9/23/2013 2:03:00 PM
More than 40 years ago, the folk-rock band The Eagles made the charts with a song that included the lyric, "I'm standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona." I was in high school when "Take it Easy" was a hit, but even then I surmised that corner was a lonely place.
It's become lonelier still. In the late 1970s transportation planners created an interstate highway that eliminated the need for people to drive along the famous U.S. Route 66, which passed through Winslow. Like the fictional Radiator Springs from the Disney movie "Cars," Winslow hasn't exactly thrived since then. The most recent U.S. census shows that the city has less than 10,000 residents.
There's a lonelier intersection than the one The Eagles immortalized in song, though. It is the intersection of two rough-hewn beams of wood that formed the cross on which Jesus Christ died. It is, as I write in my new book, "The place that no one desired to come to and yet, the very place where all humanity must be summoned to make their appearance."
Throughout Scripture, we receive counsel on our relationship with God as well as our relationships with each other. How fitting, then, that Christianity's symbol is a cross – with a vertical beam pointing simultaneously to heaven and hell, and a horizontal beam suggesting the importance of dealing with people.
Jesus, at the very end of His life, was concerned with both heaven and humanity. He prayed continually to His Father. And his prayers were intercessions on our behalf:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."
- John 17:20-26, ESV
What an incredible demonstration of love! I love the old hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and its contemporary re-imagining, "The Wonderful Cross." But before the cross was wondrous and wonderful it was horrific – totally unsuitable for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And yet, one of the mysteries of God's plan for humanity was that His Son would humble Himself to die on the cross as the means for our redemption.
Today the cross is too often romanticized, even in some corners of the Church. We would do well to remember that it is not a romantic place at all – it is a place of violence and degradation. And that is why we must be in awe of what Jesus accomplished at Calvary. Our gratitude for what He has done can only be as complete as our understanding of it:
"We must understand that the principles displayed at the cross were woven into the very fabric of the universe from the beginning by the hand of the Creator. In other words, ‘there's a cross down here…'
There is a cross down here. But the Church has forgotten meekness and humility in an age of ostentatious pride and self-aggrandizement. We've lost sight of the truth, shouted from the top of Calvary's mountaintop by a battered, bleeding man with sign reading 'King' nailed above His head . . . that service and self-sacrifice, and most of all love, are our keys to influence and victory.
"Yes, there is a cross up there. Thanks be to a loving God who did not withhold His precious Son but freely gave Him up for us. But there is a cross down here, too. Jesus hung at the intersection of heaven and earth. And in a sense, so do we."
The better I understand the sacrifice Jesus made for you and for me, and the better I understand human nature, the more I realize why the Cross is lonelier than that corner in Winslow, Arizona. I understand why humanity shies away from the truth about Calvary. But that doesn't change the fact that we all need to go to where heaven meets earth, and recognize the sacrifice that allows us to exist.