One Sunday morning during Lent, I was making my way down from the organ and stage area in our church, when my knee inadvertently bumped against the suspended cross at the front of the sanctuary. Surprised by this encounter, I was nonetheless immediately “struck” by a truth and an irony.
The truth I speak of is engendered in the question, “When do we encounter the cross, and do not find it inconvenient, a rude awakening, hurtful, an affront to our sensibilities?” The irony is encompassed by that truth in light of our hymn, “Jesus, Keep Me Near The Cross.”
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
We ask that Jesus Christ keep us in the vicinity of a rude, inconvenient, hurtful, insulting or offending device—one that reminds us that it was this to Him as well, to a greater degree.
“Jesus,” we ask, “keep us near the cross”—with your precious blood flowing from that mountain of Calvary. “In the cross, in the cross,” we acclaim, “be my glory ever.”
We ask our Lord to keep us mindful of the hurt it caused Him; yet He tells us that if the world hurt Him, it will hurt us also (John 15:19-20). We are like Peter, who in Matthew 16:21-23, would rather rebuke Jesus in saying this to us. “Lord,” we say, “Never! This shall never happen to you!” We do not wish to hear Him describe hurt to himself—or to us. Yet in our hearts, we know that we cannot rebuke Jesus’ comments in Matthew 16:21-23 without also rebuking Him and denying His words in John 15:20.
To this, he again states that, if the world hurt Him, it will hurt us also (John 15:20). Or, does He turn to us as He did to Peter and say “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” The cross remains a thorn in our conscience—that “old, rugged cross”. How many times does it intrude in our thinking, in a day’s time, in a given week? How near do we wish to be kept to that reminder of His injury—and the absence of the world’s injury toward us (because of the gospel of salvation won through the cross)?
A note in the Word In Life Study Bible asked, “Are you prepared to be hated because of your commitment to Jesus Christ? Perhaps you expect to be misunderstood occasionally or even chided by associates for “going overboard” on religion. But Jesus used strong words in John 15:18-25: ‘hate’ and ‘persecute.’ He indicated that our true commitments will be made clear when they start to cost us something. What has your faith cost you? A promotion or some other career opportunity? Criticism or even ostracism by coworkers or family? Legal action? Or nothing at all? Sooner or later, following Christ has a cost, and those who think they can get by without paying it are misguided. In fact, if there’s no cost, is there really any genuine commitment? Jesus’ words suggest not. However, it’s also possible for our actions or words to cause offense because they are inappropriate. In that case, the hostility we may receive is not persecution. Like Jesus (John 1:14), we are called to be people of grace and truth, not obnoxious and rude. True persecution involves unmerited hostility for doing good works in the pattern of Christ (1 Peter 2:12-21).”
The way of the cross is ours, if the glory of resurrection is to come for us—as it did for our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ. Persecution will come, for His sake, in our lives if we live for Him. But, “take heart”, He says down through the centuries: Jesus’ words ring true for us today: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation [because of Me]. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (clarification added, John 16:33)