I wonder what you see as you look at the cross. It was hideous ugly- the “supreme penalty” according to Cicero. And yet throughout Jesus’ ministry he never seems to regard it as a place of shame. Three times in John’s Gospel Jesus uses the same description of the cross- it is the place where he is “lifted up.”
It is a deliberate play on words. Literally the one being executed is lifted from the ground- it is what leads to their death from suffocation. But lifted up speaks of exaltation, of being enthroned. And the three references in John’s Gospel tell us what Jesus achieves from his cruciform throne.
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, NIV). It is an evocative image. Jesus takes us back to the book of Numbers. Israel had just gone through one of its spasmodic episodes of disobedience. God’s judgement had fallen- and the people had been bitten by venomous snakes. They were about to die. Only one hope was available to them. Moses lifted up a snake on a pole and people could be healed if they looked up to it in faith. Astonishingly Jesus here applies that image to himself. As we look to Jesus lifted up on the cross, we see that snake on a pole. In short, we see our only hope. Left to ourselves you and I are dead men walking. It is as though we have been bitten by the snake. We have lived in a world made by God and not obeyed or thanked Him- and our destiny is eternal death. We can’t complain for we are guilty. But Jesus has been lifted up on a pole. Today we have the opportunity to look to Him and find eternal life. What do you see as you look up at the one exalted on the cross? You see your only hope of life.
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:28-29, NIV). Jesus is addressing the Jewish leaders who were currently opposing him. They will play their part in putting him to death as they cry “Crucify”. And yet as they lift Jesus up the cross will become a place where his identity is clearly revealed and at Pentecost many would come to realise it. Golgotha shows us God for Jesus is the divine I AM. That could be terrifying- does this mean more than one God? Is there the danger of a cosmic civil war that would wipe out the universe? Not at all- for the Cross shows us Jesus’ love and obedience to the Father. The plan that was there before the foundation of the world agreed between Father and Son- that Jesus would go to the cross- was completed perfectly, because Jesus always does what pleases God. I still marvel at Jesus’ love for me expressed in his death. But for the sake of the harmony of the universe I’ve become increasingly appreciative of Jesus’ love for the Father that is revealed. What a beautiful picture of the Godhead. What do you see as you look up at the cross? God- a God with loving relationship at the centre of His very being- revealed.
“I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:33, NIV). How do we know that all the above is true? Because this verse has definitely come true. Jesus says that as he dies on the cross so people from all across the world will come to bow at his throne. Today- on Good Friday 2021- that will be the case as across the world the crucified Jesus is worshipped. Given that this was a comment from a man over 2000 years ago speaking in a backwater of the Roman Empire about to die an ignominious death, this is quite striking. Truly he is the King on the throne. Today he is summoning people from all across the world, from every class and nationality to come to him. What do you see as you look at the Cross? The King who is summoning you to bow at His throne.
It is Good Friday. But it is also Coronation Day. It is the day when Jesus is lifted up. As you look at the Cross, what do you see? A twisted, agonised figure? At one level- yes. But you also see your only hope. You see God revealed. And maybe even for the first time you see your King drawing you to bow at his feet.