In John 3, Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus trying to describe the type of life that God is inviting Nicodemus into. It is a life of rebirth, a life led by the power of the Spirit. It is a resurrected life lived in honor to God. As the story progresses, the voice of the narrator tries to explain how this new life is going to be brought about, through the death of the Son on the cross. “As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16) The cross was to be the event that allowed new life to take place.
As believers, we sometimes struggle to know what to do with the cross. In many ways the cross is a horrible event. It is the moment in which our Savior was killed. It was pain and torture for Jesus. Jesus suffered at the cross because of our sins. Jesus was tortured and killed because of our sins. In some ways it is an event that should cause us to be ashamed, to cause great sorrow. If we hadn’t sinned Jesus wouldn’t have to die.
And yet the cross is also victory. It is a moment of celebration. Yes, it meant the death of Jesus, but it also provided the rest of us with life. And it is this moment that Jesus says will draw the world to him. The Son of Man must be lifted up in order to provide eternal life. Jesus may not have wanted the cross, but he accepted it as the way to bring about life for humanity. As Jesus states in John 12, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (John 12:32)
Because of that the cross is a sign of victory. As Paul says, God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. The instrument that was supposed to put an end to the ministry of Jesus actually propelled the ministry of Jesus into a whole new level. It was because Jesus humbled himself and became the suffering servant that he can be exalted as Lord. It is because Jesus was lifted up on the cross that he provides the means necessary to draw everyone to himself. Ironically, Jesus lifted up, exalted, on the cross is what makes Jesus the exalted Christ.
And as we are drawn to the exalted Christ, as we are invited into this lifestyle of service to God, we are invited as well to take up our cross and follow. Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:24) Christ, lifted high on the cross, draws us to embrace a life of self-sacrifice for others. Experiencing the exalted Christ invites us to imitate his love in service to others. The victory on the cross is not just so that we can have life, but so that the entire world can have life. As we embrace the Lordship of the exalted Christ, we become committed to a life that involves carrying our cross in an effort to lift up the one who draws all people to himself.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we who glory in the mystery of our redemption may have the grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (Prayer from the morning office, September 14)