff upper lip. Suffering with Christ in the power of the resurrection enabled him to accept trials with strength, courage, and even joy.
Becoming like Christ in his death was, for Paul, a matter of present experience, a daily dying with Christ, as well as an anticipation of his own bodily death, which he sensed would take the form of martyrdom for Christ. He knew that dying with Christ was the indispensable condition of attaining resurrection from the dead. All disciples who unite their sufferings with Christ in self-giving and live in the power of his resurrection day by day can look forward with confident hope to the final resurrection. Then we will be fully transformed into his likeness and know him completely.
How is the cross not only past history but present reality for Christians?
Crucified Lord, I want to know you more fully each day. Help me to imitate your humility, share in your sufferings, and know the power of your resurrection.