John Anderson. Courtesy photo
December 06, 2013In Galatians 6:14, Paul wrote, "God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." The "glory of the cross," what did that mean to the Apostle Paul? Remember that on another occasion he used the phrase "the scandal of the cross," and we noted that the cruel and ugly instrument of torture has become a cherished symbol to the followers of Jesus. But what about the "glory of the cross?"
For one thing, Paul is saying in this passage is that he has no reason to boast on his own. His boasting is in the Lord and His great gift of salvation. Oh, there was a time when he thought that he "measured up" pretty nicely, a "Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Philippians 3:5, 6.
He could have tabulated quite an impressive list of attainments in his personal life and tooted his pharisaical horn rather loudly. But that was before he met Jesus! Then all his spiritual accomplishments, all of his self-generated obedience he saw as nothing more than a pile of rubbish.
He probably remembered what the prophet Isaiah had said, "All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." Isaiah 64:6. He came to understand that nothing but the blood of Jesus could save him from sin. Nothing but the cross could redeem him from destruction. And so, there could be no opportunity for parading his own attainments or boasting. Human pride was laid low in the dust.
"God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." All those trials and hardships he had endured the long, wearisome travels, the shipwrecks, the beatings, the stonings and being imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel? In the light that streamed from Calvary, Paul could not muster the breath to express a single word of self-exaltation.
There's something else we should see in the phrase "the glory of the cross." Usually we think of the word "glory" as expressing majesty and splendor, but what happened that day at Calvary seems to be a far cry from a spectacle of "glory," at least in that sense.
The sun hid its face and darkness blanketed the hilltop when the Creator God became the sacrifice for our sins. The pallor of gloom hung low across Golgotha's brow as nature's Maker died. Glory? It didn't seem so.
The followers of Jesus didn't perceive it. Watch His mother Mary as her frail form is aided from the mount, the path wetted by her tears. See the sadness on their countenances as the ladies prepare the spices for His lifeless body at the tomb. Hear the pathos and irony in the voices of His followers as even on Sunday they say, "We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel." Luke 24:21. The "glory of the cross?"
And yet Jesus had looked forward to His death on the cross as being the highlight of His life. He spoke of it as "His hour." Especially in the Gospel of John this concept comes through. Early in His ministry, at the performance of His first miracle at Cana's wedding Jesus made the comment, "My hour has not yet come." John 2:4. Later His enemies "sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come." John 7:37.
Then just a few days before the event, He referred to the cross with the words, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified." John 12:23. Even before the crucifixion, Jesus tethered the ideas of "cross" and "glory" together. That Thursday before the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane, John said, "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come." John 13:1.
His hour! He spoke of it almost in anticipation, as a bride might refer to "her day." For Him, there was "glory" in the cross.
This strong desire to complete His mission was evidenced on His last journey to Jerusalem. "Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem." Luke 9:51.
This urgency was noticeable in His walk. "Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed." Mark 10:32. His strident step on this last journey as He walked ahead of the disciples was apparently unusual and evoked the surprise of the disciples. It was because He would not be deterred, distracted or delayed from finishing what He had come to do.
The "glory of His hour" the "glory of the cross" lay just ahead. The glory of the cross! Only God's grace could turn something that was "gory" into something that is "glory!" We might think of the difference between those two words as being the "l" of God's love.
In our current culture the day after Thanksgiving has acquired the name "Black Friday." I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because you have to get up when it's still dark to take advantage of the bargains offered. Maybe it's because retailers hope to make a lot of sales and end their business year "in the black." But let your mind go back to another day in history that was a "Black Friday."
There was another Friday that was darkened; it was the day Jesus died. The Bible says that an unnatural darkness covered Calvary, even at midday. Matthew 27:45. Yet, there is another sense in which God's glory beamed more brilliantly than ever on that Black Friday.
Often times in Scripture the word "glory" is synonymous with "character." When Moses asked the Lord to show him His glory, the Lord responded by repeating the attributes of His character. "Then the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abounding in goodness and truth." Exodus 34:5, 6.
Paul talked about the transformation of our characters as we grow in Christ as being "from glory to glory." II Corinthians 3:18.
As we think of the phrase "the glory of the cross," does it bring to our minds a revelation of God's character? It should! It was on the cross that the greatest demonstration of God's character of love was unveiled.
"God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. God's mercy was always there: it's "from everlasting to everlasting." Psalm 103:17.
But it was the dark night of sin that made the star of His love shine even brighter, a love that shown the brightest when Jesus hung on the cross for our sins. The "glory of the cross"? Oh yes!
The glory of God's character of love and forgiveness toward lost sinners like you and me, giving us hope of redemption and eternal life through His blood. We agree with the apostle, as we look at our own "righteousness" and realize how pitifully inadequate it is, "God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."