Looking Beyond the Cross
A couple of weekends ago, our daughter finally convinced my husband and me to hike a short trail near our house. Now to fully understand this, you have to know that my husband and I love getting outdoors, walking in the woods, and experiencing the beauty of nature. But you also need to know that to us, hiking is walking in the woods. It has nothing to do with inordinate amounts of climbing, pulling one’s self up holding onto a shrub or bush (or crawling on your knees which I resorted to for a while out of necessity), or having to maneuver over a sheer rock outcropping in order to finally reach the longed-for tip-top of the mountain! In addition, you should also know that we didn’t know all of this about this “short little trail” when we agreed to go.
I admit that our daughter did mention that it was a gradually steepening trail – “but it is short,” she assured us. She said the trail was well-worn because it was very popular so there were some well-eroded areas – “but it is short.” She even prepared us for the rock out-cropping at the top – “but I know you can do it” – and you guessed it, “and it is short.” She continued to persuade us, telling us that we could take it slow and stop and rest whenever we needed to. And then she described what she knew would reel my husband and me in. “You won’t believe the view,” she said. “It is incredible!” So, we finally agreed to go.
The trail was everything she said and more! But, I do have to admit that when I finally worked my way across the rock out-cropping at the top, the view was incredible. It was like a bird’s eye view of where I lived – the school near our house, the steeple of a church a few streets over, the college directly beneath our perch, and off in the distance the interstate that raced by our quiet little town. From the other direction, I spotted tiny mountain roads and I could even make out the Blue Ridge Parkway that circled the far mountains. As I sat on the rock at the top, and looked at the amazing view around me, I had to agree it was worth the struggle to get there.
But as we headed down the trail which seemed almost as difficult as going up, I found myself wondering if I would be willing to do it again. Would I be willing to climb the trail again when I knew what it was like? Would the incredible view at the top be enough to encourage me to tackle it again? In spite of the beautiful view, would I have set off in the first place if I had known how difficult it would be for me?
It made me think of Jesus. Do you remember when Jesus began His last journey into Jerusalem? Luke tells us: “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). Unlike me on that trail, Jesus fully knew what awaited Him in Jerusalem. Yet He “set His face,” determined to accomplish what He came to earth to do. Although His disciples did not fully understand what He told them, Jesus explained to them what would happen to Him: “Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (Luke 18:31-34).
Knowing all of this, Jesus was still prepared to go. When Peter rebuked Him and exclaimed, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22b); Jesus spoke to him strongly: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus was determined that nothing would interfere with God’s plan – no matter that it would cost Him His very life.
I’ve often thought about Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem and His unswerving commitment to God’s plan. I can’t imagine what it was like for Him to keep pressing forward, fully aware of what lay ahead – betrayal, denial, mocking, ridicule, scourging, and a cruel death on a cross. How could He do it? But you see, not only did Jesus know what awaited Him in Jerusalem, but He also was able to look beyond the cross. He knew that what He had to endure there meant all the difference for you and me. Without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we would be forever, hopelessly lost. We needed a perfect, sinless Savior. We needed Jesus.
So Jesus pressed forward, willing to suffer and die so that you and I could have life. Jesus stated Himself: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). Jesus died to give us life – both abundant life now and eternal life. While the cross meant suffering and death to Jesus, it gave me life.
Through the cross ….
…. Jesus showed me God’s love (see Romans 5:8).
…. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin (see 1 Peter 3:18).
…. Jesus reconciled me to the Father (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-29).
…. Jesus gave me hope for today and tomorrow (see Romans 5:1-5).
Jesus willingly “set His face” toward Jerusalem and laid down His life in order that we might truly live.
As I sat atop those rocks the other weekend, I was tired and worn, but not defeated. I had struggled to the top and I could taste the victory. I could see beyond my temporary pain to the beauty unfolding before me. Neither was Jesus defeated. He was nailed to the cross on the day before the Sabbath. As His friends prepared His body and laid Him in the tomb, how they must have grieved! But the cross wasn’t the end. Although Jesus suffered and died, although He bore the nail prints in His hands and feet, there was victory beyond the cross.
“Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them,[a] came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it happened, as they were greatly[b] perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”
And, my friend, there’s still life beyond the cross today. Sometimes our lives may seem like my little mountain trail – rough and steep, rocky and hard. Our way may be difficult and we may even feel defeated at times. But just like my trail, our time here (in my daughter’s words) – “is really short.” Our victory has already been won and secured by our Savior. May we just keep looking beyond the cross!
“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”