Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Psalm 51: 1-13, Hebrews 5: 5-10, John 12: 20-33
Glory of the Cross of Christ
Liturgical Note: (Formerly, this fifth Sunday in Lent was known as Passion Sunday. More recent liturgy assigns that name to the day that begins Holy Week. But the Scripture assigned for this day all proclaim the reality of atonement in Jesus Christ.)
The main symbol of Christian faith has always been the cross. Early Christians talked about the Glory of the Cross of Christ. In the Greco-Roman world cross was “stumbling block” and “offense” for the wise and powerful of the world, but the followers of Christ the death of Jesus on the cross is the heart of the gospel. What the Christian church considered good news, was considered by the rest of the culture to be bad news. In such hostile culture early church evangelists were not ashamed of the Crucified Christ. St. Paul was well aware of the resistance to the Cross of Christ when he wrote to the Church in Galatia:
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14)
So was Isaac Watts who in 1709 wrote the Hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross.” This hymn is not only the result of a “moment of inspiration” for Watts, but also has been a great source of inspiration for countless Christians both in life and in the hour of death. My own father used to sing this hymn every morning both in Urdu and English. We heard him singing this hymn an hour before his death. The verb Watts chose is worth thinking about; not, “When I behold” or “When I regard” but “When I survey.” It is his way of telling us that the cross of Christ is so gloriously stupendous in its significance that it fills and dominates the whole Christian landscape. Martin Luther made the same point in a slightly different way when he said Crux probat omnia – everything is put the test of the cross. It is trough the cross that we know that our God has uniquely involves himself in his creation, as we learn “God so loved the world” through and in the person of Jesus Christ. Here while we “Survey the wondrous cross” we come to know the mystery of breadth, depth, length and height of God’ love. When and only when we gaze and survey the cross of Jesus do we realize that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The lessons appointed for today all point us to the cross of Christ. The prophet Jeremiah’s heart burns with the hope that God is going to do new thing for those who had been delivered from physical exile in slavery but were in spiritual exile because the people of Israel had not been faithful in keeping their covenant to follow God’s Laws. Now the prophet gives new hope to God’s people of a new covenant. It is a promise of salvation addressed to the whole people of Israel. This appointed text of Jeremiah 34: 31-34 it is an eschatological oracle: “Behold, the days are coming….”). The end of the oracle gives the motive for the new divine action, i.e. divine forgiveness. The Prophet gives God’s assurance, “I will make a new covenant” and “I will forgive their sins’. The prophet is not saying that there is a total break with the past covenant. The Torah is not abolished. The new covenant is to be made with the whole people of God (“I will be their God and they shall be my people”). Estranged people are now reconciled through the sacrifice of Christ. The exiled people of God have a new promise, a living hope, rooted in God’s act of offering his Son that we may be reconciled with Him and be redeemed from the power of sin. That is mystery we are being invited to survey on the cross of Jesus.
In the Epistle reading in the letter to the Hebrews Jesus on the cross is seen as both Priest and sacrifice. The Old Testament priesthood offered many animal sacrifices to God to cleanse the people from sin. To enable them to be holy as the psalmist says, “Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed” (Psalm 51: 8). But Jesus did not need to offer sacrifices daily. As spotless and without sin, Jesus had no need to make any sacrifice at all for himself. Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of a fallen humanity once for all, and accepted death on our behalf. Sin and death are integrally related throughout scripture as cause and effect. The wages of sin is death for the one who commits sin. In the case of the sacrifice of Christ the sins are ours, the death is Christ’s. Jesus died for our sins, bearing their penalty in our place to rescue us from the old age. On the cross Jesus secured our transfer into the new age, so that already we might live the life of the age to come. (John Stott) In the words of Wesley’s great hymn: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin and sets the prisoner free.” Jesus achieved, he completed on the cross the salvation of humankind. To be free, ransomed and healed and forgiven person we are being invited to “survey the wondrous cross.”
In St. John’s Gospel, there are curious Greeks who come to Jesus. They represent the great gentile world. It is a signal that our Lord’s Passion has begun.
This comes to many people as a surprise. Jesus refers it the hour of his glory. It is interesting to note the Greek word for glory is doxa and Hebrew word Kabod expresses what God is. The belief that God’s glory is revealed in the shame and weakness of the cross is a profound insight into the nature of God. On three separate occasions Jesus referred to his coming death as the hour of his glorification.
First, in response to the request of some Greeks to see him, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son to be glorified”, and went on immediately to speak of his death in terms both of a kernel of wheat falling to the ground and of the Father’s glorifying his own name.
Secondly, as soon as Judas had left the upper room and gone out into the night, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him.”
Thirdly, he began his great high priestly prayer. “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Notice with care here that each passage begins by either “now” or “the time has come”, make a close reference to the cross and secondly, glorification will be of the Father and the Son together. Calvin shares the glory of God in the cross in the following words:
For in the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theatre, the incomparable
goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God
shines, indeed in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly
than in the cross.
I invite each one of you to “Survey the Cross of Christ” during these coming days Passion Sunday and Holy Week to behold his glory. The Cross should remain the center and object of our boasting. God forbid that we should boast in anything else. Are you willing to see Jesus on the Cross, and hear Him say, “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me?” It is the crucified person that can preach about the glory of the Cross. Thomas the disciple of Jesus said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails…I will not believe.” The world needs the same thing of the church: to see the marks of the Cross of Christ in our lives. When the Cross of Christ is the object of our boasting the world will know the glory of the Cross of Christ though our lives.
 Tom Smail, Windows on the Cross, p.1.
 John W. Stott, The Cross of Christ